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Happy Juneteenth! – Our Racial Experiences

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Alana Rodriguez – AltWire Staff Contributor

Since I became aware at a young age that people saw me as different because of the color of my skin, how I feel about race has been complicated. My dad is of black, Native American, and unknown European descent. My mother’s father’s parents emigrated from Italy around 1910 and my mother’s mother lived in Wales until a handsome Italian soldier had to recover from Malaria in her sister’s London flat during WWII. My father is from California and he moved to Rhode Island in the 1970s where he met my mother. When they went looking for apartments in Providence in the mid-1970s, they would be turned down or evicted as soon as the landlord realized a good Italian Catholic girl was living with a black man. My parents divorced soon after I was born, and I was raised by my mother’s parents. I never had any idea I looked different from my family until my mom remarried. My stepfather is white, as are his children from a previous marriage and his whole family.

My first Christmas with my new family, all the children were given either a Barbie or a G.I Joe toy. I had one Barbie and was excited to have a second. My step-grandmother asked me and my mom to go into a different room with her. Once we were alone, she apologized and asked if the Barbie was ok because they didn’t have a different one. I had no idea what was happening and my mom said it was fine. Later I found out that my step-grandmother thought I would not want a regular “flesh” colored toy because my skin tone is much darker than the dolls. I had no idea, and still don’t, that the color of a plastic toy would interfere with my enjoyment of it. This was the first time someone pointed out that I was somehow different from everyone else in the family and I had never noticed before. My mom is my mom, my grandparents are my grandparents. I never looked at them and thought “that’s my white mom.”

I more or less didn’t think about this again until I was ten and my stepfather had me outside raking leaves. He had a weird conversation with me and then he said he didn’t want his friends to see him outside with his “ni***r” daughter. I had no idea what he meant. I had heard that word in movies but didn’t know what it meant or how it applied to me. A few years later, my parents came with my half-brothers to my school and someone from my class saw us together. He decided I was adopted and for the rest of my time in school, I was “that adopted girl”. I moved to North Carolina when I was 18 because that’s where my dad lives, and I wanted to see him. When I moved to the south, instead of being different because of my skin color, I was suddenly accepted because of it. I was raised by my grandparents, so my tastes are more in line with someone about 80 years older than I am when it comes to movies, books, and in some cases music. I also talk like someone who was raised in a British household and have to remind myself to not always speak so formal.

I was almost immediately ostracized by all the other black students at my college because they assumed I was stuck up, or thought I was better than them. I also learned that I am yellow which people who are red boned or darker can take offense to because I am more white than them. I had no idea that any of these subcultures existed. I still saw myself as just me and everyone else as just them. I started dating which was exciting because I never had a boyfriend before. My boyfriend was white which exposed me to ridicule. I was tormented about his anatomy and how I would enjoy a black boyfriend so much more. The pinnacle of the ridicule was having rocks thrown at us while walking around campus. I became depressed and upset at the situation.

Fast-forwarding to now, I have moved to a red state and life is pretty uncomfortable here in general for me. I worked at a hospital where there were Jamaican nurses. Honestly, they were probably the most compassionate and professional nurses at the hospital. I heard them subjected to awful taunts as they were working. They were asked if the real nurse can come in the room, what boat they came over on, and did they get their degree at college. These were ER nurses, so they were treating people going through critical situations and being tormented. I worked in registration, so I heard all of this. It was embarrassing.

This was within the last two years. For the first time, I really experienced white on black racism because several patients also had comments about me. The first time I had a comment said to me by a patient I almost laughed. Now I feel a lot of pity for people who cannot see past minor physical differences. My children have a Puerto Rican father and because of my mixed ethnic background, they look different from me and their father. My son looks Caucasian – he does not look like he has a black mother. My daughter looks like my clone. When my son was younger, people, including his pediatrician, asked me if I was his mom. When I went out with him and my mom, people thought he was her son and I was the help.

With all that has occurred in the last month, I feel very uneasy. Confederate flags, as well as flags supporting white supremacist groups, have been popping up on my street. When Niantic donated a sizable amount of money to Black Lives Matter, most of the people in my Pokémon Go raid group thought it was laughable and announced they were quitting the game. I see the comments on local buy/sell/trade groups and it genuinely frightens me that I live in an area in New England that has such a racial divide.

