I am currently living in Germany and have been for the past two years. I will be heading home to the United States in 2014 to my beloved Atlanta. My loved ones, my children and grandchildren are all in the States and I miss them so much, that I cannot bear to be separated with only occasional visits for much longer.
However, I have been watching and reading and thinking about why I also dread coming home. The tide of racism that is manifesting in the United States reminds me of when I was a little girl, during segregation. The daily, incessant, acidic hate that one is subjected to as an African-American is unhealthy and wearing on the psyche. In Europe, although it has its racists, they are not quite as dedicated, persistent and aggressive as those I see manifesting, with no end in sight in the States. ( Plus, black people are not number one on their list for contempt. Eastern Europeans, the Roma, Arabs, ----it is kinda spread out.., heh heh.) What do I mean.....well, let us go beneath the orange croissant.....
Sue et al. (2007) describe microaggressions as, “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.”
Microagression usually involves demeaning implications and other subtle insults against minorities, and may be perpetrated against those due to gender, sexual orientation, and ability status. According to Pierce, “the chief vehicle for proracist behaviors are microaggressions. These are subtle, stunning, often automatic, and nonverbal exchanges which are ‘put-downs’ of blacks by offenders”. Microaggressions may also play a role in unfairness in the legal system as they can influence the decisions of juries.
When I think of what my children must shepherd my grandchildren through, it fills me with dread. the institutional racism of much of the public school system, that acts as a pipeline for prison, (i.e. ordinary misbehavior of children being criminalized, a pencil flip at a peer being charged as a felony assault; a Tweety Bird nail clipper being seen as a weapon; natural hairstyles that are neat and clean being seen as grounds for suspension; temper tantrums by primary school children, being treated as reasons for arrest and jailing; no RECESS, and children being given drugs for hyperactivity or shamed for being overweight ; neighborhood schools with high parental involvement being closed, not because they are not working, but because the financial bottom line is more important than the education of the children.....
The hatred and venom being expressed on the internet on a daily basis toward black people is amazing. The desire to dehumanize, and silence; to shame and humiliate; to treat with contempt and unabashed racist vitriol, is sobering. How do these people live with such ugliness inside of themselves, such unhappiness, such aggressive desires for white supremacy? How? And for African-Americans it is best to not read the comments below the articles about anybody who is black, if you do not want your blood-pressure to rise. Or if you do not want to scream retorts that will do no good in changing their minds about you or the people you love, those black people, who are targets of their hatred.
More and more my children tell me they think twice about shopping; about driving too much, with out being really, really careful to not draw the attention of the POLICE, or as they call them the POPOs, for fear of a confrontation that could lead to their death, or unlawful incarceration. They think about where they eat, or allow their children to go, not just for safety reasons, but also so they can avoid unwanted confrontations.
On the television and in the movies, we are confronted with more dramas about the prisons and law enforcement than almost anything else. Shows about lawyers and coroners, reality shows about prisons and police, detective shows, shows about sociopaths and serial killers, US Marshalls and the everyday criminal citizen DOMINATE. Our heroes are those who lock people up for a living. Is it any wonder that we tolerate the highest prison population in the world? We are TRAINED to do so. It is entertaining us. After all, they must have all done something worth locking them up, wouldn't you agree?
We have a black president. The people who hate him and spend so much time drumming up hate about him are not imaginary. They are real. They work where we work. They have children who go to school with ours. They are our bosses and colleagues. They cannot get at him other than thru the internet. But they can sure attack US, their black peers and colleagues, their black employees and students. That vitriol and hatred at this man that so many black people admire and positively identify with....is pilloried and lynched in every way that they can get away with. Ask your black colleagues if they have had to bear those water-cooler, coffee break, lunch time comments that are so racist, that they know, if it would be allowed, the N---word would be used, often and with feeling. People are bolder and bolder with it. As Glenn Beck said "We Surround Them". Guess who the THEM often is.
The Trayvon Martin Trial, The Paula Deen Incidents, The Supreme Court Dissolution of the Voting Rights Act.....Our country is on a roll, similar to that of the days after Reconstruction, when the right to vote was stripped from black people, after a brief period of partial enfranchisement, lynchings were used to terrorize and intimidate, and JIM CROW LAWS sent thousands of black men to jail on trumped up charges, to get free labor. WE ARE IN THOSE DAYS AGAIN. And, there are those who would seek to roll back progress further. I know that women and gays are also under attack, but today I just want to speak about MY people. MY people who are catching hell with unemployment, and losing real estate, and poor health care and unfair and unreasonable jail sentencing.
Hell, health disparities alone are worsened by the presence of these micro-aggressions.
All of the illnesses related to stress are aggravated by the mere fact of living in a society where so many people hate you. HBP, heart disease (what a metaphor!), obesity, anxiety, depression, etc., are all increased by this atmosphere.
As a therapist, one of my main discussions with black patients is how to survive this incessant hatred and racism without losing their minds, or at least not their jobs. Employment level racism and discrimination can literally kill them. I have had to help many get on medication to cope, to survive overt discrimination and humiliation, blatant and overt. I wish I had the power to help every black person own their own business, so they would not have to deal every day with this kind of stress. However, if we did that, the memories of the burning of Black Wall Street, in Tulsa, OK come to mind. Few people realize that most lynchings came from jealousy of black people who were too successful, and not for any crime committed. (see comments about Venus and Serena, Will Smith, JayZ, Tyler Perry, etc. recently) Grandma's voice returns: The thing a white man with a nickel hates worst, is a N** with a dime, she said.
(And no, I am not talking about all white people. I wouldn't be posting on DailyKos if I were. However, I needed to say these things, in a public forum. I feel better for doing so.)
Yet, I will return. All of the people I love are there. If they have to struggle, so must I. I can be another layer of comfort, of protection, of folk wisdom and encouragement. If we got thru all those horrible years, we will survive these. Somehow, with the grace of the Creator, with music, with love and laughter, with determination and courage---we will survive these, too.