I’ve been processing and coming to terms with several different things lately. One of them is the realization that I have (unknowingly) been in the presence of people who did not like me because of the colour of my skin; or worst, people who didn’t like Black people in general but made an “exception” for me. Now at first glance depending on who is reading this, that may not sound like that big of a deal or revelation. Most Black people know at any given time that if they are in a room full of people who do not predominantly look like them no matter the ethnicity, there is going to be a strong likelihood that there will be a significant amount of said people who do not like them. These are microaggressions that Black people experience literally every day and as a whole, we’ve developed a pretty thick skin in dealing with it.
But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about non-Black people (not just white people) who actively do not like Black people-and yet, will go to lunch with them at work, or invite them into their homes, or engage with them all while disliking them, which is disturbing to me on many levels. Unfortunately, I’ve had several of these experiences and recently they’ve been coming to the forefront of my mind for me to really look at. One vivid memory I have was in high school. I had a friend who I was very close to for about 2 years. We met in 9th grade and clicked pretty instantly. I would go to her house after school and sometimes would stay for dinner. She and I were both of Caribbean descent and we bonded specifically over our culture, even though we were of two different ethnicities. She is Indo-Caribbean and I’m Black. Her parents are Guyanese. When I first met her parents, I remember having two distinct impressions. Her mom was a total sweetheart and was very warm and open…and her dad did not like me. Initially, I had no idea why. Maybe it was because I had a very gregarious personality or wore a lot of makeup. I wasn’t sure. But whatever it was, I knew he didn’t like me. He was very cordial though; was never rude or disrespectful. But it was always thinly veiled. I never said anything to my friend because, why would I? I was in her/his house. But I remember the day I became very aware of why he didn’t particularly take to me. We had another mutual friend who started hanging out with us. She is also Guyanese and Indo-Caribbean. I remember the first time she came to my friends house and met her dad. His eyes lit up and there was a gentle teasing side of his personality that I saw come out with her that he never extended to me. He joked and laughed with her about things from Guyana, things I guess he felt only Indo-Caribbean people could appreciate or understand. Mind you, I had told him my family was from Trinidad & Tobago and my family grew up on Indo-African culture which is predominant in Trinidad. I grew up eating all of the same foods he did, watched the same movies he did, wore sarees and lenghas to functions, prayed to Sai Baba, listened to Soca and was active in my cultural community. But none of that mattered because I was not Indo-Caribbean. As a young adolescent, this affected me. I remember feeling the rejection of not feeling good enough because I was Black. These are the real effects this kind of subliminal racism creates, especially for children.
Another incident I had was with a white classmate of mine from high school who I used to be friends with on Facebook. Years ago, I remember he wanted to get a dog and had made a post recommending a very Black sounding name as the dog’s proposed name. A number of his friends commented with laughing emojis and snarky remarks. I didn’t understand way at the time because I thought him to be a decent human being. I commented that I liked that name and didn’t get what was so funny. He then replied by laughing and saying he liked the name too. He ended up naming his dog this particular name. It wasn’t until years later when I started seeing the types of posts he started putting up that I realized he had devolved into a full-blown racist and Trump supporter. Apparently it made him feel good to call a Black woman a dog. This saddened me so much because I remember how cool he was in high school. He definitely was on the fringe and didn’t fit in with the “popular” kids, but he was really sweet and kind of sensitive in a good way. I always felt like if he had found a really good partner, someone who could love and accept him just as he was, that would have been the best thing for him. But for whatever reason, life didn’t seem to work out like that for him. And then the Trump supporting posts and racists jokes started shortly thereafter.
There are so many stories like mine and others I’ve heard of people being around people they didn’t know were racist, only to find out in some incriminating way afterwards. I’ve unfortunately been intimate with someone, who looking back on it, I suspect didn’t really like Black women and only saw us as sexual objects. I remember him once asking me, “Why are Black women so angry?” This was the conversation we had right before intimacy. I remember being so confused and thinking, if Black women are angry, then why are you having sex with one? I then began to calmly explain to him that we’re not. He then began to point to all the things in the media and his own personal experiences that reinforced his beliefs. And yet, he was being intimate with me. I remember having to really unpack that in therapy and through years of self healing work. In all of these personal situations, I didn’t have the awareness at the time to recognize and really see racism the way I do now. I’ve been having conversations with family and friends about situations they are recalling that now looking back on it, they are realizing were extremely racist or they were with people who were racist and they didn’t even know. That is extremely terrifying and very unsettling.
