Monday, July 15, 2013

Soapbox

A family member scolded me for expressing disappointment with the George Zimmerman trial verdict.  I had posted “It’s a dangerous time to be a person of color in America.”  I was then told that I was racist and sexist for expressing an opinion that deviated from a white male perspective, and should get over it because justice had been served.

This was hurtful to me, not because a white male called me racist and sexist, but because as a person of color, I felt that my voice and opinion was once again being dismissed, ignored, and invalidated.  Someone who has never experienced the daily trials of racism and microaggressions was telling me how I was supposed to feel.

It’s not that George Zimmerman was found not guilty.

For me, that’s beyond the point.  It’s that Trayvon Martin never should have died in the first place.  It’s that he was innocent of anything but being a young man of color in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It’s that racial profiling and vigilantism (official or unofficial) exists and so often result in tragedies like Trayvon’s death.  Had Trayvon been a white teenager dressed in a hoodie walking through the neighborhood, would George Zimmerman have seen him as a threat, confronted him, and shot him?

It’s that while there is a criminal-justice system in place that determines what is right and wrong, it is a system that is flawed.  It’s a system that favors white Americans, or people who can pass as white.  In the United States, approximately 30% of the population is comprised of people of color, yet make up 60% of the nation’s prison population.  It’s a system in which law enforcement agents in urban centers are encouraged to stop and frisk Black and Hispanic men to keep patrol quotas up.

But my statement, “It’s a dangerous time to be a person of color in America” isn’t just about George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin.  What I mean, is, as a person of color, I confront stereotypes and assumptions on a daily basis that my white family members and friends don’t.  And so often, they take that for granted.
Have they ever been approached on a bus and propositioned for sex because Asian women are stereotyped as subservient and hypersexual?
Do people talk about them as if they’re invisible because it’s assumed they don’t understand English?
Do they need to make sure to shave, dress nicely, and avoid eye-contact with TSA agents while traveling like my husband to avoid being fingered as a terrorist?
Have they been spit on by strangers on the street like my Punjabi family members?
Do people assume their mothers are prostitutes like my fellow adoptees and mixed-race friends?
I would hope they haven’t experienced these, because though I and my brown brothers and sisters face instances like this daily, it’s hurtful every time.

I’m not asking for pity, or sympathy, or a guilt handout.  All I’m asking for is recognition that my life as a person of color is different from those of white Americans, and respect and validation of my experiences, feelings, and opinions, even if they vary from your own.  In return, I will promise the same.