With all the national soul searching going on with the recent events in Charleston, SC stemming from the actions of a young man who wanted to "Start a Race War" I have decided to take a look at my own thoughts on race.
Race is something we as a nation have done a poor job examining. The history of our country is cloaked in the blood of the other. From the start, it began as genocide of the the Native Americans. This genocide continues today in the form of the oppression of the reservation system. Don't believe me?. Go to one, I dare you. We still celebrate Columbus Day to this day.
Then there is the slave system in the United States. This contrasts with the slave system in the Caribbean in that in the Caribbean the slave masters left after emancipation. This has made a drastic difference in the outcomes of post slavery peoples in the Caribbean versus their counterparts in the US. For one, in the Caribbean those countries rebuilt in a way where it was normal to have Black doctors, lawyers, politicians, teachers, ect. This implicitly lead to the unspoken message that as a young Black person you can be anything in that culture. Contrast that with the US, where the only young Blacks making it are Rappers and Athletes. The Cosby Show and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air (I am dating myself) were two shows that made it based on how odd it is for a Black male to be a doctor or a judge in the legal system at that time. It was entertainment to think of black people in the medical and legal systems in the 1990's. Don't get me wrong, those shows were of importance in countering some of the messages about what it means to be Black and a a professional in the US. Of the people of color at my medical school, all but one were of Caribbean stock. (My parents are from Guyana). Those of us from the Caribbean were never told to play basket ball or sing. We could be engineers (most of my uncle's are engineers), doctors, business owners, whatever we wanted. Even if we grew up poor. It was such a mixed message for me growing up American but with parents from the Caribbean because I got two messages about race and right livelihood.
Growing up in Idaho, one of the least diverse states, I had no problem trying out for sports. Every coach automatically watched me. Much to my dismay at the time, I was not talented enough to be a sports star. Now I see it as a blessing. Being dark in Idaho, I had two types of racism to work with: the Mormon belief that dark skin was the mark on Cain and the Neo Nazi's that were so popular in the state at the time (they used to draw swastika's on my desk and pictures of me with really big lips!). Consequently, by the time I was eighteen and left the state I had some rocking low self esteem. Those first eighteen years I was told implicitly and explicitly that I was a second class citizen. I was told it by classmates, teachers, policemen. I was told it by movies, tv, music. I eventually told it to myself.
To this day I am not sure how I came out of that. The grace of god and good teachers and good people around me. I had the good sense to leave Idaho at a young age and move to Seattle and the liberal west coast. It was here that I would spend the next 15 years unpacking the world I was born into. Seattle was good to me. I don't fear the police there, they are well trained. I was lucky enough to get into Seattle University and eventually to get a financial aid package that helped defray the overwhelming costs of going to a private Jesuit school. I set aside money and began to travel and this is where I learned about brown privilege.
You see there are places in the world where I can go as a brown person and not be harrassed, not be stared at, not be messed with because I am brown. I blend in many places. Even in some places, they know I am American, but do not group me in with "White America". I am not the same American that caused economic, political, social issues in their countries. Consequently, I have had many conversations and relationships that likely would not occur had I been white. Or maybe they occur because I care to have those conversations.
I am privileged in the likelihood that my ancestors most likely did not participate in genocide. I don't have that heaviness to face in my ancestry. Instead I get to work with the shame of a survivor of slavery and indentured servitude. Luckily for me this has somewhat become cool in the last 10 years. It is hip to be from oppression. This may change. I will never understand what it is like to be white. I imagine on some level it must be scary to wonder: Did my ancestors kill the Native Americans? Did my ancestors own Slaves? Did my family build its wealth on the backs of Latino's? Did my ancestors sit by and do nothing while all that was happening? This is something I am privileged to not have to work with. I give my full hearted support to those whites who are doing that work of addressing the past. Check out "Traces of the Trade" a movie about one family's confrontation with their slave owning past. Or this journalist calling for white people to fix the problem of white supremacy.
It is mind blowing to me that the Confederate Flag still flies on the South Carolina Capitol building. I am told that it is their heritage. Why would you want to hold onto that heritage? For me it is the symbol for white supremacy. Growing up in Idaho and Wyoming, when I came across someone posting the Confederate Flag it was a signal to me that they were racist and to stay clear in the same way that my brown skin was the signal to them of being Other. There is no coincidence that there are many pictures of the Charleston shooter with the Confederate Flag. Symbols are very powerful, it is time for that symbol to go the way of the Hitler mustache. Unless of course you are a dictator like Robert Mugabe, then you can rock it. And yes it is my privilege to not have to process my heritage as a southern white person, or as a German who was part of the Nazi party. And it is my privilege to not have the burden of making right the nine wrongs that plague our nation this week.
We all have work to do, on ourselves, on our communities, in our nation. Let's get to work, there is much to be done and life is so short. Let's start with some tough conversations. It is time to finish this page in history.