HCRU Interviews: Understanding Racism Today

Throughout this past Presidential election, it became even more obvious that racism is an issue in the United States. Although I grew up with friends being from several different ethnic backgrounds, I still have felt uneducated and unaware of what racism is like.

This week, in honor of Black History Month, I decided to reach out to four of my African-American friends. I came up with questions that have been floating in my head, hoping to get a better understanding of what racism is like and how can I serve my friends better.

Those interviewed include: Marlena Davis, a Senior at RU studying Business; Simone Heard, a Senior at RU studying English; Aubrea Shackelford, a Junior at RU studying Communications, and Rachel Wedgewood, a Junior at RU studying Christian Ministry.

Her Campus (HC): Have you ever experienced racism?

Marlena (MD): Yes.

Simone (SH):  Yes.

Aubrea (AS): Yes.

Rachel (RW): Yes.

HC: What experiences have you had with racism?

MD: When I was a little girl, I was at school and one of the white boys in my class asked me to do something I wasn’t willing to do. When I said no, he called me a n***er.

SH:  I have been name called, stereotyped, pre-judged, and misunderstood on different occasions.

AS: I have experienced multiple accounts of racism throughout my life. Some blatant acts of discrimination, and others out of ignorance. I was once not allowed to date a (white) potential love interest because of his mother’s disapproval.  She said something to this effect: “Your grandparents would disown you if they found out you were dating a black girl!” That one hurt, especially because she was so nice to my face. I felt that she knew how wrong she was and tried to overcompensate by paying me compliments. Most of my experiences with racism have been in the form of microaggressions, though. Subtle derogatory comments, racist “jokes,” stereotyping, etc.

RW: It has played out in my life because of my family situation. I’m African American, but I was adopted by an interracial couple. With that being said, it is not normal for an interracial couple to have children of just one race, especially if the race of the child(ren) matches one of the parents. When we go out to eat as a family of 4, we could all walk up to the desk where the hostess is, and we would get asked, “Is he (my dad) with you?”

When I was little and I would walk with my dad, just the 2 of us, people would look at us and ask us what was going on. One lady asked me if I was lost, even though I was walking with my dad. Obviously, since my dad is Caucasian, his whole family is also Caucasian, which means that my mom, brother, and I are the only 3 black people in his family.

We were on vacation with his family about 5 years ago, and some of my aunts, uncles, and cousins, along with my brother and my mom went to go get ice cream one day. The person behind the counter said, “I do not serve black people.” I also had an incident with a professor my freshman year where they said made a generalization about my race, but it was out of not knowing and being naïve.

HC: How do racist comments and/or actions make you feel?

MD: I don’t like to hear them because of the pain they have caused and still do.

SH: They make me feel uninvited and hurt. The times when I’ve experienced racism have been unpleasant. As an African-American woman, I was raised and grew up in predominantly Caucasian environments, so acceptance was something I wanted but found difficult at times.

AS: Appalled, disgusted, infuriated and sad.

RW: Racist comments and actions make me extremely upset. From an African American perspective, people who make comments like that are insulting my background and where I come from. It makes me upset when people assume that something is true for all African Americans just because it is true for one person.  

HC: How often do you currently experience racism in person? What about online?

MD: I haven’t experienced it too often in person or online but I have watched other African Americans experience racism.

SH:  Not so much in person as I have online. I’ve seen it a lot through social networking, although I pretended I didn’t notice it for so long.

AS: I experience microaggressions, stereotyping, and other ignorant comments in person every now and then. I see racism online all the time, but I try not to involve myself in situations where I would be directly targeted.

RW: I never really experience racism in person or online.

HC: When you experience racism, is it from friends and/or strangers?

MD: Strangers.

SH:  On occasion, it’s happened to both. I’ve had friends make comments and/or jokes that were distasteful and insensitive. Some encounters with strangers have usually been more of a silent, passive like racism. Not much was said, but they was I was treated spoke volumes.

AS: When I was younger, it was more from “friends,” but as I’ve gotten older and have chosen my friends more wisely, I’d say I experience it more from acquaintances and strangers.

