By Samantha Harris
A few weeks ago, a meme circulated through my newsfeed, that gave me a chuckle. It said, “Do white people know that the dogs in Flint (MI) don’t have clean water, either? Have we tried that approach?” I didn’t share it until I saw someone else do so. It prompted both humor and discussion. A disclaimer, before we continue: I intend to be as gentle in the delivery of my plain truths as possible, but I cannot guarantee that all feelings will be spared. Because I see a problem.
Last year, I lost my home and my beloved cat, Ollie, on the same night. The manager of a place where I had lived and worked, had decided to oust me, and my child, on a Friday night, over the word of a neighbor. For a year-and-a-half, I had lived surrounded by people whose worldviews were antagonistic to my well-being. I did my best to stay to myself. I code switched when I was not able to. More often than not, I found myself being emotionally abused by someone who felt I should call her friend. When I created distance, she would track me down, and give me a tearful apology and a poor explanation. The problem was that I was too different from these people, for them to tolerate.
I still see it in my everyday life. Neighbors, who have wronged me, hide behind their fears of my race in order to not face what they have done to another human being. There is always at least one person per day, who is utterly disturbed by the sight of me. I’ve watched children stare, mouths agape. And then there are the stories I hear from my other friends of color out here. There are so few spaces where we feel safe. And to this day, I fail to understand the fear that my neighbors have of me. I have done nothing to them. In some cases, I have been their victim. And yet, no matter what, no matter what they do or say, I am always the aggressor.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen a media buzz about a local pet place, that abused a dog in their care. Like everyone else, I was horrified to see how that animal was treated. I don’t take issue with any of the local outcry or organization that went into advocating for this pup. Nor do I take any issue with all the work done locally for animals; reuniting them with their parents, the care of the ferals... It’s encouraging to see people organize to right a wrong. It’s what we’re supposed to be doing.
The thing that gets me, though, is that I do not see as much passion in the white community for people of color who are oppressed, as I see their passion for animals. So it’s cool to drive across country to get a kitten you’re going to foster (dude, that’s awesome), but when a pregnant black woman is shot by a cop who she’s been harassed by before, somehow, she deserved what she got...or no notice from you at all? Why? And for those who say, “well, the pet is innocent,” true, but in this nation, we’re all innocent until proven guilty. One of those pesky human rights...
I see two types of comments from the white majority when it comes to brutality towards animals, and brutality towards black people, and other people of color. When it’s an animal, across the board, this is horrible. I’ve even seen pet experts in the comments of a video of a pet, that some may find funny. There is always someone there (usually white), who gives factual knowledge on why the animal may not be enjoying itself as much as it’s human is. Cool. For me, that’s good info. You want to be a good pet parent when you have one. Or so, most people think and feel.
But skip on over to the comments on just about ANY black issue. The majority of white people on those threads are critical, no matter what. There’s the tried and true (played out) reference to black-on-black crime. And even when you point out that people are more likely to be killed by a member of their own race, for multiple reasons, you might as well be bouncing a tennis ball against a brick wall. Your words always come back to you, having made no dent in the worldview of the other person.
I’m totally against the abuse of animals. I have one more kitty, that I didn’t lose that night. She was gone from me for several months. Her transition back into my house has been rough. But I knew the real adjustment had to be on my part. You know, another living being. She’s now my lap kitty, and she sleeps on my feet. I still think about my Ollie, I miss him, and I so hope he found a friendly doorstep. He hasn’t turned up. Losing him still hurts.
But, y’all...come on, why is it that so many people within the white community are still defensive towards any suggestion they could treat their fellow human beings of color, better? Why? What definitive proof do you have in every instance where you feel we are at fault for our own oppression, that we have brought it upon ourselves? Are we less than dogs?
All I’m saying is that I’d love to see the same energy the white community gives towards animal rights, thrown at the human rights of black and brown minorities. We are no threat to you. We want to live in peace, just as much as that adorable lab mix you adopted. I’m just saying.
This system of oppression, it is a machine, within which we all are some gear or another. We can change the function of the machine by changing our function within it. It costs so little to forward info about a missing black child. It costs so little to just read an article about minority (this includes black) struggles in your private time and consider it. Consider how you may be contributing to this system. It costs nothing to see where perhaps your life is better due to unearned advantages. And it costs nothing to realize white privilege is not the only privilege, and no one is saying your life was a piece of cake.
