Are you racist? Even if you are, chances are your answer would be no. No one really wants to consider themselves a racist. It sounds terrible! It brings to mind images of burning crosses and white-capped men. White planters wielding a whip. Jews in internment caps.
Unless, of course, that’s all fake news. But, what if I asked you to prove that you’re not racist? What would you say? What would you do?
A European Ease
Prior to moving to America, most of my White friends were Europeans. Race was always an easy topic with them. I talked about slavery with the British, the Holocaust with the Germans, Arawak-genocide with the Spanish, and White colourism with the Italians.
When it comes to race, one of the things I have always enjoyed most about my European friends is that they make no excuses for their ancestors. There is no “but” following their declarations that slavery was a terrible idea and that racism is alive and well.
An American Observation
To be fair, it never crossed my mind whether or not someone was racist prior to the 2016 elections. I was always baffled by what I felt to be an unreasonable African-American paranoia. I did not for a second believe racism did not exist, but it was not a constant fear I walked around with. It was not a question constantly posed.
Over the past few years, however, I have noticed an interesting pattern. When a White American crosses paths with me, I can sense it immediately. During the conversation, they are searching for that opening moment to let me know, I am not racist—even though, too often, they really are.
The first time I was acutely conscious of this, I had travelled up to Pennsylvania in August of 2015 to visit a friend of mine. This was my first big trip after coming to the United States and I was excited to see what rural Pennsylvania had to offer.
My parents were worried. I couldn’t understand why. “There are literally 800 people in that town,” my Mom told me. “I checked the population on Wikipedia. You’ll probably be the only Black person there.”
“I don’t get why that’s an issue,” I replied, but I was soon to find out. I truly was the only Black person in town, and everywhere I went, I attracted unwanted attention.
One night, my friend suggested we go to a local bar to play pool. When we walked in, the bar was half empty as it was a work-night. There was some honky-tonky music playing from a jukebox, while men sat talking with cowboy hats atop their heads.
I had barely taken a seat when suddenly Snoop Dogg’s Drop It Like It’s Hot began to play. I looked up from the drink menu in obvious surprise. A group of men across from me dipped their cowboy hats politely, as if to say, You’re welcome. We mean you no harm in this here parts, ma’am.
My friend burst out laughing beside me. “You know that’s because of you, right!” He handed me a $20 bill. “Here. Go play something you actually listen to.”
I went to the jukebox and selected a handful of songs by my favourite rock band. When I returned to the bar, the guy sitting on my left said, “You like Chevelle? I have literally never met anyone else who knew them!”
The second time, I had taken a trip up to Illinois with my husband in March of 2016. He had wanted to visit a White friend he had not seen in some time. I told him to go alone as I wanted to stay home and write, but he insisted I come along. For the rest of my life will I regret accompanying him.
The second we arrived at the apartment complex, I felt unsafe. I may be from the Third World, but I don’t do ghettos. I wasn’t raised in one and prefer to keep my distance. Inside, we found that not only was his friend high as a kite in the garbage-infested apartment, but so was a strange White woman who had a baby with her.
A torturous hour later, after I told my husband in no uncertain terms I wanted to leave, the also White girlfriend showed up. She was drunk and immediately began to throw a fit at coming home to find people at her place. I motioned to my husband again that I wanted to leave. He assured me that we would soon, but sat right where he was as the girlfriend proceeded to trash her own place.
Then, suddenly, she sat beside me and began to apologise. “I’m sorry. It’s been a long night. It’s cool. I’m cool. I just want you to know I am not racist at all. Right, baby?” She eyed her boyfriend. “You tell her. In fact―in fact, I have a friend that looks just like you. Even the same shade, right baby?”
I turned to my husband and told him again that I wanted to leave. He once more told me we would leave in a moment, but did not budge. I had had enough. I started to grab my things and headed straight for the door. I managed to hold my tongue until we got to the car and then I let him have it.
I could not believe that he had actually sat there, saying nothing and doing nothing and expecting me to do the same. I couldn’t believe he hadn’t done a single thing in my defence; that I was the one who had to get up and walk away from a house of three White junkies and a baby.
It’s been three years, and I am still mad about it. I’m taking that one to the grave. This was also the most butchered and ironic attempt I have ever had the displeasure of enduring. I would rather relive that honky-tonky bar scene a thousand times than this, even once. Also, I will bet my life on it: that b!tch was racist.
The third time I was distinctly aware of being convinced by a White American that they were not racist was while waiting at the Seattle airport after my trip to Alaska. Tristan had already left for Vegas and I had another few hours to go before my plane arrived.
While I waited, I decided to hunt for a charging port. Finally, I found one, which put me right beside a White guy who was nose-deep in a book. The cover looked interesting, so being me, I asked him about it. He said he had only just started the book and didn’t know what to make of it just yet.