RW: I do not really experience racism from people.

HC: If it is from friends, does it come out of a place of ignorance or actual intention?

MD: I think that comes out of a place of ignorance. Like when African Americans say the N word to each other it’s [considered to be] okay, but if someone of another ethnicity says it, it becomes a problem. I don’t think it should be said at all because of the way it was used to attack us.

SH:  With friends, I believe it comes from a place of unawareness. As a minority, it’s difficult to get some people to understand why you feel the way you may feel on certain issues. It’s one of those things that’s a challenge because if someone hasn’t been in your shoes and experienced racism, it can be hard for them to relate.

AS: Ignorance, mostly.

RW: Ignorance

HC: Have you ever experienced subtle racist comments that come out of ignorance? What are some examples of this?

MD: There was a time here at Regent where a few Caucasian guys I was sitting with said something about slaves. One guy said do you know how I like my slaves? And the other guy said black, and the other guy said “No, free” and then they laughed. Because they have never experienced it nor dealt with the direct effects being a descendant of people who lived it they didn’t understand how hurtful it felt to hear that.

SH:  Not recently, but I have in the past. I’ve been called “Oreo”, “White-black girl” and told “I act white” because of the way I behave, carry myself and because of my relationships with my friends who are mostly Caucasian. I have also been criticized for being open to dating in and outside of my race.

RW: Most of the comments I get are not really racist.

HC: How can Caucasian individuals serve and support you better?

MD: Understanding that as a white individual, you have white privileges that African Americans don’t have. Most of the time white people are not stereotyped in a negative way as black people are, [so don’t] take it lightly when we express the trouble we face from racism.

Be willing to fight with us even if you are not racist because just because you’re not racist doesn’t make it any better. If you see injustice and don’t do anything but sit back and say how sad you are, [you’re] just as much a part of the problem as the person who is racist. It was the help of white people back in the day who were willing to stand with the African Americans and say segregation and inequality was wrong that helped get us to this place today. Systematically we still have a journey ahead of us.

SH:  I feel the best way this can happen is through mutual respect and understanding. If you feel like a comment, statement, or joke may be racist or racially offensive, don’t say it, post it on social media or be offensive.

AS: Listen well. Listen to understand, not to argue or respond. Educate yourself. Do not be willfully ignorant.

RW: Asking questions is extremely important. If you do not know something about my race, ask the question in a polite way.

HC: What are some other comments, questions, concerns or topics you would like to address to white individuals?

MD: Don’t be naïve to the fact that racism is still alive or take everything at face value, especially with all the stories we’ve seen on tv. Systematically, there is still a lot of racism against black people that goes on. When you hear someone say what another white person did, don’t become defensive, most of us are aware that all white people aren’t like that but don’t try and justify the obvious racism that takes place subtly.

SH:  Hair is huge in the African-American community. I’m currently transitioning to being natural. Going “natural” is the process of growing out chemically relaxed hair in favor of a natural texture. This can be done through transitioning or what some call the “BC” big chop. The big chop is when all of the chemically relaxed hair is cut off to get the hair back to its most natural state.

Some black women style their hair in braids, extensions, weaves, perms or natural. When it comes to black hair, there’s so much that can be said, but refraining from using offensive terms like “nappy” and “naughty headed” are important to be informed of. I’ve had some Caucasian friends ask me different things about my hair (nothing offensive) and I’ve been happy to share different things with them.

Secondly, I consider myself an interracial dater. Sometimes, this hasn’t been received well by some in my own race and in others. It’s beautiful when two people who are different can find love, even if it’s outside of their race. I think a lot of people still have issues with this but it’s not something that should be criticized or shamed. Love is love, no matter what shade it comes in.

Lastly, there’s an unspoken notion in the African-American community, particularly amongst some women, that believe there’s only room for one black woman at the table. The “table” being the top career role, opportunity, and/or accomplishment. Beyond this being a racial issue, I’ve seen how damaging it can be amongst young women as a whole. I believe there’s more than enough room for all women to come together and be a part of something bigger than, themselves, and if more women from all races supported one another more, we all can win.

