TL;DR The Neo-Nazists and white supremacists have been around for a long time, the Trump rhetoric has only made them more confident, and I feel a little unwelcome in the country of my birth.
All the things that happened in Charlottesville were pretty shocking to a lot of people. All of a sudden, white nationalists really do exist. People who think anyone who’s not white really do exist. What’s happening to world? Etc. Nah. They’ve been around for quite some time now and I personally have been treading lightly for most of my life. In an attempt to not make this a generic post about Charlottesville, let’s take a look at my life and my interactions with racism up until now.
My first introduction to the word nigger was in 4th grade. Our class was in the library, which just so happened to have globes. Maybe we were there studying geography, who knows. Anyway, we were all taking turns looking at countries around the world until one white boy came across the continent of Africa and unknowingly mispronounced the country of Niger. The result was one confusingly disciplined little boy and me, asked if I was okay about ten times then sent home confused as hell. That night, I asked my mom what the word meant and I’ll never forget the appalled look on her face somewhere between anger that I had said it and concern that I had even heard it.
Flash forward to middle school. I learn in history class about the KKK and Nazis and such and have nightmares for years about it.
Flash forward to high school. At this point, I hadn’t had any other encounters with racism until I stumbled upon the wonders of Xbox 360’s party feature, in which I would play with and talk to some kids from school. Some of whom I thought were my friends. One guy dropped the n bomb on the regular and was just a terrible human being in general. Another was so racist that he actually updated his profile with a paragraph that said something along the lines of: “I had no idea a nigger could read until I met this guy.” In case you hadn’t guessed, that guy was me. One of my actual friends told me about it and asked if I was okay. Mad as hell but I was ‘okay.’ And if I still knew his GamerTag, I’d probably discover that that exact same paragraph is still there.
Before I flash forward to college, I wanna recount something my mom had told me about her experiences with racism. She said while she was going to high school, which was the very same high school I had gone to, something pretty ridiculous had happened. I honestly don’t remember all of the context exactly, but there was a day when she was trying to go to school and all the teachers, white teachers mind you, were outside blocking the entrance with baseball bats. And she told me a bunch more like how she had a master’s degree in business and had to settle for a part time job where she earned less than every white employee. Not only would no one hire her, but the shit place that finally did wouldn’t pay her the right. So yeah, I was more or less trying my damn best to excel and stay out of trouble in high school. I refused to give anyone a reason to look down on me.
Now I bet you’re expecting some crazy shit to have gone down in high school just from the build up. Nah. Nothing really. The only thing that really reminded me that racism exists during my stay was the first week of my freshman year. I woke up one morning to an email from the Dean of Students requesting that I come have a chat with her. It was a pretty cryptic message and I wasn’t sure if I should be confused or concerned. Appropriately enough, it was a black woman. The first thing she asked me was whether or not I was okay. I said yeah, still confused about why the hell I was even there. Apparently a couple days prior, the room across the hall had put up some racist sign, which I never actually saw, right on the front of their door.
And we’ve reached present day, in which I am now a very cautious person. Especially having seen so many people around me who support anything and everything Trump does (oh I live in Tennessee in case you didn’t know), I do my best to steer clear of potential bullshit. But I’ve since learned the word nigger doesn’t really upset me anymore, because I don’t want to give power to the word itself. Then Charlottesville bullshit happens and people around town try to defend Trump, who only called out the Nazis and white supremacists after a lot of pressure from the public. One of my coworkers actually wrote an opinion piece that defended Trump and almost passed the whole thing off without even using the words Nazi, supremacist, or nationalist.
Essentially what I’m getting at is: no, I am not okay. It’s not like racism just evaporated. I feel like I’ve been dodging invisible racism my whole life, acting more professional and educated instead of being myself and not giving people a reason to jump to conclusions and stereotypes when it comes to me. The only thing that’s changed is that this is racism we can see and there’s a lot of it. I mean, I guess on the plus side, it’s getting easier to learn who to avoid. Right? Right?
Racism isn’t going anywhere. I believe our elected officials would prefer to let it slink back into the shadows, but the negative rhetoric lingering from the Trump campaign needs to be remedied before we reach the point of no return. In my opinion, it’s sort of nice to know who and where the racists really are so I don’t have to interact with them, but I shouldn’t have to go out of my way to avoid such people in the place of my birth.