I went to see The Miracle of St. Annas this weekend with my good friend L (and no I am not going to blog about the tofu) Back on topic. I went to see this movie because of the way that Hollywood and history have erased the sacrifices of black soldiers during WWII, while elevating someone like John Wayne who never fought a real battle. I went because I wanted to see these men get honoured and feel the kind of connection that is often lacking with the media.
As I sat through this long movie (to be expected with Spike Lee) only one incident really touched me, and it actually had very little to do with the movie itself. The men went into a little restaurant to get a strawberry float in uniform and were denied service and told to go around back. When they refused to leave they were ordered out at gun point. They left but returned fully armed and demanded service.
We no longer have this kind of obvious segregation in our everyday lives but it still exists to some degree. I found myself really relating to this scene as I recalled the times I have been shown cheaper items, or instructed on the stores layaway policy when asking about certain products. I have been in restaurants with white acquaintances where I have not been given a fork to eat with while everyone else around me was supplied with eating utensils. I have gone into empty restaurants and been seated by the washroom. I have had cashiers refuse to put change in my hand, and even heard waitress argue about not serving me. I have stood in line watched as the white person who arrived after me was served before me.
The aforementioned occurrences are not unique to me. I am sure any POC has a list of similar degradations that they have had to deal with because of racism. This is why that scene amongst all others in that movie stood out for me. Despite all of the time that has passed and the sacrifices of so many, to the world at large we are all still no good niggers.
I am not going to sugar coat it and say the N word because that takes the sting away. Nigger, Nigger, Nigger, that is what people see when they look at me. It does not matter whether or not I am a good person, it does not matter whether or not I am educated, or even if I come from a higher class background than the person that I am interacting with. What matters is that when given an opportunity to exercise racial privilege most people will do so. They will claim not to be racist, and even loudly pronounce that nigger is a word that they will not use, but if your everyday interactions reify racial bias you might as well forget about policing your language because actions speak louder than words.
Being anti-racist means more than refraining from using racist language. You can scrub every single racial epithet from your vocabulary and still be a racist. If you feel the overwhelming need to cross the street when you see a group of young black men in fear, that is racist behaviour. If you never think to question when you see blacks portrayed in the media as drug addicted criminals, that is racist. If you can mentally picture all of your friends and cannot point to a single one that belongs to a marginalized group, that is racist. If you think that by consuming food from a different culture you are displaying your global ideals, that is racist. If you believe that you can appropriate cultural symbols and wear them for the sake of fashion, that is racist. This list can go on and on because daily people participate in actions that are either directly racist, or have racist undertones, with little or no thought to the bodies that it effects.
When you are living a life of privilege you can afford not to make these distinctions. A white person can at anytime limit the amount of time spent with a POC by carefully choosing where to live, what jobs to take and what social events to participate in. This choice is not available for POC. We are continually negotiating not only our own marginalization but the hegemony of whiteness. It surrounds us daily and at times attempts to swallow and destroy our entire being.
Just when you reach a point where you are individually about to loose all sense of restraint and react in kind, the social discipline arrives to remind you that it is not your place to resist, or feel any form of discomfort with the racial hierarchy because it is naturally occurring. It comes in statements like why are you so angry, or you know you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar. In essence you are told to swallow the bile because despite your personally indignation, the humiliation is for the good of society. Yes racism is good for some people.