Musings on Charlottesville from a Black man

As I watched the events in Charlottesville unfold, I thought to myself, how in the hell did we get here? Is this all that is left? What has happened to us? Where did all this hate come from to begin with? And I don’t just mean whites. I’ve seen and heard racist dialogue coming from so-called black leadership as well. I don’t like talking about racism simply because I’ve never really understood how you can hate someone because of their skin color or their religion.

And maybe that is part of the problem: none of us on either side seems to be willing to sit and talk about race and racism. We’d rather react. Maybe if we sat and talked, things would be different. Yes, there would be some hurt feelings, but at least it would be out there.  

Most on the left would like to blame Trump for this racial hatred. While it’s true that he’s emboldened the alt-right by not condemning their actions, this hate was here long before he got into the Oval Office. To me, we missed our window of opportunity to talk about this while Obama was in office. It was probably our best chance to ask white people the question of why you hate us so much, and for them to ask us the same.

That being said, I can’t speak for my race, only for myself, and some of what I’m about to say many of you may not like. But you’ll get over it. I already said I don’t like talking about race or racism. Why? Because it takes me to places I don’t want to go. I’ve never been able to sit through an entire viewing of “12 Years a Slave.” It makes me angry, and I start to think about what I would really like to say to a group of smug racist white people if they asked, “Why do you hate us?” As I said, I can’t speak for every black person in America; I can only speak for me.

First, let me say that I get why a black quarterback would refuse to stand for the National Anthem. Yes, I know he was protesting blacks being murdered by police officers and getting away with it, but for me it goes a little deeper. While I appreciate the men and women who gave their lives and sacrificed so much for this country, it’s not lost on me that the man who wrote the “Star-Spangled  Banner” was a slave owner, just as the founders of this country were. So when I hear the anthem and see the flag, it doesn’t mean the same for me as it does for you. It’s not about hate, dishonor or race.

There was a time when the 4th of July was my favorite holiday—until I learned that it wasn’t about my freedom at all, or should I say, black freedom. Oh, I still like the holiday because of cookouts and a friend’s birthday, but that’s all. The other thing that irritates me is when people say, “Go back to Africa.” We didn’t ask to come here in the first place, or at least, our ancestors didn’t. They were probably the only race of immigrants that weren’t clamoring to come to America. They were taken in chains and by force and brought to this country in the bottom of ships where many of them died. Those who survived were forced to work for your ancestors. That’s called slavery. Many were whipped if they disobeyed their master. Black women were raped. Their children also became slaves. Black people were treated as less than human, and only Native Americans were treated worse, or maybe not, because your ancestors murdered most of them.

You talk of the freedom we are given. Really? Even after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, we weren’t truly free. Instead, we were hunted down like dogs, beaten and hung from trees by white men running around in bed sheets with hoods and painted red crosses. You hated us without cause. It was nearly 100 years after Lincoln before we could even vote and before we had civil rights. Before that, we went to different schools and were given less education. We weren’t allowed to use the same bathrooms or water fountains.

Today you want to take all those rights away. Even today, I still feel your hate when you eye me suspiciously as I walk into your stores, when you hug your purse and cross the street and pull your children away, when I’m next to that last empty seat on a bus or a train, when you see me talking to pretty, well-dressed white women and you assume I’m harassing them, when you call me a thug, when police kill my brothers and sisters in the street and you find them not guilty because you assume the n***** did something.

I have accomplished much in my life. I’m the president and founder of a nonprofit. But all you will ever see me as is a… well, you know.  But I don’t hate you. Nor do I hate this country. In fact, I feel sorry for you because your racism will keep you from knowing me.

James Shearer

James Shearer is a writer and co-founder of Spare Change News.

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