Because of that lack of acceptance, for most white people, real relationships with black people don’t exist. You can’t get naked with someone you feel you have to tiptoe around, someone you’re secretly angry with because you feel a guilt you don’t understand. And since whites don’t talk openly about their anger or fear, the anger begets more anger, the fear begets more fear. If white people told us why they’re scared, we could tell them why they shouldn’t — or should — be. Another white person can’t explain that. I am a vastly different person from the teenager who was egged on Halloween.
I am intolerant of narrow-mindedness or presumption. I get angry when someone asks questions about black people that I think are ignorant (“How do you get your hair like that?” “You speak so well.”), and for the most part, if someone says something ignorant, I tell them it is, and I tell them why.
A good part of who I am is the result of the racial hatred I experienced. And while I’d rather be black than anything else, I wished I wasn’t when I was growing up. Many of the choices I’ve made about where I live and who I associate with are the result of refusing to let my daughter take the same painful journey I had to take. I don’t spend my time talking about being oppressed by The Man, but she knows where she comes from, how hard it has been to get where she is, and how important it is that she knows where she’s going. I’ve decided that my mission as a journalist, my mission in life, is to make black people understandable to white people. I debate color issues with people of every shade. But when the burden feels heavy, and I’m tired of talking, I shrug.
Originally published in the Hartford Courant, March 29, 1998