When the mask comes off

16 Dec

I never thought the little North St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri would make not just national, but world news. I grew up in Normandy, on the Ferguson border. I completed grades K-12 in the Ferguson-Florissant School District. I was a toddler when my family first moved to North St. Louis County. Growing up, I recall all of our neighbors being white, middle-class citizens, and one of my childhood best friends was a little white boy named Shawn, who lived just three houses down from me. We would play outside together, ride bikes, and chase the ice cream truck. Our next-door neighbors, Pam and Steve, had two older boys, one of which graduated from the University of Missouri, years prior to me attending, and the other of which became a mechanic, years before my older brother also took up automotive engineering. Everyone on our street felt safe. It wasn’t until I was done with sixth grade or so, when I began to notice many of my neighbors and other members of the subdivision moving out. I, in fact, recall my family attending Pam and Steve’s housewarming party, as they too had eventually left; they moved to a neighboring suburb, Florissant. By the time, I graduated high school, we had gone from being the only black family on my street to neighbors of the only white family on the street, and one of few residents that actually owned their home.

Life seemed like the American dream growing up. There was hope. We had a cozy little house with a big backyard and neighbors who genuinely cared. Aside from the random harassment from members of the Normandy Police Department, for things such as “having too many cars in the driveway,” life did not feel segregated at all. 

In high school, everyone hung out with everyone. There were cliques, but I never viewed them as racially exclusive. McCluer High School, was about 70% black and 30% white at the time I attended. In 2006, I graduated, and in the fall, I began my undergraduate career at Mizzou, where I was obviously a minority. The black student population was so small there that for the first time in my life, I became aware of my “blackness.” However, being black at the University of Missouri seemed exclusive to me, almost like an honor. I was awarded a diversity scholarship, there was a black culture center on campus, and there were active black fraternity and sorority chapters. All of this was cool, of course until I realized that everything was really segregated and began to witness racist acts take place. Shamefully enough, I attended a few ‘frat’ parties on campus. These took place at the “traditional” fraternity houses, as black fraternities did not actually have houses on Mizzou’s campus. My girlfriends and I would go to the house parties, and we were totally welcomed and accepted, but the minute our black guy friends showed up, they were either kicked out or never allowed to enter in the first place. One particular incident that stuck out most during my time at Mizzou was the time two ROTC students pulled a painfully racist prank– placing cotton balls all over the front lawn of the Black Culture Center. Of course, I also can never forget that during his 2008 presidential campaign, President Barack Obama came to speak at Mizzou. He was greeted by racist remarks and crass signage hanging from some fraternity houses on campus.

I digress. I was happy once I graduated from Mizzou. Despite, such unwelcoming experiences, I had made it through, and made some awesome friends along the way. But, I left slightly more racially aware than I came. I hardly missed living in Mid-Missouri.

In fall of 2010, everything changed when I moved to Orlando, Florida. I made friends of all races and ethnicities, and nearly became fluent in Spanish– I’m sure my internship at Walt Disney World facilitated that. I was once again blinded by the magic that be the common experience. All of the interns were broke. All of our lives sucked, but we had each other. Life was so fun. The last thing on our minds were our differences. I did not have to think about life back home because I was high on diversity, and the attractive idea that I had the right to exist in a melting pot environment.

My internship ended, and I moved home again, and it was so hard to get a job. I worked part-time retail positions, and I dabbled in radio, TV, and editorial and digital media endeavors. I interned. I networked at every given opportunity and was even mentored by local media and fashion professionals. Talks of being hired while working unpaid internships for a year surfaced. Of course, I was never extended an offer. I could have worked even harder, yet I had bills to pay. I wondered how many of my counterparts who did not look like me got ahead. The three years following undergrad made me question my place in the City of St. Louis and Missouri as a whole. I contemplated all of my life decisions up to that point and attempted to figure out what I had done wrong, then I discovered that “the American dream” was not for everyone. I adopted this sentiment shortly before I enrolled in graduate school at Webster University. If you read any of my early blogging, you will find my previous attitudes on grad school unfavorable. I felt like a desperate sellout, and going back to school was honestly a backup plan for me at the time.

Fast forward to now–I ‘ve had a major attitude adjustment. I now wholeheartedly agree with Oscar Wilde, “you can never be overdressed or overeducated.” What promoted this change has been my knowledge gained thus far in graduate school, my first “office” job, and my two-plus year-long career with Saks Fifth Avenue.

