I've heard people say that racism is at an all-time high in the United States, and that America hasn't been this divided in quite some time. That always make me chuckle, especially because there are people still living and breathing who had front row seats to the Civil Rights Movement. Jim Crow laws that imposed segregation weren't put to an end until 1965 — we're talking just 50 years ago. My grandfather grew up in the backcountry of West Virginia; my grandmother in a rural town in Georgia. I often think about the racism they endured in the South growing up in that environment as I pray that future generations will find a way to remember the past without repeating it.
The concept of racism seems so archaic, but bigoted ideologies still run rampant. America doesn't have a race problem, we have a "racist" problem. You don't have to take a tour of some Southern plantation to be reminded of the black and white divide this country has endured. In my personal experiences, which echos the encounters of many of all ethnic backgrounds, can be found right here in my Californian backyard.
A few years ago I was out with friends on an evening like many others we all spent together, when a woman, a mutual acquaintance, got out of control. I didn't know her well and had said a handful of words to her in my entire life, but after a few casual run-ins around town, there came a night where she got drunk and sent a text to my boyfriend, calling me his "n*gger girlfriend."
Thankfully my level-headed partner talked things out with me and calmed me down. He didn't tell me not to be angry, but he encouraged me not to be emotionally reckless.
Over the next few years, I had multiple encounters with that same woman, some of which ended with the same scenario of her blasting me with the n-word, albeit to my face. She would always later apologize as she spoke of the shame she felt for using such racist language, all of which I would accept. However, I never trusted this person. As far as I was, and am concerned, she is a bonafide, straight up racist.
The way I've decided to resolve the situation didn't sit well with a few of my acquaintances because they don't believe that she's a bigot. They're friends with her.
"She doesn't really think that way, she actually has a lot of respect for you," someone told me. A black man.
One person even went as far as to tell me that I needed to "get over it" and let it go because it isn't as if we live in the South where people are really racist.
Just throwing this out there: if a white person calls a black person a "n*gger" once or a thousand times, it isn't something you should tell them to just brush under the rug. Especially because of their geographical location.
I'm not the type of person who lives in offense. I don't peek around each corner looking for something to march the streets about. Yet, sometimes things just fall in my lap and should be addressed directly. That young lady isn't the first, and most likely won't be the last, non-black person who will call me a racial slur. One thing I won't do is move past it and normalize the behavior by shrugging of experiences like these. Yes, I actively ignore this person when I see her around, but I'm not going to keep quiet about my racist interactions with her because the people around us don't want to feel as if they have to pick a side so they don't want to be reminded that these events ever happened.
How did Desmond Tutu put it?
"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality."
I'm not saying that I personally felt oppressed, but siding with neutrality and ignoring the importance of the impact of these moments is like putting one of those little finger band-aids on a gaping stab wound. As Chris Rock said, you can't just rub Robitussin on it and think it's going to heal. We need to call out bigotry when it effects our communities, not just when it comes knocking at our doors, because it's causing us to bleed out. I'm not going to get over racism when it meets me face-to-face, and I won't get over it when it's shouted in yours, either. Progress is made together.