When racism hides in plain sight

BY VALERIE BROADWAY, Guest Columnist
Posted 8/7/20

As a white person, I was somewhat hesitant to submit this because in no way do I want to imply that I understand at all what it is like to experience life as a person of color. My hope in sharing …

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When racism hides in plain sight

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Posted

As a white person, I was somewhat hesitant to submit this because in no way do I want to imply that I understand at all what it is like to experience life as a person of color. My hope in sharing this is to bring awareness to the reality of what has happened to me up to this very day, in Chatham County, that seem to go unnoticed by white people, while my Black friends understand and respond with examples of their own.

I used to believe racist thoughts were something people kept to themselves. One day my eyes were opened and I discovered racism is all around us, hiding in plain sight, literally.

The first time I saw it was about 15 years ago, when I was keeping one of my friend’s two children. On this particular day her children were coming for a sleepover at my house. It was a Friday and, along with my two girls, we started the evening by going out to dinner. As the hostess led us to a table I couldn’t help but notice a number of people along the way glaring at me as we walked by. I call it the “side-eye, lemon-sucking stink-face,” a look of repulsiveness. At the time, I couldn’t imagine why they were looking at me that way. Was I being mistaken for someone who had done some terrible thing? It gave me an uneasy, unsafe feeling. I wondered what they might have done if we weren’t in a public place. Thankfully, the young children didn’t notice.

It took me a day or two to determine why it happened. My conclusion was those people must have thought all the children were mine. My friend’s children are Black. Were these people disgusted by the assumption that I had been with a Black man? Before the glares, they looked like normal people, whose friends would probably describe them as upstanding citizens. I wish I could say it was an isolated incident, but it wasn’t. Since then I’ve had the same experience many times, and only when I’m in the company of Black children.

Do people even realize they are contorting their faces? It’s impossible to tell who is going to do it in advance. In one instance, at a local farm festival, a lady manning the bouncy house put on her “stink-face.” She wouldn’t even speak to me. I had questions about whether the child with me was too big for the bouncy house or whether he had to take off his shoes. Not a word from her. Just the “stink-face.” I wanted to verbally eviscerate the woman but didn’t want to cause a scene in front of the child. Up to then, I’d attended this festival for years. Even though no one else there made us feel uncomfortable, I never returned because of that one woman.

As the children have gotten older they now notice the “stink-faces”; sometimes they’re directed at them, and it makes them angry. A couple of times when it’s happened, I’ve heard the now-teenage boy I had taken to the festival mumble under his breath, “I hate white people.” He doesn’t hate all white people. His comment is directed at those who silently, but loudly and clearly, are telling him he is not welcome.

Throughout history there have always been insecure, fearful people. They have the need to feel superior to others for reasons as ridiculous as skin color. In Chatham County and everywhere there will always be racists, and also people who don’t recognize they’re racist. It would be great if we all could put our egos aside and perform honest, and perhaps difficult, self-assessments. Everyone has biases and filters they’ve picked up along the way. I’ve found it helpful to talk with Black friends about how they feel, listen to their experiences and even share about times when I realize I’ve judged others unfairly. It can be an awakening, bonding and healing experience.

There is no doubt of the momentum right now that could allow us to get us off the hamster wheel of racial inequity and injustice which has plagued this country since its inception. Regardless of the number of people who embrace racism, the laws and norms that make up the fabric of a fair and just society should always be equal and inclusive for everyone.

Only then do we have any hope of truly living in peace and unity.

Valerie Broadway is a 40-year Chatham County resident. She is self-employed as a Dog Behavior Specialist, the mother of two, has fostered, adopted, and mentors children, and is currently on the board of the Dept. of Social Services for Chatham County.

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