I am not a menace.
The assumption that my skin color automatically means that I am dangerous is racist and prejudice. It is racist because it is a belief deliberately propagated to keep me in a place to which you feel I should become accustomed while keeping you and others like you in a position that erroneously identifies you as superior to me in intellect and self control. It is prejudiced because you are applying a stereotype to all those who look like me. My skin color does not make me more naturally violent, more likely to harm another person, or less likely to control myself in a situation where violence can become an option. That is all about what is in my heart combined with how I have been raised to treat others. I do not assume every white person I meet is racist (though I do believe that every white person I meet benefits from the unfair, protected privilege of being white). In a logical world, people should not see me–a black person–and automatically assume that my presence will create violence of some kind. But this is not a logical world, and most white people lack the depth of interaction with black people to differentiate between the heavy portrayal of crimes committed by black people in the media from the black people who buy coffee at the same Star Bucks and check out books at the same local library.
I am not stupid.
Being black does not somehow exclude me from being academically talented or naturally intelligent. In fact, I personally am a little bit above average (not Mensa worthy, mind you–but I tested gifted and have always been at the top of my classes). I say that not to brag but to express the very unremarkable fact that the talented tenth cap on black intelligence is a myth. Of course, I can cite study upon study about bell curves and achievement gaps, but as a middle school math teacher of 3 accelerated classes in an urban school district, I have to tell you that we are pretty smart people. Just like every group of people, intelligence levels run the gamut of students with disabilities to those with IQs well over the average. But you will only know for sure what level of intelligence you are dealing with if you take time to talk to the person. If you never get to know a black person outside the script of what you have been mis-taught, you will assume (again, erroneously) that we are all ignorant like Lil Wayne…though to be fair to Lil Wayne, he cannot be all that ignorant if he got lily white suburban kids buying concert tickets, downloading music, and pushing him into multi-platinum status, huh?
I do not have or create less value.
The idea that too many black people will somehow make a place less valuable, less prestigious, or less inviting assumes that I am somehow less than you: less capable, less hard working, less clean, less intelligent, less human–that my presence anywhere where you live or work or otherwise breathes pollutes the pristine nature of a neighborhood kind of like stray dogs and cats. You cite the loss of value of homes when we move to a place as evidence; yet the loss of value has nothing to do with my presence so much as it has to do with your perception of my presence. You compound the non-evidence of property values increasing just because YOU move in by saying “gentrification”. Yet, when you take a closer look at gentrification, the very idea states your presence makes things better–which is NOT true. The money from higher income/tax brackets moving into a neighborhood makes things better. It has ZERO to do with you being white. The same effect applies if the people moving in are some other race. Money just makes things better. A bunch of poor white people pulling their trailer park into a neighborhood brings down property values faster than me moving in down the street in a house I bought and paid for. Because it is the poverty cycle and not the skin color that effects value. Your assumption is that because I am black, I must be poor and uneducated and bringing lots of poor and uneducated people with me.
I am not your enemy.
While the physical manifestations of slavery have been mostly eradicated, the mentality remains. You may not call me a nigger to my face, but your actions say loudly enough what your thoughts about blackness are. The idea that I am less human and therefore in need of being controlled like an animal finds its way into even the most simple interactions. You make judgments on how well I am able to do any and everything based on your misguided notions of what being black means. You have reduced an entire group of incredibly diverse people to a pack of savages who must constantly be curbed like untrained dogs. Not because we have reacted and responded to the conditions of years of slavery and oppression with widespread bloodshed (though you have earned it), but because of fear that your own privileged place created on the backs of people of color will be dismantled.
And just because I am Black, I want to share a secret with you. Most of us really don’t think much about white people and white privilege and the nasty history that you have created here in America. We just want to go to work, come home, raise our families, watch some football (or baseball or tennis or golf), and live our lives in peace without needing to worry about how you will respond–and how your response will affect our lives.
We really are just waiting on you to stop judging an entire group of people solely on fear and anger of your own making.