A lot of non-Black people think that racism towards Black people is the KKK burning crosses in our front yards, or skinheads wearing swastikas. They think it’s hearing white people openly call us the “N” word and police setting dogs and fire hoses on us. And while that is definitely how it used to be, that is not the whole story. Racism is an insidious disease of a lack of humanity or conscience towards another ethnicity of people. Anti-Black racism is all of this towards my community. It rears its ugly head in a variety of ways. So before anyone can say they are not racist, they first need to educate themselves on all the ways racism appears in daily life. And this is the work most people are not willing to do. Because racism for some is profitable. For others, it offers them a small reprieve from their own feelings of lack, unworthiness and insecurity to put another group of people down. So unless a person has a real attack of conscience, has a partner or children that are of another ethnicity that they love, or maybe has family members they care about, it has been my observation that most people are okay with the status quo. Unless it affects them directly, most people don’t openly or actively fight racism, especially anti-Black racism. It’s hard work. It’s hurtful work. It’s deeply illuminating and for some can cause shame, which they don’t want to feel. So they’d rather deny, deflect, ignore or straight up gaslight instead of feeling the shame of knowing that at times they have participated or allowed racist things to happen in their presence and it went unchecked.
I’m not sure if anyone who is not Black can truly understand what it feels like to be in a world where literally every other ethnicity including Caucasian and Indigenous people thinks you and you people are the worst possible option for anyone to marry, have children with, employ, work with, speak to, eat from or engage with on any level. I remember having a conversation at work on our lunch break with a group of South Asian colleagues. We were talking about traditional South Asian parents and dating in the modern era. One the young men with us said that his parents told him two things about dating. They said he was not allowed to bring home a Black woman and the only thing worse than that was bringing home a Muslim woman. This particular individual and his family were Hindu. At the time of this conversation, he was right out of university so these were fairly recent conversations his parents had had with him. This was confirmed by several of the other attendees, although one guy said his parents told him to marry whoever he wanted. It was concurred that he was the exception to the rule. This is a sentiment that I have heard repeated numerous times, from almost every different ethnicity I’ve come across in my short time on this earth. Parents who tell their young girls not to bring home a Black man, or tell their sons not to bring home a Black woman. I’ve heard stories told to me where parents have openly told their children in some cases that it was perfectly okay to sleep with a Black person because of the obvious stereotypes about Black women's buttocks and genitalia and Black men’s genitalia. I’ve sat with white women who have waxed poetic about a Black man’s penis and their mixed-Black ethnicity babies, but who openly dislike and disrespect Black women. I once had a trainer who was Polish as was his brother. He told me a story about how his brother only dated light skinned or preferably mixed race Black women because, and I quote “They had the best of both worlds. They had the light skin and long hair but they also had the booty.” I kid you not. This is real. The fetishization of Black bodies while not liking Black people is very pervasive.
I believe if there is a real appetite to address and dismantle anti-Black racism, we need to take a good long hard look at ourselves, our circles and our choices. If you are in an interracial relationship with a Black person, ask yourself why? Why did you really choose your partner? When you talk about your Black children, do you fetishize them? Do you make everything about their hair and skin and eye colour? Do you take the time to learn how to do their hair and understand what hair texture they have? Are you a person that states that you “only date Black men?” Why is that? Do you openly talk to your female friends about Black men’s genitalia? Do you call Black people the “N” word in anger and try to excuse it by saying you have Black friends? Do you “only date Black women?” Why is that? Do you tell your kids not to bring home a Black person? Why is that? Do you make jokes about Black people you would never say to their face? Does your partner make racist jokes that go unchecked because they are a bully? None of these are questions you need to answer to anyone but yourself. But if you are really about this life, then you need to start asking yourself some tough questions. And the next time you are around someone who says some racist shit and you say absolutely nothing or you let it go, ask yourself why you are so comfortable with being associated with them.
And if you do none of what was suggested above because you just can’t be bothered, then I just want you to know that YOU are exactly the reason why racism will never end and why the Black community will never feel safe.