Homegrown racism

The vile response to a local protest of police brutality

I remember vividly the first time I heard someone use the N-word. I was at a family member’s house for Thanksgiving and was walking down the hallway when I ran into a distant relative I’d seen a few times a year for my entire life.

Before I made it back to the festivities, he looked me up and down. His gaze fell on my clunky shoes, a pair of patent-leather loafers that were in style back home in the Bay Area. That’s when he nonchalantly asked me a question that has stuck with me for 25-plus years: “Where’d you get those, some kind of nigger store?”

Thinking I’d misheard him, I asked for clarification. “What did you say?” But instead of repeating himself, he flashed an impish grin and walked away. I’d heard him correctly, all right. I was dumbstruck. I was 14 years old. And up until that very moment, I had no idea that there were racists in my family. I felt ill.

I had that same feeling this week, as I perused a story by Action News Now about a protest at City Plaza over the weekend. I watched video of the event after the fact on the local TV station’s Facebook page, where they’d streamed it live. What repulsed me were the comments—many of them outright racist, some simply naive and uninformed—about the concerns of black citizens.

I’m saddened—and also pissed off—that people in this community hold such backward views. I’m not going to mention the worst of the posts here, because I refuse to give a voice to ignorance. But I am going to drop a little knowledge.

The fact is, black folks are statistically much more likely to be shot and killed by the police. And before you start talking about “black-on-black crime” or pull out some statistics saying that cops shoot more white people than black people, read this week’s accompanying editorial for some context. There is no link between violent crime in a community and violence by police, and, big news flash, there are a lot more white people than black people in this country.

That black Americans are shot and killed disproportionately is a problem. We need to stop changing the subject. We need to talk about what’s happening; we need to get to the heart of the matter—that blacks are treated differently than white folks by law enforcement (and others). Shining a light on this subject is what Black Lives Matter is all about.

We also need to talk about bigotry in general. Nobody wants to be called a racist. I get that. But the fact is, racism abounds. Many of us know this because we’ve seen it close to home.

For me, hearing a family member use the N-word when I was a kid was a surreal experience. In the back of my mind, it cast a shadow on every other interaction I had with him, from that moment in the hallway until I stood in front of his casket years later. The truth is, I cared for that man, which is why what he said made such an impression. I regret not having the sophistication as a teen to tell him how ugly he sounded.