Bittersweet feelings surround Halloween for me. The joyful amusement of engaging with young trick-or-treaters loaded with candy and amazement in their eyes is countered by kids and adults disguised in costumes looking for trouble.
Two years ago, my costume was the trouble.
I wore blackface with a Rastafarian banana costume.
A lot of people were deeply hurt.
“What is blackface?” I asked.
Today, after two years of education through Race Conscious Dialogues, Racial Crossfit, numerous podcasts, literature, and a hyper-vigilant awareness of what it means to be antiracist, I am grateful for my blackface costume experience.
It is appropriate during this election season and COVID-19 pandemic to reflect on how the blackface costume fits into the larger picture of the dysfunctional system and structure of our country.
Why do so many people become defensive when faced with the truth that a system is unjust and needs to be changed? Honestly, I don’t think everyone gets defensive — only those who may lose their power or positions if change occurs.
It makes sense from a human-nature perspective, but it prevents the system from growing and healing in a way that supports all Americans.
In order to facilitate true equality, many Americans will have to give up some of what they have acquired as a result of the dysfunctional system. That’s the punch in the gut that turns many away from being true antiracists.
While reading Stamped from the Beginning [by Ibram X. Kendi], I had to simplify some of the concepts of racism and racist ideas and beliefs by using metaphors from a personal perspective.
Immediately, my thoughts jumped to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I think our country is in a severe state of PTSD. Trauma has occurred so deeply it bleeds from generation to generation.
Our generation didn’t own slaves or oppose civil rights or do anything to directly and intentionally cause dysfunction. Most white people don’t realize we also didn’t do anything to deserve the benefits we enjoy today from the years of oppression, abuse and trauma delivered by our ancestors.
When I use “dysfunction” or “dysfunctional,” substitute “racism” or “racist.”
Here’s another useful metaphor: believing that our country is fair and just is like believing in Santa Claus: we want to believe so badly we do — because the truth is painful to admit.
The blackface costume was my Santa Claus moment. There was no way to avoid the pain of scratching the surface of truth. Now I won’t stop digging for more truth or fighting for repair of our dysfunctional system.
Missy D’Alise of River Forest, recently took ShaRhonda Knott Dawson’s Racial Crossfit, antiracist course, with the goal of integrating antiracism into her life.