Though, I am slightly more optimistic, I still live, breathe, and feel blacker everyday. I am not ashamed, nor is this post a plea for sympathy. It is merely an account of an experience that most Americans will never have. You see, often times, even small mistakes cannot be afforded if you are black. Dressing a certain way can get you stereotyped, followed in stores, and in extreme cases, killed. Laughing or talking loudly with a group of friends can make you an instant threat in most environments. Particularly, as a black female, your unique fashion choices can be viewed as urban or ghetto instead of creative or stylish. You basically have to accept that it is not uncommon to work twice as hard for half as much as your white counterparts. Another source of frustration is that once you do “make it,” you involuntarily become a spokesperson for your entire race, which is considerably unfair seeing that everyone is different. The right to be viewed as an individual then becomes a privilege with which you are not awarded.

Recent events have revealed ugly truths about America that I have been forced to ignore my whole life in hopes of gaining some sort of pseudo-acceptance of my existence here; clinging on to the belief that if you do everything right, you can somehow break the chains. I really thought that we as a country were past the deadly cancer to any free society: racism. The truth is that the same beliefs that made slavery okay, exists hundreds of years later. Yet, now, racism is so sophisticated and institutionalized, that I have to be bold and declare it the status quo. It literally exists in every industry and sector of our lives.

Recent events that have triggered what is shaping up to be a modern-day civil rights movement happen to be difficult for me to ignore. Yet, I have often heard people say, “I just want things to go back to normal.” However, “normal” to some equates to being systematically disadvantaged solely based off the color of their skin, for the benefit of another group of people. Does a democratic society really want that? Anyone with general intelligence, self-awareness, and a progressive mindset would welcome the revolution that is happening.

America’s mask was ripped off following the fatal shooting of black Ferguson teen, Mike Brown by white police officer, Darren Wilson. Buildings were burned to the ground; property, vandalized. A verdict that found Wilson not guilty sparked even more unrest. An entire suburb–destroyed. All of that was just the beginning. In months following Brown’s death, additional reckless police shootings resulting in more deaths of black males, even little boys, occurred. Can you blame the black community for being outraged? Protests were organized around the country, and the entire world would join the conversation. The recent grand jury decision to not indict another white police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, who indisputably used an illegal chokehold that resulted in the death of black male, Eric Garner, intensified the polarizing issue. The hashtags, #HandsUpDontShoot and #ICantBreathe took over social media. Celebrities, athletes, and public figures began to speak out against racism and police brutality and support protesters.

It seems America has become obsessed with these narratives. Media outlets are capitalizing off this conversation, telling you the stories they want you to hear. Do some research on your own. Seek truth. Be a traditional journalist. Do not be swayed by these corporately controlled talking heads. I dare you to be skeptical, to challenge the very beliefs that make you feel comfortable. The truth is rarely comfortable. Take all media you consume with a grain of salt, and dig deeper into the issue. Ask yourself, “is my life more important that anyone else’s?”

President Obama may have given American a black face (for a while), but ever since the country’s mask was ripped off, its flesh was revealed. That flesh is the elitists’ agenda. And underneath, that flesh are America’s bones. Those bones represent a foundation of slave labor, oppression, and mass genocide. It is important to remember that this is what America was built on. It may take centuries to digest all of the toxins in the body of this beast. At least now, the mask has been removed, so we can hopefully begin performing reconstructive surgery. That surgery starts with engagement in the dialogue, a willingness to learn, and a collective commitment to make everyone doctors.

4 Responses to “When the mask comes off”

  1. tifbyndom January 5, 2015 at 11:09 AM #

    Thank you for sharing your story! Especially some of the things you witnessed while at Mizzou. It is truly heartbreaking, the illusion of inclusion.

    • xcluxclusworld January 5, 2015 at 11:34 AM #

      Thanks for reading! I just got tired of holding it in. The truth needs to be told.

  2. tifbyndom January 5, 2015 at 11:02 AM #

    Reblogged this on Corporate Chic and commented:
    “President Obama may have given America a black face, but ever since the country’s mask was ripped off, its flesh was revealed. That flesh is the elitists’ agenda. And underneath, that flesh are America’s bones. Those bones represent a foundation of slave labor, oppression, and mass genocide. ” Blogger sharing her story on current and past events of race. Read more.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 2014: The year of self-actualization | Xclu Xclu's World - December 29, 2014

    […] race issues, constant police encounters resulting in the deaths of numerous black males, and the removal of America’s mask had really depressed me this year. I felt so helpless against forces that others do not understand […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: