It Must Suck to be Abigail Fisher: the hardships facing White America

On December 9th Justice Scalia stated black students would do well at “a slower-track school.” To the man’s benefit, he was wondering if sending underqualified students to top schools would actually be a detriment to their future success from failing in classes to being ostracized socially. This concept is commonly called the mismatch theory.

Justice Scalia isn’t totally wrong. It is hard to succeed in university when you feel out of place or you’re not ready for the material. His ponderings were fair, but when framed in a more demeaning-to-minorities manner by Stuart Taylor, Jr., who wrote an amicus brief essentially promoting the mismatch theory with the comment “Martin Luther King didn’t go to a fancy college. Thurgood Marshall didn’t go to a fancy college. Colin Powell didn’t go to a fancy college,” implying they are still the face of black success (which makes them the ultimate minority).

To be crystal clear: King didn’t go to a top 20 university because Morehouse accepted him as a junior during WWII when classrooms were near empty. Marshall, a Baltimore native, didn’t even apply to Maryland’s law school because of their segregation policy. Powell went to the City College of New York prior to his immediate enlistment to the US Army. These men succeeded for a lot of reasons: determination, family support, being males. But they also all grew up in a time where some form of racial segregation was legal. They didn’t have the opportunity to even apply to top schools as easily as whites (because of the law, not just because they might have been underqualified).

I didn’t grow up in that time so my perspective is a bit different. Actually, my perspective is totally different. When I hear that Abigail Fisher (the reason for Justice Scalia’s comments—if you’re not up to date on that, read this) thinks she should have been accepted to UT Austin instead of underqualified black students, I can’t help but say “YOU were underqualified!” She wasn’t in the top ten percent of her class, and wasn’t offered automatic admission. There was nothing that screamed “qualified” about her (maybe it quietly murmured it, but nothing outright). Is it jaded hubris that keeps this girl going EIGHT years after she was rejected?

Universities in general are experiencing huge shifts in the way students approach social challenges and injustices. Black students are finally saying “that’s enough! We aren’t supported here!” That isn’t a sign they will go back to a place that “suits” them, as I suspect many whites hope it does. Students of all races are starting to see that the American university system was founded on the idea of white male success (if your argument here is about to be “what about HBCUs? those schools were founded with the sole purpose to fight that ideal during a time of legal segregation). America is a changing country. In two more generations, whites will live in a majority brown nation. I get that that’s scary—that has NEVER happened in America (on purpose… because slavery, internment camps, reservations, to name a few things).

This all seems to me like a system of white privilege on the verge of succumbing to its own imminent implosion. Being white is no longer synonymous with success—not because underqualified minorities are taking over the world, but because whiteness was a measurement American society applied to success to prevent others from achieving it. Universities across the nation are trying to make classrooms represent the world students will be entering into as adults. I think it is fair to say schools should be able to shape their classrooms to reflect that—and provide some different perspectives to white and brown/black students.

I didn’t know that I was a threat to white societal success until I applied to colleges. Being half-white, I didn’t even think about it. The daughter of a doctor, there was no doubt I would go to college and do well. I soared in my elementary school for high achievers (their words, not mine). My high school resume was one for the books. The diverse, county-wide magnet program I attended in high school pitted me against the best public school students, regardless of race. “Underqualified” to us wasn’t about skin color, but getting B’s. My upper-middle class existence was a protective blanket from the backlash I would get from getting into almost every college I applied to.

I won’t lie—I think my being a black had something to do with it. Of course, here is where many would say “But Leah, you aren’t even black,” as if my acceptance was even more insulting to them or wasn’t enough of the “Blindside”-plot to be encouraging and uplifting. At that time I didn’t consider myself black and I wasn’t forced to confront my racial identity until college. But the thing is, all of this doesn’t matter. The second someone thought about my race as a reason for my acceptance or even whispered it to a friend (“She got in because she’ll be good for the brochures”) they devalued my ability as a student. As a leader. As a woman of color.

Each time I hear Justice Scalia’s statements or people supporting Fisher, I have to close my eyes and remind myself that I am qualified. I have had multiple people attack my qualifications, wonder if I deserved the merit-based full-ride scholarship I received at a top private college or the acceptances to multiple Ivies. I hold my tongue (much of the time), when I’m quietly questioned. To bring up all my many successes makes me feel like an asshole. I shouldn’t have to list my resume in an article to be qualified to have an opinion. And even then, there is always the fear I will be labeled the angry, black woman for speaking up for myself.

Simply put: Abigail Fisher wasn’t qualified. But her argument doesn’t support the idea that she should have been accepted over equally underqualified blacks. Her argument says that black success (or acceptance from a university wishing to have a more diverse student body) will always be questioned. Even if that’s not why she ended up in the Supreme Court, that’s what I hear. That’s what millions of black and brown students will hear: no matter your success, someone will always question you because of your skin color.

