Racism Survival Tips for Black Folks

Generic image (Thinkstock)
Generic image (Thinkstock)

In a piece for the Feminist Wire, Mecca Jamilah Sullivan advises black people on how to deal with these tough times, when even white people are talking about race and racism — and probably talking about it to you.

- Racism will make you angry. You knew this already — you know the heat that claims your ears and forehead when a conversation takes its first racist turns. You have learned by now to recognize the warning signs — to monitor your breathing as soon as someone says “I don’t mean to be racist but … ” and prepare for the worst. If you have ever been one of few black people in any situation — in a class, at an office, at a dinner party, in a country — this is a familiar heat. But this summer’s heat feels different. It is unrelenting, self-renewing. It blares from all your life’s screens — your television, your Facebook feed, your email inbox, your iphone. It compromises your health. You feel, by turns, stressed, depressed, powerless, aimless, irate. You notice your heart rate surge and fall. You miss at least one workout. If you smoke, drink, or indulge in comfort food, you find yourself doing so more than usual. If you don’t, you feel a fleeting temptation to start.

Remember: Take care of yourself. And, as you do, scour yourself for internalized anti-blackness. Have you harbored quiet judgment of other black folks for being lazy, obese, indolent, addicted? Think about the anger you feel now. Multiply it by generations. This heat is historic. It’s not that different at all.

- Racism will make you lonely. You may feel like little more than a coffee table or armchair while white folks practice talking about race privilege on you. They will rest phrases like “prejudiced” and “slavery” and “African-American” on you to see if they’ll stick, if they’re using the words right. They will look away, clearing their throats before using terms like “black” or “killed” or “the N word.” Only once those words are out will they look at you for corroboration or critique. In the meantime, you are made to feel like a perfect piece furniture — so functional and compatible with the evening’s decor it’s almost as though you’re not there.

Remember: You are a person. You are not an accessory to anyone’s coming-to-consciousness. Hum your favorite song. Kiss your lover. Say exactly what’s on your mind. Or simply walk away. Do things to remind yourself that you are human. This is, after all, what anti-racism is supposed to be about.


Read Mecca Jamilah Sullivan's entire piece at the Feminist Wire.

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