Here are some things that white people say and do that continue to hurt, but mostly themselves:
• Saying, “Some of my best friends are black.”
• Asking to touch my hair.
• Telling me that I am so articulate.
• Using my pain for their personal entertainment.
And that’s the mild stuff.
This week, there is a widely viewed Facebook photo posted by a white woman showing her sandwiched between two white male friends, one posing in blackface with a blood-stained hoodie, recalling Trayvon Martin, the other with his fingers cocked like a gun pointed at the head of the man in blackface. The “shooter” is wearing a shirt with lettering on the front which reads: “Neighborhood Watch, a la George Zimmerman.”
All three are grinning broadly in the photo; they are out for a little Halloween merriment. The woman, supposedly, has been traced and subsequently fired from her job.
That’s not all. In the weeks leading up to Halloween, news media outlets, especially late-night television, showed photos of a celebrity who went out in blackface. She made a public apology.
It became almost a national mantra for this year’s Halloween costume do’s and don’ts: do not wear blackface. But why, after all these years, do we still find it necessary to have to warn people that it is not just in bad taste, it is racist?
There are so many things about racism that folk still don’t seem to get.
Some forms of racism, as practiced, are expressions of violence and on the continuum of behavior that is punishable by law.
So here is a message to the white folk who just don’t get it:
When you threaten my safety and well-being, my ability to feel secure to walk about this country in full display of my African heritage, you also reduce your right to claim your own safe space.
This is what happens to you when you practice your racism against me: You will no longer be allowed to feel secure in your expressions of violence against me. You will squirm in your homes, on your streets, in your classrooms, in your workplace and in your private places, as long as you hold me in contempt. As long as my mere existence haunts you –this form of mental illness, a most peculiar plague that you suffer as you descend further into this legacy of madness – you will never feel good.
You can’t really help yourself because this madness is a remnant of a torn and tattered fabric of the national psyche, the one that became unhinged at the loss of human beings as property, and you have grown more despondent over the veiled threat to your right to bear arms (against me) and having to share the right to vote with me; etc.
But if you really knew me and my history here, you would understand that there would be far less for you to enjoy or gloat about without me. If you really knew, you would actually love me. Yet, you are so small-minded and empty of any thoughtful discernment to understand that this country, and your rights and riches, were built on my back. Yes, that’s me. I’m like Patsey in 12 Years a Slave. I could pick 500-plus pounds of cotton every day and still get whipped, raped and brutalized so that you could enjoy your well-being and comforts.
But, in my favor, you kept breeding me into what you are so fearful of now. After 400 years, I am bolder, braver, stronger, smarter and outwitting you as I thrive with my well-honed survival skills.
And that frightens you.
In fact, you are so scared that you have to continue to try to hurt me with your murderous, racist buffoonery as you resort to modern-day lynchings, wearing blackface, taunting, denigrating and making attempts to kill my soul and the soul of mine. You are pitiful.
“And still I rise.”
Antonia Williams-Gary may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org