So yeah, I might be big-headed for talking about my triumphs, but behind all the words are hours of work. Weeks of practice. Years of studying. I recognize that I benefitted from my environment, if not my skin color. I never worried about money or food or shelter. It was my parents’ determination, not my skin color, that set me up for success. I work hard to prove them right—not people who chalk my wins up to being brown.

It will be a long time before Americans (and I mean all of us) recognize the effect of being white has had on the minds of our country’s current racial majority. It’s complicated and awkward to talk about. But, much of what America has done in the past to maintain white privilege is awkward and complicated (and unjust). This is the true mismatch theory. Abigail is just one of millions having to face the reality that the world is not their oyster because they are white—it is their oyster because they are human. But that also means the playing field just got a whole bigger. Let’s see who is ready to play ball.

 

The Importance of Talking about Race in 150 Words

Alright, let’s make this quick.

Fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. If at any point in listening to, reading about, or watching news regarding racially charged protests, deaths, marches, murders, or riots you felt at all uncomfortable: you were scared. On both sides of any issue, there are those who are scared for their lives and those who are scared for their currently existence, their security.

Simply put: race is a subject that will never go away. It’s also scary to talk about it because you’re always at risk of offending someone or realizing your preconceived notions about everything are wrong. That’s a lot of pressure.

Take a moment and pretend you weren’t born yet. It’s 2015 and you’re waiting in some mother’s belly, unsuspecting of the world you’re about to greet. You don’t know who she is, or who your dad is, you know nothing of the life that awaits you. Let’s say you do know all about America in 2015—the politics, who’s Kimye, the movies available at Redbox. You maintain all that you know about the United States up to this point (but you’re still not a part of the world, yet!).

The scenario you’re in right now puts you behind a veil of ignorance. (You can read about it here). Now, when I ask you (unborn, unsuspecting you) this question, answer honestly:

Knowing the world around you today, if you were born with black or brown skin, do you think you would do as well in life if you had white skin?

Great. You thought about it. Now consider this, regardless of your answer:

There is no right answer. In fact, the only answer is this:

Race is complicated.

And I would know: I’m white and black. I realize that’s far from a rainbow, but in America it’s everything (and nothing). To some, I am too white (and in #myunpopularblackopinion the vernacular I use and cadence in which I speak only reflects well on my appreciation for the English language—not my rejection of the monolithic and one-sided stereotype of blacks in America). To others, my whiteness is unknown until they ask or I say something. At times, it is accompanied with a sigh of relief… “oh, I get it now,” or “I figured.” My race has a habit of overshadowing the other parts of me that help to shape my views and opinions. It’s in part because that is the first thing all Americans look at, and also because it does not require you (or anyone) to look below the surface. Qualifying race first is the ultimate shallow and lazy personality trait.

I’m not going to elaborate on the story of how I came to terms with my racial identity, but I will tell you that it happened in the last few years and it came with understanding that who I am is exactly enough: I am enough. After listening to Viola Davis’ amazing and inspiring speech after winning for best actress, I couldn’t stop smiling (Viola understands me!). What she said was so true: you cannot win an Emmy for a role that doesn’t exist.  You cannot feel successful or important in a world that doesn’t make space for you. For lots of us brown and black people, the opportunities to succeed (especially when compared to whites)… they aren’t there. We fight for the slivers of light in the darkness of limited prospects as we see equally qualified whites easily stand in the sun. With each new accomplishment, I remind myself that someone helped me get there (whether it’s myself, my parents, my professors, or proactive policy writers who worked to create the magnet school in which I excelled).

In reality, there isn’t a veil of ignorance—we don’t have a choice about where the world’s twists and turns will take us. But in the case of race, it can be challenging to say my life is and will always be less just because the color of my skin. It’s a cheap argument and I dare you to look deeper. If it weren’t race, would it be something else? Your answer should always be yes.

So, I’m going to leave you with my ten cents on race. It’s only 150 (okay, 149) words, but I hope the conversations you have after reading this are much longer.

You did not choose the color of your skin or the family in which you were born. Your opinions, your views, your religion—those are all products of your surroundings. No matter what your successes are today, they would have not existed without opportunity, without a chance for you to succeed. When considering race in our new American context, I hope you begin each thought (and the following verbal statement) with “Was there equal opportunity here?” That question alone forces each of us to look beyond our skin color and at the social context that frames our world: the one that currently makes race so important. Race is important because it is the frame for bigger social issues, like poverty and education inequality. You may not have chosen the scenario in which you grew up, but you have the opportunity to talk about it. And I hope you do.

A Gray Guest Post: From South Africa to Virginia: Where do we go from here?

I am without enough words to elaborate on the impressive work and sure-fire words of Professsor TJ Tallie, who is the author of the piece below. Tallie is an Assistant Professor of African History at Washington and Lee University. His academic work focuses on race, masculinity, and sexuality in colonial and settler societies. You can find him on twitter @Halfrican_One or his tumblr page http://theteej.tumblr.com/

The following is A Gray Guest Post and has been left completely unedited by the site creator.

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From South Africa to Virginia: Where do we go from here?

