By John G
I love you. I will always love you and I will continue to love you even through our disagreements and debates. I know the recent scrutiny, the critique, and ridicule that has approach your culture and your race has caused you a stress. I know that it is hard to understand this liberal language of “systems”, “oppression”, “privilege”, and “white culture”; and I know it may all sound like a racial attack by many of my other friends and families who are, like me, people of color. I know that you feel offended. That is why I hope that nothing I am going to say will offend you further, but I do hope that everything I will say will allow you to understand that there are some things that I’ve been through, things that I’ve experienced, things that I have yet to articulate about my past that has confirmed to me that there is something different about who I am. There is something truly racially motivated by the way I am approached by the police and the white public, there is something different about the way I am viewed in those first moments of conversation with white authority, and there is something different about being black in America. Today I will share my secrets.
As you know I was raised in a predominantly white area where terms like “privilege”, “systems”, “oppression”, and “white culture” were as foreign to me as the actual existence of them. So I write this in those days and I tell you the truth: these stories are true. A crucial part of the black experience is having to confront the reality of your blackness as an inescapable part of your identity, and on many occasions not solidifying the connection of race consciousness and identity as quickly as you’d like. It is privilege to never have to ask along with the extraneous emotional stresses of puberty: What does it mean to be “insert racial identity here”? If you have ever asked, “What does it mean for me to be white?” then, please let me know for this letter only benefits us both through the conversation we can have from it. If you must know WHY we have to ask this question, I will tell you shortly. For blacks, the struggle to find your identity within American culture was called by W.E.B. Du Bois, “double consciousness”. For me, I will call it, “the most confusing and earth shattering moment of my life.” I had to ask this question very young after hearing, “I cannot date you because you are black,” on multiple occasions or the chorus of racial slurs from peers who never understood the impact of their words. The relationships of your youth mean nothing more than an acceptance by another human being, and to not be accepted off the basis of something unmovable and irreplaceable effects your psyche. The racial slurs, blatant and subtle, ranging from the extremity of the word “nigger” to the ignorance of later being stripped of my blackness for being “too polite” or “too smart” to “really be black” messes up your psyche. It inevitably caused me to ask, “What does it mean for me to be black?” and I tell you the truth, in my youth, I hated it. I hated being irrevocably different. I hated having to constantly prove myself to a majority or face the consequence of being, “just like the rest of them.”
I remember speaking to my brother in privacy telling him, “Maybe, they’ll like me more if I act more white? I could spike my hair! I could learn to skate! I could listen to more rock! I could be like them.” But, I couldn’t. I couldn’t be like you. I was different and it wasn’t until I was forcefully separated from a middle school girlfriend by school administration because her parents didn’t want her to date a black guy that I climaxed with the conflict of my race. “Why did I have to be born this way? Why did I have to be black? I wish I was white. If I was white everything would be better,” I used to say this verbatim. Blackness felt like a curse, an inescapable curse and I wanted to be happy and cured from my curse. It was during the time that the school administration separated me from my then current girlfriend that I first considered suicide. The curse was escapable through death. Identity was lost, as my black skin stayed stuck and confused in a white world. I was sick of being called a nigger. I was sick of being excluded opportunity because of something that wasn’t leaving. I was sick of entrapment. I was sick of being considered a threat, unacceptable, or a nigger. I dedicated myself so intensely to learning in order to counteract the “Nigger” notion, but it ultimately resulted in an immense suppression of my emotions. Whenever a white person said something racist to me, I was offered the option to get angry (like I wanted to) and confirm their idea of black people being aggressive or be silent and passive. After originally falling victim to their slurs, I chose silence. It wasn’t until I began to master the words of my mother when she used to say, “Kill them with your words and your intelligence. You don’t even have to put your hands on them,” that I found a way to counter their words with passion and relaxation. For me being black was a two road street: be successful, smart, and influential or be a nigger. However, I never considered that I would always be a nigger first until I proved myself otherwise. My father called it, “The Two-Strike System.” “Son,” he used to say, “don’t get in trouble. You already have two strikes against you. One, because you’re black. Two, because you’re black.” I didn’t want to believe this. I still had false hope that I was the same as you, but after being stopped and checked by the police for sitting in my the car outside of my own house for too long talking to my father and my friend (all black), I knew it had to be true or there at least had to be some truth in his words (not to mention, the arrogance at which the police spoke to us as if we were stupid). When the cops pull me over or question me, I hope I make the right moves and I hope to not be mistaken as an aggressor. It is a fear of mine. For the cops do not know anything of me when I am pulled over; the cops just know that I am black.
I must say - I have come to love me for who I am. I am black, beautiful, and intelligent with a love for Bon Iver’s music just as much as Wiz Khalifa’s. I have learned that to be black is to be of a social construct created by white men who enslaved my ancestors. I have learned there is no other requirement for or from my blackness, but to be who I am, and that is all. I have learned that the concept of what it means to be black for many blacks and whites alike seems to be foolishly misconstrued by media depictions and pop culture. But, I wish I can tell you that it was easy to get here. I wish I could tell that in high school I read a book from a black writer who helped me find who I was, but I never read anything written by a black person throughout the entirety of grade school except for Lorraine Hansberry A Raisin in the Sun. I wish I could tell you that I felt like my history was depicted and shared clearly and truthfully through the entirety of grade school, but I can’t help but think that Martin Luther King was not the only person who fought for black freedom and equality. I wish I could tell you that coming to grips with my blackness was as easy as growing up, but coming to grips with my blackness was the greatest fight of my life. The races are separated and race is still an issue. I am thankful every day for white people like you for never looking at my skin and allowing it to be a barrier to your love and your compassion. But it is not about you alone. It is not about individuals who do care and do help and do assist in the marches – myself included. It is about something bigger than us. It's about the fact that many, many, many more white people are still contributing to a system in America where blacks are oppressed; if not physically by being gunned down, then emotionally by being told to suppress their emotions to the "proper" ways, if not emotionally then mentally by being constantly hounded by police, by being constantly seen as the Welfare Kings and Queens of America, by being constantly depicted as thugs, lazy, drug dealers, and/or simply nothing. Not everyone is contributing to that, but the mass of people are not helping. Black excitement is still seen as black ghettoness if it is not done "properly.” Black anger is still seen as black niggerness if it is not done "properly", and I know because I've heard the snickers of children and I've felt the burden of keeping silent in order to not be a nigger or be ghetto.
The Civil Rights Act signed in 1964 was the year that government forced people to begin to hire, accept, and attempt to treat everyone equally regardless of race, gender, or sexuality. 1964 was just an act. A law doesn't change people, time changes people, fights change people, discussions change people, pressure changes people, death changes people, but more than all of this, love changes people, and people are changing. But, the issues are still here and alive in America. I hope you will believe me, and believe me even further when I say that I love you and I never wish to attack you personally, but I do wish to attack any system that keeps this injustice in place.
John G is a current student and leader of the upcoming YDS chapter at Towson University.