Some weeks ago, I opened my Facebook page to find that one of my friend's nieces had been stabbed in the neck while ridding BART. Her name was Nia Wilson. It was the most unfortunate situation where a White male in his mid-20's randomly pursued her and her sister, injuring the sister and killing Nia in the most heinous manner ever. As I listened to Oakland's Police Captain state that they were not naming it as a hate crime because they had not been able to fully assess the situation, I was fully aware that race and gender were factors. The only individuals who are hesitant to name racism and sexism are individuals who do not experience racism and sexism as everyday realities. This white man walked-up to this woman and stabbed her and her sister. He then changed clothes, attempted to dodge law enforcement and caution still remained with naming racism as one of the motives?
As a person of African descent, a native of the San Francisco/Oakland area, I have continued witnessing the manifestation overt and covert social-racism in countless ways. Another recent incident was the Barb-b-que Becky incident which arose when a white woman attempted to harass a black family at Oakland's Lake Merritt; calling the police on them because they were grilling in what she deemed the "wrong location." The irony in this story was this woman did not care about the potential of conflict that could have arisen between law enforcement and the black family. The only thing she cared about was being right, proving her point and making certain that "those black people" knew their place.
Last night on MUNI (San Francisco's Municipal Transit Agency), two white men attempted to throw a non-white male (definitely a person of color, but could not tell his race or ethnic origin) from the MUNI train because his music was playing too loudly. Let's unpack this: These men would rather this young man lose his life due to their irritation of hearing his music. One of the men had the child in a chokehold. The display was a portrayal of vile, gruesome, thuggish behavior. It is yet another iteration of White entitlement, white privilege and the disruption of white comfort.
While no place in this country has ever been completely welcoming or safe for African Americans, the San Francisco Bay/Oakland area though extremely racist structurally, institutionally and socially racist, proved to provide better opportunities than the South in the mid-1940's (socially and economically due to World War II) and as a result my grandparents migrated here. However, my grandparents and later many of my relatives would learn that both institutional and structural racism (predominantly white City/County government departments, police force, racial restrictive covenants, business owners, etc.), and social racism plagued the environment. The difference was that it was masked with seemingly less brutal demonstrations of racism, more politeness and sophistication.
Seemingly, by the 1980's and mid-1990's the San Francisco bay area had gained a reputation for being progressive; though this was not the narrative according to most African American people. It appeared to be progressive according to those who felt like they had begun to challenge their own internal struggles with white racism and were aligned with individuals just like them; those that considered themselves more tolerant, woke.
In any case, it really did not matter because as like every other state, county and city in the United States, structural and institutional racism plagued outcomes of black and brown individuals within the San Francisco Bay area as it pertained to employment, housing, education and the criminal justice system. Yet, because the ways of which racism had been experienced in the past (i.e. KKK signs, lynching, rape of black women, etc.) had now transformed into more modern structural forms of racism (i.e. mandatory sentencing, criminalizing certain drugs much differently than others, confinement to certain neighborhoods now validated by socio-economics rather than flat-out naming race), we became quiet.
Though we in the black community right here in the San Francisco/Oakland Bay area witnessed our women and men whisked away in handcuffs hundreds to thousands of times, over set-ups, petty crimes and intimidation through harassment - we never confronted the situation by banding together and protesting our oppressed environment. Many of us just stood by and watched, while others of us bought-into the narrative that most of our black men and women were "criminals". We watched until the county jail here in San Francisco filled-up to approximately 56% of black women and men in a City where blacks make-up only 3-4% of the population. We allowed the dismantling of Affirmative Action here in California, after only 30 plus years of implementation (which came as the result of legal Affirmative Action for whites for over 360 years). We watched our children attend schools in some of the vilest conditions, being taught from recycled books other non-urban schools used years before. We watched as suspension rates rose, never challenging this system that would later become known as the school to prison pipeline.
But now! Now, we are forced and faced with the dilemma of confronting overt social-racism because it is happening to those of us who consider ourselves "upstanding", "educated", "intelligent", "professional", “spiritual”, “religious” people (and the list goes on). It is happening to those of us who have "made the right choices", and "have done the right things (went to school, got an education, “walked a fine line,” etc.)" - or so we thought, right? And we are left with no options other than confronting the evil ills of racism. We must take a pronounced and robust stand to naming the legacy of White racism and Anti-Blackness which are the foundation and DNA of this country.
Such strained social relations are not the result of avowed racists who openly claim the hatred of black and brown people. It is happening with whites and non-Blacks who consider themselves "progressive", "evolved", "open-minded", "well-meaning", "good ones", "woke", "good people", "friends of people of color" – and all others who attempt to distance themselves as far away as they can from avowed racists. And while we continue to believe in good faith that most people mean well and are good people, lives continue to be subjected to continued subjugation and oppression at the hands of such “good”, “well-intended”, “woke” and “well-meaning” individuals.
We must band together for all black and brown life and take a stand!
I understand the history and legacy of White Racism in this country in a very deeply profound and meaningful way (due to many years of concentrated, sustained studying of White Racism and the oppression of Africans, African Americans and Native Americans. However, I will never understand the villainous hatred and contempt that Whites continue to exhibit and thrust upon African Americans. It goes much deeper than Black life not mattering. There is unresolved animus, contempt, and white rage when it comes to black life in this country; exemplified every day here in the City and County of San Francisco.
The nuances of cultural signifiers of what it has meant to be black in this country and it's influences on the way many of us look, speak and/or behave tends to be problematic for most whites and many non-black individuals. The music we listen to, texture of our natural hair (i.e. dreds, naturals, etc.), hues of our skin (any darker than a moderate golden brown), the way we wear our clothes and other intricacies – causes visceral responses from non-black individuals, leading to cultural conflicts in many cases.
If we subscribe to White mainstream social-cultural norms and conform (which actually functions to keep white people comfortable) we are fine. If at anytime this is not maintained, we become problems (i.e. difficult, trouble-maker, not a team player, defensive, etc.).
So, what will it take to begin to really explore and undo the racial divide in the San Francisco/Oakland Bay area, as well as the country? What will it take to start unpacking the multi-generational affects of white rage and white racism – which causes white people to not care or care less about the social, emotional and mental welfare of black and brown life?
What will it take?