19 July 2015

Lexington, VA

I’m sitting cross-legged on my living room floor, blankly typing into this white space while the overhead fan chugs by lazily.  I should’ve gone to bed ages ago; it’s getting close to 2 in the morning.  But I just feel a bit off; I haven’t written much about my time in South Africa since I’ve returned, and I’m trying to process, even if it’s not very convenient.

It’s weird being back.  So much of South Africa feels like it happened in a dream.  Social media really has bridged the gap between the two places in some ways, so it feels like I wasn’t really gone for three years before I returned.  It’s easier to feel like you’re a part of something when your friends’ electronic avatars mediate their experiences every day for you across the globe.  Multiple people remarked when I was in Durban that it felt like I was only gone for about a year, since they saw my updates online all the time.  Yet in some ways the busy metropolis of Durban feels so very different from sleepy Lexington, VA, that it almost feels like I imagined the entire month.  It’s sticky and hot and humid and summery here, with the daylight stretching to 9pm.  I spend most days sitting awkwardly in front of my computer, trying to hammer out the first drafts of book proposals and chapter rewrites.  My magical research time is over, and I’m back to work in the largely deserted Confederate hothouse of Lexington.  And so I sit here, cross-legged on the floor, avoiding sleep.  Tonight in particular I’m thinking about my two day trip to Pietermaritzburg.

My trip back to Pietermaritzburg was only semi-expected.  I knew I’d have to go back at some point during my trip, but I found the opportunity when two of my friends were driving up to the Drakensberg Mountains for a two day trip—just enough time for them to drop me off, research some documents I couldn’t get down in Durban, and catch a ride back.  ‘Maritzburg is about 50 miles inland from Durban, much colder in the winter, and even more painfully British colonial in some of its layout and orientation.  It is also where I studied abroad as an anxious twenty-year old and first truly came to love the country I keep returning to study.  I found an Airbnb with a kindly white elderly couple and prepared for a few days of research.

Barbara and Patrick seemed very reserved and conservative when I first met them; older white South Africans that I wasn’t quite sure how to read or respond to.  But I found that they were anything but conservative.  Barbara told me complicated family stories over breakfasts, and I learned that she was a loving, open, woman who had a warm smile and sense of dry humor for everyone.  Her husband, Patrick, was a kindly older lawyer, who loved to talk about books and history—and structural racism and solutions.  And in time they asked about my own life, and were open, excited even, to learn about my boyfriend, my research, my life.  They held my hand at the end of my two days and insisted I was their new adopted American child and that I’d always have a place to stay.  I admit I teared up as I left.

Returning to ‘Maritzburg meant spending most of my days at the squat, drab building downtown that housed most of the former colony’s government documents.  I love that weird space, not least of which for the kind and brilliant archivists all at work there.  I found myself plowing through folder after folder on colonial education, and found a friend from three years ago, Zamanguni Gumede, was still there and more than willing to help a bumbling American.  Zama was now a higher ranked archivist than when I’d left in 2012, but kept most of her snark, and was happy to offer observations on what I researching.  Midway through the first day I had a tension headache and a pain in my neck and decided to take a short break.  Zama walked by as I pushed an errant corkscrew curl away from my face, sighing.

“You don’t look so good,” she said, smiling.

“I’m just tired,” I said, half-truthfully before going all in. “I’m just tired of reading all of these dismissive anti-African comments from incompetent, racist white colonists.”

Zama raised an eyebrow, still smiling. “These colonists were men of their time, T.J.,” she began, as I rolled my eyes.  “No, seriously, it was standard to them to think those things about us.  You know what I’m more concerned about?  I’m more concerned about people that are living here and now who think and say the same things those people said back then.  Those are the ones without excuses.  Those are the dangerous ones.”

That comment from Zama has echoed in my head for the last month.  I’m not as inclined as she is to give nineteenth century colonials a ‘pass,’ per se, but her words on the present matching past mean a lot for a queer black man teaching African history in the heart of Confederatelandia.  While I was gone, a twenty-one year old white supremacist (who brandished apartheid era South African and white supremacist Rhodesian flags in photographs) walked into a Black church in South Carolina and murdered nine people.  In true American fashion, people began looking anywhere but within systems of racial oppression to explain or respond to this devastating violence.  The Confederate flag, a symbol that had alienated African Americans for over a century and a half (an alienation most whites were all too happy to ignore in their daily lives) became the newest target for symbolic removal in the wake of racist violence.  And white backlash has been swift and frustrating.  Neo-Nazis and Klan members have held rallies; people have decried losing their “heritage,” and in Lexington, Virginia, we’ve managed to illustrate the very thing Zama was talking about.

This past week, our local newspaper ran a paid advertisement from a local man in the county.  This man has a gigantic Confederate flag on his property that can be seen from the highway.  The local paper saw fit to publish the following advertisement from him:

About the Confederate Flag:

Because of all the trouble the democrats and the black race are causing, I place this ad.

No black people or democrats are allowed on my property until further notice.

