The intimacy was laced with feelings of treachery. He and I lay, backs facing each other, on the same bed. Our minds raced to understand when a snake had replaced the other. We had been together for almost four years. This translates to, walking away was a heavy decision. Sure, we weren’t married and were without children, but it is undeniable how formidable one’s twenties are with its uncertainty about the effective navigation of adulthood. There he was with the glowing blue undertones in his skin moving with tense exhales. The inhales sounded like the biting back of a tongue and forced swallowing of words. “You’re racist,” I thought. I know he was thinking the same about me.
…at some point, race becomes an emotional discussion.
What they fail to tell you about being in an interracial relationship is that at some point, race becomes an emotional discussion. I’m not referring to the simplistic, “here’s an introduction to my culture” fireside chat. I’m referring to the desperate attempts to have your pain truly understood in a way that’s organic, sacred, ultimately intimate. They also fail to tell you that in an effort to mitigate past wrongs, some groups have become the dominant voice in the narrative.
As an African American, I do have a shared trauma due to history. I take offense when someone touches my hair as if I’m a common petting zoo animal. I feel a physical disgust at couples using former slave plantations as a trendy wedding venue. What I never considered prior to this evening was that a white person could feel oppressed. I treated discrimination as something possessed by minorities. It was an inherent right afforded by all who were not Protestant Cisgender White Men. But being amidst the thickening tensions of his bedroom, I eventually realized how isolating my thinking was.
Where’s the room to have such conversations and receive not sympathy, but true empathy?
He, a twenty-something white man, was simply trying to figure out life, as was I. In his reasoning of society’s progression, his dismissal of the subject, was hurtful. The attribution of certain treatment subconsciously being tied to his race or gender was not his lingua franca as it is mine. Is it ignorance? Is it ego? Where’s the room to have such conversations and receive not sympathy, but true empathy? He could have exuded more kindness, but this world is not his. As much as I recognize the necessity in allies for any humanitarian issue, the strength will always come from those who are directly affected. For try as I might, he does not feel like a second class citizen when a foreign hand lodges into something complicated like his hair. And try as I might, I will never experience the same amount of silencing with the exhaled “it’s because you’re white” as I share a well thought out opinion.
Morals were reevaluated and the admittance of fault was expressed.
In that bed, with nothing but mere inches physically separating us, the pain from feeling dismissed is too overwhelming. A childish snatch of the blankets to leave the other shivering in a tug of war stalemate only echoed the cold emotions that resided. With wounded emotions and exhaustion, the subject was tabled as individual values were questioned. Morals were reevaluated and the admittance of fault was expressed. Sometimes, race can not be handled over an evening. Like a top tier alcohol, it’s an aged process that takes longer simply because it involves emotions, critique, and reflection.
The issue with the current term of post-racial America is that it encourages Colorblindness. While the election of an African-American president experienced profound historical accolades from the majority population, Barack Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, revealed an underlying predicament for America: there are many Whites that believe they are being pushed to the fringes of American society. “Racism manifests itself not only in individual attitudes and stereotypes, but also in the basic structure of society” (Alexander, 184). The underbelly of America is racism. This is apparent in far too many categories of living a quality life. Along with this, the increasing disparities between racial injustices and opposition exemplifies the strength of Colorblindness. It’s imperative to think about the shootings of unarmed African American men in recent years by White Americans or even the Unite the Right Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. Racially charged outrage from many White Americans continues to delay the minimization and, ultimately, elimination of Colorblindness in America.
…the increasing disparities between racial injustices and opposition exemplifies the strength of Colorblindness.
But this conversation is not easy. It requires a separation of self from the whole. There are far too many Whites that upon hearing about African American struggles and outcries of racism find it necessary to immediately respond that they are not racist. In an attempt to relate, they mention ways that they have felt slighted or disadvantaged. These discussions are ill served when they essentially become a contest of woes. “To understand racism, we need to first distinguish it from mere prejudice and discrimination” (Diangelo, 19). What is racism? Beyond that, how does one truly understand it’s nuances as opposed to another facet of prejudice?