Honestly...living out here...I feel like I am less than a dog. Because I can practically taste the hostility with which some of my neighbors treat me. I’ve done nothing past live among them, and yet they see me, and my friends of color out here, as such a threat…
Are we less than dogs? If not, please look up and be aware of the active white supremacy around you. If you are not racist, then call out those who are. I’m sorry, but you wouldn’t care about your uncle no longer speaking to you if he believed animals should just be abused. You’d cut him off. So why not us? We’re human, just the same as you. Call out the people who have 1488 on their persons, vehicles, whatever. Look up what that means. Educate those who fly confederate flags; that the only history that flag represents, is racism, the South lost, and Colorado wasn’t even a state during the Civil War, so we for real have no dog in that fight out here. Understand that Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that ONLY black lives matter, it means that black lives matter, too. And if you think we are just spouting hot air, then perhaps you should know that the history you were taught about this country, is diluted. And for those of you of faith, to ignore anyone who is suffering, well, that goes against the primary dictates of every major faith in existence.
Are...we...less...than...dogs? If not, here are some practical things you can do, to help.
If my words have upset you, I cannot say that I am sorry. I regret you feel discomfort, but I speak the truth. More often than not, it seems like the white community has more compassion for animals than it does for unarmed black people who die at the hands of law enforcement.
We just want to live in peace. That’s very difficult to do when you know the ruling majority sees you as a danger to be hopefully eliminated.
“I'm going to cry, I'm sorry” was the phrase uttered by Katrina as we concluded the exercise that the other coordinators for Black Lives Matter designed to help elicit emotions for some of the problematic and racist experiences of people of color who live locally. The exercise was handed out on note cards and each note card had a fear on it that someone of color had expressed to Jon Williams at one point. “My son is mixed, and I am scared for him” was the card that Katrina got, Katrina is a mom and said she gets mad when someone bullies her son already, she can't imagine children having to deal with something like that, because childhood should be beautiful and safe.
Unfortunately for so many people childhood is nowhere near beautiful or safe. The phrases were things like “I don't wear an afro in public because I am scared people will touch it” and “I am scared my child will be murdered by the police”. Things that we read about and hear about that we can feel sorry for but we can never understand the fear, the threats, and the inability to change or take off the reason people hate you. To try to relate anything in my life to the fear that people of color face on a daily basis proved to be impossible and I, typically with a lot to say had very little, and what I did say was through tears. I can't imagine being scared like that 100% of the time. As a woman I can sometimes do things to make myself less appealing, there is nothing a black person can do to make them less black.
The point of this exercise at a meeting about the confederate flag was to help the white people who attended see the inherent fear of being black, the fear that comes from all directions for things that as a white woman I have never thought about, so that when we confront people waving the confederate flag proudly without an ounce of remorse we can use these emotions, we can help people realize that the human thing to do is to take down a flag with a background in white supremacy, a flag that was used by the KKK as their symbol, a flag that causes unnecessary intimidation to people of color. A flag that represents a treasonous south getting upset that they were going to lose their slaves and fighting for the right to have them. Fighting for the right to literally OWN a human being, and in owning slaves forcing them to fight for the right you have to force them to fight. Dying in fields because you said so. That is what the confederate flag is. The confederate flag is white slave owners raping and then killing black women because they ended up pregnant. The confederate flag is every riot that happened during the civil rights era, the tear gassing of MLK Jr on his march to Selma, every “White Only” water fountain or restaurant, every picking cotton joke and every time you have locked your car or crossed the street when you saw a black person. We all know what the confederate flag means, to keep defending and pretending it doesn't mean what it means diminishes every step we have made to make Grand Junction more inclusive.
by Samatha Harris
Yesterday it was brought to the attention of BLM GJ coordinators, that a black man was subjected to harassment and racial attack while minding his own business at the Rimrock Walmart. There are people who live in this area, who feel like Grand Junction is far removed from the types of things seen daily on national headlines, when it comes to race relations. Sadly, these people are also very hesitant to talk to those who can give disappointed testament to the fact that this is not true. To be black in Grand Junction is to have eyes on you at all times. To be black in Grand Junction is to be called racist for talking about race, by people who will probably never take the time to look up what racism actually is. Racism involves power, and none of the 450 black people in this town have the power to ruin anyone’s life. It’s just not gonna happen. Melanin will silently disqualify you for a lot out here. Yes, it’s true.
The sad thing about this particular incident is that it was instigated by someone bowed under oppression himself, being without shelter. The individual who reported the incident thought he may have been under the influence. That’s neither here nor there to me. Having been homeless before, I understand the despair, and will never discount anyone on the street who has taken other roads to deal with their pain. Still, misery does not have to beget misery.