 

Furthermore, I believe our government purposefully put our country in $18 trillion debt, knowing it could cause bankruptcy.  It is a plot to take away our Social Security and cause taxes to skyrocket.

Raymond Agnor

Billboard Hill Lane, Fairfield.

When I read that ad, it was like all the air had been sucked out of my chest.  Not because the words themselves were particularly clever or terrible or vicious or subversive; indeed, they were actually almost cartoonishly offensive (the WHOLE black race? The curious connection of Social Security and some sort of purposeful evil government deficit spending? Nearly a caricature.)  As I said to a friend that afternoon, “Racists gonna racist.  That is neither new nor interesting. (In fact, that’s what I suspect twitter is really for at this point.)”  What did really bother me, was that our town paper saw fit to print this ad.  That they saw fit to openly print a paid advertisement that openly denigrated an entire race of people as troublemakers.

Subsequently, the paper foolishly attempted to claim that they were trying to ‘illuminate’ the community to racism in their midst, a claim that is as absurd as it is entitled.  You know who’s well aware of endemic racism in southwestern Virginia? We black people who live here. (And any white person with common sense). To pretend that printing an openly racist, inflammatory advertisement in the local paper is appropriate or educational is what I’ve taken to calling #peakwhiteness, a condition when entitlement and racial blindness reach a critical mass.  When you don’t feel the effects of structural racial discrimination in your life, you can delude yourself into thinking that printing invective in your paper is not merely adding more psychic strain to marginalized people and instead an intriguing thought experiment.  And that’s where Zama’s words actually come in.  Not in the one-dimensional villainous racism of Agnor; but in the uncritical, entitled white privilege/supremacy that allowed an editor to think publishing racism was educational rather than oppressive  That’s when people repeat statements from ‘men of their time’ in the present, and make things dangerous and vile.

After two days of archival chats with Zama, I managed to snag a delicious lunch with an old friend before I returned to Durban.  Eckson Khambule is a hilarious Zulu man, a Columbia University alum, and a lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where I’d studied back in 2004 and 2009.  We sat beside a lake on a distressingly hot winter afternoon and talked about colonialism, violence, transformation, and restitution.

“Everything is a mess,” Eckson said between sips of beer and life updates.

“That’s for damn sure.  Both in South Africa and the U.S.  Hell, everywhere.”

“But here in South Africa, it frustrates me so much how little change we’ve made.  How much isn’t done.”

I looked off in the distance, fanning myself in the heat, remembering old conversations from years past, as well as compelling conversations with students this past year.  I turned to Eckson.

“But what if that’s the way it’s supposed to work, Eckson?  What if the whole state was always meant to work this way, benefitting only a tiny fraction and truly only controlling the path of resources within and without the borders.  It was never meant to be accountable to millions.  It was always a veneer of democracy; votes that impact only a slim percentage.  Why do we expect this system, corrupt and engineered to be unfair from its very implementation, to be better now that there’s a change in management?”

“Because we can and should be better, man.  And we should drastically change things if they’re so inherently broken under this system.”

“Yeah, but how? And under what means? How do we do this?”  I realized that I wasn’t really talking about South Africa any more, but about my own country instead.  How do we overthrow or acknowledge that a very nation was built to run like this?  That the U.S. was not ever designed to be free or fair or ‘truly just’ at some point.  It was a project of land theft, and of forced labour.   Of indigenous genocides and black dehumanization. Of crushing class inequity.  Of systemic race and gender discrimination.  How do we even begin to imagine that the feeble tools of ‘democracy’ and ‘individual will’ would change these yawning systems built not in spite of inequality, but rather FOR inequity?

What does it mean to be in the United States and to confront, with that mixture of necessary cynicism and genuine hope, that this entire structure is fucked from top to bottom? That we can’t just ‘reform’ our way out of a system designed to destroy so many to privilege so few?  What does it mean to be a queer black man in the South where I am shown daily, brutally, how much less my life matters than others?  What does it mean to do work where I pore over countless documents, write pithy asides, and trace the shared threads of exploitation, racist capitalism, heteropatriarchy and colonialism that structure lives in SA and the USA (and so many other places)?  And how do I not give in to despair or allow myself to be co-opted by these systems?  How do I continuously push myself and others to simply, truthfully, be better, to be more than simply grateful for limited inclusion and to work instead for true liberation?

“I have no idea, T.J.  That’s above our pay grade.  At least for this afternoon.”

“Yeah, but we’ll have to get to it sometime, man.”

“Perhaps after another beer.”

“Good call.”

Time for bed.

A Gray Guest Post: A Response to the News-Gazette

I am so proud to be able to post this site’s first guest piece, written by a young woman who embodies the best of recent college graduates finding their own special way in the world. What she has to say has been echoed by many in her community. I hope you read carefully the story she tells, as it is a presentation of what is important to her and the life she so bravely leads.

