True Colors

Growing up in a culture that co-signs racial inequality doesn’t mean we must inherit its sickness.


Writing about racial inequality as a White American male is like attempting to jazz scat in Korean. Everyone assumes you’ve no idea what you’re saying, but they’re dying to hear what comes out of your mouth. 

Simple life observations with my partner spurred me on.

Sometimes we’re rock stars, a mini-PC Pride parade. Just walking holding hands, a woman nearly busted her window banging to get our attention. I thought my hair was on fire, but she just smiled with a “thumbs up,” still vacuuming. 

Other times if I order a drink it’s a more generous pour. When he drives, we’re more likely to be stopped. When the check arrives, they plop it in front of me. And don’t get me started on white ladies in elevators grabbing their purses. My partner is Black.

I wondered why together, we create such a strong social statement? I think it’s because our society inherited a long-standing illness. It’s time for healing, but finding the right medicine is key. Racism in America wore no disguise from slavery and segregation to public lynching and hangings. It was widely accepted and practiced on a macro level. We’ve made progress but with racial inequality still embedded in our social consciousness, it has evolved from obvious attacks to subtle slurs, no less impactful, but hidden.

These tiny bursts are referred to as micro racism or microaggressions. When I first heard this term I shrugged it off as over-educated America under the tyranny of political correctness. And “micro” is misleading, connoting “minuscule” or “harmless”. It lessens the weight of this new racism. Do not forget microorganisms brought society to its knees during the plague. America, if we leave this cold unchecked, microaggression could develop into pneumonia and kill us.

When it comes to racial inequality, however, Americans do not speak the same language. Caucasians heaped with very real white privilege are often blind to a person of colors’ (POC) experience and interpret racial tension through years of culturally bias messaging. It may go like this.

A person of color recounts a racist incident to their White friend. The friend responds, “No, you misunderstand, nobody meant anything it’s not like that anymore, things have changed.” The intent is to offer a more positive perception of society but in fact, it is discredits their experience. 

This White fragility becomes a form of racial bullying restraining POC from fully expressing their experiences and us from understanding their viewpoint. There is a disconnect. The new conversation about race starts with White people waking up, opening up, and listening without defense.

We try, but we get it wrong. “I don’t see race,” or “I’m color blind” is a popular White proclamation even I am guilty of. I had to be told. Don’t be. Do not suggest there is no difference in societal experience due to skin color. I couldn’t understand until actually engaging in direct, personal conversation; the medicine I needed to wake up from messaging. I sought different viewpoints and became open to accepting our truth, no matter how ugly. America has committed racial and cultural atrocities. I’m not bringing this up to “white bash”, just widen out the perspective. History tells us plainly.

Our country which I love, was from the onset built on the backs of Black slaves; human beings we abducted from a home country, forced into labor, tortured, sold, raped and murdered. Social altruism didn’t end slavery or drive the Civil War. Money did. The North was losing tobacco money to the South with all that free labor, so we slaughtered our own countrymen and conveniently renamed it “the war that ended slavery”.

As with most traumas, the instinct is to protect oneself from the memory, push it down and bury it in reinterpreted stories. Disassociate. But if we ignore a sickness because the symptoms have changed we are not on the road to healing.

The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot destroyed America’s “Black Wall Street” when White residents massacred over 300 Black residents. The1969 intentional construction of Interstate 10 along Claiborne Ave destroyed the once booming Black business district of New Orleans. The examples, too numerous, are unjust, targeted, and bloodstained—almost incomprehensible.

As with most traumas, the instinct is to protect oneself from the memory, push it down and bury it in reinterpreted stories. Disassociate. But if we ignore a sickness because the symptoms have changed we are not on the road to healing. Microagression is a tricky bug. I used to say things like, “I’m not racist, I date Black guys”. When Obama became president I literally thought, “Wow, racism in America has officially ended.” Not just microaggression, this, my partner lovingly explained, is a prime example of “WPS” or White People Shit; racial slurs and actions Caucasians are simultaneously guilty and barely aware of. Ask your friends of color about this. You’ll have a fun conversation.

“I need to speak with your manager,” the most common WPS, assumes a higher place than the person one is speaking with; superiority inherited from years of white privilege. Virtue signaling is another form. Fist pumping the Black guy at work. Asking, “Hey where’s your boy at?” Trying to touch a woman of color’s hair, or ask if it’s real? (I can hear my partner now, “Bitch, please!”) At a group lunch, a friend was asked what the Black vote in America was. As if his skin tone meant he speaks politically for an entire race.

Virtue signaling, WPS, microaggressions while not entirely intentional, are in great part the result of years of constant messaging. The 80s War on Drugs, a thinly veiled but effective attack on race, increased sentencing and penalties for marijuana and crack cocaine possession far beyond what was necessary levying felonies and incarcerating nearly an entire generation of men and women of color. This in turn removed their right to vote, obtain a higher wage, or apply for financial aid. It destroyed families, neighborhoods, broke down support systems, and spawned the impression people of color are criminals and drug addicts.  People are still serving sentences for crimes that no longer exist.  On the other hand if you got picked up for coke (the White people drug) it carried a sentence that was barely slap on the wrist.

Viewing films now with my partner, I’m sadly enlightened to the blatant messaging. If the Black person is not first to be horribly dispensed, they are depicted as villains, troubled, less than. Message? They’re expendable, not hero worthy. That messaging translates. In most professions, a POC has to work twice as hard to be considered equal to a Caucasian. When a Black child is abducted it’s a neighborhood crime. If a White child is abducted, it’s national news.

But the good news is growing up in a culture that co-signs racial inequality doesn’t mean we must inherit its sickness. If we are to address this, we need new medicine. It starts with direct, truthful, non-defensive, individual dialogue. Not just on social media, though that carries some merit. It begins where the culprit resides, on the micro level of this amazing country. It begins with you and me having a new conversation about race, placing equal value on both sides.