Uncomfortable Matters

I want to ask you to get uncomfortable with me. Let’s talk about a subject that is controversial, passionate, and heated. I want to invite you to enter a room- take off your shoes, even if your socks have a hole or two, and sit cross legged facing each other.

The R word- Racism. Some of you are sick of hearing it. Some of you feel your blood boiling at the mention, since you seem to fight the issue daily. I hear what you are saying. Let’s remember, our shoes are off. And let’s remember that we are looking each other in the eye.

I grew up in a multi racial family. I have two brothers that are African American and a bi-racial sister that I would die to protect. Do not mess with my siblings or momma bear will come out.

One of my brothers used to work at a supermarket in the deli section. One day, a older Caucasian gentleman (I use that term loosely) came to the deli to order a tub of potato salad. My brother used gloves and a spoon to dish out the salad. The man looked at my brother and refused to take it. He wanted “someone else” to serve him. Thank God the manager refused to serve the man and kicked him out of the store. Thank God I was not there to witness this- my reaction would have been far from holy.

My other brother came to visit me in the racially diverse city of NYC. He and I rode the subway and another elderly Caucasian “gentleman” observed us throughout the ride. As we were leaving the train the man screamed out jeers and obscenities (that I will not repeat), as to his thoughts of our “dating” one another.

Today I spoke in depth with a friend of mine about his experience on being a black man that grew up in Brooklyn. I asked him his opinions on the “Black Lives Matter” campaign. I asked him his response to some of the protests of this campaign.

He told me some of his experiences – including how he was once arrested because some police saw him exchange something on the street with his friend and assumed that it was a drug deal. In reality he was asking for change. He possessed nothing illegal and had done nothing illegal when the police arrested him. He had no prior record, and ironically, had just signed up for college in order to study criminal justice. Yet, he was jailed, without cause.

This friend explained that while he was growing up, his mother, had a difficult discussion with him. She said, “Son, when you are outside, do not wear your hood up. Do not put your hands in your pockets.” She wanted to keep him safe from speculation. At that time, he did not think this was a very relevant conversation. Until, the day that he was arrested, for getting change from a friend.

I explained, “I’ve observed that some people hear the term Black Lives Matter, and it seems they feel the statement is trying to highlight that others don’t matter as much. Some respond with All Lives Matter, or Blue Lives Matter, in exchange.”

He responded gracefully, “What if there was an awareness campaign for cancer, and they had a meeting about it where some cancer survivors were…and someone walked in and said, ‘Why are you meeting about this disease? Are you saying that others diseases don’t matter? What about Aids? What about MS? Why aren’t you talking about these? They matter too’.”

“That would be offensive!” I said.

And it dawned on me. Racism is a disease. It has existed throughout the world for as long as we have recorded time. It existed here in the USA. And if we are candid with ourselves, we realize that it very much still does.

I told my friend, “I think some people may feel that they are supposed to feel guilty for something that they didn’t do. That they are supposed to try to fix something they don’t do.”

“That doesn’t help,” he said. “That isn’t the response that anyone needs. It isn’t about guilt. Regardless of your background or whether you had part in it, now what? How can we work together to fix an issue?”

The obligatory bandaid covering racism has been ripped off. There is a festering, ugly, and infected wound underneath. If a man came to another man, with a festering wound in order to ask for help – and the man looked at him and said, “I didn’t do that. I had no part in it. It is just an old wound, leave it alone and it will go away.” Would he be right? Well, yes. In the sense that he didn’t do it.
But, that is not the point.

Leaving an infected wound alone, does not bring healing.

Friends, there are many times that I have been oblivious. More than I realize. This week when I went to get my taxes done in Harlem, it was also free pancake day at IHOP. Lucky me, there was an IHOP two blocks from my tax guy. So I got in line. It was during the time that school had let out so I was in line with about 40 teenagers from Harlem. As the line finally entered the building, the African American security guard barked at the teenage boy in front of me. “Take your hood off.” The boy did and no one looked surprised at the request.

But I was surprised. Why in the world did it matter? A few minutes later the boy absentmindedly put his hood up again. The security guard yelled at the boy. “I told you to take that hood off, if you do it again I will kick you out.” I felt indignant for the boy. Why would this man care if he had it on, and what gave him the right to tell him how to wear it?

Today, as my friend told me what his mother taught him as a boy…I finally understood. The security guard was being protective. These teens were not surprised by the request, because they had heard it before, and they knew why.

I am not against policeman. Many are not corrupt. Just as many black men that have their hoods up, are not out to do harm. These are stereotypes. And they kill.

I personally have pre-judged and stereotyped others based on their dress, demeanor, job, and skin color. It is something I am ashamed to admit, and I try to combat any thoughts that come up. But how can we do this?

First, can we take a minute to think about why we do things? All of us. Can we look in the mirror and ask ourselves, honestly, where our prejudices are? Why aren’t we a mamma bear, out to protect all those that face injustice?

We cannot ignore that there is a disease, whether we caused it or not. There are people saying, “Please hear us. Please hear that this disease exists, and sometimes it affects my life. Sometimes it hurts those I love. Sometimes it kills those I love.” Listening is a big part of understanding. Understanding is a big part of healing.

Let’s talk, let’s listen.

Then, let’s put our shoes back on and do something about it.

Written By

New Yorker, photographer, blogger, and life time dreamer.