I feel on edge now when I go for walks or go to the store. I feel more on edge when I see our town’s undercover police car parked in the parking lot across from my apartment. I think that what happened to Breonna Taylor or Ahmaud Abery could easily happen to me. A few years ago, there was a Cheerios commercial featuring a mixed-race couple and their daughter. I actually cried when I saw it because there was no one who looked like me on tv when I was a kid which helped lead to my confusion about my own identity. General Mills had to shut down the comment sections on any social media platform that aired the commercial because of the hateful comments. That broke my heart. How could anyone not like a cute kid in a cereal commercial? Is that how upset people get when they see me or my kids?

Everyone has a different story. Everyone has had different experiences. My own are mild compared to most, and I know that. I feel my own racial identity is something I haven’t figured out, so I don’t expect anyone else to have figured it out for me. I have been told I can’t be Italian, that I can’t like rock music and more than anything that I am fake when I talk or express the things I like.  I feel that most of the division comes from the unknown more than from actual hatred. The only thing that gives me any hope now is seeing that so many people in my social circle want to end the racial divide.

AltWire Co-Founder Derek Oswald

Derek Oswald – AltWire Founder

As a white male, I am both consciously aware and understanding that my skin color will never pose a barrier to opportunities or put me in danger with the police. I have never had a gun pulled on me or faced prejudice because I have black skin or an African sounding name. I’ve never lived in a neighborhood made poor for generations due to the racist practices of redlining, or had the cops called on me by a racist person just because I happened to be “walking while black”. But, being born white is no excuse not to inform yourself. Not being black does not mean you cannot stand up for racial justice and declare that black lives matter.

Your skin color doesn’t prevent you from ensuring that those who feel like they aren’t given a voice are heard. I heard a quote when I was younger that has stuck with me ever since: “the only barriers that exist are the ones we create ourselves”, and the media plays a huge part in that. It’s long overdue for the media to stop searching for past criminal records, or a bad reputation when an innocent black man is killed. It’s time for the media to stop deliberately trying to find photos that make a black man appear violent (like they did to Trayvon Martin). As a member of the media myself, I am well aware of the perceived hypocrisy of calling out the media. After all, why haven’t we said something sooner? And the truth is, that’s a legitimate criticism. But to never say anything, to never speak out and never fight for justice, makes me just as complicit as the cops that watched Derek Chauvin kill George Floyd and did nothing. Silence kills. I won’t be silent any longer.

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Aliah Sheffield – AltWire Staff Contributor

There’s an old saying, “Ain’t  nothing  wrong  with  being  black but it sure is unfortunate sometimes”. I don’t remember where I first heard it or where it originates from, but boy does that saying resonate with me. I love being black. I do. Its an honor really, but that honor does come with some downsides, and by downsides I mean racism.

I’ve personally dealt with racism my whole life. Growing up in a southern city does that to you, but as I got older I realized it wasn’t just the south that was saturated in racism. It was everywhere.

It followed me when I was a young teenager in New jersey filling out job applications and going to stores to ask if they were hiring only to get followed around the store. It was at college in Boston when I was singing only to get a compliment that sounded more like an insult from a random older student. “ You sing pretty well for a colored girl”. It’s followed me to jobs that required me to travel around the world.

Most of the world, up until the last few weeks, liked to deny its deep roots in society. With the most recent unjustified murders of black men and women by police officers George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others the different branches of systemic racism have been revealed. It is like a veil has been lifted. I’ve had friends call or message and write me long messages about how they were sorry that they turned a blind eye to this for so long. People I would have never expected to have been shouting “Black Lives Matter!”, are going to protests, and arguing with racist folks on my behalf.

It feels a bit surreal honestly, this is something that I thought I would have to grin and bear for the rest of my life. Now It feels like I have people asking me how to be better every day.

I now feel like I have a responsibility to keep talking about this. I have to keep being open about explaining things to people when they ask, and even if they don’t ask about racial injustice. While I have always been outspoken about it in the past, I do feel like I can actually say things without sugar coding them now. If someone says something that’s casually racist I don’t have to let it go.

I’m gutted that so many deaths happened and that’s the main reason that this is a conversation topic in America. America needs to change. The world needs to change.I hope with time we do find a solution for police brutality against Black people. I hope we can finally sit down and start talking about ways to break down the barriers that separate us.

I don’t know if this new passion for facing racism head on that Americans and folks all around the world suddenly have will have any sort of longevity, but It sure is nice for once.

