Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Talk

We all remember when we had the talk.

No, I am not talking about the sex talk, the money talk, or the various talks most of us have experienced when your parents sit you down for as an adolescent or teen about to embark from he protective parenting cocoon and launch into the real world.

I am talking about the "race" talk. I had just moved from a local community school to a suburban school. My first day, I received my class list, all featuring classes that were remedial. I was insulted. Do these people know me? Not to brag, but a little history: my grandmother was a reading specialist, allowing me to learn to read at a very early age. I was always ahead of my classes in reading, vocabulary, and other subjects. I even received awards from the city for my appetite for learning. So to come from being the top of my school to being stuffed into the lowest classes was unacceptable. I marched my 13 year old self into the office and slammed that bullshit class list down on the counter and immediately (and of course politely, my mama raised me right) request to speak to a counselor who could get it all fixed. Of course, being 13 and from "the city" didn't get me much respect in that middle school office, but the counselor heard my concerns.

She sat there, across her desk, sandy blond haired, green eyes wide behind tortoise shell frames and listens to my concerns. Before addressing any of them, she said something that I don't think I have yet recovered from. She looked at me, opened her mouth and said "Whitney, you speak so well."

This may not have stopped you dead in your tracks, but it did for me. It was an insult. I know she probably didn't mean it that way, but it was a straight insult to me, my family, and my community.

What was she expecting, this little brown girl coming from the city to not be able to string together a few words into a thoughtful argument as to why she shouldn't be in any remedial classes?

I was outraged. Even at 13, I knew that something was not right with that "complement".

That night, I spoke to my mom about it. She also shared the same appetite for learning when she was young, encouraging my avid reading habit with Scholastic book fair money, a library card, multiple sets of encyclopedias and scientific magazine subscriptions.

She sat me down, looked me into my eyes, and said "Whitney, you are a Black girl in a White school now." She proceeded to try (as best as any Black parent can) to prepare me for the realities of my ethnicity and also my gender calling into question my capabilities in a White community. We had had those discussions before, but this was my first tangible experience with it.

You see, the school I came from, while it was an excellent elementary and middle school, was predominantly Black. The community it was in was Black, the kids were Black, most of the teachers and staff were Black.

The school district we moved to was (at that time) more White than anything else. And I was going to have to (as almost all of these talks say) work twice as hard to get only half as much. This broke my heart. I was so excited to be starting at a new school, make new friends, learn new things, and all of that came crashing down around me in a way that I am not sure I have quite recovered from.

So when Proctor and Gamble created their commercial called "The Talk", it threw me back to that moment, at 13, sitting with my mother, as she tried to help me.

So, in understanding that past, you can see why I am both confused, and slightly angered at those who deem this commercial "racist" and "divisive". I  think it was brave for P&G to address the elephant already in the room.

No, the commercial isn't racist and divisive.

The fact that we have to have these talks with our children generation after generation shows that we are already divided. The fact that P&G could create a commercial that so poignantly reflects the truth of the African American experience here shows that we experience racism daily, and that cannot and should not be ignored by a country that dares to call itself progressive.

We have never been united. Facts are Black people have always been treated like the "other", the outsider. We weren't even seen as fully human (by law) until only 150 years ago. The legacy of Black people in this nation is fraught with violence, mistreatment, rape, family division, stolen culture, and so on.

So forgive us (sarcasm) if we as a people are less inclined to see this homeland that we built for free and still have not benefitted from as those who were formerly our owners as united.

I am grateful that this commercial was made. I am also grateful that there are so many people who feel the same way I do, both Black and other ethnicities:

But for every one of these comments, there were others saying that this was a divisive move on the part of P&G.

To these indignant folks all in their feelings, blinded by their own white tears tidal wave, I say this:   the same way you cannot be angry at a person for turning on a light that exposes a dirty home and then blame that person for the dirty home is the same way you cannot be angry at P&G for turning on a light that exposes the worst parts of our culture as a nation.

Your feelings really do not matter when it comes to the historical and ongoing oppression of the Black people. In fact, those indignant feelings over the truth of the Black experience only further show your own White Privilege.

What you should be asking of yourself is "why do I feel so icky when I am confronted with the experience of others? Why can't I empathize? Why can't I be compassionate over the experience of others?"

Just because this does not reflect you reality, doesn't make it any less real.
And just because it doesn't discuss your experience doesn't make it any less of a worthy discussion.
And just because it shows America from a different perspective doesn't make it racist.

This is the reality that we as Black people have and continue to experience. It is a painful yet powerful reminder of the work we must do and the reason why we must do it.

What do you think about The Talk? Drop me a comment below. Let's talk!