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Race

What I’ve learned as a Black man.

There’s a heavy weight that comes along with being Black in America, and a lot of us are tired all the time.

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The first time I realized white people could do things I can’t, I was about 8 or 9 years old. I grew up in the rural South and it wasn’t uncommon for my mom to tell me to run into a store and grab something while the car idled at the entrance. I loved it; I was a big boy. She sent me into K-Mart to buy something (I don’t remember what it was anymore), and on my way out, the theft detection sensor went off. A white woman was leaving at the same time I was, but the greeter stopped me, called a security guard on me, told me to stay put while he waved the white woman on and told her to have a nice day. I wasn’t in the security office for very long before my mom, who sensed I’d been gone too long, rescued me and took me home.

I learned to wait until the doorway is clear before I leave a store, so someone else’s theft doesn’t land me in handcuffs one day.

I was a very independent 16 year old. My parents gave me a lot of leash growing up, and I had gone away to boarding school. One summer I went to visit a white friend and stayed longer than I meant to. We had gone to the movies, had dinner, and just loafed around his house for hours when I realized it was dark and very late. I got in my car and left. Maybe a mile after I left his gated community, I saw flashing blue lights in my rear view mirror. I pulled over, waited for the cop to tell me a taillight was out or something, but I hadn’t done anything wrong. He just wanted to find out where I had been, where I was going, why was I out so late, and whose car I was driving.

I learned not to stay out past dark in rich white people neighborhoods.

I grew up on the internet spending hours on “social media” before it was a thing — freeopendiary, xanga, livejournal, etc. — and I’ve made a lot of really good friends through these keyboards. One of my best online friends is a DJ with a big heart and a helpful spirit. She’s also a Black woman. A white friend of hers asked if she could give another guy a ride, a white man she didn’t know, but who was friends with her friend. She did. When the cops pulled them over, he deposited his drugs under the seat of her car, and the police accused her of being a drug dealer and a prostitute. They told him to have a nice night while they took her to jail.

I learned not to let strange white people in your car.

I’ve had many brushes with the NYPD in the decade since I moved to NYC and each one taught me something different.

I was fumbling with my keys one night to get into my building and two police officers stopped me, questioned me, and frisked me. I told them that’s where I lived, but I still had a South Carolina’s driver’s license. I told them to watch me open the door with my key — it opened, obviously — and they still weren’t convinced. They came upstairs with me while I got a bill with my name and address on it.

I learned to have my keys out and ready before I get to my door.

I was walking in the West Village blasting Sade in my headphones (as much as one could “blast” Sade anyway) on my way to a bar I hadn’t been to before. The West Village is confusing and when I realized I was on the wrong street, I turned around and walked back the way I came. I didn’t hear the police until they were about a foot behind me yelling at me to freeze. I took my headphones off and they pushed me up against the wall to frisk me, telling me I was behaving suspiciously because I saw their cop car and immediately turned to go the other way, and I ignored their commands. I told them I didn’t hear them because I had music playing and I went the other way because I was trying to find a bar I’d never been to.

I learned to turn my music down at night on deserted streets.

I was walking along 125th Street one night when four policemen came out of nowhere and told me to put my hands up because I fit the description of a robbery suspect in the area. This was around the time Kalief Browder had committed suicide after being released from Rikers because he had been locked up for three years for the crime of fitting a description. I thought that would be me. One of the cops slammed me up against a wall face first, which is what saved me. I had been wearing a baseball cap and a hoodie, like this.

When he pushed my face into the wall, the cap was knocked off and my hair came tumbling out. I have a lot of hair.

The frisking stopped and one cop put their hands in my head to see if it was a wig that could be taken off. They were looking for a bald Black man and clearly that wasn’t me.

I almost never wear a baseball cap and hoodie anymore, and I never do at night.

A few years ago, I took a steak to work. I’d gone to Texas Roadhouse and ate way too much bread before the food came, so I only finished about half my meal. It really hit the spot for lunch that day, even though it made me sleepy and I think I only finished half of whatever else I was supposed to do. After my commute home, I was stopped by police officers doing random bag checks. They went through my things and pulled out a knife. I had taken a steak knife to work to cut my steak. They asked me where the container was and I told them I threw it away. They asked me what other weapons I had and I told them it wasn’t a weapon, it was a steak knife. For steak. They asked me where my fork was and I told them the office has forks, but they only have butter knives, which won’t cut a reheated steak. They ran my license to see if I had any warrants and 20 minutes later I was allowed to leave the station.

I learned to cut up my food before I take it to work.

I’m on the Internet a lot. I used to make a living here. I still use the internet to disconnect from my own (non-race related) life struggles because I can push my issues to the side and look at videos of babies eating lemons for the first time or look up new recipes to try or make gifs of Teresa Giudice. The Internet has also become the frontline in the war for justice against police brutality. Social media is littered with videos of Black bodies suffering at the hands of the state.

I learned not to go on the Internet when I’m emotionally fragile.

