Yes, it’s hard to be black in the United States. And I’m a white male. Never once been mistaken for being black. However, I see black America’s struggle…
I’ll start here for a deep understanding of where this is all coming from: I grew up all over the world because my father was a military officer. This meant that every one to two years, my family would move someplace far and I would be the new student in school all over again. From age six through 12th grade, I was the new kid on the first day of class nine different times which meant nine different schools.
By the time I had reached the middle grades, I became increasingly irritated with all the moves I had made. I can recall my mother telling me that one day I would look back at these experiences and appreciate them because most people don’t live in so many foreign countries in a single lifetime. In response, I wished I could have told her that I wanted to quit being her son and be normal…Live in one place all my life, have the same friends for all my years, have a career and a family in that same singular place.
That wasn’t the plan, however, and I had to get over this wishful thinking like it were a bad headache. As the story would have it, I would be friends with other military kids and we came in all colors. When I lived in Korea most of my friends were half-Korean, for example. But there were also plenty of other nationalities mixed into the military communities. I had almost the same amount of black friends as I did white friends, which told me that the racial breakdown of our military parents wasn’t so far off. And this was the same scenario every place that I moved to. We all hung out together, pulled pranks on one another, wrestled for fake championship awards on the playground, and trashed talked one another on the basketball court.
In my opinion, I saw the military as a better equalizer of race. You learn to be accepting of other people’s cultures and attitudes because you will work tight with these people and slowly become brother-like, in turn inching you closer to a sort of skin transparency without really realizing it. If you are both in the ditches and being shot at by enemy fire, you will look out for your brother of another color in a way that you never thought possible. Conversely, the biggest reason people join the military is not for the patriot pride and power but it may have something to do with having a lack of options, approaching a crossroads in life. And whether you were white and from an affluent family or black and from a harder-to-do family, you go through those recruiter’s doors the same way.
A black friend of mine had a loving family but joined the Army because his family couldn’t afford to pay him through college and he so desired to escape his home town. A white friend of mine had a not so caring family and he joined the Army because his wealthy father was a cheapskate and couldn’t be bothered to help him pay his way through school. And since the military pays your way through school, both of my friend’s sucked it up like the soldiers they were and joined the service, hoping for the best. Both crossing their fingers to hopefully not see a day of the war.
So enough about racial unity in the military. What about the outside world, the everyday world, the civilian world? Why is it harder for a black man or woman to go about their day to day than it is for white folks like myself?
Through the eyes of my outlook, there are a few things that I think are worth noting. First, white people especially (or any other race) that come from small towns which lack diversity, view any influx of ‘outsiders’ as a horde of uninvited guests coming in to take over their values, etc. That’s what they think will happen when really, it’s just that these folks aren’t comfortable in their own skin. These people are worried about their communities staying ‘genetically pure’ as they try to kill the chance that their town becomes accustomed to inter-racial relationships. It’s the antithesis of acceptance based on fear.
Secondly, we’ve got the media stirring the racist stew and we let it happen. For as long as I can remember, there has always been a heavy emphasis on bad news. It’s never good news. So the media tries to sell you the story of a young white girl being murdered by a black man as if it’s entertainment, but they disguise it as a sad story (which it is, but there are just as many white murderers). Over time, these scary stories implant a worm into people’s heads, which eventually become beliefs. Beliefs that the black man is only out to either harm you or steal your purse. Media also tends to portray black characters in movies or television shows as ‘tempered’ or ‘impossible to reason with’ or even ‘violent’. This again soaks in. White people tend to generalize an entire group of people based on limited knowledge or exposure to another culture.
Third, finding quality work can certainly be more arduous and stressful. Here is an example of something that likely happens more often than it should: I once heard a story from a credible source that a female white manager would sort through received resumes. If the applicant’s name even sounded remotely “non-white”, she would throw it in the trash and say, “I don’t think so.” These applicants never stood a chance with this hiring manager. She even went as far to claim that if she was ever questioned about being prejudice in her employee decision making, she could simply respond by saying that “said candidate simply didn’t match what their company was working for”. This is nothing more than undercover discrimination. Furthermore, if you were lucky enough to have a White enough sounding name and make it to a face to face interview, you had better flex some extra intellectual muscle. You had better exemplify that upon hire, you aren’t going to take a paycheck as the worker that plays the part of the outcast. In other words, you had better be above average when it comes to fitting in too.
There’s a key here and I think it’s golden. The biggest problem that I see facing American culture altogether is the lack of black history being incorporated into the elementary-high school curriculum. If you survey your friends on what they stand for the most, I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised to discover that many of their ideals are based on what was learned during their developmental years. It was always easy for me to understand the differences in culture of my Black friends because I was always exposed to and didn’t think twice about it, which in turn became sort of hands-on education for me. Now, if we turn history lessons in school into equal part general history, which is already studied, and another part Black history, our children will grow up more knowledgeable towards these important factors and they will incorporate them into their adult lives. Imagine if there were deeper studies into identifying important black inventors, more time spent on the black man’s side of the story during the years of slavery and how many of those popular heart-wrenching gospel songs came to be. Deeper studies for adolescents into why Abraham Lincoln wanted to abolish slavery for the better of our country and more emphasis on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. Not just his “I have a dream” speech and his assassination.
I find myself sitting uneasy and knowing that we are steering so far away from what President Lincoln and Dr. King fought so hard to accomplish. Both of them might be squeezing a stress ball in Heaven. If only the white community would step up and truly adopt the past accounts of the black community as standard mainstream primary knowledge, then we will move forward. If it’s so easy for the media to plant a worm in our head astir with racist thoughts via television and magazines that entertain us, then why can’t we plant a positive open minded seed into the education system of all students? You shouldn’t have to go to a Historically Black University in order to get solid black history instruction. You should be able to find this in your son or daughter’s third-grade textbook.
Written by: Daniel Fecht