AS: Having black/POC friends does not mean you can make racist comments.

RW: CPT- Colored People Time. This is the assumption that all black people are late to everything. This isn’t true for everybody. I’m black and I hate being late to things. Also, just because some people stay in their race when it comes to relationships, that doesn’t mean that all people have to. Like I stated above, my parents are black and white. I think that it is cool that they both married outside their race, and I might want to do that as well. I do not have one specific type of guy that I like.

HC: What are some things white people should know? How can an individual become aware of these things?

MD: I think that some people think that just because we have been integrated for 50 years that we should forget the past. Because to be part of an ethnic group that caused us pain makes some white people feel guilty and so they don’t want to bring up the past.  But the oppression and pain lasted over 200 years, so even though we have made huge progress, it will still take time for healing to take place on both sides.

Blacks are stereotyped heavily for being dangerous, ghetto, sex crazed and poor. But we aren’t all in that category, for example if you see a black man walking down the street in his casual clothes which might be a hoodie or a t-shirt and jeans he isn’t always going to be a thug or someone that will hurt you. He is someone’s father, son, brother,husband who is smart, educated, loves to cook, read and possibly a super sweet guy.

Black women are known for being angry, and maybe there are a lot who are, but when you’ve had to deal with oppression, losing your husband and children to slavery, being indirectly told you aren’t the standard of beauty though media, and that your hair, nose and skin color isn’t beautiful can make you angry.

Sadly, it gets passed down from generation to generation. But black women are also strong, gentle, loving and giving. But I’m happy to say that as a black woman I am not angry! Be willing to understand the scars and the pain that comes with them and not excuse them just because there is a band aid there…it still can hurt.

SH:  One thing that comes to mind is stereotypes and the difference between positive and negative portrayals of black women in the media. Sometimes, stereotypes can affect the way African-American women are perceived in reality. A negative example would be TV shows engaging in fights, flipping over tables and throwing drinks in each other’s faces.

Positive examples can be great characters created by Shonda Rhimes like Olivia Pope from “Scandal” and Annalise Keating from “How To Get Away With Murder”, which are two shows out of a number of other great television series that feature black women in leading roles. It is important to separate reality from what the media shows by getting to know people who are different from you.

RW: Stereotypes. Just because something is true for one black person doesn’t mean it’s true for every black person. I am a junior here at Regent, and there are a lot of negative assumptions about black women (example: we live in the hood and we have a lot of kids by a lot of different men). That’s not true for me at all. I’m on my way to getting my B.A. in Christian Ministry.

HC: How can we learn about Black History and Culture without coming across as more ignorant?

MD: Be willing to celebrate with us and bring to light all the black history and culture that isn’t known. A lot of things that white people have taken credit for are things that black people actually originated and not to say that to be rude but to bring it to light that back in those days there were whites that took the credit to make themselves look good. But let’s bring forth the truth and celebrate the originators of a lot of amazing things we have in society today. In simple terms, give credit where credit is due.

SH: Being educated and informed. There’s a lot of great black history and culture that can be explored and celebrated, without being/becoming racist. For example, reading the works of great authors like Maya Angelou and Zora Neale Hurston can be a great start, as well as being open to exploring different kinds of black culture with black people.

HC: As we've seen, racism is still an ongoing issue in our culture and it starts with us to end it. I am so proud of all these strong, educated women redefining the negative stereotypes others have made about African-American women. For those of us who have never experienced what it is like to be racially discriminated against, it is time we become educated of the culture and history of our brothers and sisters.

If you feel that a comment or joke could come across as racist or ignorant, just don’t say it. Instead, encourage and build up your friends. There is so much hate in the world, and we need to start spreading love. If you don’t understand something or someone, ask. You cannot properly serve them without understanding them.

Lastly, don’t let stereotypes get in the way of seeing God’s creations. Each individual is fearfully, and wonderfully made. See them for them and do not judge any hurt that they may have, whether past or present. Love them by listening and serve them by understanding.