Black people are second class citizens in the United States. If you don’t believe that, then you have not been out in the world. Slavery is America’s original sin. It was black people, then the Irish, then the Chinese, then the Italians, then the Hispanics, and every time whoever is in power profits. Guess what, even today I enjoy the fruits of nameless laborers who work for pennies. If you complain about your life, just go out and actually see what people go through just to survive.
I’ve lived in the northeast for most of my life. For the most part, especially where I grew up, racism wasn’t something that was thought of. To be fair, we only had a few black kids in our school, but racism of any kind, once it was uttered, it was immediately condemned by everyone in the community. It was beyond unacceptable. I never really thought anything of it, we were taught racism was bad, it was reinforced and I just assumed that was how it was, a sin of the past. When I grew up and ventured to the midwest and the south, I realized that this was not the case. It’s not the outright racism (which there was plenty of), it was the casual racism. It was the assuming I didn’t speak English, assuming that they had to speak at me, slowly and loudly for me to understand. At first, I brushed it off, but after the twentieth time, I wanted to punch them and point out that I could speak and write English far better than they could. I wanted to scream I had been trained and educated in grammar since I was six, that I could lecture to your ass about oratory, and that I am a goddamned published author, and what the fuck did you ever do. That was after the twentieth time. Past that, I don’t remember, it was just an undercurrent of seething rage.
My parents grew up in a time when Asians were still considered minorities, before we became the “model minority”. Back then Asians still qualified for Affirmative Action. I remember growing up, I was taught that if I wanted to be noticed, I had to do something twice as good and in half the time as anyone else. I hated it, but I didn’t realize that it was my parents trying to prepare me for the world. I think that’s better now, but it’s still the same when it comes to leadership positions. Asians are seen as the good little worker bees, who don’t ever want to be in charge. You want to beat that stereotype? You have to do exactly what my parents taught me, you have to lead and produce double the results, in half the time.
Affirmative Action was always something that didn’t make much sense to me. Why should someone who got worse grades than me be selected ahead of me? Why is my work and effort worth less than someone else’s? And then I got to college. The amount of blacks and hispanics in STEM are laughable. Even worse, they tended to be towards the bottom of the curve. But it was when I talked to them that I began to understand the gap between myself and them. When I was little, and my parents discovered that I loved dinosaurs, we would go every weekend to a natural history museum and I would soak up every little detail. My parents would buy me books, borrow them from the library, and even help me write about them for homework. This is contrasted to kids who sometimes only had one parent, working multiple jobs. I never once had to worry about if I was getting a meal, or if I had clothes to wear. I still felt indignant that my accomplishments were worth less than theirs, but I couldn’t help but realize that it’s unfair to judge our accomplishments equally.
It didn’t get better in graduate school either. My class was predominantly white and Asian. We had a few black students, no hispanic students. One of the black students just dropped out, disappeared without letting anyone in the administration or faculty know. The other ones, just couldn’t handle the work which was demanded. They were all from Ivy League institutions, so the expectation was high, but again, they consistently graded out toward the bottom, and some were even caught plagiarizing. Behind closed doors, the faculty lamented that while they needed diversity in the school, the students that filled those slots weren’t able to handle the work. This perpetuated a stereotype and reinforced notions that Affirmative Action candidates were not deserving.
I dealt with casual racism for a few years and I already couldn’t stand it. Black people have to deal with that for their entire lives. If you don’t believe me, just look at their portrayals in media. Frat boys rioting when their school gets knocked out of the Final Four is treated as old fashioned traditional fun, while black men rioting for rights is portrayed as the prelude to a race war. With the militarization of police, they need to find an enemy, because that’s how a military trains. I could go on and on, but you don’t need me to do that, just do a cursory look online and it can tell you everything. I won’t even profess to know what a black person must go through, but I can tell you that even experiencing a fraction of that was the most infuriating thing I’ve ever felt. To be judged before you utter a word, before you do a single thing, people have determined that you are LESS than they are. To be considered less, because they are somehow better. I lived with that for a few years, nothing compared to lifetime. Maybe it’s because I am who I am, but some days I could barely keep it in check. I wanted to break things, to exact revenge. If that was for a few years, I cannot imagine what a lifetime of that is like. You can only keep a man on his knees for so long. The older you get, the harder it is to kneel.
I cannot condone violence, but I understand the reason for it. I understand the need to be heard, to be seen, to be respected. It is a basic human need, and maybe if it can’t be earned, maybe it has to be taken. I understand the righteous fury, and I also understand the blatant profiteering that serves to undermine that righteousness. I remember in high school the textbook that we used for American history was titled ‘The Unfinished Nation’. The poignancy of that title has always stuck with me. America has been defined by change, sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better. Our governing document, the Constitution, has amendments attached to it. By definition, they serve to amend wrongs or things that are missing in the document. Change is painful, and in America’s history, the cost is often paid by blood, usually of those fighting for that change. But the other thing I remember from that classroom was a quote by Mother Jones, posted above the chalkboard.
“Pray for the dead, fight like hell for the living.”