There’s no revelation at the end of this or wise reflection on life. I just wanted to share my story to let others — especially white people — in on what it’s like to be Black in America and why some of us are angry all the time. My patience for white whining is low. My empathy for white frustration is almost non-existent. My attitude toward white people is malleable and ever changing in relation to white people’s interactions toward ME.

There’s a heavy weight that comes along with being Black in America, and a lot of us are tired all the time. Constantly checking our tone so white people don’t feel threatened, constantly checking our actions so you don’t look suspicious, constantly checking our attire so we don’t look like criminals, constantly checking our white friends’ lackadaisical attitudes toward our own safety when they want to do things you know you would end up in jail or dead for. It’s very tiresome, and on top of that, I’m jealous. My best friend is white. I’m jealous sometimes that he can just…be. When he goes online, there aren’t timelines filled with the latest murder of someone who looks like him. The police have never stopped him. He’s never been turned down for a job because he’s white. He doesn’t have to think about whether his outfit is safe enough for the time of day and neighborhood he’s going to. The President isn’t telling the National Guard to shoot him.

When I was in kindergarten, playing House was my favorite thing in the world. Anybody who knows me will probably say it still is — I love to bake and clean and take care of people and crochet. I was playing with three white kids, two girls and a boy, and I wanted to be the husband. I was told I couldn’t because I’m Black and Black people have Black babies. I didn’t know what “Black” was yet. I thought people just came in different shades like hamsters. Some came out lighter, some darker, some with spots. I told her I wasn’t “Black” because I was brown and she told me it still had to be a white mommy and daddy and a white baby, but I could be the dog if I wanted to play with them. I said okay, but I didn’t get to play much because they said I was an outside dog and they just tied a string to my wrist, said it was a leash, and tied the other end to the leg of a table.

As I grew up I learned that some white people will always want you to be the dog.

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Race

Seneca Village, Black displacement, and the history of Central Park.

Let’s have a look at the first free Black settlement in NYC.

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Some tweets about Central Park have been going viral the past two days and they are missing valuable context and clarity. Yesterday, I saw this one:

Black people owned less than 1% of the land that would eventually become Central Park.

Seneca Village was about 5 acres of land. Central Park is almost 850 acres of land. So no, the area was not called Seneca Village. There were lots of little villages with their own names dotted throughout the area.

A third of the people in Seneca Village were white. In fact, most of the people in Central Park were white — they were Irish and German farmers.

The United States is a terrible country founded upon theft, greed, and subjugation. All of this land was stolen from Native Americans in the first place, so this is not an effort to impart any warm and fuzzy feelings about US history. Hyperbole is the enemy of truth, and exaggeration in one area of history serves to undermine facts in another. We live in a country where textbooks speak of slavery as a valid business model with a few mean employers. Because of that, when we are trying to force the reality of the horrors of slavery and racism into the American narrative, we can’t afford to embellish other injustices.

When you say Black families had their homesteads razed to make way for Central Park, the average person will picture roving bands of white people setting fires and violently chasing Black people with dogs and weapons. It happened all over the country throughout our history. Countless Black communities are forgotten today because the history of white America is written in Black suffering.

The location of Central Park wasn’t a decision made with race at the forefront. Seneca Village was indeed the first free Black settlement in NYC after slavery was outlawed. Free Black men could vote if they owned enough property, and around 15-20% of those property-owning men lived in Seneca Village. The city did take control of that property through eminent domain to make way for Central Park. All of these things are true.

These things are also true: At its peak the population of Seneca Village was less than 300 people and a third of those people were white. The total population of the area now known as Central Park was almost 2,000 people, and the majority of them were Irish and German farmers. The city used eminent domain to take all of their lands, but that doesn’t mean the lands were stolen from them. All of the residents who owned their property were paid for it — double or triple what the original selling price was — but they couldn’t say no to the sale. The city forced them to sell and move elsewhere. Aside from that though, most of the population of NYC lived below 14th Street, which meant much of the rest of Manhattan was semi-rural and people farmed land all over the island that they didn’t own. When the city decided to build Central Park, they forced the squatters to start paying rent to the city, and when they couldn’t pay, they were kicked out.

The image being painted on Twitter is that Central Park was full of communities of prosperous, land-owning freedmen who lost their voting rights when NYC decided to build a park where the Black people live. And that’s a fair assumption! NYC is full of racist building projects, and US history is full of racist legacies where successful Black towns were essentially punished or destroyed for simply thriving. That’s not quite the case for Central Park. Most of the displaced people were white. Most of the residents of Seneca Village were poor and 80% of them didn’t own the homes they lived in. Those who owned property, which in turn meant they could vote, were paid more than they’d originally invested.  They could use that money buy property elsewhere, which meant they could still vote.

But! This is still the United States. While racism may not be the central figure in the creation of Central Park as it was in other tales of yesteryear, it’s still there as a supporting character.