The subject changed to small talk, and when he asked where I was from, I told him Jamaica. He took the opportunity to bewail the current state of racial relations in America and the immigration policies of the new administration. Though I enjoyed the conversation that followed about race and race relations, it was obvious to me that he had felt the need to let me know in his own way, I’m not a part of the problem. I wish things were different. We’re not all monsters.
After the airport conversation, I became more aware of this happening in everyday conversations everywhere I went. The guy at the airport handled it well, but believe it or not, White millennial men, in my experience, are often the most likely to get it wrong.
Here’s why. Naturally, being Black in America, I must have been raised in the projects, so they often attempt to bond with me over sharing every Atlanta White boy’s story of, “I used to sell weed, you know, but… I’m past that now”. This is usually promptly followed by telling me about rappers I have never heard of. I don’t listen to rap.
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Today we went property hunting (aka trespassing 😂) in the rural outskirts of Atlanta. What do you guys think? Beautiful or nah? 🤔 Swipe all the way to the end for a quick video. The next door neighbour assured me he had lots of guns to kill my snakes 👀 and assured me I was welcome in the neighbourhood as a person of colour should I ever move out there. Haha, it's sad that he had to say it so bluntly. Even told me his son was married to a Black woman some 15 years now. But, I definitely needed to hear it! 😆 . . . #nature #naturephotography #photography #bridge #roadtrip #landscapephotography #landscape #instadaily #instanature #naturelovers #adventure #nofilter #nofilterneeded
Despite how routine this has all become at this point, the incident that stands out since Alaska was only a few weeks ago. I was going to look at property in rural Georgia and invited one of my White friends to go with me as a friendly face that might delay the lynching. He agreed and we made a road trip out of it.
When we arrived, we began to explore the property, crossing an old bridge over a river and discussing the potential plans I had for the land. While we talked, I heard a shouting and saw an old White guy leaning on the fence at the neighbouring lot.
“I can’t hear you over the river!” I shouted back at him, but he couldn’t hear me either.
I turned and started to walk towards him. “Be careful,” my friend said beside me.
At first, I thought he meant I should watch my step and didn’t think anything of it. I typically have sure feet. The guy continued to shout in my direction, but even as I drew closer, the roar of the river continued to drown him out. I was only about fifteen feet away at this point, so I broke into a run. My friend damn near had a heart attack when I took off towards the White guy.
Luckily, the man was friendly. He showed me where the property lines began and ended and told me what tasks I should add to my due diligence before purchasing. When he had finished advising me, he looked to my friend and said, “Is this your husband?”
I laughed. “No. He’s just a friend.”
“Mhm,” he said, mischievously. “That’s what you say, now!” He threw his hands up as if in defeat or surrender. “I’m not saying anything you know. I’m all for it. My son is married to a…a…a…”
I watched him struggle to find a word he believed I would believe was politically correct before just settling on “Black woman”. He then told me they had been happily married for about fifteen years. “She’s yay high!” he said, laughing as he put his hand about waist high.
It was such a random addition to a conversation about property lines and zoning laws that it was blatantly obvious to me why he had felt the need to say it. He then followed it up with, “You’d like it out here. Us neighbours, we watch out for each other. You wouldn’t have anything to worry about.”
And, you know what the worst part is? After passing dozens of Confederate Flags as we drove through Rockdale County and then Newton County, I needed to hear it.
My American friends believe that racism and racial tension will never get any better in this country. But, I am forever the naive Jamaican who forgets White ‘Muricans with Guns can be dangerous and runs towards one in Middle of Nowhere, Georgia, USA, because I can’t hear him over a roaring river. In case you’re wondering, he told me has 35 guns!
Is it surprising then that I have hope for America, yet? Jamaica may be light years ahead in quelling the racial tension, but we didn’t get there without hard work and forgiveness on both sides.
In the meantime, it’s sad to say, but sometimes even the clumsiest attempts at saying, I’m not one of them goes a long way for me. Because. Well. Sometimes, I do wonder. Just don’t tell me about your one Black friend who looks just like me—even the same shade, right baby?
Update 2/16/2019 @ 12:45PM: One reader missed the point of this, so I’ll add it here. The reason everyone’s race is pointed out in the article is because, you know, this is a post about racism and race relations. 🤷♀️
About the Author
Alexis Chateau is a Jamaican entrepreneur, avid traveller and author of mystery, paranormal, and crime fiction novels. Her interest in Black history and social constructs was shaped by her liberal arts studies and deepened after becoming an expatriate in Georgia, USA. To see her West Indian characters in action, read her historical novel, The Moreau Witches.
Praise for The Moreau Witches from the National Library of Jamaica
This book catapulted me into reading so many others, looking for that good feeling I got from reading yours. It was so well written! I absolutely love it. You are a genius.
—Monique Fergie-Scott, National Library of Jamaica