I was fortunate enough to be invited as a panelist for a discussion on Black Lives Matter at a recent event. I had the chance to meet with mother, activist, and educator Akio Maroon, who was the keynote speaker of the evening. I sat on the panel alongside peers, professionals, and community members. We had incredible discussions while examining racism from many different perspectives. As I stared out into the crowd of mostly white faces, seeing white tears, white guilt, white understanding and white shock, I couldn’t help but have one thought at the top of my brain and tip of my tongue. The thought that this isn’t all my work. It isn’t all our work. To have to continuously teach white folks how to not be racist is fucking tiring.
We spent a lot of time talking about microaggressions. I found it important to emphasize the fact that racism can be hard for some to identify because not everyone actually knows what it looks like. Racism doesn’t only look like lynching or Jim Crow laws. It isn’t only seen in apartheid or segregation in America. It doesn’t only come in the form of brutally violating black bodies. It comes in so many different ways. Microaggressions do the job that obvious racism can't do: it shits on blackness subtly, so that white folks can find ways to not be held accountable. Examining microaggressions allows us to understand the ways in which race and racism affect every aspect of racialized people’s lives from the way we walk, talk, dress, the music we listen to, all the way to what we eat. Think I’m exaggerating? I've had black folks tell me that they refuse to walk into a KFC because of the stereotypes that come along with it. I know people- myself included- who will correct themselves when they talk or walk in a way that could be seen as threatening or unfamiliar to white people. The way that black folks are forced to constantly rethink the ways in which we move through certain spaces and around certain people, is arguably an ongoing internal death.
This is the type of shit that'll make you want to self-segregate. To need to de-stress from being black. To need to go home, take a bath and unwind from all the ways in which your blackness has disrupted your day, knowing that it will happen again tomorrow. And tomorrow. And again, tomorrow. To have to call in black to work: “my apologies sir, I’m just really not feeling well today. I’m really not feeling like fighting with you about whether or not I deserved this position, or explaining to my co-worker how I changed my hair again, or being told by customers, by staff, by supervisors, by you, that I didn’t sound black on the phone. And did I mention that the police killed one of us again? They said this one had a troubled past, so that justified the eight, nine, twenty bullets. I didn’t know him but I feel like I just lost another part of me. If they keep this up there will be no parts of me left. Did you hear? Trump won. I need to stay home today and try to re-bandage this broken heart. Even though I know I’ll have to do it again. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and again, tomorrow.” And with the least bit of care in their voice, your boss will respond with “sorry to hear, but we’re really understaffed today. Could you just put your race card back in your wallet for now.”
There was one thing in particular that resonated with me from the event. The keynote speaker, Maroon, talked about how much black folks hold in on a daily basis in order to refrain from literally going off on white people. She talked about how stressful it is and how hard it becomes to carry such heavy weight on our shoulders. Do you understand how exhausting it is to clench our jaws so hard each day that we come home with teeth marks on the insides of our cheeks? Do you know how heavy our tongues begin to feel after holding them for so long? Do you know that we are slowly dying inside in order to restrain ourselves from harming you? Do you know that I close my eyes and squirm in my seat when we are passengers to one another in the car and a song on your radio says “nigga” and so do you. Because it’s “just a song” and I’m “just another angry black bitch.”
It isn’t my job to teach you about racism. You have no excuse to be “colour blind” or have no understanding of what racism is or the fact that it is still alive and well. I don’t expect you to be experts on race and racism, but it’s definitely not up to oppressed people to have to educate the oppressors. Read a book. Do a Google search. Watch a documentary. Turn on the fucking news. Racism isn’t just racialized peoples problem, especially since we aren’t the ones enforcing it upon ourselves. On top of being workers and students and parents and friends and the hundreds of other things that we are, we have to be constant educators too? We have to be walking dictionaries to help you when you don’t know the right thing to say? We have to be living history books that- unlike the ones in schools- actually store factual information to correct you when you do racist shit?
This is what I think white folks often forget or don’t realize in the first place; that being black is a constant burden. I am always tired. I’m tired of dodging every person who tries to pet my hair or ask me if it’s real. I’m tired of walking down school hallways, or the grocery store, or the mall and hearing white people defend Trump. I’m tired of white people asking me what I think about Sandra Bland, or Eric Garner, Or Mike Brown, and always responding with “if they just did what the police said, they would’ve been fine.” I’m tired of having to remind you that it isn’t okay to call me an “Oreo.” I’m tired of telling you that I’m just being me, I’m not “acting white.” I’m tired of trying to justify my existence to you. And I’m tired of you thinking I have to.
We have died a million times. Every day, little by little. Resurrecting each morning knowing that we won’t make it out alive from today. Obvious racism or subtle racism, it's still racism. Fast and gruesome death, or slow and quiet death, we're still dying. Take your microaggressions somewhere else.