Required Reading If You’re Trying To Understand What It’s Like To Be Black In America

So what now?
08/16/2016 09:23 am ET Updated Aug 16, 2016
#BlackLivesMatter protesters take to the streets of downtown Atlanta.
Photo/Sean McNeil
#BlackLivesMatter protesters take to the streets of downtown Atlanta.

As a Trinidadian immigrant, I’m sometimes hesitant to speak about issues in the U.S. because I’m not American and I didn’t grow up here. But in America, I am black, I have a mixed race daughter, and this has become our struggle.

I have had tearful conversations with dear friends and written painful letters to family about what that’s like. I have shared much of this publicly on how white journalists can respond, read everything I possibly could to get a fuller understanding of what has been happening and its impact on the Black community. And so much has been said, far, far more eloquently than I could ever express.

Many of these I’ve shared on social media, but here’s a round up of some of the pieces I’ve found most impactful.

On the Black Experience

  • “Walking While Black”: A powerful essay by journalist Garnette Cadogan on otherness, on race, on home, on being a Caribbean immigrant in America and learning to navigate new, unwelcome spaces.

When we first learn to walk, the world around us threatens to crash into us. Every step is risky. We train ourselves to walk without crashing by being attentive to our movements, and extra-attentive to the world around us. As adults we walk without thinking, really. But as a black adult I am often returned to that moment in childhood when I’m just learning to walk. I am once again on high alert, vigilant.  —  Garnette Cadogan

While adults around them protest and demand criminal justice reform, young witnesses of the carnage are reeling from their losses and harboring pent-up depression that often comes pouring out in panic attacks and breakdowns. ― Yamiche Alcindor

I needed to get to work, but the last thing I wanted to do was make small talk about inane things with people for whom this might be a tragedy, but an abstract one. To many white Americans, the killings of black men and women at the hands of the state, are individual incidents, each with a unique set of circumstances… But for black Americans like me, the killings of black men and women at the hands of the state with no justice to be had, is among the oldest and most familiar American stories.  —  Nikole Hannah-Jones

Between the four adults, we hold six degrees. Three of us are journalists. And not one of us had thought to call the police. We had not even considered it. 

We also are all black. And without realizing it, in that moment, each of us had made a set of calculations, an instantaneous weighing of the pros and cons.  —  Nikole Hannah-Jones

The logic of racial authenticity stipulates both that black intellectuals have a particular responsibility to represent, in both senses of that word, ‘their’ people, and that, as racial insiders, they are uniquely capable of doing so. — Matthew Clair

Looking back over the last 50 years of the black freedom struggle, it becomes clear: black people don’t riot without reason. They mediate, they lobby, they protest, and they plead. They make their case however they know how. But after trying all that, when things still don’t change, sometimes tensions spill over. Even the most peaceful among us can understand this. After all, it was Martin Luther King Jr. himself who said it best: “A riot is the language of the unheard.” — Aaron Ross Coleman

#BlackLivesMatter protesters take to the streets of downtown Atlanta.
Photo/Sean McNeil
#BlackLivesMatter protesters take to the streets of downtown Atlanta.

 On White Fragility & Discomfort

  • “I, Racist”: This is a phenomenal piece by John Metta, delivered to an all-White audience at the Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, on white fragility and the difficulty of talking to white people about race. Even progressive, liberal whites who recognize racism and are very much against the systems that reinforce it are still not always open to acknowledging their own missteps or exploring personal unconscious prejudices.

White people and Black people are not having a discussion about race. Black people, thinking as a group, are talking about living in a racist system. White people, thinking as individuals, refuse to talk about “I, racist” and instead protect their own individual and personal goodness. But arguing about personal non-racism is missing the point. — John Metta

Until I can acknowledge that I feel more uncomfortable talking about racial inequality than people who have been forced to deal with it every single day of their lives, I will never be able to get over myself enough to be a part of the solution. And if I’m not a part of the solution, I’m a part of the problem. — Jeff Cook

  • When Whites just don’t get it: This six-part series by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof was written in response to “the skepticism and and eye-rolling” he dealt with from whites after he wrote a column in the wake of Michael Brown’s fatal shooting. That column (“Is everyone a little bit racist?”) looked at widespread racism and stereotyping that young black men face by everyone — even other African-Americans. Kristof’s series cites reliable statistics, tackles specific criticisms head on, examines injustice and the complications of the larger issues. I highly encourage you to read them all. (added Aug. 15, h/t Sandy M Bushberg)

