By Caldwell Harris
Jamestown 1619; 3/5 Compromise; Separate but Equal; KKK; Hate Crimes; Emmitt Till; Jim Crow South; Black Wallstreet; Systemic Racism; Racial Profiling (aka “Random” Selection, “Stop and Frisk”) ; Mass Incarceration; The Prison Industrial Complex (aka School to Prison Pipeline); I can’t breathe.
If you’ve been sheltered from the fact that the above have or had a chokehold on African Americans and people of color (POC) communities then you likely only “understand” United States history from the pages of an overly patriotic high-school textbook. From Jamestown 1619, the Prison Industrial Complex, and the George Floyd Murder there’s a common red, white, and blue thread that connects them all: Red for bloodshed, White for white supremacy (covert and overt), and Blue for the police.
Before you proclaim, “racism is dead”, “all lives matter” or “we’re all one human family,” you must acknowledge the prejudiced, racist systems and culture that America is built on. This is the same culture that has and continues to treat Black people as the enemy, the “other.” If the above concepts are new to you, then it is likely that you are not African- American or you are oblivious to our American experience.
I remember having “The Conversation” with my parents. “The Conversation” is the talk that all black and non-white POC parents had or plan to have with their children. Why? Because our parents need to have these conversations with us before we start assuming we have an equal level of protection as our white counterparts, or before we end up under the knee of one of the boys in blue for 8 minutes. Each version of “The Conversation” is different, yet the same in sentiment. It may detail the following, Ii: why you’ll be perceived as a threat regardless of age, stature and socioeconomic status; why you’ll have to work twice as hard to be considered ½ as great; why you might be the only person who looks like you in a room; and why you should be wary of the police- the same police that some grow up believing are there to protect and to serve. In other words, the police are not there to protect and serve YOU.
“The Conversation” is one that I’ll never forget, and if you’ve never had to have it with your parents or friends, consider yourself privileged. I’d go into detail about the version of “The Conversation” that I had with my parents, but it is incredibly personal. “The Conversation” didn’t end there, my family and I had it again and again each time another Black life was lost. Here are some benchmarks: I was 12 when Trayvon Martin got shot in the back; I was 16 with a driver’s license when Sandra Bland was forced out of her car and slammed to the ground for not using a turn signal (she later “died” in her cell); when I was 18, Stephon Clark was murdered for grabbing his cellphone, and Alton Sterling was shot for selling CDs. Now I’m 21, facing the implications of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor while reconciling with concepts I’ve been painfully aware of since “The Conversation” in elementary school. Enough is enough.
Think of the all of the names we know and remember that there are so many more that we don’t. You must educate yourself on experiences that are outside of your own, and remember your privilege is what’s protected you from being face to face with the truth. Do not expect your Black friends to educate you on these matters as we live through this reality EVERYDAY. If I had “The Conversation” with my parents while I was still ordering from the kids’ menu, you can educate yourself independently and do better.
If you need a place to start, close your eyes, skim this essay with your finger and select any of the abridged events and topics discussed throughout. You will realize why the journey of African Americans is full of pain, dismay and hope.
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Caldwell Harris has been employed at the Frost Art Museum as marketing and communications assistant since 2019. She is a member of the FIU Honors College and will graduate in Spring 2021 with a double major in international business and marketing.