Latest posts by N. Young (see all)
- Normalization is Letting the Anger Fade - 2017/01/18
- What to Do When You Fail as an Ally - 2016/06/28
- Actual Progress is Complicated…And We Need to Be Ok With That - 2016/04/21
Saturday, I took my bougie Black self to Trader Joe’s. I walked in behind a man of color who was wearing a hoodie and had the hood up. My initial thought was, “he should probably take that down so as not to scare the people in the store,” but then I thought, “what the hell are you thinking?!” This man can wear his hood whatever way he wants. And I decided, “you know what? I’m going to put up my hood in solidarity.” So, like a crazy person, four steps before entering the Trader Joe’s in Suburbia, USA I put up my University of South Carolina hoodie in what at the moment felt like legitimate protest.
I walked through the entire store with my hood up and glared at hapless shoppers. It wasn’t until I was past the checkout line and headed to my car that I realized how ridiculous it was, for more than the obvious reasons. First, the man had no clue that I was doing anything in solidarity with his unspoken “cause.” Second, none of these suburban White people had any clue what I was doing either. So my protest was really more of a gross over reaction to a general sense of oppression. It prompted me to think about what other problematic effects oppression yields on a daily basis. Here’s my personal top five list:
- Paranoia – The by-product of constant vigilance. It is why I try very hard not to order chicken and waffles at restaurants. I mean, how delicious is fried chicken resting on a bed of waffles with syrup as a side? The answer is simple: very delicious. But I just can’t bring myself to do it. I am worried that ordering fried chicken will somehow perpetuate a stereotype or make me the butt of some racialized joke. And the cumulative effect of this daily paranoia is the inevitable, super-meta moment where you become paranoid that you are too paranoid. It’s exhausting and it is the underlying element of 2-5.
- The desire to turn even small actions into protests – See above. Oh and all of the times when I am walking down the sidewalk and I refuse to yield to a large group of White people. Every time, every single time, I stubbornly walk through them and I think about my ancestors who had to walk in the street if a White person was coming in the other direction. And for a person who takes politeness pretty seriously, I am briefly the rudest person on the planet. The cause is unspoken and yet the protest feels real.
- Constant counting (of success, wins, losses, on the part of ‘your’ people) – I cannot tell you how many conversations I’ve had with friends about being embarrassed on the behalf of complete strangers because that person is a “representative” of Black people and by extension them or me. “Fictive kinship” is real. I once heard Melissa Harris-Perry give an amazing lecture on the topic. She articulated beautifully how it is a two-edged sword, born of oppression, which yields both pride and shame in equally sobering doses. Again, this counting doesn’t always work in the negative. Why is Barack Obama so loved and fiercely defended amongst Black church ladies and scholars alike? Because he represents “us.” Why did I sit in a room full of Black women screaming when Lupita won her Oscar? Because, despite having never met her, and in some case not having seen the film, every single woman in that room felt a kinship to her and a real stake in her win. All this based on little more than the color of her skin. It is a feeling completely foreign to most heterosexual, Christian, White people in this country and luxury granted to them because they are not oppressed.
- Frantic code switching* –A thousand people before me have discussed this particular social conundrum, but it never stops being a real thing. Navigating multiple identities is not a concept unique to Black or brown people, but the anxiety around code switching is heightened in a society where your culture is often portrayed as inferior.
- A desire to educate the masses (or not) – This is either a need to set the record straight on anything related to race, every single time or a very real exhaustion at constantly having to explain things to White colleagues, friends, or acquaintances (both in real life and on social media). A frustration at having to explain that privilege is not a dirty word, that it exists in multiple spaces, and that acknowledging privilege is actually the first step in understanding.
I know I’m not alone in my crazy. What did I miss?
*Shout out to my fellow CYM author, SpkTruth2Pwr, for helping me round out the list!