Photo credit: kledge/ E+/ Getty Images
The bad news is racism is (blatantly) thriving in America; the good news is here we are today talking openly about it. Wednesday morning, YouTube user IAMOYAB posted a video with this caption, "This happened to me last Friday May 30th 2014. I'm more upset that it was done in front of her children. They will have hate and have no idea where it came from. #OYAB"
The hate will come from experiences like watching 4:22 of a white woman — their mother — yelling racial slurs at a black man because he started his car — in a parking lot. She's out of control, pacing, shaking and, seemingly, can't stop herself. Two noteworthy things happen as a result: The man being yelled at stays completely calm (and records her rant), and her children, who witness all 4:22, don't react at all — almost as if they've seen this before.
At the time this article is being written, the video has been seen 3,811,737 times. But Wednesday morning, it was fresh and new. Jessica Gottlieb, a blogger in Los Angeles, posted it to her Facebook page creating many a double-take. Gottlieb says, "This morning I saw a video where a young mother was screaming at a man of color in front of some sort of dollar store. I found it shocking that her children were calm and clearly accustomed to this sort of behavior. I know what it's like to be a stressed-out mother with two young kids and to scream so much that your body shakes. I have been that person. I have never been the person who would scream racial slurs and my children have never heard them come out of my mouth. I am unsure how one gets to that place in life."
WARNING!^Contains explicit language
The woman's anger is so deep-seated, we feel her seethe from behind the screen. At first blush, this is shocking. But with a second look, we have to — as human beings — realize that this hate, this racism, is more commonplace than we'd like to think (pretend?) it is.
Grace Hwang Lynch, News and Politics editor at BlogHer who blogs about her own Asian mixed-race family at HapaMama, explains, "[The] video was painful to watch. Often, when we think of racism, we picture men in white hoods, or perhaps a very old person or someone who lives in a very isolated area and isn’t connected to the rest of the country. To see this woman — who is about my age, is with her young children and apparently married to a police officer — yelling racial epithets was disturbing."
Disturbing, but not shocking. Mental health and relationship expert Rhonda Richards-Smith, LCSW, says, "Many have said that we live in a colorblind society and that racism no longer exists. Unfortunately, that is simply not the case."
(Not so) colorblind
In an article in Psychology Today, Monica Williams, Ph.D., explains that "colorblindness" is a form of hidden racism. She says, "Colorblindness is the racial ideology that posits the best way to end discrimination is by treating individuals as equally as possible, without regard to race, culture, or ethnicity." But there's a snag with that. There are differences within all three of these, and they aren't what's problematic. The issue is that ignoring the differences, claiming colorblindness, creates opportunities for racism to be disregarded and undiscussed and, therefore, to thrive.
Williams explains, "In a colorblind society, white people, who are unlikely to experience disadvantages due to race, can effectively ignore racism in American life, justify the current social order, and feel more comfortable with their relatively privileged standing in society... Most minorities, however, who regularly encounter difficulties due to race, experience colorblind ideologies quite differently. Colorblindness creates a society that denies their negative racial experiences, rejects their cultural heritage, and invalidates their unique perspectives."
Looking at the now viral video makes two things clear: We do see color, and racism is alive.
Children see, children do
Many of the comments on IAMOYAB's video say something to the tune of "It's 2014!" or "How is this possible today?" IAMOYAB hit the nail on the (proverbial) head when he noticed the children in the background of the video, seeing hate in action. Arnebya Herndon is the voice behind the popular Washington, D.C., lifestyle and parenting blog, What Now and Why. She explains, "I knew this would be a tirade, but at her first use of the n-word, I stopped the video and ate dinner, knowing I'd return to it afterward. The second viewing, I watched it through fully, with headphones on because my kids were in the room. And that's when one part of the situation hit me: her children. Her children witnessed this behavior."
This witnessing becomes — sadly, scarily — normalizing. Herndon says, "It is perhaps not the first time; they don't seem surprised. Is this how they think black people are normally referred to? Is this how they think disagreements between adults are handled? With threats and yelling and name calling?"
We teach our children what's normal and accepted by how we act and what we say. Telling kids to "be polite" is never as effective as being polite ourselves. This teaching works in the exact same way with racism. Lynch explains, "The saddest point [in the video] was where you can hear her son yell something (judging by the reaction of the man recording the video in the car, it sounds like the n-word). The boy looks like he’s probably no older than first grade, and he’s already learned from his parents' example that it’s okay, or even justified, to treat a black person this way... I often hear people wonder how young kids in this day and age learn racial slurs and stereotypes, and this video is an example of how children imitate what they see their parents doing."
We know better, so let's do better
The 3,811,737 YouTube views on this racist video mean that many people were forced to look racism in the eye this week, and this is the only positive I see in this situation. Gottlieb says, "Although extraordinarily disturbing, this video is worth sharing because it opens up a much-needed discussion about race in America. When we talk about how we don't see color we are lying. We see color. Let's acknowledge it. Let's acknowledge that it is harder for people of color in America than for those of us who are considered white."
Recognizing racism as a "modern day" issue and opening the conversation around it is the first step in moving forward. The second step lies in our parenting. Even if we're not creating generational racism via being the ones using hate language, the responsibility of having a conversation around race relations with our children is on us. Smith explains, "As parents, it's important that we not make assumptions about what other parents are teaching their children. So, we must all prepare our children for this harsh reality and encourage dialogue regarding this sensitive issue. In order to do so, we as parents have got to be comfortable with talking about this topic ourselves. The issue is not simply black and white, but an American issue that we cannot ignore. Today's technologies have exposed many harsh truths about American life, racism being one of them."
IAMOYAB did something I wonder if most of us would have been able to — he stayed calm and composed while he was attacked. He then used the situation in the only possible positive way: He started a dialogue around raising racism awareness and the n-word. Continuing the conversation, Herndon says, "When black people say this word has no power over them, I think that's a cop out. It will always, at its base and used in this manner, have power. While it doesn't magically make someone into what he/she has been called, it has the power to make us angry, make us lash out, make us sad or worried or anxious. We may not always react in a similar fashion, but it does still impact us." Asking questions, sharing disturbing images of hate, being open to dialogue — these are the places where change can happen; these are the places where you (and I) can create change.
Herndon says, "Watching this, I felt disgust but also sadness. She seems angry, so angry. Her children weren't attended to because she was spending time berating a man — in that instance, that was what was important to her. I felt sorry for her and her children but also angry because she was so purposeful in her attack. She said the word with such venom, such contempt. I felt it. Every syllable of her hate, I felt it. I didn't assign it to me or my character or my life, but I felt it because of its intent... She used the one word she knew would hurt the most... I'm trying to think about how I feel listening to her. Just hurt. And tired. And not surprised. Like really? Is that all you've got?"
^Continue the conversation with us — leave a comment, share the video, talk about race with your children.