Rhonda E. Frost
I’m not racist, I’m woke. Like Francis Maxwell, Shaun King, Ta-Nehisi Coates, D.L. Hughley and Colin Kaepernick, woke. I haven’t been sleep on social injustice issues ever and I won’t pretend to be now. I read the news daily. I pay attention to social issues. I live a black life. I follow the blogs of people like Tim Wise. I am a fan of the work of James Baldwin, I too, Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I read Maya Angleou and follow Ava DuVernay, to name a few.
Reading changed my life and opened my eyes to social injustice in a broader sense, but seeing what happens to black and brown people year after year, keeps them open. Here is an update to a prior post-these are my close out thoughts on being “woke” in 2017, from a social justice view.
I was the first black kid in my family and thus the oldest of the black kids. I grew up in Del Paso Heights, California,(DPH for those of us from there) the “neighborhood” by all accounts. I know the “hard knocks” life, I was a mother of 2 daughters by age 17(Shanae and Janelle). Growing up in our childhood home and neighborhood, I was exposed to every dysfunction known to the hood life: Drug abuse, poverty, lack of direction, absent fathers, domestic violence, brothers in and out of prison(my youngest brother is currently serving “life” and didn’t kill anyone-the result of a bad decision, poor man’s justice-and Clinton’s “get tough on crime” laws).
I grew up using food-stamps-that Monopoly looking money. I remember being ashamed to go to the grocery store with that booklet because I knew the people behind me in line would know I was on “aid” and poor. Coming home from school, we never knew if the lights and gas would be on or off, because my hard working single mother couldn’t pay the bills all the time. I could go on, but that’s not the purpose of this post. Besides anyone who has ever been poor and/or black gets it. That is the background from whence I came.
Regarding being “woke”…
Being “woke” means, being keenly aware of injustice(no matter your race). It means your eyes are open, that you are socially conscious, and clear on how mass incarceration disproportionately impacts black and brown people and aware of its relationship to slavery, it means that one pays attention to “dog whistle” words. and sees divisive politics clearly. It’s understanding what “white privilege” means, and knowing it’s real. This is not an all encompassing definition, it’s the Rhonda Frost definition. It captures the meaning in essence, for the purposes of understanding.
I watched the Rodney King beating on our Los Angeles, California streets in 1991. I was 28 years old. In April of 1992, I, with all of America, witnessed the verdict of “not guilty” for all the officers that we saw (on video), beat him. And we also witnessed the riots that followed in that city, on Florence and Normandie, in particular. That was our introduction to seeing police brutality on video in my home state. We knew abuse of power and police brutality existed, we just hadn’t seen it locally on television quite like that. Our community lived it on the daily, but that video gave it to us up close and personal. I can’t unsee that. It was indisputable. I was incensed by this case.
If you read what I write or post on social media, especially during 2017, as it relates to injustice in America, one might wonder if I am racist. I am not.
I have white friends(no, for real, I do). I have white people who I love dearly and respect. And I’m not just saying that to make you comfortable. My biological mom Bonnie, is white. Like blonde hair, green eyes, pale skin, white. She was born in 1941 in Denver Colorado. She met my black father in 1961. She gave birth to me in 1963. She put her life (and status as a white woman) in danger to date my black father and birth his child. I’ve heard what she went through in society and in her own family because of her decision to “mix races”. Though she too must have had “white privilege,” I don’t know if she felt it or saw it. I certainly don’t remember any good from her privilege. Our experience was black. Our neighbors were black. Our schools were black. Our reality, black. But yeah, my dear mom is white.
I credit my Mom for showing us what courage looks like, for raising us color aware and color blind at the same time. For telling us about racial injustice, for always fighting for the underdog, for “helping the least of these”, for getting out in the streets and protesting injustice with other black activists and for talking about social issues and injustice in our home, before we even understood what the hell was going on. Side-bar…I thank her also for the exposure to Country music(Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Reba), and the Blues(Bobby “Blue” Bland, BB King) and Soul (Johnny Taylor, Otis Redding, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, The O’Jays and Al Green). It’s because of her that I know and love this music.
It’s also because of her that I have a voice and I use it. Some say she talks out of turn too much and is loud when she should be quiet, I like that she didn’t listen to those who wanted her to be quiet. I’ve been told to pick my battles and try to keep my opinions about injustice low-key as to not make others uncomfortable. I am working on that(not really but I hear them).
But let’s talk just a little~
Since Rodney King, unarmed black men and women have been killed by police all over this country and police have done so with impunity.
In 2015 Freddie Gray, 25 was killed in the back of a police van in Baltimore. His spine was shattered and his neck was broken, he was handcuffed in a police van! No one was held accountable. Walter Scott, 50 was shot in the back while running away from police in Carolina, he was shot at 8 times. Michael Brown, an 18-year-old kid, was killed by police in Ferguson, MO, allegedly after stealing cigars or cigarettes. That case set off riots and protests all over the country. There are lists of these cases and one would need to read them to understand the protests and anger.
