A 1991 videotaped beating by the Los Angeles police became a symbol of racial tensions and led to deadly race riots after the verdict, that was Rodney King. Prior to that there were plenty of incidents between people of differing color, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Yesterday, as I watched The Tanning of America it occurred to me that there are many incidents that have happened that shape the ways in which we experience others and life. The point was made that prior to seeing the video of Rodney King being beaten people didn’t believe that the police would visit acts like that on someone simply because they can. Yet, there still remains the idea that skin color doesn’t matter and that America is in a “post-racial” era where people are colorblind and things are delightful.
Last year, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) accused President Barack Obama of being a key driving force of “racial tension and violence” in the nation since the 1960s. I would assert that there is a misperception of the source of the tension. It’s very possible that the browning of America is something that causes those who are use to the status quo or homogeneity to be uncomfortable with the shift. The ethnic and cultural makeup of America has continued to change seen through the composition of the population. Continued and current immigration from Asia, Hispanic and Latin countries, and the diversity brought from European countries centuries ago has contributed to an unforeseen ethnic and cultural shift . The United States Census Bureau projects that non-Hispanic whites will no longer be the majority of the population by 2042 . These figures cause some to be nervous because their comfort level with those they see as “other than” is low, to say the least. Being entitled to a certain status or place is slowly shifting and holding on with “white knuckles” is all they can do because those “others” are coming. Speaking of others, a few years ago the assignment in a graduate school course was to write about when I first felt “other than” and I had not thought about the incident as distinctive in recognizing I was “other”, but I actually wrote about it understanding that it was just that. Prior to writing about it, I called my aunt to ask some questions that would fill in gaps, learned some new things, and a new perspective emerged. The following is what I wrote about the first time I learned I was “other than”.
In 1982, our family held the family reunion in Atlanta, Georgia. My sister, brother, one cousin, aunt, and uncle took the trip from Cleveland, Ohio to Atlanta, Georgia in a motor home. At the time, I was seven not yet eight. Just outside of Lexington, Kentucky an axle broke on the motor home which caused us to find a place that could fix the motor home. The closest town with a repair shop was Corinth, Kentucky. I do not remember driving into the town or being at the repair shop; apparently, I was asleep. What I remember clearly is walking into the convenient store there. My aunt, uncle, my sister, and me walked across a small street in what seemed to be downtown Corinth, stepped up on a porch reminiscent of an old West building with a porch, and went in to the store. My sister and I walked through the aisles looking for a snack to take with us on the ride. At some point someone said something derogatory, I remember hearing it, but not assuming that it was directed at me I kept looking around. My uncle, in a deep voice with a Southern accent, said loudly, “It’s time to go, let’s go.” At that moment I remember being upset that I did not get a snack and had to leave. Upon walking out, I looked around the store and, then, around at the people who were outside and realized that we were the only people of color around. What occurred to me was that what someone said in the store must have been about us. *For those curious, the person said something about “niggers”. What I’m not sure, but I clearly remember the word.
Begin from a small Northern town, I had been around White people all of my life, my friends were White, my teachers were White, and we had at one time been members of a White church; that was not new. What was new was the feeling that we were not welcome there by people who did not know us. Before then, I cannot remember an instance of feeling as if I was not wanted simply because of the color of my skin.
So, on the backs of many of the recent incidents in the news and those many that will never make it, I say we live in a world where color does matter, being colorblind is demeaning and foolish, and being quiet about it all is arrogance. I do not fancy myself a protestor, but an advocate. A person who speaks on behalf of causes that transform minds, behaviors, individuals, families, neighborhoods, communities, cities, states, and nations impacting the world. I’m simply a ripple. I’m a boulder in some places and a pebble in others. The amount of melanin in my skin brings with it perceptions that I never cosigned on, might not even fit, and barely could address in a post. But it should be known that regardless of what someone thinks and though I don’t wake up having to say, “I’m a woman of color”, I live in a world where color does matter whether I like it or not.
As I continue my journey awakening the giant within and reading The Four Agreement the journey reveals more about me that it does about others. The word I live in is not colorblind, I don’t want it to be. I adore that there are many shades of brown in my world, and I respect each for their contributions to me and the world at large. For me living in that world means that I live in a world where who each person is matters and they are respected. I want to live in a diverse world where color matters out of respect not as a measure of a person’s worth, respectability, or rights.