This individual railed at both this man and McDonald’s staff. He seemed aware enough of his privilege to not fear the cops being called. He mentioned hanging the black man in question. This is not the first time a local has railed at a person of color in public out here. It’s just that when it happens, the discussion mainly stays in tight circles. The subject of race halts each time the non-POC (white person) you’re speaking with gets close to the fear of being called racist themselves. It’s like this nation knows that racism is wrong (for the most part), but no one wants to take accountability for how they may be benefiting from this system. So we go around in circles, people who think they’re liberal enough to know better, and those who don’t care. And it gets exhausting, when things like the situation above happen again and again.
There are too many good people in this town for this type of mindset to continue. Those out here who are of the clear majority need to stop being afraid at the possibility of fingers being pointed, when it comes to the subject of racism. Racism is a form of social programming, brainwashing, if you will. It is possible for it to be undone, but it cannot be undone unless the person with the social programming of the racist, comes to realize that now is time to swallow the red pill. You will not die, I promise you. Not even of shame. However, and I’ve said it before many times, bodies drop due to attitudes that actually do involve racism. Calling out racism doesn’t make the person doing so racist, especially if they are a minority.
I’d like to thank the good Samaritan neighbor who brought this to our attention, as well as those who were not content to just be bystanders. Thank you. It is you who will propel this community forward, as you have learned how to be truly compassionate. No one should have to walk through this community with a target on their back or stigma applied to their person, because there are still people alive who would rather cling stubbornly to outdated beliefs, than change for the better.
By Samantha Harris
What if I told you that saying that you don’t see color is not as benign as it seems? I know that many people see this statement as a show of solidarity, but as Donald Guillory so aptly put it, in his book, The Token Black Guide, “When you ‘don’t see color,’” you fail to acknowledge a portion of me that has helped to shape my history and my identity. You are saying that this history doesn’t matter, nor should it be considered. The color of my skin and race do not solely define me, but they do play a vital role in who I am. It leads to the likelihood that you will not recognize the injustices that people of color suffer. Colorblindness makes one blind and deaf to inequality, prejudice and discrimination. It renders you indifferent and uninterested in pushing for change. You are not colorblind, you are actively choosing to ignore reality.”
This is a strong accusation, but one with which I agree, because it is true. Saying you don’t see color means you get to not see when your neighbors treat POC poorly. When it’s subvert, you get to tell your POC friend to grow a thicker skin, even though these “tiny” events mark the daily lives of minorities in this society. When it’s covert you get to push away the conversation about what’s really going on, by pleading for civility. Because if everyone would just get along, everything would be alright? Right? Well, we can’t get to the root of the problem until we actually state what it is. And it’s not POC deserving the treatment they get because they’re less moral than white people. This simply isn’t true. Taking the actions of a few and using it to justify the oppression of that entire group is no more acceptable than any person of color equating every white person with Westboro or the Klan. Folks, you’re going to have to both give POC the benefit of the doubt, as well as engage those you know, who hold negative beliefs about POC. Those beliefs lead to apathy, aggression, and can lead to death. This is a life and death matter and saying you don’t see it won’t make it go away. In fact, it will only make the roar resound more loudly within your ears.
Within minority communities, we have this thing we call “code switching.” Granted, this phenomenon is not exclusive to those of us considered to be “other,” but we find ourselves using this behavior a lot, in spaces that aren’t friendly towards the things about us that make us different. Code switching is when a person changes their language or behavior, the better to assimilate (mainly for safety’s sake) within majority white spaces. This often involves downplaying the very things that make us unique. In a society where goodness and propriety are based upon the defaults of one culture, it can be necessary at times to keep your vernacular, or your quirks to yourself. What this creates is a scenario in which people assume the very things that make you who you are, are things you can put on and take off like clothing. When in reality, these things aren’t actual physical clothing that you don and doff, it’s a subconscious need to align with the behavior of the majority, again, for the sake of personal safety. The “clothes” are the code switching, the cautious movements, the tempered speech.
Code switching is nothing less than carving off pieces of yourself to protect those pieces from people and situations that are intolerant of them. This can be an uncomfortable process, and one that often turns into invalidation, once the people you find yourself code switching for, come to see your affected behavior as the default.
Having to constantly suppress your cultural quirks can be exhausing, when you have to do it daily, like at work. It’s well known that white collar spaces can be intolerant of POC and who they would naturally be outside of the workplace. “Professionalism” has become code speech for having to make yourself appear to be as Eurocentric as possible. For Hispanic people, this could be barring your native language at work (which happens all the time). For black people, women especially, issues of hair and texture are often brought up. I have seen countless stories of black women called into HR and told to straighten their hair. If you happen to be Muslim, you might face questions about the necessity of wearing a head scarf, or even having a beard. Folks, these things aren’t just red herrings we’re throwing out due to boredom. They are real events, and they are painful.
