Who am I? I am a mother, a Naval Officer with 30 years of service, a 20-year computer programmer, and the first person in my family to attend college. I am black, educated, and female in America, and I have experienced direct and indirect racism. Every day, someone shows me that I’m not equal because of the color of my skin.
I’m tired of having discussions and comparing “notes” with other black people about our injustices. I’m tired of white people saying how articulate I am, thinking that it’s a compliment. I’m disgusted about how black people are targeted and murdered while the perpetrators walk away free. I was appalled at the video of a white woman harassing and following a black man to his apartment door because it was “her building.”
The United States is in civil unrest due to the murder of George Floyd by a cop who felt secure in his white privilege and didn’t fear any consequences. The killing of Ahmaud Arbery by three white men who decided to attack him because he was a black man out for a jog in Georgia happened just weeks before. The list goes on and on.
This kind of blatant racism is that to which White America has turned a blind eye. Over the past weeks, I’ve been watching the news and reading social media posts from white people who now get it. As a result, they’ve had the rude awakening of realizing how privileged they are, and how they have turned their head because it didn’t affect them.
This time has made me think of all the times where I have experienced racism, blatant or passive. Often times, the passive racism is done assuming I won’t recognize what was happening. I, like other black people, know it’s a regular part of my life. No matter how educated I am, how hard I work, and how successful I am, some white people are emboldened to say and do things to me because they feel it’s acceptable.
As a mother, I am terrified of my children going into the world. I discussed with my two teenaged children, one of whom is male, the death of black people continuing to happen in the United States. In 2020! As I asked what they thought and how they felt, I wanted to break down and cry. I knew that this time would come, but I didn’t know it would be due to a series of black peoples’ deaths.
I told them that even though they are straight-A students, they have to work harder than their fellow white students. I told them that they would always have to carry themselves to a higher standard because what their white friends could do, they couldn’t. Although I work hard to provide a home in suburbia, people would wonder how we afforded to live there. I had to tell them how I am scared every time they leave home for fear that they may not return. I had to say to them that no matter how respectful they are, some white cops will harass them.
I shared my story with them about my encounter with a white Chicago police officer. I moved back home to Chicago for a short time after graduating college in the early 1990s. Happy to start my career, I purchased a new sports car. One night, the Chicago police pulled me over as I drove home. One officer approached me and asked for license and registration, which I provided. The other officer gets out of the car and asks his partner, “She has a license and registration?”.
Why wouldn’t I? It is the law! This officer makes his way around to me and begins to harass me by asking how I can afford a new sports car, do I work, and how many children did I have? After his partner witnessed what he was doing, he gave me back my license and registration and told me to have a good night.
Then, I was upset by that encounter. Now, I shutter at that experience. I am all of 5’2″ and 130 pounds. I was alone, and there were no phones with cameras. What if the racist officer had a different partner? Things could have turned out differently for me. I think about Sandra Bland as she was forced from her car by a Texas State Trooper threatening her with a Taser.
That wasn’t my only racial encounter. As I advanced in my career, I was often the only black and female in a meeting, on a team, etc. I have experienced racism in the military. In my civilian profession, I experienced it a lot. It’s amazing how people try to disguise their racism, thinking that black people are too stupid to know what is going on.
I worked for a utility company, and as I walked to my desk from a meeting, I saw a large confederate flag hanging on the wall of a man’s cubical. Shocked to see that, it made me realize how no white person had a problem with it. I know that had I hung a Black Lives Matter flag, I’m sure that would have been a problem.
I even had a white co-worker ask me if Al Sharpton was the leader of the black people. This man barely spoke to me, but out of the blue, he decides to ask me this! Why do black people need leaders? I am very capable of thinking for myself.
I got a job working for a federal agency where I learned that racism was rampant in the organization. I shouldn’t have been surprised given its history, but I thought it would be different because it was a prestigious and well-known organization.
I was targeted from the time I walked through the doors. White co-workers complained that I “thought I was better than everyone else.” Why is it that a confident, experienced, and educated black woman is perceived that way? If it were anyone else, they would have said they were a rock star!
I had white supervisors try to “catch” me in a lie by making me bring in extra proof of my weekend military duty times. The organization’s headquarters had all documentation validating my military reserve service, but these supervisors felt that I didn’t deserve the military time I was allowed.
I had a first and second-line supervisor try to get me fired. You wouldn’t believe what these “supervisors” said to degrade me and what they did to attack my work. They and other white people wondered how I afforded to live where I did, drive the car I did, and make the salary I did. Why was I so intimidating to them? I didn’t see them having these issues with any of my white co-workers.
I filled the diversity requirement for this organization, but I never felt inclusion. Diversity and inclusion sound great, but not many companies know what they truly mean. Just filling the diversity requirement is not enough. Equality in every sense of the word brings about inclusion.
Racism in America is not Black America’s discussion to have. Things will never change until white people acknowledge the systemic racism that this country was built on. Black people can’t change the system. The change must come from the people who benefit from it.
Being black, educated, and female in America is terrifying. I fear for my children’s lives. I’m exhausted from dealing with racism from those who try to disguise their hate by saying I underperform because they don’t like that I work hard to have success. It’s time for a change.