Lately, probably due to the #blacklivesmatter movement and all the very public sightings of Karen and Ken, my white friends and acquaintances have been talking more about race and what can they do to be better allies. African-Americans are reacting to this by either engaging in the discussion in an attempt to educate others or reacting with annoyance at this sudden interest in injustices against us. I am on the side that will stay up past midnight and drink a gallon of coffee to stay awake to talk about the issues, if I believe it will move the needle an inch forward toward equality, even if I sometimes feel disrespected in the process. So, if you are white or some other race and have general questions about black culture, and don’t want to be ridiculed, I’m your girl. (Disclaimer: I don’t presume to speak for all; however, I can share my personal experiences and knowledge about the black experience.)
With that said, there is one small thing that I think allies can work on that might help race relations. How ‘bout learning our names? When you have more than one black person of the same gender on your job, in your neighborhood, in your class, etc., figure out what is unique about them, commit that difference to memory and attach it to the name. That’s manageable and you have no idea what that will do to endear you to black folks.
All my life, when there was even one other black female in the same space, I have been called her name. I correct the person and then it happens again. Happened to me this week. I was in a class and a student that I have been in class with for three months called me by another black student’s name. (This was the third time. The other black student is younger, thinner, taller and does not look like me.) I corrected my fellow classmate and then immediately thought about this and why I believe it happens.
I think it happens because the white person does not view us as important enough to make our features or general behavior distinguishable. I think when we are introduced, I am not immediately thought of as a potential friend, future boss, potential neighbor or possible family member. Possibly in their world that’s not something they readily believe will happen. I try not to make a judgement about what that tells me about their world and its narrow parameters. (I try but I am not always successful. Thus, my annoyed face when I am approached the next time by this offender.)
Among my black friends and family, we of course have been trained to not only remember their names but to remember preferences. From the time when we were enslaved on the plantation, our very survival demanded that we elevate whites and assign them a corresponding level of importance. Somewhere what was learned (or taught) was that we are an inferior people, a necessary human tool; not worth investing the time to distinguish one from the other. Sadly, it’s 2020 and that’s still the flavor of the day. So, if you want to know, if you should go march in the protests or hang a black lives matter sign on your business, allow me to suggest a simple starting point. In your circle, your environment, the places where you routinely navigate, learn the names of the minorities present. Kindly address them appropriately and they too may be willing to field your questions and concerns without mocking you and remembering how dismissive you have been in the past. Unintentionally of course.