America boasts about being a melting pot, a place where people can come and live out their own version of the American dream, which ultimately boils down to safety and a chance to actually live, rather than just survive. Yet, for many minorities in this country, the realization of said dream comes with a very high price…denying the very things that make you unique, so that society at large can swallow the differences that you absolutely cannot hide. I believe that we as a nation can do better, and this starts with actually recognizing and acknowledging race in a way that doesn’t automatically assign negative character traits to POC. Choosing to not see color means that you also choose to not see the violence acted out upon the bodies of minorities, every day in this society. I’ve heard many people say that they can’t do anything about race issues in this country. Yes, you can. Recognize that the construct of race will not disappear, simply because you don’t want to see it. See that I am black. See that I face different challenges than you, living in America. See that the collective stories of minorities in America are not necessarily an individual indictment, but a call to action. And yes, you can do something about race relations in this country. Call out the racist. Even if it means you’re doing so, standing alone, in front of a mirror. This is not about judgment, it’s about progress. Our society is moral to the point of ignoring its own flaws.
The one thing that I think many people miss in this conversation, is the fact that we essentially live in the Matrix. We are being programmed, according to who this society thinks that we each are individually. We are programmed to be at perpetual odds with one another, due to media influence as well as our fears of actually sitting down to talk about these issues. I’ve learned that there are four things that each human being on this planet desires: to be seen, to be loved, to be understood and to be accepted. This is part of the human condition, and regardless of cultural differences, we have this in common. Imagine how much more we could all access the above things (love, etc.), if we were to stop being so afraid, and just reach out to one another.
To paraphrase Mr. Guillory above, when you come across a POC, forget that they are of color…but in the back of your mind, do not forget. Do not ask someone to become more like you for the sake of your own individual comfort. I would ask, that when you are faced with someone who is different, go back in your mind to a time when someone wanted you to conform to their standards that didn’t fit you…and how you felt. And strive to not pay such feelings and emotions forward to another. We can do this, we can actually live up to what the American dream is supposed to mean. Once we stop living in fear.
by Samantha Harris
Every year, from my entrance into the 6th grade through my graduation from high school, my history lessons included the story of the Holocaust and Anne Frank. We read and discussed her diary in class numerous times, and I remember being shown the videos of emaciated Jewish survivors after the war. I’ve walked through the National Holocaust Museum in DC, and there are no words to describe what it feels like to look at those piles of shoes, thousands of shoes, that were once filled with happy souls. I had the privilege to live abroad in Germany for two years, and to be honest, the view I’d been given of my host country was nothing like what I actually experienced.
I’d been indoctrinated to see Germans as secret Nazis. School told the story of the Holocaust, but not of the millions who chose to keep silent out of fear rather than attract fatal attention. Not of those within the nation who lost their lives for speaking and acting out against their own government. During my 13 years of indoctrination about what America is supposed to be, we never touched on those who rebelled against their own country outside of us breaking from Britain.
When I lived in Germany I became close to many who remember those days. Believe me when I tell you that Germany learned their lesson. That nation is not full of Nazis, go there and give that hateful salute, and you will be beaten in the street. Those who still want to hold onto such sick beliefs must take campers and porta-potties up into the mountains, the Germans are so loath to deal with them. If you voice any sentiment that denies the Holocaust, you can be criminally charged. Y’all, Germany is not playing on this issue. In many cities, there are places that were not rebuilt after the Second World War, craters into which you descend, and the noise of the city falls away…there is nothing down there but you, silence, and your thoughts. It’s weird, walking back up those makeshift stairs, back to life again. Those ruins were left there as a constant reminder. Jewish cemeteries are under lock and key, behind ten-foot walls. It’s a crime to break those locks. And those rules were largely respected by the Germans, when I lived there. Ironically, a lot of my fellow American students refused to interact with their hosts, because they believed the lie that all Germans were Nazis. Even back then we were showing our tails abroad. The Ugly American sentiment is nothing new.
Germany put their dark past under glass, in museums, where it belongs. They foster active discussion about their national role in the Second World War, and children are taught from the very beginning that genocide and nationalism are wrong. As a woman who was black and who was raised within the Jewish tradition, I felt much safer there than I ever have here.
Y’all...I thought we were past this. I thought that it was clear what a Nazi was, but we have been so eager to keep our noses clean, so willing to preserve everyone’s right to speak, even if they were flat-out wrong…and Nazis marched down the middle of our streets. What’s really sad is that the symbols these people, for lack of a better word, use…they belonged to indigenous people first. White supremacy often takes what is good from the cultures they hate and claim it for their own…as they preach genocide. Let’s stop avoiding the fact that we know what they really want.
