Racism in California

Last night in a bar over bourbons, I got what Terri would call “hooked.” I was talking with two friends of mine about the difference in racism as it is in the south versus here in southern California. I explained that in my experience, racism in the south was a lot more open and overt whereas here in California it is quiet and secretive.
One of my friends argued that because it is not said, that perhaps I am jumping to conclusions about the stares/looks/whispers being because of my race. I retorted back with, “as we haven’t had a conversation, what else would it be?”

Since I have lived in California I have been stared at, belittled (though this, I feel comes from being black and Southern more than anything), and subject to more “colored” and “gal” speech than I ever was at home. I explained to them that even walking into places you can feel eyes on you. And because there are so few Black people in San Diego, it can feel lonely and cold. My friend asked if I had been to Southeast SD and I said yes, but it pissed me clean off.

As I could feel myself getting angrier I knew I had to back off and walk away from this argument. Even our bartender commented that we got too serious. For me, it felt like my points were not being validated and intead were subject to reinterpretation; as if somehow I was unable to discern racism from any other type of discrimination.

What hooked me was not feeling heard, and having to defend a point I know exists. On the way home CR asked me why conversations about race are so hard, and I responded that its because they go nowhere. I say this even as an educator who teaches the importance of having “the race conversation.” It feels as though often when you try to explain the lived experience of a minority there is so much defense in the rebuttal that it turns ugly quickly.

And I get it, no one wants to be called a racist. Especially white people. Especially especially white people who think they are liberal. But the truth is, we’re all a little bit racist. Sadly. But we don’t have to let that stop us from learning about and from one another, we can work towards unconditional acceptance and love of others. When I say, I was treated this way because I am black and someone says, are you sure? I take it personally, and I shouldn’t. That’s my bad. I feel as though I am a person who does not play “the race card” often if ever and so I really feel some kind of way about being interrogated over my decision to use it.

There’s two things at play there, someone who needs validation of yes! Racism exists and yes! You experienced it. But there is also a person who casts doubt first, empathy later if at all. Work to be done on both sides.

I came home and called My Person because I was angry and needed to vent. Even in her whitness I feel she got it, and maybe that’s all I needed, to be heard and feel understood.

I am sure that people in California and people in the south will never agree on the issue of racism being bad in both places…but that’s okay. Just know this from me, give me the deep South any day of the week over being followed in the grocery store or called a pretty colored girl. At least at home I know exactly where not to go to avoid being called anything crazy.

2 thoughts on “Racism in California

  1. I understand you 100%. I’m a Northern Californian by birth but I’ve lived in SoCal for ten years now. The racists are cowards here, but have just as much power. My Mother was born and raised in Mississippi during the 40s & 50s. She always says she played with white kids and was never called a nigger until she came to California. She was working at a hospital in Berkeley when a white woman called her a nigger for the first time in her life. Trust me, you’re not crazy. I think of leaving LA all the time; I just haven’t done it yet.

    1. I hate that anyone has to endure that kind of treatment anywhere. I don’t think the racists are better or worse, its just different. I find it extremely uncomfortable to feel I am being merely tolerated. Its a feeling I get here sometimes that is impossible to describe to people who have never felt it.

      I am not so uncomfortable in California that I am running for the hills, because I am learning so much here about myself and about the world. I will not, however, stay to prove a point or pretend socal is something its just not.

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