I recently had a Facebook conversation with a White friend in which she suggested that I, as a Black woman, was a little "sensitive" on matters of race. With the unjust slaying of Trayvon Martin fresh on my mind, I could not let this comment pass.
[Editor's note: This article originally appeared on EBONY.com in March 2012.]
I'm a Black woman in my late 30s who grew up in mostly White, solidly middle-class neighborhood in Raleigh, NC.I was raised by parents who valued education. Both had Master's degrees. My father was a chemistry teacher and served in the Army. My mother was a nurse and retired as a full-bird Colonel in the Air National Guard. I was an enviably good student, who was president of my high school Service Club, a member of the National Honor Society, an officer on the Student Council and a Varsity soccer player. I had a good childhood. And yet my childhood is stained – like so many other African-Americans' – by a string of indignities that might seem slight to many.
For the most part, I'm not talking about blatant, in-your-face "N word" confrontations. I'm talking cowardly, ingrained, without-a-thought and possibly subconscious behaviors which tacitly and overtly tell a person they're valued less by society than those with White skin.
This is how I responded to my friend's post:
To my dear, dear friends who think Blacks see race in everything, I ask this:
-Have you ever had to comfort a child who wished he were Black instead of White or whatever God made him? Probably not. People generally don't go around wishing they were Black. But I have had my 4-year-old son tell me he wished he were White after some time at daycare, where he observed "White people are treated better." A 4-year-old was able to figure that out. A 4-year-old!
-Have you ever been followed in a store by a clerk? Even when they were the only clerk in the store and they left the entire front of the store open while "folding sweaters" all around the area in back where you were shopping? I have. Many times. Have you ever walked into a drugstore as a young child or teen with another Black friend and watched as the clerk had to make a quick decision about which one of you to follow? My friends and I have.
-As a teen, were you ever asked to empty your pockets at a store with your White friend when she was not asked to do the same? Were you ever asked to prove you didn't steal something, even when you didn't? Has it happened to you more than once?
-Have you ever been accused of getting into a school because you were Black and NOT because you were damned smart, studied your behind off, applied for early decision and were in the top 10 percent of your class?? A school at which you'd eventually make the Dean's List? I have.
-Have you ever been detained, not just pulled to the side, but detained in a separate holding area at an airport with other people of color and no one else who was detained was White? I have.
-Have you ever had your voicemail called in the middle of the night and had the caller yell "NIGGER" on the same day you wrote a story that prominently featured and was about a health issue that primarily affects Blacks? I have.
-Have you ever been told to use the porta-potty (as an adult) in a rich White subdivision instead of the one in the WELCOME center you just walked into? I have.
-Have you ever been interviewing someone who very clearly assumed you were White and went on and on about "those people" moving in and ruining "my" neighborhood? Then had to meet the person face-to-face and watch their chin drop? I have.
-Have you ever been accused of voting for a Black president solely because he's Black? That your intellect is so low as to not be able to make an educated decision on who best represents your interests just because a Black candidate is involved? Never mind that you've only had the choice of voting for White presidential candidates your entire life, and no one ever accused you of voting for a White president just because he was White.
-Have you ever had to worry that your unarmed son or brother or nephew might be walking through a neighborhood one day, minding his own business and doing absolutely nothing wrong, only to be followed, confronted and shot dead – all because he "looked" suspicious?
-Do you worry that your child might go missing one day and no one in the media will give a damn to try and find them, publicize it or anything? That no one will know or recognize your child's name or face? That you might never see him or her again? I do. Every day. I worry. Day in, day out, in a way that I am sure you do not.
So am I sensitive about race? YES, I AM.
You are blessed in ways you don't even know. But you should.
Our realities are just very, very different.
And I love you anyway.