The word swastika is derived from Sanskrit. Svastika means “good fortune” or “well-being.” If you traveled to East Asia, you’d see this symbol often. It had been in use for around 12,000 years, all over the world before Hitler decided to use it to promote German nationalism and murder. For a very unsettling look into what life under a Nazi regime on our soil could look like, watch The Man in the High Castle. It’s an alternative history drama. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but history shows what happens when we don’t learn our lessons. Stop tolerating the spittle-flecked rants of the Nazi and calling it free speech. Hate speech should never be free speech.
Why is it that a country I was taught to disdain has learned to understand the dangers of extremist thought, but this supposed bastion of freedom I live in is so free that Nazis are perfectly comfortable going to public places and displaying a swastika in any form? At a local event this weekend, a good neighbor was kind enough to point out a vendor that was selling a flag with a swastika on it. In the form that they intended, it is swill. It should be burned. Imagine seeing that symbol everywhere as you are taken from everything you own and brought into sub-human living conditions, and later carted off to your death. That symbol is a slap in the face of every Jewish person alive. And in the meaning symbol takes here in the United States…not only anti-Semitism, but anti-black sentiment, anti-immigrant…anti- anyone that isn’t like them. Thank goodness the company sponsoring the event where this tripe was found took quick action. On behalf of BLM and all in this valley who won’t stand for this mess: thank you.
What many people who find themselves falling for extremist nationalism fail to understand, is that here…no one is going to take your way of life from you, so long as your way of life is not antagonistic to other people (translation: advocating for the harm/murder of someone else). Alas, this difficult discussion about race, culture, and all the ways in which we differ is hindered by dog-whistling that tells this group of people that they are being targeted. When you decide to turn your face away from fact, it’s very easy to become a malignant force that is propelled by your own foolishness.
White supremacy thrives because there are groups of people not willing to face the uncomfortable fact that they were partners in their own communal demise. Self-antagonistic voting trends, refusing to stop depending on fossil fuels, a refusal to learn about the environment and how to take care of it, anti-intellectualism. Now, you can’t eat the fish you caught. You are trained to work, but only in the mine that is now dead. You distrust the other so much that the man behind the curtain could tell you anything, and you’d listen. Anything to drown out the steady but quiet song in your mind that tells you the world is progressing without you. It’s the government’s fault, it’s that person of color. It’s amazing, a group of people who hate immigrants so much, who have zero compassion for the plight of the refugee, but they forget they worship an Arab man who had to go live in Africa for a bit to escape people who wanted to kill him. Lyndon B. Johnson once said that “if you could convince the lowest white man that he is better than the best colored man, he won’t know you’re picking his pocket.”
White supremacists have taken Viking symbols, the swastika, and a great deal more to call their own. Let’s shut them down, period. They have no place within American values. And I know that most who are reading this still have some hope for their country. At the end of WWII, the vets of this nation were hailed as heroes. Or so the story goes, as we are taught. And yet, within the space of this last 70 years, we have forgotten that Nazis are bad. Well, they’re largely not in Germany anymore, so what does that say for us?
An American education comes with a lot of indoctrination. Some people may not like my saying this, but they have no control over what our curriculum is. We learn what we are taught about this country’s history for a reason. They have slowly and systematically taken much of the control over curriculum from teachers for a reason. Our kids are being taught to a test for a reason. The truth of the Trail of Tears is barely touched on, no talk about the smallpox blankets (1763, Fort Pitt). From kindergarten we’re coloring pictures of happy pilgrims and Native Americans sharing a turkey, but that was not the whole story. There’s a way to tell the truth without traumatizing children. Germany does this very well within their school system, by the way. Black History Month is relegated to endless reprisals of Dr. King’s I Have A Dream speech, one or two talks about Mama Rosa saying “naw,” a Song of the South version of slavery, and peanut butter, if we’re lucky (George Washington Carver). We’re not taught about Malcom X, or Marcus Garvey. This nation steers away from telling us the truth about its inception and all that was done in the name of raising this landmass into a group of states. They do that to keep people at odds with each other, so that we can continue to be fleeced by the 1%. Remember Bacon’s rebellion. The powers that be tremble when we all look at them in unison with fire in our eyes.
When my parents used to take me to one of the larger military medical centers during our time overseas, we always passed an old concentration camp on the way. I never asked which one. But the sun never, ever seemed to shine over that area. It wasn’t my imagination; every time we passed through that part of the countryside, that spot on the hill was shrouded in gloom, clouds always sat above it. Even the very earth that we know as Germany is repulsed by the Nazis and what they stand for.
So why are they on our soil? And what are we gonna do about it?