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Andie Casterlin – AltWire Staff Contributor

I never understood how people could carry hate in their hearts. I’m not too fond of things in this world, sure, but I have always been careful about the word ‘hate’. Maybe it is my unrealistic fantasy that we can all get along and work together. To me, disliking something takes so much energy. Why waste your energy on something you don’t like? Does making someone feel bad about themselves put a smile on your face? Does provoking hate in others and speaking to people rudely brighten up your day?

People seem to be confused as to what race I am. I have had older adults in nursing homes confuse me for being Japanese. I have been cursed at by a man for needing to learn to speak English and stop stealing jobs. I have also had people that are Native Americans leave me tips and talk to me nicely because they also thought that I was Native American. I have also had Indians come up to me and speak to me in their language, thinking I was Indian. It saddens me when I think about it – why would people seek me out because they felt that I was from their country or was the same race as them? With everything going on, I think it is because of things I do not see daily. I believe that they would feel like I would not give them a hard time, and I provide them with a bit of familiarity, which makes them comfortable. I am okay with that. I want anyone to feel comfortable talking to me or asking me for help. I will always be there for someone, regardless of race or gender.

Being a gamer girl also can cause some negative or provocative comments to come my way. I am currently going to school and getting a degree in Creative Writing for Entertainment. I want to be a video game writer, and an old gaming friend of mine, whom I have not spoken to in about five or six years, decided to reach out to me. When I told him what I wanted to do, turns out he works for a video game company and would try and help me when I graduate. I just needed to send him risqué photos and date him. This guy knew I had a boyfriend before asking me this, and I had not led him to believe that I was that type of person. I am not. Just because he thought I needed help in the gaming industry, he thought he would be able to manipulate the situation with his position so that he could help me out. All it took was a “no” from me, and he said “goodbye.” Don’t ever let anyone take advantage of you, you are better than that. Treat yourself and others with respect and teach your kids to treat themselves and others with respect, so situations like that don’t happen in our future because together, we are stronger than letting this hate and manipulation continue.

Al-Gibson Staff & Publishing Director

Al Gibson – AltWire Staff/Publishing Director

The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppressFrederick Douglass

The above quote is one of my favorite quotes by Frederick Douglass, who is one of the greatest Black Americans of the 19th century. It is also a perfect quote for today, Juneteenth. There is a twisted sense of irony within this quote, when printed today of all days. That’s because Frederick Douglass, who escaped slavery, was not just referring to Blacks, he was referring to ALL oppressed people.

Yes, on a macro-level, you are oppressed. More than likely, if you are in the same tax bracket as me, or lower, you are being manipulated. I bet you don’t even recognize it. But, here’s what a lot of my Caucasian peers fail to understand, or choose to ignore:

While your race’s manipulation may not be visible to your own eyes, ours is on display for the entire world. There is no other race in America that is held to such ridiculous standards as Black people. Black-on-Black crime is often highlighted as an issue, as if other races don’t commit crime against people of their own race. Why isn’t it just addressed as human crime? That’s obvious to me. This useless statistic only serves to fuel a prevailing stereotype and destructive narrative.

I listened as people talked about the rioting and looting that accompanied some of the protests. Some of my peers asked me, as if I were the spokesperson for the looters, “Why are you guys looting?”

The funny part about that is, I saw people of ALL races looting. To be honest, I saw more of them than us.

One of the biggest myths created in today’s world is the “Black community,” as if we share a hive mind. How many of you say, “the White community”? So, should Black people assume that all White people have the same values of Hitler and Himmler? They were part of the “White community”, right?

Black people have different values, morals, and cultures that combine to create a reflection of diversity in America. Just like any other race, diversity is being reflected right now, as we all discuss ideas for reform and the best way to proceed in our communities. However, I believe that we ALL have one attribute in common.

Pride. 

We have pride in our race. We have pride in what our race has overcome. We have pride in the challenge that we are currently undertaking for various reforms. It’s because of that pride that we are demanding respect. As an individual, I absolutely have to earn your respect. However, my race earned America’s respect centuries ago.

It’s time to stop allowing ourselves to be manipulated by political parties, who only look at us as a “dependable vote,” only to be later discarded, and ignore our agenda. Speaking of agenda, it’s time that we made that LOUD and clear. It’s time for us to remind businesses that we control BILLIONS of dollars in consumer spending power by investing our money and time into improving the urban (and suburban) communities that we reside in.

It’s time that we make those political parties EARN our vote, because neither one of them has. It’s time that we make those businesses come to our communities, and invest their time and revenue in urban improvements if they want our money.