In 2017, I watched what happened in Virginia where racist white men(and women) carried guns, Tiki torches, wore swastikas and held KKK signs, hurling racist comments and slurs, and then one of them decided to run over the crowd, and he killed one of the anti-hate protestors. They committed murder while spewing hate(they call brown skin people who do the same, “terrorists”). This hate was loudly accepted from the top of America down to its little insignificant hateful base. Just a casualty of where we are today in the good ol’ USA. Say what you will, but that was domestic terrorism by white supremacists. America accepted it as just an incident.
All I could think was, what if hundreds of armed black men gathered together in any state in the U.S., carrying “we hate white people” signs, or spewing other hate-filled rhetoric, what would have happened? How long would it have been before police and others claimed they “feared for their collective lives” and someone was shot dead? Peaceful protest or not, it would have happened. Hell, black people get shot dead for having broken tail lights and toy guns in parks, and they get killed for selling loose cigarettes on street corners, and walking or running away from police, so imagine the outcome if hundreds or thousands of black men with weapons and hate signs descended on a city!
Then there was the mass shooting in Las Vegas, on October 1, 2017, where a white man killed 59 people at a concert. It was called the “worst mass shooting in American history”. What it wasn’t called by the media or #45 was, “terrorism”. Odd isn’t it? When a Muslim terrorist does the same exact thing, it’s called terrorism immediately! When a white man does it, he’s “the lone gunman” “the deranged shooter”, anything but terrorist. When white people do it, it’s somehow different. That’s “white privilege”.
Today, I watch as Colin Kaepernick is being blackballed from the NFL for peaceful protests of blatant injustice(see above), let me say that again, a PEACEFUL protest by kneeling during an American anthem,( that doesn’t represent black people), in a country that still allows for uncontested systemic racism to happen. Yeah we see it. As long as you don’t rock the American fake patriotism boat, it’s all good. Just keep on dancing.
I watch daily, as an incompetent, lying, inexperienced, blithering, shameful and hateful man, who broke every norm, every civil, moral, and humane boundary and violated every high standard set for the position of POTUS, still get elected to office.
I watch as he divides Americans, Tweets his presidency into shame and leads us closer to WWWIII. I see his divisive rhetoric. I note his background didn’t have any qualifications that would afford him such a position. I note his invisible skill set and inexperience in government. I noted that no drug test was required(just wanted to say that because he has signs of being a drug user); I note that all of this, coupled with his incompetence, were all irrelevant.
Only in America can you take the highest position in the land with all of those deficits in your background, couple it with active lawsuits, fraud cases, a history of infidelity, a history of failing to pay people he owed, a history of being disrespectful to women, to veterans, not paying taxes, a proven history of racism, lack of a plan…and still get the job! Nothing says “white privilege” like this!
Yet, there he sits at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with his cronies and children, in charge of the free world, recklessly damaging America’s reputation, and harming her people. This is white privilege personified.
He is the antithesis to his predecessor, Barack Obama and he seems to be hell-bent on undoing all the good Obama did in his 8 years. No matter how much it hurts the American people. No other race could be who Trump is, do what he’s done to people, say what he’s said and keep a job, much less the highest position in the land. It’s hard to ignore the elephant in America’s living room. It’s hard not to call this what it is. This is what we mean when we say “woke”. How do you un-see or un-know this?
America’s treatment of black folks is historically evident, and though we’ve come a long way, the work is a long way from over. Until there is “justice for all”, until black crime and white crime are sentenced the same, until black people don’t have to fear if they will be killed because of a broken tail-light or for selling cigarettes on a street corner, we, like Colin, will protest and speak out.
I don’t expect society to fix the lives of black people. I expect black people to wake up, stop doing things that contribute to tearing down the community, to strive to improve their situations, take responsibility for their kids, raise children with love and high expectations for excellence, to assure them dreams are attainable, to stop killing each other, to stop being disrespectful to their women and to raise the economic bar by getting in the financial game; taking care of their credit, buying homes, and investing in retirement and leaving wealth to their children. I expect that from us.
Yes, we have to do our part. Period! But we can’t do it if we are dead, and we can’t do it, if 1 in 4 black men are sent to prison(for same crimes as whites, with disproportionately different sentences), and schools in our neighborhoods are not funded adequately to bring in the brightest and best teachers, and loans are denied, and racism persists.
I expect America and it’s law enforcement and courts to be fair, and the scales of liberty and justice to be balanced, and I expect them to let us live. I expect the police to use common sense, communication and less lethal force first. I expect a jury of our peers in courts. I expect the leader of the free world to care about the whole country and her citizens. I expect the playing field to be level so everyone has a chance to win. White America has had a 400-year head start and some wonder why African American’s aren’t in the same economic space or why we still cry for justice. Oh the irony!
No, I am not racist, I am “woke”. I can’t unsee our history, the current president, confederate marches in Virginia, Philando Castille, Tamir Rice being shot dead, and all the evil that is in our world today.
I will leave you to examine who is to blame and how we got here after all of the Civil Rights marches and all of the white and black people who died for freedom, voting rights and justice.
You tell me how we got here, why we are still here, and how we fix it in 2018 and beyond, so Colin doesn’t have to kneel and we, the people, don’t have to march and fight. I’ll wait.