For a long time I’ve had the impression that a lot of non-black people think that black people are always complaining unnecessarily about racism. I have no idea if that’s true or not, it’s just a feeling I’ve gotten over the years, based on observing the reaction whenever a member of some small community says something or someone is racist.
It bothers me a little bit that people could have that impression, because it’s always struck me as so simplistic to say that black people think everything is racist. To me, one of the defining things about being black isn’t that you always think something happened because you’re black, it’s that you never really know if something happened because you’re black. You see no difference between what you’re doing and what everybody else is doing, so you assume the reason is due to the most obvious difference.
The essence of it is that you end up having to live your life with a small, but constant, level of uncertainty. Maybe you didn’t get invited to a certain party or gathering, or you didn’t get that job you thought you were qualified for. Maybe you felt like the security guard at that store in the mall just happened to be strolling down every. single. aisle. that you were looking at stuff in.
Walking around all the time and feeling like you’re getting treated differently from other people, but never really knowing why, can drive you a little bit crazy. I’m pretty used to being in different environments and around different kinds of people, but there are still lots of times when I have to consciously push those thoughts out of my head. No, it’s not because I’m black that this person was rude to me, maybe they just had a phone call where they got some bad news. No, it’s not because I’m black that I didn’t get invited to something, it’s because I’m basically a hermit and like to stay at home, so I wasn’t around when people were talking about it. No, it’s not because I’m black that I just got pulled over for not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign (well, actually that one was probably because I’m black, but you get the idea). It’s like that, over and over again throughout every day.
I’ve been fortunate enough to go to good schools, so naturally I’ve always have to constantly endure discussions about affirmative action. Those kinds of kinds of discussions can be destructive if they start to chip away at someone’s confidence because, how can you really ever know whether or not you got in ahead of someone else that also deserved it. Some people can’t handle the weight of that doubt. I ignored the discussions because I knew how hard I’d been working, I never really lacked confidence in academic settings, and always felt like my grades could kill any remaining doubts as to whether or not I belonged. Besides, for anyone to be successful, it always entails a certain amount of luck or randomness, whether people want to admit that or not. (Always.) The idea of me not deserving to be somewhere doesn’t usually enter my mind, because I keep telling myself not to let it, and I haven’t yet met anyone that felt the need to try and show me I don’t deserve it.
Maybe I’m the only black person that feels that uncertainty in everyday life, maybe not. If you don’t then I’m probably a little jealous. I think my point is that you can’t control all of the things that happen to you, but you can control how you deal with it. It’s a choice you have to make. I know things are a lot different for the young black kids growing up now than when I was younger, but I feel like this still applies. Hopefully they grow to understand it and be able to deal with it in their own productive way.