We can first assess that in America, our immediate imagery of what constitutes racism is not only shared, but also the serving visual definition of racism classification. With this, “our collective understanding of racism has been powerfully influenced by the shocking images of the Jim Crow era and the struggle for civil rights” (Alexander, 183). While an image of this is only but one example of overt racism, why are we not as equally concerned and disgusted, by the still present usage of the Confederate Flag? From the population, or maybe it may equally be my circles of influence, there is shared discomfort about the Confederate Flag being flown as a symbol of “White heritage,” but unlike Germany, which has banned Nazi regalia, America has not followed suit. My suspicions are led to believe that America’s preservation of freedom and liberty supersedes fairness and decorum.
There is an uncomfortable admittance that must be spoken: “living in a racist society socializes us to be stupid about race” (Fleming, 2). This continued wave of “post-racial” America is nothing more than an increase in colorblindness. And, it is while colorblindness continues to become more popular that those who experience racism and its microaggressions are not only gaslighted, but also silenced in their experiences. “The effects of racism are direct and subtle, pervasive and institutional, and evidenced in all our institutions” (Belgrave and Allison, 107). To be silenced while the African American experience is rooted in the inclusion of racism is dehumanizing. This isn’t even touching base on the psychological effects of this silencing.
It’s almost silly to continue to be of the mindset that the attainment of wealth is equally attainable for both White Americans and African Americans.
While my romantic partner was of the mindset that White Privilege does not exist, but Class Privilege does. I am of the belief that both exist. Yes, there is Class Privilege that exists, unfortunately, in America, there is also the existence of White Privilege as well. While both are interrelated, there are circumstances where it differs. But, “white supremacy and the elevation of whites as whites above persons of color… has been critical in the shoring up of class division” (Wise). While an African American family may be modern wealthy, it’s imperative to acknowledge that a White family will most likely be generationally wealthy. “Wealth sometimes represents inequalities from the past, it not only is a measure of differences in contemporary resources but also suggests inequalities that will play out in the future” (Shapiro, 35). It’s almost silly to continue to be of the mindset that the attainment of wealth is equally attainable for both White Americans and African Americans.
He is a product of his education in the same way that I was of a semi-similar mindset.
The aim of this essay is not to defame my romantic partner’s ignorance surrounding racism and colorblindness. He is a product of his education in the same way that I was of a semi-similar mindset. “If you grew up like most people in the United States, you probably learned very little about the history and current realities of racism in school” (Fleming, 24). We’re taught about slavery and Jim Crow. It quietly ends with the confectionary treat of Barack Obama becoming the first elected African American president of the United States. Why is this? Even worse, we have and continue to fail our students in educating them properly. We were not taught “how to intelligently connect the racial past to the present” (Fleming, 25) and as a result, we now espouse a reality in which “we don’t see color.”
As the majority selectively opts to not see color, they are left incapable of evoking the appropriate sensitivity to conversations that discuss race. They equally are met with confusion when reading a sentiment by Malcolm X that states the harsh truth that at some point in his life he wanted to be white. “I didn’t really have much feeling about being a Negro, because I was trying so hard, in every way I could, to be white” (DeYoung). I equally experienced this desire at a young age superficially because I did not see myself represented. A trip to the store to grab hair styling products always sent me to the “textured hair care” or “ethnic hair care” aisle. It was always separate from “hair care” and “salon hair care.” I was being reminded of my blackness in the way that my partner would not experience in a similar trip with a similar objective: purchasing shampoo.
I was being reminded of my blackness in the way that my partner would not experience…
In recent years, purveyors of identity politics have received negativity for their movements from conservatives, most specifically White conservatives. “The process of identity politics, in contrast, has more to do with participation in new social movements” (Butler). How we see ourselves politically is based on the facets of our identity, and race is a contributing sect of it. What these commentators ignore and spew into the colorblindness dialogue is how “race has always influenced the administration of justice in the United States” (Alexander, 187). While this administering exists, there are ramifications from existing in homogeneous spaces. Consider racial segregation for example: the profound message of racial segregation may be that the absence of people of color from our lives is no real loss (Diangelo, 67). Part of my own constant reminder of my existing blackness is based on attending primarily White schools and/or having a majority White student population in my classes because I was enrolled in honors courses or magnet programs. It becomes quite difficult to ignore the basic existence of race when you are the physical minority in a room.