In this modern-day matrix that we call the United States, many of us consider ourselves to be “free”. By the way, when I say “us,” I don’t just mean Blacks – I also mean Whites, Hispanics, Asians, and Aboriginals/Native Americans.

Here’s a newsflash:

If you are a member of common society, YOU are not free. We all are slaves to a tactic that has been used by ruling classes for millennia. The Khan Dynasties used it. When they began to falter, the Roman Empire used it to create Christianity…

I call it, ‘The Peasant Syndrome’.

Note to our ‘rulers’: You may know this tactic as “Divide and Conquer”. If you encourage discord, and give the common people a reason to fight, very few pay attention to the policy changes you are making. We don’t pay attention to the actions that you are proactively taking to counter our attempts before we even make them. You have succeeded in convincing people in our tax bracket that they are elite, because of their skin color. The bad part about it, is they actually believe that you are proponents of their warped racist ideology. In reality, you see them, and the rest of us, as low-class paupers. You would discard them just as quickly as you discard us. You encourage this partisan atmosphere, because you know that we are much more powerful when we are not divided… 

Juneteenth is bittersweet for me, because I do not feel free.

As a proud Black American Hip-Hop artist and professional, I don’t feel free when I am expected to disregard my culture in order to be accepted by corporate America.

I don’t feel free because I have to become a card-carrying NRA member in order to become exempt from the Patriot Act.

I don’t feel free because I have to teach my sons how to conduct themselves when confronted by the police, because we don’t know if we are getting pulled over by the good cops or the bad cops.

I don’t feel free because there are still communities that I cannot enter, even to visit friends, without worrying about someone calling the police about a suspicious person.

(Yeah, sure. I’m awfully suspicious in this Polo shirt and Calvin Klein loafers.) 

I don’t feel free when I tell people that my life, and the lives of people who look like me, matter too, and watch their defense mechanism clicks on. That’s when someone feels the need to correct me and remind me that “All Lives Matter,” as if I am sub-human and don’t value human life. Then the same person begins their explanation with, “the Black community…”

Wait a minute.

I am going to take the high road and assume that you just don’t understand why we say, “Black Lives Matter.” I am not going to accuse you of being a racist, although you very well may be. However, I am going to keep an open mind and assume that you aren’t. If you walk away from a dialogue with me, it’s because you couldn’t stay level-headed. I don’t have a problem listening, or talking to, people who don’t agree with me. I’m going to assume that you are a victim of stereotype and ignorance. I’m going to assume that you are capable of having a difficult conversation with someone that you don’t want to have it with. That’s the only way we progress in this country.

OK, here we go.

You have NOT lived my experience. Who are you to tell me that you have not been harassed by police for no reason at all on a regular basis, just because you moved your family to an all-white neighborhood, like I did in the late ’90’s, when I briefly lived in south Lake County.

Did you grow up in a mostly black city that felt more like an island, because every time you and your friends went beyond city limits, you were pulled over by police and snatched out of the car to be searched? Were people driving by yelling out, “Go back to your city n-word,” while you’re wondering if you have a concussion from being thrown on the asphalt by the police? Don’t act like this is a surprise. I don’t buy your feigned shock. This isn’t new.

For the record, I believe that we should change the phrasing of “Defund the police”. When I first heard that, my first thought was, “Get rid of the cops?” But, after reading on the subject, I have a better understanding. We absolutely need police reform, and a new model. Should a policeman be dealing with someone with mental health issue? Probably not, unless someone’s life is in danger. They aren’t trained psychologists. Imagine if Medical professionals actually treated people who have overdoses, instead of the police arresting them.

To be a black exoneree in America means:

  • You are 222 of the 362 people proved innocent by DNA 
  • You are 84 of the 164 survivors of death row (Death Penalty Information Center) 

(Source: Project Innocence) 

Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor

…and so many more. Data does not lie.

To be honest, I’m not sure that Derek Chauvin would have been charged in the death of George Floyd if it wasn’t caught on video.

All lives mattered to you before you actually said ‘All Lives Matter’ right? So, why do you assume that they didn’t matter to us also? Or, did any lives matter to you before Black Lives Matter? We’re in pain, crying out to the world that, “HEY! Black Lives ALSO Matter.” In my eyes, “All Lives Matter” is a defense mechanism for closet racists and supporters of negative stereotypes, who are trying to appear to be politically correct.

There is no need to “correct” someone by saying, “All Lives Matter,” because we never stated that they didn’t.

The question is, why did you assume that we were?

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