I have a confession to make. This is going to be hard because, in some ways I feel like a hypocrite for feeling this way and for holding it in for so long. Also? I know that feeling this way makes me no better than some of the folks I’ve called out and held accountable for prejudice. In the spirit of “open dialogue” and doing something, though, I’m sharing this.
I have a legitimate fear of white men and boys.
Not something you hear every day, huh?
This isn’t a theoretical, “because of what they did to my ancestors” fear. What I feel is a sense of discomfort and anxiety that comes when I’m in the presence of white men or boys that I don’t know. I’ve heard stories, and seen with my own eyes, White women moving their purse, or tensing up when Black men come around, and I have to tell you, I do the same with White men.
Not too long ago I was in a Starbucks and a tall, gangly teenaged boy came in. He had shaggy hair, and was wearing all black. He was carrying a big instrument case with maybe a bass or something in it. It didn’t help that he didn’t know what he wanted, so he stood away from the line, looking suspicious (to me) as he tried to figure out what to order. I couldn’t close up my computer, gather my things and get up out of there fast enough. All I could picture was him pulling a rifle out of that case and shooting the whole store up. Although I felt incredibly ashamed at my visceral (and physical—my heart was racing, my head was pounding) reaction, I still felt a little justified. I had a reason to be scared, no? It’s happened before, right?
I do the same thing when I’m coming up on a group of White boys on the street that I have to walk pass. My body automatically prepares to fight or flight. I don’t know if they’re going to bump into me (typically the middle school age group), or be so unaware of my being that they take up so much of the space on the sidewalk that I have to move to the side and wait for them to pass (usually the adults). It’s fear that keeps this big mouth Black woman from saying anything when that happens. Fear of the rude little White boy’s mama saying I attacked her child for even daring to say to him, “Hey, you bumped into me”. Fear of the White men calling me out of my name, or even worse, putting hands on me. Depending on their income level, connections, or the language they use when describing an altercation (“She was yelling and attacked me”–because every time a Black woman talks and it’s not a compliment, it’s an attack), I could be the one that ends up in jail.
I can admit that my discomfort around White men and boys is largely unwarranted. I’d say 96% of my whole life’s interactions with them have been positive. Even still, the fear is real. So, I get it. I do. I understand how some White folks could believe a trained (?), armed policemen could feel like a 5-year-old when face to face with a “hulk”, “beast” of a Black man. The images and portrayals of monster-like Black men have completely overshadowed the reality of the goodness that so many of our men and boys possess. I need to make it clear, though, that it goes both ways. Right now, Black mothers are crying for the future of their Black sons, but White moms, you need to be put on alert, too. The media has planted the seeds for a war against your boys, too, and it’s starting to take root. My somewhat baseless anxiety around your white sons is evidence of that.
So what do we do? How do we come together to save our boys, to save our children?
- First, we all have to admit our prejudices. You don’t have to publicly announce it, but at least be honest with yourself about what your prejudices are and where they stem from.
- Next, we have to listen. For example, after the tragic Sandy Hook massacre, I listened to mothers of children on the autism spectrum clear up misconceptions and misinformation that people were sharing in regards the the killer, his mother, and his mental state. Instead of saying, “this isn’t about you!”, I listened until I understood that they weren’t trying to make it about themselves and their situation, but they were protecting their children from stigma.
- Finally, we have to be open to changing. Many of us have grown up in the same belief system that we still hold today. Unless we’re willing to see things from another point of view, and be able to say, “You know what? I never thought of it like that”, it’s not likely that things will change in our lifetime.
What’s going on in our country affects everyone. Not just Black folks. We have to come together to make change.