I really like Chicken McNuggets, so it was with nugget intentions that I went to a Chicago McDonalds on Madison a while back. I got in, got nuggets, and headed up to the second floor to enjoy my meal. I flipped over my paper placemat to play a connect the dots game, which I was sure was going to make Grimace, when I looked up and spotted something that gave my stomach a twist.
On two of the walls of this McDonalds were giant murals, one depicting Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his most famous speech, the other of Rosa Parks. My nuggets tasted none too sweet this time, and I had even dipped them in honey.
The feeling that hit me was a feeling that something was awry with the way the world understands the black struggle. It’s this: we’ve turned that entire struggle for true freedom, a history of pain, suffering, and small and big successes, and melted into down into the images of a few faces. Sound bite history.
Furthermore, these names are used for the wrong good. In that McDonald’s for instance, they stick these heroes up on a wall, and boom, they portray to customers just how unracist they are. They’re an accepting company, and can empathize with the black struggle. Come on. Don’t use our legends for your company image.
You can name all the parks in the world after someone and you won’t be honoring them. Honoring someone is taking their words, or silent actions and using that wisdom in how you approach and interact in your own life.
But the way the message is projected has also distorted our race relations. So muddled has our sensitivity towards “what is racist” become that in a way its interrupting the same goals it tries to accomplish. At this point it has become so sensitive for a white person to talk about a black person that we have no idea how to at all.
Just because we’ve been exposed to so much of the history of repression, of books and films all cautioning us not to be racist that we’ve become something even worse. Cowards. We don’t know how to communicate with black people at all. We’re so afraid of being racist that we caution our every move and word just so not to be. We’ve been taught so much from reading stuff like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and seeing stuff like American History X that we know that we’re not racist, we just don’t know how to show black people that we’re not.
So strong is this fear that for whites it is just easier to not try. And so this new problem is born: a sort of hyperconsciousness about race. Over and over again the fact that people are different is what we’re told. But so oft-repeated is this fact that it creates a gulf between races… how can we relate if we’re as different as the world tells us? How do I talk to someone who is so different? This projection of a difference creates a fear of the difference. This difference-knowing isn’t a hate, it’s a fear.
Not only is it a communicative gap, but also a socio-economic one. In my hometown I never saw black people, to see a black person was to be surprised. I don’t get it, and I don’t know if I want to. But there were never any blacks in my classes, and that’s still true. So if we have a contact space this gaping, when do we have a chance to accept one another? How can we be brothers and sisters when we’re not even neighbors?
Racism is a tricky force to tackle. It’s invisible, but its barriers can easily be felt. It’s hard to discuss, but it must be. The fight against it has been going on for centuries, and it’s a battle that is still going on, and now in our hands. The Civil Rights movement had many victories, but those were victories against the law, it is the fight against minds that still needs to be won. But it is a silent fight, and one that is fought day by day, life by life, and will take time.
If there’s a solution to this problem, I don’t know its name. I guess its up to us. The first step to fighting a battle is to accept that things are not the way they could be. They aren’t. Racism will truly be dead when, like children, we don’t even notice “the difference.” And we never should have ever imagined up the difference, because it does not exist.
There is much hope in this matter though, the day may soon come when the chief we hail to is of color, and what a beautiful thing that would signify for the progressive nature of our country. But change is never about one person, but about all of us. You write history each day you live, so make sure you use a pen, or a Sharpie if you happen to have one, so that your mark will last.
Printed courtesy of the Daily Vidette