A Response to the News-Gazette:

I attended Washington and Lee University, located in Lexington, VA. Over the course of four years, I grew tremendously and really learned what it meant to be Black, a female, and educated. I felt compelled to write this because I can no longer be quiet. I have a voice and I think it is time that people hear it. I write this post because earlier this week a major Lexington newspaper, The News-Gazette, published this ad by a Rockbridge county resident:

This ad was placed in the Lexington, VA News-Gazette local paper.

Paid Advertisement placed in the Lexington newspaper, The News-Gazette.

I write because I was outraged by the fact that this ad actually ran in this newspaper. I had a hard time even formulating a response to it because I was shocked, not by his words, because I know racism is alive and well. I was shocked because this was an ad in a newspaper.  I thought about this a lot over the past few days and I had almost put it out of my mind when Matthew Paxton, the publisher for The News-Gazette, posted a reply to the newspaper’s Facebook page regarding the comments that people had written in response to seeing the advertisement.

Response from the editor of the News-Gazette regarding the personal advertisement placed by Raymond Agnor.

Response from the editor of the News-Gazette regarding the personal advertisement placed by Raymond Agnor.

This response was almost as bad as the ad itself and I am almost as hurt by this response as I was to reading the ad placed by Raymond Agnor in the News-Gazette. The newspaper can say what it will but they are so clearly in the wrong. The News-Gazette actually took this man’s money to print this racist ad in the newspaper. To say that they “refrain from publishing things that are libellous, personal attacks or that incite violent or illegal acts” is a lie.  The ad is all of those things.

Libelous means, “containing an untrue written statement that causes people to have a bad opinion of someone.” This ad blames Black and democrats for the “trouble” they are causing. #1. That is untrue and could cause readers of The News-Gazette to have bad opinions of Black people. They published an ad that was a personal attack to every black person that lives in Lexington and Black people everywhere. It was not considered to be a personal attack to the publisher because HE IS WHITE. They published an ad that made me so incredibly angry that I wish I could actually set something on fire. How could Matt Paxton think that this ad would NOT incite violence (Especially because Raymond put his address to tell the Blacks and the democrats that weren’t allowed on his property…)? I am so happy that I no longer live in Lexington. I always called Lexington home, but it wasn’t really. W&L was home.

Let me preface this next part with the fact that I am not commenting on the Confederate flag issue but am merely writing about an experience I had in Lexington. I do not comment on the Confederate flag issue because taking down every confederate flag in the country will not change the explicit, implicit and systematic racism that is rampant in America. It may be a step, but state governments are agreeing to take down the flag because they think it will appease us. Let it be known, that it will definitely not appease me.

I remember the first time I realized what Lexington really was. I was walking to the bank and on my walk back I saw, at the corner of Main and Washington, a man dressed in uniform holding a confederate flag and what I assume was some civil-war era gun. I then looked around and realized that they were men at every corner holding confederate flags. One man said to me, “Happy Lee-Jackson Day!” My first thought was I don’t want to talk to you because you have a gun and a confederate flag. My second thought was, “what the hell is Lee-Jackson Day?” From there I did what every scared freshman does: I called my mom. My mom remained calm though I could tell she was scared for me. She calmly told me “just get back to campus and you’ll be just fine.” I walked very quickly down the hill and felt an overwhelming amount of relief as I reached campus.

I felt upset and scare. That was my first time really experiencing Lexington as Black American. I now think about how Black Lexington residents feel all the time. Not just during Lee-Jackson Day, but literally every day. Then I thought about how all Black Americans feel every day and how I feel everyday. Ads like this are hurtful and a prime example of how I am constantly reminded that I am Black. I have to admit the reminder is not needed because every day I look in the mirror, admire who I see, and know (and am proud) that I am Black.

After talking to my dad this morning, there is another point I would like to add. I asked him why would a publisher allow this in their newspaper and he simply said, “Publicity is publicity. Good or Bad.” But I did tell him that if this was their reasoning for publishing, it might have backfired because some are saying they intend to end their subscription. And I have never and will never buy The News-Gazette.

To the publisher of The News-Gazette, Matthew Paxton, your post to The News-Gazette Facebook page has not appeased anyone. I am still upset regarding your decision to run this ad in your newspaper. You decided to take money from a man to place a blatantly racist ad in your newspaper. You had a choice and you chose wrong. You could have taken that opportunity to show where The News-Gazette stands on in issues of race and justice. I would have rather you rejected that ad and wrote an article about that. Not to shame the man that wrote it, but to bring light to the issue of race in America, in light of recent happenings around the country. It is already difficult to be Black person in America. What we need are allies that stand up for their beliefs. If you also found the ad “troubling, and even offensive,” then you should have chosen to reject this man’s request to place his ad in the newspaper and then written an article about how The News-Gazette is a newspaper that does not support racism in any form.

UPDATE: After this was written, the publisher of The News-Gazette posted another comment after reading all of the comments that people had made on The News-Gazette page. It is quoted below:

“I have read all the comments made up to this point, and I am impressed with the depth of thought contained in them. What I hoped would be illuminating has instead proven to be merely offensive to many of our readers. For that, I apologize. In retrospect, my decision to run the ad was a mistake.

