Race & Identity
When Will White Folks Start Listening To Black Folks?
A familiar personal tale.
I am writing this at a very white suburban library at a table behind a sweeping glass façade, looking out at a parking lot full of cars, with one in particular. There’s a green Honda SUV with its car lights on — for the last hour.
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When I walked into the library, I mentioned to the circulation desk that the car lights were on and that they may want to make an announcement over to intercom to notify the owner. It may have been my beard or my Sigma hoodie or my melanated face that did not send off the proper alarms to the librarian because she just smiled and told me that it may be delayed lights and they would check later.
Essentially, she told me to mind my own business and go away.
It’s been an hour — nobody’s checked the car, no intercom announcement, not even a "thank you" for being a good samaritan. I am annoyed because of the light being on, but, also because this is yet another example of white folks not listening to black folks.
This situation was a trigger because many times in my life (and I assume the lives of many other black folks) I’ve been asked by whites or non-blacks for information, directions, help, suggestions, recommendations, and just about any other form of subjective inquiry only to have them not listen to, reject or ignore my opinion; and, worst, follow up with someone else like I need someone to vouch for my credibility. This attitude by whites and non-blacks is condescending, rude and racist. PERIOD. More importantly, this mindset of black folks needing to be validated has permeated every facet of our lives — academia, spirituality, professional, personal/social, political and socioeconomic — it is costing Black people their lives, jobs, families, faith, elections and much more.
We have seen the risks and consequences of when white folks don’t listen to Black folks. We have seen cases of the impact of a lack of racial and gender diversity in the workplace and how that leads to instances of social upheaval, like the #MeToo movement or inclusiveness trends like "Lean In," meant to uplift people, but end up being a tool to elevate white women (à la the suffrage movement of the 1900s). We have repeatedly seen the consequences when white politicians and strategists do not recognize the voice of Black (women) voters and how that led to ineptitude like Trump in 2016. On the other hand, you can end up with the diversity of the 2018 Congressional freshman class when you listen to Black folks.
We continue to see Sunday church services being the most segregated hour in America, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, because white folks don’t want to practice what their faith preaches. We continue to see alarming Black youth suicide & Black infant mortality rates increase because whites and non-black decision makers and doctors refuse to listen to poor Black communities or mothers when they say they need help or try to tell someone what is going on with their body. Worst of all, we have seen white cops and white citizens arrest, shoot or kill Black folks who tell them that they cannot breathe, that they have a lawful permit for a gun, who knock on their door for help, for being at a university, for sleeping in their dorm, for barbecuing at a public park, for monitoring supervised parental visits, for going to Starbucks to discuss a business proposal — or for just being Black.
I have personally experienced whites and non-black folks not listen to me many times before, and I guarantee that it will happen many more times to come. However, this time the multitude of micro-aggressions added up and quite frankly, I was mad because enough is enough.
Black people have a voice and opinions, and they are valid and real without any need for white substantiation. Unfortunately, too often whites and non-blacks use language around “data,” or needing “quantifiable” facts to discredit or validate Blacks in academia, professional, political and socioeconomic circles, while, white folks have been proven to act ignorant or incompetent around Blacks as a means of ignoring their needs altogether.
Moreover, it is time for whites and non-blacks to truly listen to the needs and wants of the Black community around them, rather than assume it is invalid, presume to know the answer already or seek the input of a sole Black person to serve as a representative for the entire race.
The sad thing is that I just saw the lights of the green Honda go out, which means that they will need a jumper cable. I may or may not have one, but they will only listen to me now because I could solve their problem, even though they should have listened to me in order to prevent the problem altogether.
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