Monday, June 22, 2015

Charleston and Passive Aggressive Racism

Last Wednesday, on June 17, 2015, nine Black Americans were viciously murdered in the one place on this planet that they felt safe, their place of worship, at the Emanual African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, SC.  The 21-year-old white shooter who joined the parishioners for their weekly bible study killed them only because they were black.

What happened after that, to me was even more malicious. As the story spread like wildfire, the mainstream media began spinning the story as an isolated incident, a lone wolf, a crazy man and even attacks on Christianity. If it had been a Muslim man, the act would have been labeled as an act of terrorism.

The reason racism is so rampant in the United States is because we like to pretend it doesn't exist, even when the evidence is directly in front of us. We like to say, "Oh, that's from another time in our history and we are past that."  Take a closer look, folks.  It's kicking us in our face right here in the present.

It is more than a lie.  It is Passive-Aggressive Racism.  It is Racial Terrorism against our own citizens. The idea of ignoring a sickness in our society by refusing to address the problem, actually protects the institution of racism, perpetuating it.  Passive-Aggressive Racism grows and seethes just beneath the skins of our citizens until it erupts with violent outbursts.  And that is when we decide to ask ourselves, "How could have this happened?"

These six women and three men were good people. They helped their communities, supported their church and were productive members of society. The only reason they became a target of this hateful racist was because their place of worship had been historically a target for racist violence.

I grew up in the South, the Mississippi Delta.  In South-East Arkansas, racism both active and passive have been prevalent.  I grew up in the town of Lake Village, Arkansas just across the river from Greenville, MS. The town I lived in was 85% black and yet 96% of the businesses were owned by whites.  Segregation of my hometown in the 70's and early 80's was a real issue.  Even though we did have a railroad track that ran through the middle of town, my hometown was segregated in a different way. Once you past Main Street a few blocks north, the imaginary line began that was often referred to as the black ghetto by grown-ups that I heard as a youth and it went all the way over to the old water tower.

When I was around four years old, I remember riding in the backseat of my uncle's car with my two older step-cousins.  My uncle was always a sweet, gentle man who laughed often and made those around him feel loved. That's why I remember my first brush with racism so well because we took a trip together to Greenville, MS and as we approached Nelson Street (Greenville's equivalent to Beale Street in Memphis, TN for blues and folk culture), my uncle rolled down his window and in a big booming voice yelled, "NI**ER!".  My two cousins joined in through the back passenger window.  Like I said, I was four years old.  His voice seethed with hatred and anger.  I was scared.  When my cousins joined in, they joined with a laughing, mocking tone. They had somehow turned it into a game. I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to be left out, so I joined in and uttered my first racial word, "ni**er".

I didn't know what it meant, but deep down in my gut, I knew it was wrong.  It left a pit in my stomach.  Even then, I can honestly say that to me it didn't feel normal.  But that was the expectation then, somewhere around 1976.  Racism was a part of everyday life. I was blessed with a good mom who looked me in the eye and told me that being a racist was wrong.  My uncle and my step-cousins were wrong.  And even though I didn't know what it all meant, I was wrong too.  You see, racism is taught.  It isn't natural or instinctive as some would like for you to believe.

A month or so ago, I wrote a heartwarming story about my pet duck. One of the things that I omitted from the story was that my friend, Marcus is black.  I didn't think much about that when I was writing it because I was simply sharing a fun story that brought a lot of happy memories to me.

But with this tragedy that unfolded last week, I did some soul searching in my past for racism because I'm a white man who grew up in the Deep South.  The story of the duck was a beautiful story, but it wasn't authentic to what I saw in the terms of racism.  Because my friend was black, I was labeled a "ni**er lover" by many of my so-called white friends. My step-grandfather was very racist.  He would tell me that if I kept hanging out with them, I too would turn into a ni**er.  I was taunted for wanting to suck on a black woman's breast because I loved chocolate milk.  Keep in mind, I was just 7 years old.  My black friends didn't come to knock on my door because the rumors about my step-grandfather, who we lived with at the time, was that he killed little black boys.  Of course, that wasn't true, he was just hateful and mean spirited towards blacks, in general, even if he did indeed have black friends that never came to his house.

So let's flash forward to today, where the media wants to ignore racism  and pretend that it doesn't exist and that Affirmative Action isn't needed.  Low-income families living in the ghettos of America are treated as second class citizens, susceptible to racial profiling by the authorities because they have been labeled "too lazy to get a job" or "feel entitled and want to live off the government."  Our prisons are gluttonously full of these black men, disproportioned  to the extreme.

So people say, "Well, if they didn't commit the crimes..."  That's Passive-Aggressive Racism at work right there.  Think back to when you were a kid when you would break your parents rule when they were not looking.  Think about how many times you got away with it and then the rare occasion you were caught and punished.  Now, think about having the authorities watching your every move waiting for your to screw up.  You see, the reason that you got away with stuff as a kid is because your parents trusted you, so when you made a mistake, you weren't always caught.  But if the watchful eye of the authorities watch you with distrust long enough, how long do you really think you could take that?  At what point will you just say "Screw it, if I'm gonna get blamed for something I didn't do and treated like a criminal, I might as well become one because I can't get a job because I live in the ghetto."

When our nation of young black men are treated like criminals and young black women are treated like baby factories by a society of entitled taxpayers who think that the poor are lazy, you will create division.  These young men and women are citizens of this country.  They have a right to the same freedoms to pursue their dreams without being afraid someone is watching over them waiting for them to make a mistake.  They have the same right to walk into the store and buy some food without someone watching them like they are a criminal.

So you say that you don't want them to sit at home and draw welfare or food stamps.  The fact of the matter is, those are stereotypes, just like racial profiling by the police.  It is true that most of the welfare and food stamp recipients are predominately white.  We put people down as they try to survive in the poorest areas of our country, we don't want to get them jobs, we don't want to help them out of poverty and so finally they get arrested and thrown in jail.

And guess what, that will cost the entitled taxpayers of this country to pay ten times the amount to take care of them during their incarceration.  They are exposed to prison violence and network with criminals to learn skills they will need to survive for when they get out. Because with a criminal record, they won't be able to get a decent job.  Our prison system creates career criminals.

Let me correct that.  Passive-Aggressive Racism creates career criminals.  And when the real racist white man starts thinking that the blacks are taking over this country, like Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old white shooter in Charleston, they can no longer contain their spite and violence erupts.

But this stigma is even greater than that. Even a successful black man or woman cannot escape it including some of my heroes like Morgan Freeman and Neil Degrasse Tyson.  They too have experienced some form of racism at some point in their lives.

This is my fault.  This is your fault.  Because we can't admit that racism exists and we want to point our finger at everything else, it breeds and it corrupts. We need to be honest and talk about it. We need to weed it out by speaking up against it.

Racism in any form has a price.  If a white mom refuses to let her child play with another child of a different color, it will add to the epidemic.  When it builds to much, innocent lives will always be lost.  That's the price we pay when we keep our mouths shut.

Speak up.  Speak loud and clear.  Let's not pretend it doesn't exist anymore.


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