We plan to run a story in next week’s paper on this and may contact some of you who have commented. I will also be writing an editorial expressing what I’ve written here.

Matt Paxton
Publisher”

I’m still not satisfied. Yes, he apologized, but that does not negate that he thought it was okay to publish the racist ad in the first place. The majority (if not all) of the commenters on the News-Gazette page were white. So to them, thank you for being allies. The publisher said that he may contact some of those who have commented. But with almost no people of color who have commented, how can that story really capture how members of the Black population of Lexington and Rockbridge County felt after reading that ad?

I will speak for myself and only myself. This ad was hurtful and by no means should have ever been printed. In a time where every time I watch the news there another Black church burning, another Black person suffering the effects of police brutality, another ignorant White person saying, “we live in a post racial society,” I find it hard to believe that anyone would think this ad was okay to run in a newspaper, at all. To say being Black in America is difficult, really is an understatement. I have by no means struggled. I grew up comfortably middle class and did not want for much.  I graduated from a top-tier university that had undoubtedly prepared me to be successful in the workforce. But I still feel the pang in my stomach just driving next to a police officer. If pulled over, I have to remember to be extra polite and calm because that’s what my parents have had to teach me to be sure to avoid incident.

I have had conversations with my mom about how scared it makes me to bring a Black child into this world just knowing what they have to face. And I’ve asked her how her and dad did it. She told me that honestly they just tried her best. Her and dad did all that they could to make sure that they were great role models and that we had influential people in our lives that would help us reach our potential. I never really felt limited by the color of my skin, but that’s because I had two awesome Black role models in my home (and many outside) that were constant examples of what  people of color could accomplish. My mom said she looks at my siblings and I and knows that we are going to somehow make this world better. And that right there leaves me with hope. Hope for the future of people of color and hope for my future children.

Dylann Roof is a Terrorist and We Must Do Something About It

Dylann Roof is not mentally unstable. He is not insane or deranged. To say that Dylann Roof, the murderer of nine people, is a psychopath is a lie.

Dylann Roof committed murder. Dylann Roof is a terrorist. He committed a hate crime. A hate crime, as defined by congress, is a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” It seems that when Dylann Roof walked into Charleston’s Emanuel AME church, sat for over an hour, and then chose to voice racist views and kill nine unsuspecting church members he committed such a hate crime.

It is vital to note that hate is not defined as a crime—it is protected by the first amendment. If the media is prepared to look at Dylann Roof’s actions as a product of insanity, how could they ignore the most obvious choice—and the correct one? Hate is a weapon. It infects and feeds the minds of terrorists like Dylann Roof. Hate, as it relates to the well-being and sustainability of human life on this planet, is a crime. It is the brainchild and aggravator of fear. Fear creates an environment for violence. Violence leads to death. There is not one solution that hate provides that fuels positive change or outcomes.

It is impossible to logically analyze the deaths of nine people—how can I explain or even justify the unfair and untimely exit these loved and missed individuals experienced? To be explicitly clear, I am attempting to explain the truly personal, emotional, and confusing ideas that come with death, but the actions of a murderer. No random idea or passing thought can be blamed for the heinous actions of Dylann Roof. The ideas that bolstered his decision to murder innocent people was the direct product of hate and the intentional (and unintentional) consequences that come from its deceptive and strong influences on our society, the media, governmental policies, and perception of historical facts.

Hate, as it relates to race, is the emotionally charged projection of what we can see in political and social policies as discrimination, segregation, and racial bias. Of the almost six thousand hate crimes committed in 2013, almost half were racially-biased. Thinking about the idea of skin color unattached from its social context in American history—it seems so silly to dislike someone because her skin is darker than yours. But for the last two and half centuries this country has prospered in an environment that ensures an the existence of an underclass based on race. Those who benefit from this system—whites— rarely understand the privilege that comes with a lighter skin color, the doors that are automatically open to greater opportunity.

Beyond being the racial majority in the United States and dominating two of three branches of government, whites also are the owners of all news media outlets in the United States. The media has helped to cover up the challenges that face minorities in the US and distort the deliberate efforts by those in power to maintain social and political dominance. Massive efforts by the Federal Housing Administration, realtors using “blockbusting methods,” and redlining public housing for blacks in urban areas led to the massive accumulation of wealth by whites from home ownership that blacks were denied. It is perhaps these disgusting housing policies that have led directly to the disparate responses by blacks in urban areas ending in police brutality and lack of proper intervention.

The policies that have shaped an unequal political environment also have led to the general acceptance that white lives, ideas, and opinions matter more. Whites cannot be terrorists in America—they are mentally ill. They are rogue killers. The media, as Jon Stewart so aptly commented, has not said nearly enough about the racist, wrong, and utterly evil acts of Dylann Roof. This world, this “free” America is not made for the black man (or woman)—its systems have been made to benefit those whose lives appear to matter most: whites.

