Why You Must Acknowledge Racism Exists In Order To End It
I grew up in Baltimore and went to an inner city arts school — the same one Tupac and Jada Pinkett Smith attended.
As a (mostly) half-black and half-white school, it was a utopia for peace, love and discipline.
We would often go to other Baltimore City public high schools to promote acceptance, tolerance and teenage issues through acting.
The problem was that when we showed up to these other schools in Baltimore, the student bodies weren't living in our same utopia.
No one was listening to what we had to say because the day before, one of their friends had just been killed or gotten pregnant or been locked up. They had other things on their minds.
I used to brag that I went to one of the only schools in the city that didn't have metal detector devices.
This was Baltimore in the 90s. This was Baltimore when Adnan and Hae Min Lee of the podcast series “Serial” were in high school.
This was Baltimore when “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “The Corner” (the pre-cursor to “The Wire”) were big hits.
My principles were strong to start off with. I had a good base. I once chased a guy down the street who stole my friend's bag because I wanted to stand up for what was right.
I had a gun put to my head and told the guy to “F” off. My dad is from Cuba, and I'm a woman. I felt like I knew what being in the minority meant. I told anyone off who dared utter a racist remark around me.
I was a reckless, yet brave teenager.
Even with such a strong start, racism crept up on me.
It's scary how easily your mind can absorb the ideas that media puts in front of you. It's crazy how when survival instincts kick in during your 20s, you do whatever you can to fit in.
It's terrifying that you can easily become silently racist without even realizing it because that's what has been deemed as normal in our society.
If the cops can lock a kid up who has darker skin for walking down the street, then why wouldn't we think there are two very different races with two very different superiority levels?
It is up to us to be aware. The banality of evil wasn't just for the Holocaust.
If you don't pay close attention to what's happening, you will start to fear that black man walking down the street toward you because media tells you you should.
If you aren't careful, instead of getting kicked out of a college party for being that girl who won't stand for racist jokes, you will become that girl who laughs at the joke because maybe that guy will hire you for your dream job.
If you don't practice empathy, you may find yourself pointing the finger at those “angry black kids” for destroying their home because you are too far removed to understand that they aren't just fighting to fight; they are fighting for their lives.
The Baltimore riots hit home for me.
Baltimore was my home until I was 18 years old, and it still is home to my mother, my sister, my nephews and my friends.
My stepdad, Bob, was a cop, but he's retired now. When I was in high school, we often had kids live with us for months or a year at a time.
Bob often met kids during work who had been locked up for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, like Derek, who had been arrested for just walking down the street (just like Freddie Gray).
Then there was my friend, Dave, who once got arrested for being in a car while his white friend was smoking pot (the white kid got off). Dave wasn't smoking pot, and a criminal record affects your entire life.
Being black affects your entire life. It's time we stop tip-toeing around that, and change it.
I've never spoken to my stepdad about this, but it seems he was doing what I couldn't do as I entered my 20s; he was silently standing up for his beliefs in a system that was racist — a system he worked in.
He found the middle ground. He was able to make differences, one by one.
The more he could get these kids to see him as an ally, the more he could create hope within them and the more fellow officers would see there was an alternative.
At least, that's how I see it now.
I chose women's rights as my fight as I got older because that's what hit home for me.
I didn't feel I had a right to speak about black rights because no one stops me in the street to interrogate me. No one suspects me of stealing anything from shops.
Although being a woman has probably held me back in ways I will never know, looking white and being a woman has probably also moved me up the ladder in ways that a black woman has to fight 10 times harder for.
And this isn't my fight; I am not their voice.
This is, however, the point where I say I am an ally.
This is the point where I remember that 16-year-old girl who ran after the guy who stole my friend's bag.
This is the point where I remember Bob, who made efforts wherever he could with what he was given.
This is the point where I choose grey, because at the risk of sounding cliché, the issue isn't black and white.
Little by little, we need to rebuild, starting with awareness and acceptance that media has brainwashed us.
We have benefitted from looking white, and just because you aren't outwardly racist doesn't mean you aren't adding to the racism-factor.
If anything, I hope the recent riots have served as a wake up call, and I can certainly say that I hope justice is served.
I believe in Baltimore to make that happen.
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