|Jazmine Vaz-Baker, class of 2021|
It has been a rough month.
I have talked at nauseum about these topics with my black family and friends. I am so sick of talking. I am exhausted. The conversations always end the same way… What more can we do? Why do people not understand what is happening? Why do people continue to find ways to justify racism and discrimination? Why can’t black people be safe going about our daily lives? Why are we always targeted? Why is there a racial double standard? WHY? We have been asking these questions for centuries.
It seems like we have tried it all, both peaceful (remember Colin Kaepernick got blackballed for literally doing the very thing that the Minneapolis police officer did to Uncle George’s neck) and violent protest. We have tried marches, sit-ins, speeches, petitions, the list goes on and on. Nothing seems to be working. I feel as though black people are shouting their grievances out in the void. I feel like we are alone in this fight, fighting a war we did not create. Racism has somehow become our burden to bear – ALONE – and it sucks. Black people cannot fight this alone, we need help, we need genuine and active allies. My question is, where are they?
I know a lot of white/ non-black people. I have a lot of white/ non-black friends. Yet when injustices occur is seems like I can consistently count on ONE HAND my white/non-black friends that speak out against injustice. The rest are always eerily silent. Posting pictures of their dogs, significant others, cooking recipes, vacations, etc. but no words of outrage for black lives being lost. Is it that they do not know what to say? Is it that they prefer to keep their social media pages neutral?
Or is it that they do not care?
Are they afraid to speak out?
All these possibilities run through my mind when I step into the virtual spaces of social media and take stock of my friends’ silence. It is appalling and discouraging.
Yet these are the same people who always have such words of wisdom and insight during government, history, psychology, and health care class debates.
We, and by we, I mean your so called “black friends” need your voices and support during this time. I need you to see Ahmed and George as my brother and my uncle and do more than just like a post and keep scrolling. I need you to weep and mourn with me. I need you to get angry with me. I need you to demand justice with me.
You have spheres of influence in social spaces that I do not. I need you to do more than like a post about representation in politics and make textbook points about diversity. I need you to stand up to that racist uncle at Thanksgiving when he starts telling his yearly racist jokes. Inform him how his racist ideology is hurtful and hinders our country’s progression. Make him uncomfortable when he starts spewing out hate. That is how the small battles are won. No one is asking you to storm the KKK’s stronghold (10 OUT OF 10 - WOULD NOT RECOMMEND), but you are failing us when you stay silent.
We are simply asking you to really listen to our grievances, take them to heart, make and demand change where you can. If you do not know what to do or how to do it, ask for guidance. But staying silent is getting harder to accept.
I have always found more comfort in expressing my most inner thoughts to paper than people, because paper does not judge, neglect, or put down the words written on them, it simply displays them for the reader to form their own interpretation. I often do not express thoughts like this to my peers or friends. As a black woman I occupy mostly white spaces. Since the 6th grade I have been 1 of 2, maybe 3, on a rarest of occasions 1 of 4 black/brown/POC in my class. Moving from a predominantly black elementary school, it was jarring at first, then I got used to it. Now it is my normal.
I remember crying hysterically as a little girl when my dad got pulled over for driving in the HOV lane without a second passenger (I was too little; the officer could not see me in the back seat). I thought he was going to arrest my father. The police officer was embarrassed when my dad explained to him the reason for my tears. Maybe I watched too much of the show COPS as a child (the theme song is still the jam), but my fear was extremely real.
Have you ever cried when your father has been pulled over by the police?... *waiting for you to share your traumatizing cop experience* (my dad and I laugh about it now… we can laugh now… it was not funny to me then)
I had a group of young white men (who I did not know) call me the N word while I stood at the bus stop waiting for the school bus. I cried, I went to school, I went home. I moved on. I do not think I ever spoke of it, but I know I will never forget it.
I realize now that calling a black person the N word does not kill them (it wounds them deeply and should NEVER be used ever), but health care disparities, racial profiling, and police brutality does (just to name a few). These are the things we are fighting to change.
