Jozette Allah-Mensah, American University
This past semester, I took a class that covered my general education credits in history. The topics surrounded Native Americans and their cultures, and other early American encounters. What I especially loved about that class was how we were able to debunk accounts that celebrated people in history who destroyed more than discovered. We talked about the psychopathic killer that was Christopher Columbus, and contrary to all fourth grade Columbus day accounts, he wasn’t a hero. We also had a session on slavery.
There was one particular day that I will never forget. My professor - who I definitely find synonymous with the word “woke” - taught us about one African-American woman who had made the decision to kill her children rather than return into slavery with them. Then my professor asked us to distinguish whether that decision was the correct one. Now, again, this class was discussion based and I don’t blame the professor for the question; more so the response.
A white male student in the class answered then, that essentially slavery wasn’t bad enough for the mother to do what she did and that there were better ways to escape. Now, I am not a shrink and I only passed Psychology with a C in high school. But in that moment, it was unfathomable to me that that student thought it was his right to speak on behalf of an oppressed individual’s actions in the midst of one of the most horrific times in America. I responded with the fact that it wasn’t even our right to decide.
And that is when I had the realization of how there was a desensitization of African-American history. A major disconnect in regards to that history, but even now.
When we begin to doubt or get used to what the slave trade was and the devastating effects it has caused, when we forget the origins of an oppressive system that has yet to be dismantled, we become okay with it. We peg it as solely history, as something that is in the past and deny its current presence. A comparison is created because “it’s gotten much better” which is grounds for either neutrality, silence, or ignorance. When that happens, a man in the oval office who has no moral compass is viewed as okay. Charlottesville, Virginia 2017 is okay. Okay is dangerous.
And okay is now. It is turning a blind eye when the literal KKK march the streets, the stench of hatred waning off of them in waves. It is people defending Nazi’s when they are punched and rioting when a confederate flag is taken away and calling our people sensitive when we request changes to better our lives. It is them not taking the time or wanting to replace their ignorance with the truth.
There are some white people who don’t seem to understand what it means to be black in America; black in a 1957 America, a 1980 America, a 2017 America. And how could they unless they are black? But my problem lies within the fact that they will try to downplay the difficulties we face as black people. The pride of ignorance they wear as a badge.
For just a glimpse, it is to be a in a perpetual state of hyperawareness because your skin is a target and there is no safe zone or base. It is not a walk in the park but rather a walk in the jungle where you’re always the prey. It is to be in a constant state of rage because the Not My President sticker on my laptop makes people whisper that I’m dramatic and am the reason why there is a racial divide in the US, and not because this country was founded on black and Native-American bodies. Because a white male can reach out to me via Facebook just to tell me that my post-election fears are irrational and unjustifiable because somewhere else in a third world country, people don’t have shoes. Because my pastor can vote for hatred and preach a sermon about love the next Sunday. Because my brother is learning to drive and I never want him to get his license. Because I had to focus on my safety on my own campus instead of studying for finals. Because we reigned in 2017 with the election of a white supremacist and who thinks his few words will be enough to cover his racist campaign he began. Because the phrase "political difference” can cover up neo-nazism and anti-Semitism. Because there were people marching two hours away from my home, aiming to reclaim “their country” and I am still seeing puppy videos on my Facebook wall. Because we are expected to continue to move on and work and go to school and smile just like everybody else.
There is no reprimand for white silence; not really. The consequence of white silence is the continued persecution of black bodies and that doesn’t impact them. At that expense is another generation of racism and that is desensitization at its finest; the ability to sit amidst all of the facts and the videos and the protests and separate yourself from the situation. Subtract yourself from the equation because you aren’t on the other side of the equal side. You don’t need to be.
I admit that I am afraid. I admit that I am afraid in the parking lot at night, everytime I see a police officer, everytime I leave my home. I am afraid because this fear was deemed as insignificant a while ago; at first by civilians, and now the government.
It hurts to have your feelings twisted into this complicated web when in reality, we just want equality. We want there to be an acknowledgment of racism and we want it eradicated, wholly, honestly, in its entirety. And we want that from both sides of America. It is a nonpartisan act to care about and speak out for one another. It is basic human decency; an instinct before gross ideologies filled minds with hatred. Whether that is a realistic expectation or not, in the near future or ever, this national turmoil is creating a purge of what America really is to what America needs to be.