On Navigating My Pro-Blackness in White Spaces

I have had this conversation multiple times with people of different races, ethnicities, and backgrounds. I’m positive I have driven quite a few people to rage with my opinions. My opinions are my opinions, so if you don’t like what I have to say, remember these are simply my views.

When I was younger, I remember how carefree I used to be. Not too much of a social activist then, but I was happy. Extremely naive, but happy.
Around fourth grade, my mother decided to convert us from Christianity to Islam. I was pretty content. Most of the teachings were pretty comparable to Christianity’s (of course, they had their differences, but I liked to cling to sameness.) It hadn’t really affected me too much. Of course I didn’t like Ramadan, but I did enjoy celebrating Eid, and prayers were fun to say in Arabic. It was a nice change.

I don’t remember exactly what day it was and such, but I do remember it was a pretty sunny day, and we were at. Recess. It was me and my the other “best friends” (everyone was your friends at that point). One if the girls, we’ll call her Dana, was having a sleepover for us and she kept going on and on about everything that she had planned. When I chimed in, she looked at me with pity.”My mom said that you can’t come.” My confusion at that statement prompted me to question “Why?”

“Because you’re a Muslim, and my mom said that Muslims are bad.”

At that time, my innocent little brain couldn’t understand why being a Muslim automatically meant I couldn’t go anywhere. I was a good Muslim, except for when I took Mom’s soda, but other than that I tried. And judging the other people we had met at the mosque, they were good people. Why couldn’t I go to a sleepover with my friends. I wasn’t able to put a word to this instance until later on in high school- Islamophobia.

This was only the first instance where I realized I was an otherized person, someone who was going to face discrimination. I remember how there was this little cheap store close to the orthodontist and dentist that would accept Medicaid. My mother had decided to look around one day and told us to stay close to her and not to touch anything. I didn’t understand at first, but soon we had been assigned to a personal watcher, following us up and down the aisle, eyes almost as big as a silver dollar. We left the store after, my mom very quickly and hurriedly buying some small thing. She scolded us pretty badly after that, saying we shouldn’t have been as loud, but I think she was really mad about the fact that we had been followed. That was definitely not the last time I had been followed in a store, and every single time, I felt worse and worse about myself.

Fast forward to May of 2014: my senior prom. Due to extenuating circumstances I had just barely been able to go, but I still made the effort. So what that I was the only black girl in my entire class, that nobody had bothered to invite, even as a group of friends? I wanted to go anyway, and I wasn’t going to let that bother me. And it was actually nice. I was having a good time. Until I had decided to get some air in the hallway. It had been very hot and I had been leading some of the dances that nobody had known what to do, and it was fun. I was joined by an acquaintance who I’ll call Joe. Joe and I had been relatively friendly to each other throughout the year, so I paid him no mind. “What’s up?” I asked.

He shrugged, then started to smirk at me. “You looked like a monkey in there, you know. Still kind of do now.” And like that, my senior prom was completely trashed. I was a hot mess of tears, None of the teachers bothered to ask, they probably just thought I was emotional. But the second he said “monkey”, I felt like my comfort had been completely ripped away.

These experiences, along with my studies of black history, led me to my declaration to be pro-black. But that has one with so many consequences.

I have heard criticism on both sides. “If you’re pro-black, it means you’re anti-white” and “If you really are pro-black then that means you’re racist against white people.” I have had it. Stop. My pro-blackness has nothing to do with hating white people. If you equate having the desire to have equal rights and opportunities, fair justice and due process for black people and people of color, wanting to not be followed around in a store or being unfairly slammed to the ground and have a gun pointed at a person simply for walking away from a cop, then you are a part of the problem.

To me, to be anti-white and racist against white people, it means I automatically hate them for their skin. Yeah, white people do some shitty things, as do people of all races (not excusing any of the bullshit that has been occurring, so don’t get upset at me, I’m just stating a basic fact) However, I would never hate an entire race. Because one person doing shitty things does not mean that we should hate an entire group of people. To me, being racist against white people means that I wish to see white people get unfairly lynched, their houses burned. It would mean that I would wish to see them have very little opportunity to get a loan for a better house or go to a “sketchy school” because it’s the closest thing  to them. And so much more. But I can’t wish that upon anyone, and wouldn’t wish that upon anyone, because this country is already difficult enough to live in without facing piles and piles of discrimination and masked racism. My pro-blackness never meant that I thought I was superior to white people or any other groups. I just want to be equal. Is that too much to have?

Coming to Duke, I have seen so much more going on than just race issues, and I definitely try to be a part of it. But I feel responsible for fighting for the black community. It’s where I come from. I was taught to take care of you and yours, so is it really that bad to be so passionate about having my people live?

These are definitely not all of my views, and I have way more to say about this, but I did want to get this out. Pro-blackness and racism are two different things, at least to me, and my desire to see the beauty in blackness does not mean that I wish to see the white race and culture, or any other race or culture, desecrated simply for the advancement of black people.

What does pro-black mean to you? When did you first face discrimination or racism? Leave me a comment, let me know. I’d be happy to expand on this another time.

Thanks for reading!

-JW

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2 thoughts on “On Navigating My Pro-Blackness in White Spaces

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I’m sorry this is isn’t the kind of response you’re looking for, but—I’ve been thinking a lot about race lately, for all the reasons you’d expect–not just race, but thinking about thinking about race, if that makes sense. As a straight white guy, I expect I’m like most of my race/gender group in that I don’t really have to contemplate either my place or my relationship to other “groups”. It’s easy to be a white guy, and I’ll be honest, I’m glad–glad and thankful in a pray to the maker thankfulness because the subset of folks who fear or despise me is relatively small–and generally has something to do with my behavior. I get to define myself and my interactions through the world primarily through my actions, and what a luxury that is. Ironically, while my mother raised me to “not see race” the richest and most comfortable environments in which I’ve enjoyed relationships with folks of other races (in a life that, by virtue of my changing geography, has seen periods of both great diversity and almost total segregation) are when I’ve been the minority and race was out on the table and up for not only discussion, but a source of humor and bonding. I’ve cherished those times–though in hindsight I wonder if my happiness is just a bit patronizing. I could go back and forth for a thousand words, but in the end, it’s still complicated, and that complication is such a strange and ugly part of being human. For us to succeed and endure as a nation, and ultimately as a species, we need to be proud of who we are and where we come from–and that obviously includes being “pro-black.” I think of that old conceit, “you have to love yourself if you want to be loved by others” rings true. Indeed, I think that a lot of the racism of our nation is rooted in the self-loathing of people, and the eagerness to raise ourselves on the misery of others, much in the way that bullies find affirmation through aggression. And how do we stand against bullies? We are confident, and confidence stems from pride.

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