Anyway, I say that to say this, I often feel uncomfortable expressing my views on race within my social and academic spaces, because I have seen how it goes. You express sadness, anguish, and frustration at racial injustice, and they hit back with a “but racism doesn’t exist anymore”
“but slavery ended so long ago”
“things are so much better now”
“Obama was president for 8 years (AND?! BRUH BE QUIET AND JUST STOP)”
“ALL LIVES MATTER”
“black lives matter is anti-cop (IT ISN’T BUT OKAY BECKY)”
“not everything is about race”
“You’re not like the other black people OR I am not talking about you” (Lord have his mercy with this one)
“I have black friends, so I am not racist” (This one just takes the cake every time)
“maybe if he listened to the police…” The list goes on and on.
[IF YOU HAVE EVER SAID ANY OF THIS… PLEASE STOP!!!]
And after they’re done explaining, disregarding your feelings as a black person, neglecting to recognize the struggle we face, and flat out not listening to a word you said, you have to wonder is this person really my friend?
Better yet, does this person understand me? Do they see that I am black? DO THEY SEE ME?!
After a while, hearing this rhetoric from white/non-black peers and friends both from CHURCH…
- Quick Side Note: [which hurts in ways I cannot explain…it’s disturbing to know that if a video of one of your black church members surfaced of some officer or man otherwise crushing their fragile neck, the most you can do is text their mother and father of a bible verse about peace and being “one race under God” or “we are all God’s children”. Remember your black church members can see your posts on Facebook and the like and you are disregarding our feelings. DO BETTER PLEASE!]
…and school, I learned to keep those opinions quiet. I just observe, I listen, I take note. A whole lot of people have black friends that they do not really understand. They will joke with them, ask them to “spill the tea, tell Felicia goodbye, and laugh about being an independent woman who does not need male companionship”, bop to the latest rap song with you (because some of them still think getting down to rap music gives them an in with the people), cry tears at 12 Years a Slave and turn around and look dead in your face and tell you…
“but slavery ended so long ago… I don’t understand why people are still racist”
*somewhere MLK rolls in his grave*
SIGH. As T-Pain once said…
“If you ain’t got it by now, you just ain’t getting it.” – “Kiss Kiss” by Chris Brown ft. T-Pain 2007. An iconic line if you ask me.
I share my true opinions on race and how racial injustice really hurts me with a few trusted people outside of my family, because I do not want to be hurt. I do not want to be let down by friends I have come to know, share laughs with, and made memories with. Sometimes it is just easier to laugh about memes and vent about the stress of work or school, then to subject myself to hurt by exposing my friends’ while non-malicious, unhelpful ignorance towards deep race relations.
Do you know how hard it is to see another black person killed for no reason or witness someone call the cops on them for literally breathing oxygen outside their home, and then turn around and walk out into the world smiling and choosing joy?
To never have anyone ask, “hey, I saw everything that happened on the news this past weekend, are you okay?”
I don’t expect this of course, but every once in a blue moon, it would be nice to be seen for the black girl that I am, and that I am affected by seeing my brothers, fathers, uncles, friends, mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, etc. killed on TV like animals. It is painful to watch; it is painful to hear. It is heart wrenching to see people defend this evil behavior.
I must navigate spaces surrounded by people who do not look like me every day. While I do this I actively choose love, I choose joy, I choose forgiveness, I choose hope, I choose to see the good in people, I choose not to be angry, I choose not to blame descendants who are not responsible for their ancestors actions, I choose not to hate. I choose Jesus and his grace.
I choose these things because the alternative leads us nowhere.
I choose these things because I believe change is possible.
Black people have been crying out for mercy, justice, and equality for centuries. We cannot fight this battle alone.
Please understand your black friends are hurting. The pain is centuries old and unbearable.
I am choosing to march forward to the vision the Dr. King so passionately talked about.
You for so long have chosen silence.
I implore you now to make a different choice. The choice to truly stand with us and speak out.
Jazmine – an exhausted black person
class of 2021