As a young mulatta, it was difficult to find my place in the world. I searched for years, trying desperately to see where I fit in as a girl. Although my father’s family disowned him for marrying my mother, he was present throughout my childhood. His genetic contributions rendered me relatively white-passing — too white for Black friends and too Black to be taken seriously in white society. I have experienced racism personally in many forms — institutional and otherwise.
For years I silenced myself. I was deeply conflicted, yet powerless to address it, especially when those I thought of as allies were not as they appeared. I realized that racism is not a white problem; but rather, an institutional one. Strange fruits born of white supremacy. Although change is impossible without white allyship, colorism in Black and Brown communities divides us further as we face systems of colonization. United we stand — divided, we are conquered.
I remember clearly the sermons my mother would preach. The inquisitive little eyes of my sister and me, peering back at her…amidst the beautiful stories of our ancestor’s courage, sacrifice, and perseverance lurked those of injustice, pain, and discrimination. As a child, I knew of the dark foundations that built our beautiful country — amber waves of grain fertilized with black blood. I was taught to be fearless and to fight my hardest for what I want, and, more importantly, for what is right.
As we knelt on the coarse carpeting atop the stairs of our childhood home, our mother painted the realities of the past. She spoke earnestly, trying her hardest to convey what I didn’t fully understand, yet I felt its importance in every fiber of my being. Emphasizing etiquette and eloquence, our mother taught us how we must measure our words and tone carefully, as not to appear indignant. “You’ll kill more flies with honey,” she said, as she taught us to hold our heads high and smile, even in cases where we had every right to express our anger at the injustice we witnessed, the discrimination experienced.
Explaining firmly — we must always do better, work harder, and reach the highest possible standards.
Many will judge us for our femininity, but especially based upon the color of our skin. They will actively be assuming that any failure is undoubtedly due to the fact we were lazy, uneducated, or bitter. Expression of anger was futile; it only furthered their assertions. My mother forbade us from using Ebonics, and I received many comments over the years voicing surprise, and disdain, at my vocabulary from both sides. Both regarding the supposed “whiteness” of my speech. Our mother was trying the best way she knew, to protect us and prepare us for the realities of our existence as Black women
There are stories like ours, in Black households day after day. Mothers try desperately not to scare their children, or vice versa, while they teach their realities across America. The blood of our people fertilized this land, and yet our continued sacrifices actively minimized as we continue to fight for equality. Some forget it has only been 56 years since the federal desegregation in America, however, one could argue the venues only changed. I will not remain silent in the face of injustice — I have found my voice.
In the wake of the cataclysmic murder of George Floyd, and the ongoing protests against police brutality, racial inequality, and prejudice, it is clear that racism was never extinguished. It burns on, abundantly clear in the inferno like the flag. Lit through the night with every spark from a rubber bullet round. With every federally funded tear gas canister fired as federal troops rain down upon peaceful civilian protesters in Portland. While simultaneously white militias with swastikas, confederate flags, and weaponry are repeatedly marched on, the same government that is waging war on Black-led calls for civil rights turned a blind eye.
I have noticed many who did not previously support the Black Lives Matter movement opening their hearts and minds, beginning to acknowledge and taking a stand against systemic racism. I am grateful to finally see the newfound support shown for George Floyd’s senseless murder, and increasingly so for all of the others. It brings me great joy to see so many individuals coming forward as allies.
Unfortunately, all the others whose lives were taken – whose names deserve to be said but, if listed, would consume the entirety of this article — were not afforded such attention.
Now is not the time for measured tones or complicity. I will no longer meet the oppressive systems pervading our country with grace in a country where, “liberty and justice for all,” is not inclusive.
At some level, we all have had some level of bias, in large part due to the clear messages sent throughout American society that Black communities are not equal or included. There is a clear lack of representation in media and consumerism, which has only recently begun to be addressed.
Accept that you may still hold implicit bias, or engage in overtly racist behavior. It is clear that white supremacy pervades our institutions as it permeates through education, healthcare, and law enforcement. To potential allies, please know it is irrelevant whether you are white or a non-Black person of color. Only through listening to the stories of Black voices, and allowing the free expression of our anger, pain, and grief, may you genuinely obtain the ability to stand with us — united. To truly dismantle systemic racism, overt and otherwise, you must be willing to empathize with our values, needs, and suggestions for change. Consider our experiences from a place of kinship, and evaluate your motivations — defensiveness, pity, and guilt signify a tendency towards saviorism. Keep in mind Reader, your support will not wash away your privilege.
Saviorism, in this context, is defined as, “a form of false generosity; it maintains and embodies white supremacy; it frames the white outsider as the savior and hero and the people of color as too oppressed, too downtrodden, too powerless to help themselves.”While you stand by me on this march forward, walk with us, follow our lead, and please be prepared to listen and learn. Lasting change is possible only through authentic unity.
Now that you are ready to claim you will stand by us, moving forward — please be gentle with yourself. When you choose to march forward with us, as an ally, do not speak over Black voices regarding our experiences, feelings, or needs. You will never understand centuries of trauma and oppression. It is not that we are unappreciative of your enthusiasm. There is a fine line between support and suppression in these matters.
Do not discredit us by pretending that your allyship now erases centuries of injustice.
I have heard some say that they are colorblind. They don’t see color and are outraged at the events transpiring. These events, through their clear nonsensical brutality, are slowly unveiling to you, what we have known since childhood.
In my experience, color is what makes the world such a vivid, vibrant place.
I invite you, Dear Reader, to view the world in living color.
To see us — in all shades.
Yours in Power,
Amber Lea Greene