When NYC wanted a park, the original location chosen was a place called Jones’s Wood. The prosperous white families in that area successfully fought the city, so a new location was scouted and the city settled on the area now known as Central Park. Seneca Village was a very, very tiny portion of the land area and the Black residents there were a small percentage of the mostly white population that would be displaced, but there were very prominent Black families in Seneca Village. The majority of the residents were indeed poor farmers, laborers, and domestic workers who didn’t own land, but the people who did own land were important to the Black community in NYC at large.

The Lyons Family in Seneca Village were conductors on the Underground Railroad.

All Angels church was one of the few interracial congregations in the country. When riots broke out in Lower Manhattan as white racists attacked Black abolitionists, Seneca Village much farther north was spared any damage. As a result, this much more rural area attracted other prominent Black activists, and by the time Central Park was planned, 20% of the Black voters in the city lived there. The residents of Seneca Village put up a fight against the city just as the residents of Jones’s Wood had, but where those prosperous white families ultimately prevailed, the prosperous Black ones did not, and the city moved forward with its plans.

The two biggest takeaways from the creation of Central Park and the history of Seneca Village is the lack of violence and the displacement of white people. Those two factors counter the image most of us have when we hear the city took land from Black people to make a park. There are no stories of Black displacement where most of the people affected were white, and there are few stories of Black displacement from the 19th Century where the government engaged in protracted legal battles with the residents and ultimately paid property owners for their land.  Seneca Village should be remembered as the first free Black settlement in NYC, but we don’t have to paint it as another Tulsa to drive home the history of racism in the US. There are enough Tulsas to go around.

 

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Some sources if you want to read in more detail:
NY Times: Seneca Central Park
Columbia University: Seneca Village
CentralParkNYC.org: Seneca Village
Documents of the Assembly of the State of NY 

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Race

Leave slavery out of your abortion conversations.

Why do seemingly well-meaning white people like to compare various struggles to slavery

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Another day, another White Liberal unnecessarily using slavery to make a point.

(Twitter)

Joyce Alene is a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law. She has appeared as a legal analyst on various cable news channels and she was an attorney for the Obama administration. And she thought it was a good idea to compare abortion rights to slavery.

Not sure why this repeatedly has to be explained over and over, but it is very much possible to discuss persecution without bringing Black people into it. There is never a need to compare any struggle in this country to the worst atrocity in the history of the United States, and doing so makes you look unserious. What we are dealing with right now in regard to reproductive rights can be discussed on its own merit. We should be horrified by what’s happening, period. No hyperbole is necessary. No conflation with genocide is needed.

Why do seemingly well-meaning white people like to compare various struggles to slavery, when absolutely nothing the Modern White American faces has any similarity? Nothing the Colonial White American faced had any similarity. Leave slavery out of the conversation.

It’s a double insult. On the first side, Good Whites can’t come to grips with the foundation of America’s success in the world firmly resting atop slavery, so comparisons to modern struggles are subconsciously made to lessen the severity of what happened. Even the most liberal of White Americans has a difficult time accepting the fact that everything you see owes it existence to slavery. There would be no United States without the economic engine that was chattel slavery. From Yale to Bank of America to whiskey — the legacy of slavery is everywhere.

On the other side, too many Good Whites feel such a strong need to identify with the oppressed that they will manufacture similarities that don’t exist.

Or possibly a third side:

If you acknowledge that it’s a bad take and you don’t mean any offense, then you only said it to be shocking and to grab attention. You have trivialized slavery as a gotcha for clicks, and that’s even worse.

Women are being oppressed. Yes, restrictive legislation on reproductive rights disproportionately affects poor women and women of color, but all women are at the mercy of an evangelical government that believes it has the divine right to subjugate Eve’s daughters. That is enough to work with. Comparing it to anything other than that is a distraction and a disservice. Women deserve rights on their own merit.

 

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Race

We gotta invite Tigger to the Cookout now.

Maybe it sounds so much like n—-r some people just lose their minds.

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Some cartoon characters are Black because they’re created that way.

Some cartoon characters Black because we decided they are.

And some cartoon characters are just cartoon characters. I don’t recognize any Winnie the Pooh characters from my daily life, so they’re just animals to me, but we might have to welcome Tigger into the family. There’s no other explanation for why this white lady is so mad that he’s on a flag.

Tigger must’ve played rap music in her driveway or looked at her purse on the elevator or something, because this lady is acting like that flag says Black Lives Matter And Yours Does Not. I am very certain there are no rules (by this non-existent housing association) prohibiting a cartoon character flag and this woman feels like “rule” is the same as “I don’t like it,” which is unsurprising given the age and hue of the protagonist in this short film. My first retail job was at Bath & Body Works in a Southern shopping mall, and if there’s one thing I know for certain about that particular demographic it’s that they definitely believe personal opinions are facts, feelings are rules, and there is a manager of something somewhere who will side with them so they can get their way.

Bless the restraint of this homeowner. I probably woulda cussed that woman from here to Tara and then I would be gone with the police after she called 911 on me.

 

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