Color Coded.

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“Watching the Storm” by Ortega Missouri

Code-switch. Stay on-code? Why? America is post-racial, right?… What is the litmus test for a post-racial society? So, what, I can walk down the street now and not have policemen sic dogs on me. And? Okay, the teenage White bagboy at the grocery store bags the groceries with a smile and says, “have a good day, sir”. And? It’s something I oftentimes ponder.

Clearly, the US is not post racial and we all know good and goddamn well that it’s never been (despite some strides in recent decades). If it truly were, phrases like Black America and White America would have no utility and be obsolete. For Black people, the American experience is as sweet as it is sour. It’s a rejection of personhood, story, and character that stings but I expect in a country that still doesn’t quite understand us. A denial that stings like a hornet. Or the first time you’re called a nigger.

In tandem with my previous article, “Build-A-Beef?” I aim to parlay onto this topic of race and dissect it in a more personal and nuanced fashion. I don’t intend to reinforce my opinion that the US is a bastion for racism and racial division. Rather, provide my own experiences and let you (the reader) decide to think whatever you want. Writing allows me to make good use of my penchant to compartmentalize and make sense of things. Writing has a catharsis that is underrated and understated. But back to the article.

I’ve long had associations and friendships with people outside of my race. I always noted they had more agency, autonomy, and wiggle room to express their feelings and exist as three-dimensional human beings. After all, they did things like therapy on Thursdays and played golf matches on the weekend (not cognac and picking fights). No one dismissed their laments as “pity parties” or “being dramatic”. I found the agency to be myself in these relationships. I didn’t have to put up a front or play small with my intellect or interests. With other Black kids growing up, I often heard that phrase: You think you’re better than us. No, no. YOU think I’m better than you.

In these very symbiotic relationships, while we couldn’t relate our racial backgrounds to one another, we had other things to bond over. Like both being men and talking about men things (ha-ha). We’d have meaningful and honest dialogues about race and its role in our society.

Anyhow, it’s a double-edged sword for sure. One I can uniquely relate to when watching Netflix shows like Dear White People (A show about Black Ivy League students and the constant racial tensions on-campus). I’d think, why don’t they just transfer to a HBCU? Then I wonder, well they must prepare for the real world where most of their bosses will be White. Go figure.

The idea of diversity is somewhat nascent in homogeneous countries like Mexico or even certain countries in South America, both of which I’ve had the pleasure of living for a while. The naïve but well-meaning comparisons to 2Pac or 50 Cent is amusing (Don’t ask how I can be both whom look nothing alike). In the US (a land accustomed to new people/immigrants), diversity is taken for granted and vanilla (no pun intended).

History Matters

The Holocaust was very similar in nature to the oppression Black Americans have endured. Nazis branded Jews like livestock with tattoos that reduced their identity to a mere number. During slavery, Blacks were similarly branded with branding irons as punishment. Moreover, they were reduced to European last names and a language they didn’t even know. Still, no one EVER dismisses the atrocities of the Holocaust with “get over it” or “that was so long ago” as they do slavery and its effects. Instead, the matter is rightfully treated with sensitivity, sympathy, and empathy. The very fact that I am typing these words in a language that my ancestors ten generations ago did not speak in, speaks volumes to the gravity of our marred history in the US.

When it comes to Black Americans, there is still an argument. Why is it even a debate? Well, in my estimation, it’s personal. Not to mention a government who only establishes nothing-burgers like commissions to study reparations or hosting the 578th “honest conversation about race”. No real remedies, historically nor present-day. You don’t need to live through slavery or Jim Crow personally to be inadvertently affected by it (just like Holocaust descendants). Namely, having little-to-no inter-generational access to wealth, real estate, among many other things. There are people still alive who experienced Jim Crow laws I can discuss it with.

What Went Wrong?

In my opinion, The Civil Rights activists of the 60’s is where things went wrong. The Civil Rights activists focused too much on integrating into a burning house. Speaking of which, I’m going to share my own story of this. I joined this work program when I was a teenager to earn money for school. Noble cause, no? As expected, my fellow participants were mostly White except for another Black guy. He was a liberal Carlton Banks trust-fund kid type with wealthy parents and a detachment from ordinary Black folks. There was also a country bumpkin guy there who was jealous that the girl he liked, instead liked me. Any chance he got to say some smart-ass comment or try to belittle me, he took.

For months on end. This was definitely deeper than envy and racially motivated hence the racial things I’d overhear from him and the overall vibe I got. You know when you know. Trust your instincts! That guy triggered much childhood trauma for me, and things ended quite ugly. No matter how many times I tried to talk cordially with him or got in his face and told him off it didn’t matter. To no avail. This became the dynamic.

Long story short, we nearly fought in public (in front of sponsors). The beef reached its climax and I was then forced to exit the program early. When it posed a risk to the money is when the beef became a problem. Capitalism’s a bitch! That’s America for you. Sweep the race issue under the rug until the repo-man takes the raggedy ass thing. I was written off as the stereotypical angry Black man by my co-participants (including the other Black guy). For the full story in all its glory, check out my book Perspectives Over Politics available on Amazon…

Reflections

Why wouldn’t I be angry going through all that shit? I was angry at God for subjecting me to this melodrama and wasting months of my life which ended in disrepair and destitution. Angry that no one advocated for me when I needed backup. So, I decided to be my own advocate and take matters into my own hands.

After my exit, I challenged it formally. I felt I didn’t get the same trust, respect, and fairness my White counterpart(s) got from the leadership. But that’s not surprising. this is America. If I said something, you better believe those White folks placed it under a microscope and read into it too deeply. A third-party got involved as an arbitrator and scheduled a hearing to listen to my grievance. The organization (a dogpile of them) fought to uphold the character of the bumpkin while slandering me. The organization’s leadership weaponized my introversion and demonized me fully as “angry” (I speak up for myself), “dangerous” (maybe a little), “indifferent” (I’m not smiling 24/7 without reason), among a bevy of other pejoratives.

I had to defend myself. Of course. Human beings are tribal, yet this same visceral yearning to defend their own was one that I didn’t get from people I’ve known all my life. Albeit not expressly requested, I rationalized (in my teenager mentality) that a character witness letter should have been automatic, as was the verbal defense for my White counterpart. Besides, I never gotten into no mess like this before and initially didn’t even have the words character witness letter in my vocabulary to request it.

In hindsight, I especially expected it from my church family and other trusted people I informed of the matter. Black people don’t know how to support each other (certainly not as forceful as other people-groups do) and we’ll forever remain at the bottom of society because of it! People aren’t meant to do life alone.

I felt going through all this drama alone gave me license to indulge in the world and the vices it enables. To do whatever the hell I want. The presumptuous assumptions and harsh judgment from practical strangers changed me. I was reduced to an angry, intimidating caricature. It changed me. It changed the way I saw people… White people. It led to a self-inflicted excommunication from the church and Christianity altogether.

I began to view it as “White man doctrine”. The entire debacle changed me in ways I couldn’t imagine. Parts of me that died alongside my innocent trust in people. Being Black in America is like playing by the rules but the game changes midway when you start to win. That’s why the rules for a Black man in so-called post racial America are color coded. Part. 2 Coming soon.

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