Updated: Aug 31, 2018
LETTER TO MY BESTFRIEND
You’ve been an amazing friend in the two years I’ve lived in America. You introduced me to the right shoe sales, the fancy but inexpensive food places and of course the best bars to meet men in New York. Your beautiful straight blonde hair and flawless creamy white skin have gotten us into very important places that I know my dark skin and African accent would truly never get us, and yes I’m grateful for you, but you need to understand that a lot of the benefits and respect we get from people at these occasions are more for you than for me – hence it’s not for ‘us’, as much as it is because of you.
Before coming to New York I didn’t have a problem with race, I didn’t have the incline to check for my fellow black people every time I went into a restaurant or public event so as to feel accepted in that setting, I wasn’t frightened to walk the streets at night especially with the police nearby; I was extremely confident in myself and proud of the woman I was growing into. The only thing I would probably pay attention to was someone’s tribe or birthplace which would have to come up after deep conversation – so no, I didn’t focus much on the color of a person’s skin to judge their character or being or income because I didn’t have to.
I’ve experienced racism with and without you and I need you to understand that my experiences are very real and though you think most of them are just 'slight misunderstandings', I strongly believe they aren’t. As my closest friend you need to realize that you have more advantages in America than I do simply because you were born in the ‘right color’ – the color of superiority and freedom, the color that’s the pedestal and goal for every other race dwelling in America. I got the opportunity to read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me”and learned that even though I’m not African American, I am a black African, which places me amongst the lowest rank of people – just below Asians and Hispanics – and me being a woman doesn’t help my situation either. It helped me understand that ‘White America’ is like a union set to protect its exclusive power to dominate and control the black body (Coates 42). Sometimes this power is direct and sometimes it’s subtle. I also realized that most people didn’t even realize it but because of societal influence, they had become accustomed to a fixed expectation of black people – such as, black women are loud and aggressive with very little courteous tendencies, and black men are dangerous, heading to prison or the grave.
Do you remember how excited I was when I told you I got my first job interview for a temp assistant position before the summer of our second semester at FIT? You even helped me pick out the perfect outfit that best expressed my creativity and who I felt I was – a black turtleneck top tucked into black palazzo pants with the kimono I made with African print fabric. With my braids held up in a high bun, and my comfortable flats, portfolio and printed CV in hand I felt very ready for the interview. I was interviewed by a gorgeous brunette and a skinny black woman with long straight black hair (obviously a weave), and legs for days. Honestly, the interview went very well, I was more than qualified, and they seemed very impressed. When it was time to leave, the colored lady decided to walk me to the door which I knew was quite unconventional, but I found it very encouraging. Approaching the exit, she told me that even though I was very qualified for the position, ‘black woman to black woman’ she’d advise me to change my look – get some ‘nice straight weaves’ and more neutral colors because my ‘look’ was not professional in their setting. You thought I was overreacting when I didn’t take the job.
Here’s what you need to understand, the ultimate dream and societal mindset of most people of other races is to live and be like the white person (Coates). ‘The look’ she referred to was that which I would have to conform to even if I didn’t have the means to maintain it – ‘the professional look’ of straight hair is your hair summer, the naturally long flowing hair I do not have. The black community is pressed to change because slavery and oppression for such a long period has had a massive effect on how they feel and perceive themselves - the feeling of inadequacy; in desperate need to be anything but black. I find myself correcting people who call me African American; desperately trying not to be associated with the least respected race – trying to be anything but black. To be honest people unconsciously act on the racist stereotype without being aware of it (Race or Ethnicity, Unit 3). Why do you constantly suggest we cross the street whenever you see a black man walking towards us and whisper: “thank God” when they cross the street before we encounter them? Why do you feel so unsafe in such circumstances?
Police shooting of black people (especially black men) in this country has not been addressed and I honestly don’t know if it could ever truly be addressed properly because people get uncomfortable talking about it and enforcing change that places black people in a positive light. Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Terrence Crutcher, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Walter Scott, are a few names of the people that have been killed by police because of the color of their skin which made them look either ‘dangerous’ or ‘disrespectful’ for airing their views.
I really hope that this gives you a better perspective of how racism has evolved from being covert and public to a much more concealed manner. I decided to write this letter to communicate to you what society has told me about myself. Even though I’m quite the drama queen, usually confident and assertive, the idea of my color being inferior and less than makes me question my worth almost all the time, because in America, you color plays a massive role in your future. I realize that Internalizing all of this and not fighting back is the easiest way to stay alive in a society that seems ready to destroy my body.
Coates, Ta-Nehisi, Between the World and Me,New York, Random House LLC, 2015
Race/Ethnicity, Fashion Institute of Technology https://fitnyc.open.suny.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-1191695-dt-content-rid-6102867_1/courses/201803-FIT-SS-171-OL4/unit3.sectionB.pdf. Accessed 5thMay 2018