How is one supposed to reassess their life when engaging in a deep dive through the systemic sewage that has and continues to shape America?
Again, while this conversation needs to be had, there’s a reason why my romantic partner and many Whites struggle to have conversations surrounding race and racism: white fragility. Sociologist Robin Diangelo depicts white fragility as the following: the smallest amount of racial stress is intolerable — the mere suggestion that being white has meaning often triggers a range of defensive responses… These responses work to reinstate white equilibrium as they repel the challenge, return our racial comfort, and maintain our dominance within the racial hierarchy (Diangelo, 2). While there is much-received animosity received from starting the conversation, the tension I experienced trying to sleep next to my partner only proved why this conversation needs to continue to be had. Part of the resistance is rooted in fear. How is one supposed to reassess their life when engaging in a deep dive through the systemic sewage that has and continues to shape America? “These conversations will not be easy, but they will get easier over time” (Oluo, 6).
To argue the existence of race is to continue the silencing of African American voices.
The harsh truth about this conversation on race and minimization of colorblindness is what is revealed about America. Certain groups and their lives have taken precedence over others. “You cannot put chains around the necks of other human beings or slaughter them wholesale, while maintaining social rules that prohibit such treatment, without first designating those people as somewhat less than human” (Oluo, 11). Our collective dilemma is invigorated with acknowledging that in certain environments with a group of a certain look, we have equally internalized these prejudices and act them out. To begin this conversation, let’s play by the rule that if someone, mainly a person of color, believes something is about race, then it is. To argue the existence of race is to continue the silencing of African American voices. “Regardless of the details, regardless of whether or not you can connect the dots from the outside, their racial identity is a part of them and it is interacting with the situation” (Oluo, 15). This painful silence further perpetuates our regression. In order to move towards a truly post-racial society, one where race is not such a painful subject, we need to talk about race and see how its roots are intricately woven with our modern mode of living.
He assured me that it will all be fine with his new interest… “she doesn’t see color.”
My relationship with this partner has since subsided and we’ve both moved on to new dating partners. Both of us are in interracial relationships yet again. Part of the healthiness I feel with my new current romantic partner is that he allows me the space to talk about race and he affirms that my sentiments are valid. He contributes, but he does not attempt to dominate the conversation with quips about how he’s different or “not all white people…” We both hold the conversation up and inspect, assess, and welcome healing. In one of my final conversations with my former romantic partner, I advised him to protect his new romantic interest from his mother as much as he possibly can. In the past, his mother was not shy in expressing her racist sentiments towards me and sharing these opinions with his family members, a trauma that I’m still learning how to heal from. He assured me that it will all be fine with his new interest… “she doesn’t see color.”
Alexander, Michelle. “The New Jim Crow.” In The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, 178 — 220. New York, NY: The New Press, 2010.
Belgrave, Faye Z, and Kevin W Allison. “Race and Racism.” In African American Psychology: From Africa to America, 2nd ed., 95 — 122. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2010.
Butler, Judith. “Violence, Mourning, and Politics.” In Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence, 19 — 49. Verso, 2004.
DeYoung, Curtiss Paul. “Malcolm X ‘Recognizing Every Human Being As A Human Being.’” In Living Faith: How Faith Inspires Social Justice. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007.
DiAngelo, Robin. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2018.
Fleming, Crystal M. How To Be Less Stupid About Race: on Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide. Boston, MA: Beacon, 2019.
Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race. New York, NY: Seal Press, 2018.
Shapiro, Thomas M. The Hidden Cost of Being African American: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Wise, Tim. “How Racism Explains America’s Class Divide and Culture of Economic Cruelty.” In Under The Affluence. San Francisco, CA: City Lights, 2015.