‘Are you going to buy that book?’ An employee walked over to me. ‘You can’t stand here and read it, you have to put it down.’: Woman details personal experiences with racism, ways to help

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“I am so angry and heartbroken over what is happening in our nation — more specifically what is happening in the Black community. I have sat back quietly for too long as I didn’t want to offend my white friends and family. In my mind, I thought I didn’t have to speak up because Black people aren’t being murdered here in our streets, so what do I know. BUT I DO KNOW! Racism exists here and everywhere.

I can no longer remain quiet. Racism is real.

What people of color have endured for generations literally leaves me speechless. I have seen too many videos of black people crying out for mercy, begging not to die at the hands of officers. Asking for help only to get murdered (that’s what it is…murder). So hearing about Ahmaud, then Mr. Cooper, and lastly George Floyd all within a month rocked me to my core – it was all too much, TOO MUCH. I honestly couldn’t watch the video of George because it just felt wrong to watch another mother’s son being murdered as he cried out for her.

I remember when I found out we were having a boy, my first thought was there is a very real possibility he will be treated differently than his half-brothers. Not by us of course, but by society. His half-brothers would be considered white and he would be considered black. I remember laying in bed one night and looking over to my husband, and I said, ‘You know there are different rules for black boys.’ Honestly, at that moment, I am not really sure if he even knew what I meant. It’s not his fault either; we live in a relatively small town in California, and while racism exists everywhere, it’s not as obvious here as it is in the south. But it’s here.

As I watched videos and read posts about Ahmaud Arbery, I wondered, ‘Why this again? I don’t want this life for my son.’ I thought maybe Declan would be ‘light-skinned’ enough to be mistaken as white instead of black. The overwhelming guilt I immediately felt made me sick. Was I ashamed of being black?

Courtesy of Joslynn Flowers

The answer is NO, but I grew up believing I should be.

I guess a little back story is due. I grew up in a very not diverse town in California. While California itself is diverse, my small town Arroyo Grande was mostly white. I am a bi-racial woman who was raised by my single white mom. I grew up having a very close relationship with my extended family: grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who are all also white.

Courtesy of Joslynn Flowers

So, to say I was lacking the influence of the ‘black culture’ in my life would be a HUGE understatement. My mom did her best, but with a mainly white community, my father not in the picture, and his family all back East, she didn’t have much help in that area.

From an early age, I KNEW I was different from the other kids I was being raised alongside, but not really UNDERSTANDING why I was different. Sure, I had different hair, eyes, and skin than my cousins, but that wasn’t why. I remember when my cousins would introduce me, their friends couldn’t understand how we were cousins, and I was always asked if I was adopted. I WASN’T ADOPTED. But at 7 years old, I knew I looked different, and it wasn’t good because it was assumed I wasn’t a part of my family. It wasn’t until junior high and high school that I started to see it for what it was—my skin color was different, and therefore, I was different. I was black.

I quickly became the ‘token’ friend. You know, the friend you think of when you say, ‘I have a black friend so I can’t be racist.’

Courtesy of Joslynn Flowers

Hear me when I say my friends are NOT RACIST. I know they would all defend me if push came to shove. But when I am used as a prop to defend your ‘anti-racism,’ then there is work to be done. In today’s society, being called a racist often overshadows the racist slur/appropriation. Being called out on racism can be a learning opportunity, not a defensive opportunity. It’s an opportunity to learn and listen. Racism is more than an individual issue, it’s reflective of systemic injustices.

We all ‘know’ people of a different race, but do you speak the same in front of them as you do behind their back? Are you willing to defend them when other people make racial slurs?

It’s more than saying, ‘I am not racist because I am disgusted by how POC are treated. I am not racist because I choose to treat people the same regardless of their skin color.’ I need your actions to be reflected. It’s a sad truth but YOUR white voice on racism is far louder than mine will ever be.

Pastor Miles McPherson says it perfectly in his book The Third Option: ‘You feel guilty when you DO something wrong, but you feel shame when you feel like you ARE something wrong; I felt shame. I felt inferior. I felt weak. I felt powerless.’

This is how I have felt the majority of my life. That I was less than because of my skin color. I remember from an early age I knew I wasn’t as pretty as the white girls I went to school with, and I would ask my mom, ‘Why can’t I be white?’

There were no black Disney princesses. There weren’t many women of color represented in the media, and if they were, they weren’t leading roles. This was before Beyonce and Gabrielle Union. My mom did a great job of making sure I knew I was beautiful and beauty was from the inside and not always the outward appearance. I took on an ‘I know I am beautiful’ attitude, so why did it still hurt when I was told by boys (yes, more than one told me), ‘I can’t date you because you are black.’

