Despite the dictionary definition, racism is not skin deep. It persistently flies beyond words and actions. It sinks beneath the bones of a person and becomes part of the very thing that makes them.
It is powerful.
I remember. I remember being called a monkey. I remember people pointing and laughing at my hair. I remember.
The actors probably do not.
Sometimes I think I am well over it. Truly healed. Completely moved on. Fully matured in my level headed cool approach. Armed with logic and complex vocabulary grounded in historical sociological theory that I read about in university, thank you very much. Then a careless turn of phrase or a juvenile scratched vile word on a cement wall and my heart clenches and sinks at the same time. Sudden heartbreak and vertigo all at once. Is it possible to feel it all so deeply in such a quick flash before my mind tries to shove it all away. Like a child’s overgrown feet in last years pair of shoes. It fits but it is painful. And it is harder on each attempt.
All my knowledge flees my brain and my words, which have always been my one true and loyal companion, abandon me. And I’m left with silence. And my silence is read as complicity.
Or I respond. And I throw ill fitting and unprepared words together. In the moment. Trying to ignore the complex history and force them into a simplistic present that could never accurately encapsulate all that I want. So I grow frustrated. And my frustration and broken thoughts and ill fitting words read as anger.
So I ask you, when faced with the choice of anger or silence. Are there not times when anger is the more fitting response?
In my skin it is.
My anger is legitimate. My anger is legitimate. My anger is legitimate.
I have spent much of my life uneasy with most expressive emotions. Part cultural, part genetic and part experiential childhood survival (“whatever you do, Naliaka, do not let them see they got to you!”), I have maintained a tight lid on my anger.
“Let it out,” my father gently and sagely advised me apropos of nothing (I thought) when I was a teen, “You must find a way to let it out.”
But I caged in my anger fiercely, as if it was the anger that was the sin and not the act that caused it.
And this is the point where we must pause and underline. To question my anger is to question the validity of the reaction. The reaction is valid when the action is heinous. Marginalization is heinous. Erasure is heinous. Abuse is heinous. Inequality is heinous. To pretend that what happened did not happen, to re-write history, is heinous. So turn your spotlight from the victim to the actor. Recognize who has the power to tell the story. Listen better. Observe better. Support better.
I’ll deal with my anger. I’ll let it out and I’ll funnel it into change. This is advice from Maya Angelou to Dave Chappelle*: to turn the anger into fuel instead of bitterness.
*Search youtube for their full conversation