Research in the last couple of decades suggests that the problem is not so much overt racists. Rather, the larger problem is a broad swath of people who consider themselves enlightened, who intellectually believe in racial equality, who deplore discrimination, yet who harbor unconscious attitudes that result in discriminatory policies and behavior.  —  Nicholas Kristof

If we are against racism and unaware of committing racist acts, we can’t be racist; racism and being a good person have become mutually exclusive. But this definition does little to explain how racial hierarchies are consistently reproduced.  —  Dr. Robin DiAngelo

I have often felt unseen in your home, your home in which I was in many ways expected to live up to the myth of colorblindness. Your love alone does not protect me from the fact of my black skin. — Mariama Lockington

  • A flowchart for people who get defensive when talking about racism”: So accurate it’s eerie.

  • This comment under this post on Medium on over-sensitivity and victimhood. It’s a good example of the deflection, dismissal and denial that Blacks deal with every day after speaking up. I’ve learned how to craft measured responses. Most times I don’t respond at all. Because thou shalt not argue on the internets. But I’m sure comments like this, some more articulate than others, will keep coming. Stay tuned. Tiring, isn’t it? (Added Aug. 14)

  • “The real reason why white people say ‘All Lives Matter”: John Halstead’s piece in Huffington Post talks about colorblindedness, institutional racism and what whites can do.

The problem with being “colorblind” — aside from the fact that we’re not really — is that it is really a white privilege to be able to ignore race. White people like me have the luxury of not paying attention to race — white or black… Black people, on the other hand, don’t have the luxury of being “colorblind.” — John Halstead 

#BlackLivesMatter protesters take to the streets of downtown Atlanta.
Photo/Sean McNeil
#BlackLivesMatter protesters take to the streets of downtown Atlanta.

 What Now?

… truly transformative change depends more on thoughtful creation of new ways of being than reflexive reactions to the old. What is happening now is very, very old. We have some habits of responding to this familiar pain and trauma that are not serving us well. In many respects it’s amazing that we endure at all.  —  Michelle Alexander

  • My White Boss Talked About Race in America and This is What Happened: Mandela Schumacher-Hodge, founder of The Startup Couch and portfolio services director at Kapor Capital, writes about the first time her white boss initiated a conversation about racial injustice in America. Schumacher-Hodg also offers tips on what white colleagues can do to be more empathetic colleagues.

The fact that a White colleague in a work setting made it a point to make a point about racial injustice in America and acknowledge the Black community’s pain, hurt, and anger over it…the fact that she didn’t just act like today was “business as usual” — that meant more to me than any free lunches, office perks, or holiday bonuses ever could.  —  Mandela Schumacher-Hodge

I am writing today because the lives of black members of my community matter to me, and I want to know that my taxes are going to pay the salaries of police officers and public officials who also believe that black people’s lives have value. I want to know that racist policing practices are not going to be tolerated in my community, that police officers are and will continue to be properly trained, and I need to know that in the event that a police officer unjustly kills a black member of my community, that officer will be brought to justice.  —  Dese’Rae L. Stage

  • “The Cohort: How can I help? Advice for white journalists”: Katie Hawkins-Gaar, digital innovation faculty at Poynter, reached out to black colleagues for their take and dedicated an issue of her regular newsletter to exploring through the eyes of others what can be done. Thoughtful insight from allDigitocracy founder Tracie Powell and WCPO’s Tasha Stewart. Full disclosure: I’m also included in this piece.

What I need White allies to understand is that this violence isn’t just happening to “Black people.” This is happening to ALL of us. This isn’t just a Ferguson thing. It’s not just a suburb in Minnesota thing. This isn’t just a Cleveland or Baltimore thing. Martin Luther King said an “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” So please know this is ALL of our problem, not just something that happens to “those people.” Your son may not be Black like my nephew, but today they come for me; tomorrow it very well may be you.  — Tracie Powell

This article was originally posted on Medium where it’s being updated with suggested articles from readers. Tweet me your suggestions @KariWrites

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