A friend wrote this about her experience and thoughts about racism in the United States. She makes an excellent point: "I believe that black men in the United States are considered particularly frightening by many, many people and black boys are men in training, so they are scary too."
I am a women of African origins and have lived 20+ years in the United
States. Over the years, one thing has been patently clear; living in the
United States as an African American women is way easier than living
here as an African American man.
At some point in the past few years, I
decided to sign an on-line petition through a website called change.org. I receive periodic updates on petitions being circulated, like the one earlier this year on a $5 per month account fee Bank of America wanted to charge or something like that. The petitions don't often catch my attention. While I don't think Bank of America should start charging a new account fee, honestly, it isn't going to change my life one
way or another. So why don't I just un-subscribe? Because of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Recently, I received a petition pushing for the arrest of the black boy's killer. Trayvon had been returning by foot from a convenience store near his father's house
in Florida with some Skittles candy in hand when he was shot by a man
who felt Trayvon was acting suspiciously. More than 1
million people signed the petition and there has been national attention on this case, on the NRA-backed
law that allowed the state not to immediately arrest someone who
clearly killed an innocent boy, and I hope on an underlying issue: why a 17-year-old black boy is automatically considered suspicious?
believe that black men in the United States are considered particularly
frightening by many, many people and black boys are men in training, so
scary too. Trayvon would not have been shot if he was a white boy. I
don't think Oscar Grant from Oakland California would have been killed
by the young, scared white BART officer if he had not been black because
he just wouldn't have been considered as threatening.
So how do we change a culture that considers it acceptable to be afraid of black men
and that to shoot them when you are afraid? I genuinely believe that
Trayvon's killer was afraid. I don't know for certain but we need to
start by challenging the existing paradigm that allows people like
Travyon's killer to walk free.
A childhood friend of mine is from
south India and, like many south Indians, has very dark skin. As he
became "follicularly challenged" at a relatively young age, he shaves
his head. With this combination, in the United States, he is often
mistakenly identified as African American and so has become sadly
familiar with how people react to
black men. My friend kindly shared my first apartment in an upper
middle class neighborhood in the university town we were living in
when I needed a roommate to pay the mortgage. He told me that many
days, when he was walking up the hill on his way home, white people
would cross to the other side of road to avoid the potential danger
that he represented to them as a perceived black man. He said his heart
would sink every time this happened. Imagine how it would feel to
think that people were afraid of you every time you walked out the
Change has to start somewhere and while I hope that the
change will eventually be in people's hearts, it needs to start with no
tolerance for unjust laws and and for people who hide their racist
actions behind them.