Whenever I hear people talking about racism in America (or the lack thereof), I can’t help but think of the singular moment in my life that really opened my eyes to what racism in America actually looks like.
I had always known that Blacks suffered from institutionalized racism, prejudice, and in some cases, outright disdain. But I always chalked this up to the last generation’s mistakes.
While in London this past summer, I learned that putting all the blame for poor race relations on our parents and grandparents is nothing more than an attempt to shed ourselves of any responsibility for carrying on some of the racism that has plagued this country for generations.
While interning with CBS, I had the chance to help our foreign editor with a story about diversity in the London’s tech sector compared to Silicon Valley. One of our sources was an American black man who held two doctorate degrees, and was working in London. Our editor decided to let me ask a few questions before the interview was over.
The source had previously mentioned the inferiority complex that some young black men in America could develop as a result of racism and the way blacks are generally portrayed in America. It was his belief that this self-fulfilling prophecy was one reason the tech sector in America wasn’t near as diverse as it should have been.
Me being interested in race relations, and him being Black, I thought I would ask a question about race in America vs. Europe and whether Black people in Europe had to deal with the same issues as Blacks in America.
His answer taught me more about racism in those two minutes than my last three years of college.
He said that he had two identities: a black person and an American (the concept of intersectionality). Throughout the world, people saw him as an American: an identity that commanded respect. But in the U.S., people saw him as a black person first and an American second. In other words, being an American took a back seat to being a Black person.
Which is depressing. Imagine being treated like an American when traveling abroad and being treated like an outsider in your own home
My generation may not have started racism, but relegating every person of color into the “black person” category before identifying them by any other means does nothing to help the problem.