It seems appropriate then that the media would not portray its most prized possession (a white male) in the light that it has so easily shown on blacks. It would avoid calling Dylann Roof what he is: a terrorist. Mental illness is the cover-up to protect the fragility of white dominance in our ever diversifying society. It is a protective method to shield the vulnerable from facing the truth: white dominance is not earned or deserved, it has been built on the tired shoulders and broken backs of subjugated people. There is an unfair downplay of the violence that left nine people dead, nine people who were murdered because of their race. If news anchors won’t say it, I will: Dylann Roof murdered nine innocent blacks in a place of worship and he is a terrorist.

In the wake of this awful tragedy, I ruminate on the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.  in his 1967 “Where Do We Go From Here?” address at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta, GA.

For I have seen too much hate. I’ve seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love.

 

Reading those words again and again I feel a sense of calm, knowing that I can conquer at least some of the darkness attempting to fill my heart as I work to find some light, some joy to comfort me. Even so, I want to scream, yell out to the world: Why? Why! Blacks cannot get ahead. They are shot dead, blown two steps back, sometimes swept right off their feet. Blacks in this country are seen as second-class. People of color: we are seen as second-class. We are constantly beaten down. We are murdered in our churches! WHY?

 

I therefore ask a question that perhaps can best frame my need for a logical approach to understanding the actions of a hate-filled murderer: Why is anything that Martin Luther King, Jr. still relevant?

Because everything yet nothing has changed.

Why is it that the depressing (and true) relay of statistics Dr. King provides in his speech (00:29:30) haven’t change but all for the exact numbers? Blacks are still lagging behind whites in every statistic except incarceration and morbidity rates. Why is it that we must turn to these words for comfort and not in reflection? Because the hate crime committed in Charleston stings just like that in Birmingham, bringing to a boil a painful poison able to draw hot tears of anger from our tired eyes.

Something is wrong when what a man said almost fifty years ago to promote the de facto and de jure acceptance of equal rights is still overly applicable, if not spot-on. The world we allowed ourselves to create over the last half-century is not one I want to claim anymore. I struggle with this concept because I am the product of a loving, stable, multi-racial marriage that shows me a non-racially driven world can and does work—race is not the only factor that can divide and conquer us (or bring us together).

Still, for the last couple years I have sat quietly, fuming as only people with dark skin were proven guilty at alarmingly higher rates, given longer sentences, and had deaths of violence not deemed as murders. But you only hear water boiling when the kettle whistles: these murders of an obvious hate-crime are the heat below my twitching fingers and screaming to let the words out.

Up to this point in my life I have never felt strangled by the lack of opportunities many others of my similar skin color (and darker) face daily in receiving quality education, living in safe and clean neighborhoods, procuring loans or quality healthcare, and receiving job offers. I have never felt like the bootstraps everyone tells down-and-out Blacks to pull themselves up by are the noose with which society wants to hang their dwindling hope for a better future. A part of me has even thought that because I didn’t experience this, I couldn’t have a voice in the black community—one had to be qualified by familiarity for that opportunity.

I want to be very clear:

This is what the media and those who use hate as a weapon for discrimination and disparity-exacerbation what me and you to think. Whether you are black or white or poor or rich or well-read or illiterate, the idea of demanding change (presented to all Americans) as one that can stem from only those who have been most abused by proponents of hate is a lie. It is a way to keep those of us who may only see the burning buildings, poignant signs, and violent arrests on television quiet. It is a way to keep our mouths shut, the voting booths empty, and our conscious somewhat at ease. This too, like the insanity of a merely hateful man, is a lie. Black Lives Matter. No one needs to stand up and say such a statement about whites—history has already done that.

I refuse to let myself be silenced anymore. Better yet, I refuse to silence myself. I raise my voice for those who have been waiting to be heard, long before I chose to stand up. I should not have to fear that I may bring children into a world where Dr. King’s quotes are not just on college counselor poster quotes but are even more relevant to the derisive and evil environment we are quietly allowing to grow again today. It is our responsibility to decide that Black lives matter enough to make the important changes. It is time to retire my last sentence and be able to simply say that “all lives are worthy of protection.” There is no simple solution to ending the disadvantage from which centuries of obvious and deceptive methods of domination over blacks have led. There is no simple solution period. But that does not mean there is not one out there, waiting for us to invoke its healing powers.

We must first stomp out hate in all aspects of American existence. As we sit waiting for this abhorrent fire of hate to die, people who whisper in the ears of other Dylann Roofs will continue to quietly, yet efficiently throw more violence, negative stereotypes, and discrimination into the flames. It is time that housing, voting, and assistance program policies see reform. It is time we remove symbols of hate that are provided by state and federal governments that represent us all. It is time that we speak up for all of our futures. It is time that we say no to excuses for violence. It is time that Dr. King’s words become a reminder of our past accomplishments, a reflection of our progress. It is time that we decide that where we go from here is not backwards, but forward.

