01 Jun No Excuse for Racism
What does it truly mean to be a person of color in the United States?
A few days ago, I recalled an incident that occurred at a grocery store with my father, James W. Harris, and sister, Fredericka Harris. My father was a deeply melanated (dark-skinned) African American man from Louisiana who enjoyed music from Mark Morrison, Luther Vandross, Bobby Brown and others. He was a devoted Lakers and Raiders fan, although his friends did not always agree (haha), had a green thumb, and was considered to be down-to-earth.
My sister and I often went to visit him on weekends. One night we went to a grocery store to pick up groceries for the weekend. My sister and I were around 9 and 10 years old at the time. We hadn’t noticed when my father took note of the security guard that continued to follow us around the store to “see if everything was okay”. My father was infuriated and commented on the level of discrimination and disrespect. To my sister and I, his response seemed over the top and unnecessary. We grew up in the suburbs in the Inland Empire in Southern California and therefore, we were exposed to diverse cultures and non-discriminatory behavior. This was not always the case in the Los Angeles area and I soon found out it is not the case in a lot of areas, including the ones we may not think discrimination would be prevalent.
My sister and I expressed our “disapproval” of our father’s response. Of course we know now that our response was out of ignorance. This was his response to us:
“Baby, we the black people, especially black men, have been treated this way for decades. I have lived with this my whole life. You will soon see and understand why our people feel how they feel once you become an adult and experience it.”
I did not fully grasp his statement then, but I can fully grasp it today, as an African-American woman, married to a Haitian man, who will soon be a U.S. citizen.
The discrimination I experienced while younger began as subtle (when I did not fully understand) and progressed as I got older to being more direct. The comments were direct, the looks were direct, the behaviors were direct. Attending interviews where I was “unqualified” despite demonstrating my capabilities in-person and presenting my qualifications on paper. Having to refrain from my legal name, Ishekia, on resumes because I knew I would be discriminated against even before they read the content of my resume. The direct comments about my body, skin tone, features and even the hateful comments just because of my presence in an environment where individuals saw me as an “intruder”.
The discrimination contributed to my insecurities when I was younger; often wanting to be another race, have fairer skin, “good hair” and colored eyes. I mimicked my peers in their way of dress, mannerisms and behaviors because I wanted to “fit i”n. Discrimination even took place within my race. “Team light-skinned” were common expressions during high school which made darker skinned African-Americans feel inferior and unfortunately, this occurs across a variety of races.
What about the individuals who have racist tendencies who are not aware of it?
Yes, this is possible. It is called implicit bias. Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner (definition provided by Kirwan Institute). I was introduced to the concept of implicit bias in graduate school and we were able to take a test provided by Harvard University to determine our implicit biases. I discovered a few things about myself that I was not aware of. I recommend you take the test, even if you assume you do not have any implicit biases.
But what about the people who are aware of other cultures and still discriminate?
Well, it is a choice. One can make the conscious decision to educate themselves and grow to understand their peers who are of a different race, or they can choose to remain in the dark and in ignorance.
There is no excuse for racism and discrimination, especially in a generation where resources and the internet are easily accessible for self-education and understanding. Whether you are a person of color or not a person of a color, you should not be exempt from making the conscious decision to enlighten yourself.
This includes me. Racism is not just top down, it can be in reverse as well. People of color can also discriminate against people of a different race, and within their race, as demonstrated in my example in the earlier part of this post.
Let’s become informed before making decisions and making statements.
Let’s remember the teachings and practices of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. before we cast the first stone.
Let’s provoke change by leading and acting with wisdom.
Here are a few resources that I recommend:
- The Implicit Association Test by Harvard University
- Stamped from the Beginning:The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
- How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
- Racial Reconciliation – Michael Todd
My prayers are with the family of George Floyd, everyone who has been affected by what is going on in our society and the world.