Crossing Into Equality | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Crossing Into Equality

"I have always engaged with blacks. I have a black friend, and she's a smart woman. My family even took in a black boy, and he went on to do very well. He even went on to college."

I initially wanted to pounce on my instructor who uttered this series of gibberish to me at a recent training course. She mentioned her elation that the racial woes in the country had not made its way to Mississippi. I begged to differ, so she ran the aforementioned barrage of excuses by me without even taking a breath between sentences. It went from bad to worse to unfathomable with every word.

I tried to move past it. I knew her to be a nice woman from previous courses. She had talked about her family and her church. She was pleasant enough. But those words coming from her mouth was yet another example of the complete ignorance some people have when it comes to racial sensitivity. It's simply not a smart thing to do if you are leading a class of women, 75 percent of them African American, and intimate that there isn't any racism in Mississippi because that "hasn't been my experience."

Why in the hell would that be her experience? A flood of emotions ran through me for the next couple of minutes. All the videos and pictures of Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile shot through my soul and out through my eyes. Noticing my discomfort, she began to walk toward me as if to pet a dog after being yelled at for stealing a treat. I didn't want her to come closer to me. I wanted to gather myself and stay in the mindset of professionalism. But it was a task I couldn't do at the time. I walked out and made my way to the bathroom, where I cried and cried, as I had for several days in the weeks leading up to that day. I had worked hard to become acclimated to this world again and not just be flat-out angry all the time. Well, at that moment, I regressed. I was angry all over again. Angry that this grown woman who stood in front of me in the position of attempting to teach me how to "adapt to change" on the job could not, in any fashion, relate to me as a human being. If she couldn't determine that her words were in bad taste, how could I trust she could be an expert on change or adapting to anything at work or anywhere else?

I was angry that I had to be there. I was angry that I went there hoping to be better and to develop my professional skills. But even there, during work hours, the pain and the hurt of what is happening to my people, to black men, still prevailed over everything else. The most pressing thing in my day is convincing myself that this attack on the black race doesn't show itself in nearly every aspect of my life. It's there, and it doesn't go away because I put on a business suit and head into an office for eight hours a day.

I guess she thought no one had been shot by law enforcement in Mississippi. She is wrong. Law enforcement shot and killed Antwun "Ronnie" Shumpert in Tupelo on June 18. So not only was she being insensitive to make a statement like that to us; she was also speaking about something she didn't know.

The entire episode showed disregard and a lack of respect. Regardless of where it happens, when a cop kills an unarmed, unthreatening black man, the lives that action touches don't stop with his mother, wife or children. It affects all of us, even those of us sitting in a training course trying to take instruction on how to better ourselves professionally.

The funny thing is, I believe that in her heart she thought she was making a statement of support. However, what she and many others fail to realize is that being silent, and not recognizing privilege, entitlement and insensitivity, contributes to the racial divide.

There has to be some acknowledgement and acceptance before any real racial-reconciliation progress is possible. A lack of knowledge and understanding continues to prevent well-intentioned people from being able to cross the line into equality. Change won't happen without calling people out for such remarks and then making a conscious effort to see that change occur.

Funmi "Queen" Franklin is a word lover, poet and advocate for sisterhood. She has a weakness for reality shows.

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