Courtesy of Joslynn Flowers

Tell me where do those thoughts come from? Maybe from their parents, grandparents, or friends? Or maybe not. But society definitely tells people white women are beautiful and black women are not. I even had a friend show me a photo of what a ‘social media troll’ posted on her page: ‘White women are beautiful, Latina women are sexual, and Black women are ghetto.’

I remember being in high school when we were learning about the Jim Crow era. I was the only POC in the classroom. The only one in a class of about 25 students. The teacher kept calling on me to answer her questions or asked me, ‘What do you think about that?’ What did I think about segregation? Racism? What I thought was I didn’t understand why no one else was being called on. ‘Why was she only asking me?’ I thought. ‘What did I know about racism?’ After all, I lived in Arroyo Grande, all my friends are white.

When I was walking across the quad, a boy walking behind me (whose name I still remember) said loudly for me and his friends to hear, ‘If I had a nickel for every black person I dragged behind my truck, I’d be the richest man in the world.’ That was the moment I knew what racism was, and it hurt.

Courtesy of Joslynn Flowers

I remember the first time and, unfortunately, not the only time I was racially profiled in a store. I was at a bookstore in an airport waiting for my connecting flight, and like most people I found myself standing flipping through a book. It was Nicholas Sparks’ new release. I was surrounded by other people doing the same. An employee walked over to me and said, ‘Are you going to buy that book?’ I replied, ‘Umm no, just looking at it.’ She said, ‘You can’t stand here and read it, you have to buy it or put it down.’

I looked around at the others doing the same thing, and said, ‘Are you kidding me?’

She said again, her voice raised, ‘If you aren’t going to buy it, put the book down.’

The guy reading the Sports Illustrated magazine looked over. I calmly said, ‘So, it’s OK for them to stand and read, but I can’t.’ At this point, her co-worker came over and stood behind her, and a few other people were looking in our direction. She smugly said, ‘YEP.’

I was shaking. I wanted to yell at her, are you kidding? I wanted to say, ‘You are being unfair!’ I wanted to scream. Instead, I put the book down and walked out of the store. No one else left…no one else was asked to leave. And THAT is white privilege. To clarify white privilege – it doesn’t mean your life has been easy and without struggle, it just means you haven’t struggled based on the color of your skin.

I have experienced many more experiences like this:

Teachers at my private Christian school called me stupid, deemed me a bad student, and treated me differently than all the others.

I was followed around a store, then, upon leaving, they stopped me (not my white friend) and asked to check my purse.

I was asked if I would be paying with EBT (food stamps) when I was with my three young step-kids and pregnant.

I was called a ‘N-word b*tch’ because as I was walking past a table of guys, and I didn’t respond to their catcalls.

I was celebrating a holiday with my significant other and his family when his cousin proceeded to talk about how ‘the south had it right’ and he ‘will always wave his confederate flag.’

‘Why don’t you talk black?’ ‘Why don’t you act black?’ ‘How do you like country music?’ ‘Can I touch your hair?’ and ‘What are you?’ – all common questions I got growing up.

I don’t say this because I want you to feel bad for me. I say it because, despite media showing more videos of racism now, it’s not a new thing. It has always been here. I may not have experienced it on a big scale as I would have in a bigger city, but I have experienced it.

So, now what? You are probably thinking, ‘I hear you, Joslynn. I want to stand with you, but I don’t know where to start.’

First, educate yourself. Read books about anti-racism. I am sad to say this is an area I myself am still learning. Reach out to friends and family you know who are POC and ask them how you can support them. Be open to learning. Ask questions, it’s OK to want to know how POC feel, what they have gone through, and ask ‘if saying this comes across racist.’ Be patient, be aware not every person of color will want to have that conversation or answer questions. POC might not have the emotional capability to respond right away.

And lastly, I am going to challenge you. How can you be better? What conversations do you need to have with your family? Follow black creatives on social media to expand your view. Watch movies that talk about the struggles the black community has faced. We want more than ANYTHING for unity and equality, and it can only happen when others start understanding racism and their part in dismantling the system.”

Courtesy of Joslynn Flowers

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Joslynn Flowers. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her blog. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more about racism from women of color:

‘An older white lady said, ‘That little black boy is being aggressive.’ My two sons were wrestling in the ball pit.’: Mom to bi-racial family urges ‘racism is built on little assumptions’

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