Point of Controversy: Race Matters

Currently, our country is at a conscientious crossroads when it comes to race matters. Multiple media-induced firestorms have ignited the country into a furious debate has only managed to divide us further since then. Other than current economic conditions, I'm not sure why so many people feel so unwelcomed in the progress of our nation. Slogans such as "take or country back" fail to recognize that the good ol' days they continue to reminisce about are happening right now. We cannot go back in time, and that means accepting the "here and now." This is as good as it's going to get unless we dial back some of this anger and learn to coexist. That means giving everyone a seat at the table. 

Racism is a very carefully taught characteristic. The sense of hope I express toward some of the angriest Americans is hanging onto the notion that they can unlearn and relearn so they can participate peacefully in our society. To initiate a meaningful national discussion, I’d recommend starting on a much lower plateau by addressing each other’s needs fully by understanding our history, acknowledging shortcomings, and leaving hypersensitivity at the door. For starters, we cannot initiate the conversation during the height of our emotional plateau (i.e. justifying whether or not another deceased black male deserved his fate) if everyone begins with their preconceived ideas mixed with prior life experience, television portrayals, and outright ignorance with regards to each other's plight in life. 

We spend so much time associating actions with our skin pigment, which becomes silly or downright humorous when critics open their mouths with invalid opinions on a subject that they’re clearly uncomfortable with. Being a black male has nothing to do with wearing your pants around your knees with your backside hanging out, aspiring toward rap or hoop dreams, or poor grammar skills. Being white has nothing to do with having a monopoly on hiking adventures, country music and organic food. I like those things, and I’m still black. Believe it or not, there are a lot of black people in America who value education and become doctors, lawyers, engineers, contractors, construction workers, truck drivers, etc. Whether I was a high school dropout or a PhD with an academic journal article in my name, I’m still black! My point is that actions are determined by social influences, circumstances and will power, which ultimately display our true character. Something as simple as skin color cannot determine your capabilities, preferences, or actions.

On another level of the debate, whites can neither justify the need for affirmative action nor comprehend the notion of white privilege. Blacks can’t seem to understand the confusion caused when they refer to each other as niggas, but wouldn’t dare let a white person say it. They can’t realize the antipathy when they attack a white person for incorporating some form of black culture into their music, clothing, etc. Stereotyping is one thing; however, the heartache related to Taylor Swift’s new Shake it Off video didn’t warrant a serious discussion on racism. If anything, it detracted from what was happening in Ferguson, MO and across the country, which indeed needs to be addressed.  Furthermore, the notion that blacks think one way and whites think another presents us with a false dichotomy that doesn’t even begin to address the diversity of opinions on the issues affecting all of us and our ability to coexist.

What does this have to do with Broken Child Mended Man? A lot! My book tackles racism from both the black and white perspective. My battle has been twofold; proving my Americanism to whites and my blackness to blacks. It’s been a psychological tightrope until I learned to accept myself. I was berated by other black boys for “acting white.” Black girls rejected me because I was too articulate. I had to endure being called “OJ” by white boys during the following weeks of the jury’s decision and someone leaving cowardly notes referring to me as a “nigger” in my school locker. The uncomfortable list goes on and on, but my point is this: no one is exempt from the meanness and fear that creates the framework for racism. I’ve been called an Oreo by a black man (black on the outside, but white on the inside) and a good-for-nothing nigger by a white man within the same day!

Even with all of that, it pales in comparison to what my ancestors and cultural intellectuals endured in the not-so-distant- past. Thankfully, race matters didn’t consume my life experiences. Most of my experiences have been overwhelmingly positive. Racism only occurred enough times in my life to acknowledge its crude existence.  That’s what allows me to stand tall every time someone attempts to degrade me. Throughout my journey, you’ll discover that I had to learn to accept my blackness as society constantly barraged me with conflicting messages.

My views on race are very eccentric because of my willingness to be myself and other’s openness toward me. In turn, I chose to embrace the positive aspects of America’s cultural variety discovered everything from the beautiful sounds of the cello to authentic Mexican cuisine. Being open to the diversity that America beholds is truly the only way to reach across the spectrum. There will always be bad people from every ethnicity, but that shouldn’t require slapping a label on all members of that particular race. As for me, I’m human by design, American by chance and black by genetic fate. That’s my starting line for determining my position in this vast world. I’ll never forget starting from the bottom to become the person I am today. I’m still learning and still forging ahead to make a better life for my family. At the end of the day, that’s where most of us are at.

Insolence is a fragile person’s attempt to fortify power. They are usually weak or fearful and justify their existence on their ability to bring others down to their level. As history has noted before, it will take help from a group of courageous whites to stem this crimson tide of hate. There’s a silent majority, but I’m confident with the likes of my fellow EMU alumni leading the online and offline discussion, the majority will eventually speak loud enough to suppress the rancor of an angry white minority who feel this nation is slipping from their grasps.

Conversely, history has changed course for blacks. Many still believe in the notion of some overarching black leader, but what blacks need access to now more than anything else are economic prospects, educational equity in public schools, and a prominent return to exercising our citizenship.  If you’ve read my story, then you know just how much potential is within each lost or broken child. Although I didn’t live the stereotypical black experience by growing up on the Virginia countryside, this potential resides within urban neighborhoods as well. Equal access to resources and education will allow black communities to rebuild the economies that once thrived in Wilmington, Tulsa and Rosewood. Regardless of the ugly end of each one of those situations, history tells us that we are beyond capable. However, it is the responsibility of the black community to rediscover value in education. It’s not a white thing or Asian thing; it’s an American thing.

Whatever the next phase of our movement will be, it cannot be exclusive to one race or another. As a black man married to a white woman with three biracial children, the direction of this nation continues to worry me as our society continues to rally with such vitriolic rhetoric towards one another during every act perceived as a racial threat. I would love nothing more than to see a post-racial America in my lifetime. Even though we’ve come so far, we have such a long way to go. Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” I’m always open to discussion without the hypersensitive caveats that usually derail race-related inquiries before they can even begin. I have my mind open and hand extended; what say you?