Naming the Hiatus

It seems that at the most inopportune times the world provides each of us with a reminder that we are not always ready for the ground to shift below us. In the last six weeks I have graduated from university and accepted a job. Somewhere in those 42 days I decided that I was fed up with the world around me. After the protests in Baltimore I truly felt that I shouldn’t or couldn’t have an opinion about anything related to race, justice, or humanity.

I hated seeing the reactions of every type of person (even the ones I couldn’t imagine still existing) on the internet—twitter feeds fueling hate, facebook posts ratcheted up to near-racist and insensitive levels. I was absorbed in it all. I couldn’t look away from the words escaping the fingers of their typists. I was sick of looking at it, but like a child with candy—I wasn’t going to stop consuming it.

Baltimore destroyed my faith in me. I do not feel ready to talk about the importance of Baltimore to my personal understanding as a multiracial, black woman, but I can say now that it made me realize that what I see around me (in the media) is not what I have to accept.

I was letting the hate and anger of those around me get the best of me. A part of me wanted to comment on statuses with a “who cares? No one!” I didn’t write it. Maybe because I did care. I am still not certain if it mattered to me more that people expressed their views so openly on social media or that some of them didn’t leave a pleasant taste in my mouth. Either way, I realized I didn’t want a seat on a train chugging its way into complain-all-day station. I wanted something different.

I was supposed to move to Baltimore, and sadly I won’t be. I have spent the last month developing an idea about the city. Not from the media, but from books. History. Stories. Pictures. I began painting my idea of the city on a fresh canvas, letting each new idea cover up the blank confusion with a swath of fresh color. It wasn’t my emotions that fed my understanding of the complicated, joyful, growing, and exciting city of Baltimore—it was my choosing to provide myself with my own image to see, and accept.

In the continuation of this blog I hope to be able to provide a modicum of that concept in the topics I cover. I cannot say that my opinion doesn’t affect my writing (otherwise, why would I write about anything?). In fact, I would say it is truly my life experiences that affect both how I see the world and how I present it to you. Simply put, I almost let fear of accepting my understanding (or lack thereof) of challenging ideas stop me from having a voice. I have to stop silencing myself. Hopefully I can bring a voice to many things.

Naming the Gray: An Introduction

Welcome to Naming the Gray. I’m so glad you decided to join me on this journey of self-realization and acceptance. This website (and its subsequent blog posts) is the formal end of my public silence—a silence I self-imposed as protection from the confining and one-dimensional world around me. This world, whether in the media or the one in which live, is seeing change, and I’m ready to be a part of it. I’m ready to share my voice and my opinions, if not for you, then for me.

I follow the rules. I once played Grand Theft Auto and stopped at a red light. I write thank you letters and grab the green beans off the top shelf for grocery-store-grandmas. I say “please” and “thank you.” I follow the rules. See, I’m a confident and vivacious young woman. Everyone says I’m so opinionated and outgoing (either because I am or they just don’t know what to do with me because it’s code for “obnoxious”). In the pastel world I live in now I look like a highlighter that blew up. To me, I don’t see any of that. I’m currently preparing to graduate from college and I feel as if I’ve spent the last four years coloring inside the lines, never venturing too far outside the confines that society has created for me.

I didn’t want to upset the masses. Or put myself at risk for being hurt—physically or emotionally. I knew it (and I still do) that most people aren’t ready for a young, smart, and confident bi-racial woman to tell them about what’s wrong with our world. “Is it hard being black here?” they ask in a whisper, afraid that even mentioning the topic their words will knock me over or I’ll knock them out. “It has been challenging, but I love my college experience,” I reply with a smile—my prepared answer. They probably don’t realize that I’m bi-racial. That my mother is white and that my father is black. They also probably don’t realize that while that one fact may define a good majority of my life experiences—it does not define me.

In some ways I’ve spoken out on a few issues— ones that, when I express my ideas, my race is not the first thing to qualify my opinion. To most, my mere existence is probably as outspoken as the words that stay quiet behind my lips.

But, frankly, I’m over it.

I’ve spent most of my time in college studying people—making claims about society while attempting to leave myself out of it. Black Americans this…. White Americans that…. The society I’m talking about is my own, so why haven’t I thrown myself into the mix?

Because I’ve been scared.

I’m still a little frightened by the idea of just putting my opinion out there for the world to stomp on, as it runs away from the possibility of a better future. I’m not saying everything I think is right or correct—but all of it is mine. I’m taking claim of my ideas, and in doing so, I’m giving myself a voice. I’m giving a voice to those who look like me and those who don’t. I’m putting words to the silent struggle of those who don’t fit in. I’m making my world visible to those who hide from change.

I am so glad you are here to join me on this journey. I started this for myself, but I’m going through with this website for the future me’s. So, yes, I’m done following the rule I made up that being quiet is better than being my complete self. I can only be me. I am only me. And it’s awesome. I’m naming the gray: I’m saying that who I am is more than enough: it’s everything and it’s wonderful. Screw the rules. Rules are for the scared. And I’m fearless.