When I was a child, I went to an all-black elementary school and their goal was to make sure we knew our people’s history. So we spent our entire year, in fifth grade history, watching and learning about the beatings, the rapes, the lynching of men and women who looked like us.
Who were enduring these things because they looked like us.
I remember thinking to myself:
Thank god that’s history.
Thank god there’s progress.
And today I was called a “nigger” on campus.
And my faith in us just shattered.
I was never so naïve as to believe I lived in a post-racial America. Nor was I so pessimistic as to deny the strides we’ve made since the days of Jim Crow.
But I believed in progress.
It isn’t the election; it wasn’t the campaign. It’s not even the man himself.
It’s your reactions; it’s your response. It’s you calling me “nigger.”
I am not afraid.
I’m tired. I’m weary. I’m hopeless.
How many times have my ancestors surmounted an obstacle and handed the torch to the next generation, believing that their sacrifices have improved the world for their children?
How many times will I, and my children, and my children’s children do the same, only to realize that we’ve been running in place this whole time?
How many branches will be on my family tree before a child learns about today and says “Thank god that’s history” …
…and it’s true?
I will not be afraid.
I can’t get tired. I can’t get weary.
I refuse to be hopeless.
It’s worth it to carry that torch, for the next four years, for the next forty years, for the next four hundred years if that’s what it takes.
It’s worth it, even when hope becomes a heavy burden.
It’s worth it because of love.
Not just love for my country, or my people, or my peers. But love for the people of the future, who will enjoy the fruits of my labors.
My ancestors were brutalized. They were beaten, and raped, and killed, and lynched.
I’m made of the same iron that helped them endure all of that. I am that strength.
They’ll never know me, and yet I am what kept them going.
My brother and sister, my peers, my generation are the reason that they cried out for freedom and bled to make it so.
Died to make it so.
So for now I’ll endure the next four years
and the word “nigger”
and the bigotry
and the anger
and the hatred because one day…
…I won’t have to.
Advice from the Author – Action Steps:
- The best way to improve race relations is to employ empathy. It’s difficult, because you can’t just put on someone else’s skin and see what life is like inside it. But imagine being judged on something that everyone can see and that you can’t change. Imagine how that would affect your life. Going to a job interview and praying that the person you speak with doesn’t hate people with freckles, or getting pulled over for having blue eyes and nothing more?
- If you see someone experiencing hardship based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or any other aspect of their personality that they can’t help, my best advice is this: Don’t confront the hostile person, check on the target. A show of solidarity is more helpful to the person receiving the abuse than a verbal or physical fight, and it nonverbally shows the abuser that they are in the wrong.
- Stay informed. Knowing why a group of people is upset about one thing or another is better than making snap judgements on whether or not it’s worthy of their anger. Of course you don’t have to agree, but understanding why a group of people is upset and just letting them vent their frustration in a non-violent way is better than assuming they’re being “petty” or “whiny.”