Ever slam your hand in a door? Yeah, that sh*t hurts. A lot. And if someone else was around, they most likely noticed you slamming your hand in the door, and they could most likely relate to that feeling, and almost certainly *felt* your pain.
Ever get a paper cut? Those hurt a lot, too. They aren’t as much of an instant danger to your well-being, and most people never notice you get them unless you speak up. And how often do you speak up over a paper cut? Still smarts though, doesn’t it? Still happened, though, didn’t it?
By the same token, most people *get* blatant and obvious racism. An example might be someone yelling a derogatory “bad word” at a black person while shaking their fist and sweating. “I saw it happen, it was obviously racist, I get it, it sucks.”
But then there are those “smaller,” more nuanced things that are experienced every single day that are so much a part of life that although we still cringe when they happpen, we’re almost “used to” them at this point.
I think about this as racism in the form of paper cuts. And I want to address what can feel just as bad or even worse: the “are you SURE they were being racist?” question by mostly well-meaning friends and members of society. I started writing this 2 months ago, before Grey’s Anatomy did an awesome job of explaining this a couple of weeks ago:
Ladies, think about when a man asks you if you’re SURE period pains are all that bad. You *head tilt* the eff out of them, don’t you. Like…because this dude hasn’t experienced this particular pain, it may not EXIST? You may be simply mistaking the feeling of elation for pain. Hmm….naw, bro.
Why do they feel the need to ask this? Why can’t someone who feels they are a victim of something simply be allowed to express their frustration, pain, anger, disappointment…without the peanut gallery asking them to question their experience? If that random person was indeed acting in a racist manner (and prolly so), how does that affect the person asking the question?
We’re all human. Humans do some dumb things.
I walked into a bar in San Francisco a couple of days ago and ordered a simple drink. I was carrying with me 3 pieces of luggage because I was headed to an investor meeting, and then heading to the airport to take my 3rd flight in 5 days, and I’d already checked out of my hotel miles away. So the plan was to have a drink while checking email, then head over to the meeting in an hour or so, drop my luggage at the bell desk, then book it to the airport.
But instead, the bartender looked me up and down and almost yelled, “WHAT??” As if I were speaking a different language (it was a very quiet bar). I asked for the drink again. Someone else that worked there walked over sensing that there was trouble afoot (as in, I was causing the trouble). He said “what do you need?” Not, “How can I help you,” or “What would you like, ma’am,” but… “What do you need?” I said my order for a 3rd time. Both of them stared at me and the 2nd guy said, “WHAT. DO. YOU. NEED?” as if I weren’t a customer who was simply asking for a drink. As if I were going to perhaps beg for money, or ask for free food, or cause some type of scene.
Maybe it was because one of my bags is missing a wheel (my precious Virgin America busted it a few flights ago — still love em’ though), so I was basically dragging it along. Maybe it was because the “Canon” logo on my smaller bag — with my new camera inside, the first luxury item I’ve purchased for myself in years — was turned in a different direction and couldnt be seen (on purpose). Maybe it was because something Sarah Silverman said years ago has always stuck with me— “Some people have the $100's in their money clip showing, and some people have the $1’s showing…” — so it looked like I was struggling to put together $5, but whatever it was, these dudes had made an assumption that I was not the type of customer they should treat equally. This bummed me out for a few minutes in an otherwise really awesome day.
I later got in an uber headed to the expensive hotel where the meeting was being held, and the uber driver immediately asked me how much “my” room was costing me. I tweeted at the time:
I’m black and a chick and also very very gay, and on a daily basis something like this happens. Sometimes its not as bad, sometimes its much worse. Most of the time I don’t make a big deal about it. But when I’ve mention the above story or similar to people in the past, certain ones have said to me, “are you SURE it was because you’re black, though? I mean it could have been any number of reasons.”
So…I have questions: WHY DO I HAVE TO JUSTIFY MY EXPERIENCE? Why isn’t the fact that this is how it felt to me enough? Why is it difficult for some to believe this could be true when its obvious we live in an unjust world? Something to think about…
I believe we are all in this together and knowledge is power:)
I’m the founder and managing partner of Backstage Capital, a seed investment fund that backs high-potential, underrepresented startup founders. I am also a tour manager, currently working with New Zealand Music Award winner Janine & the Mixtape.
For interviews or to set up one-on-one “office hour” sessions at your event, email ARLAN@BackstageCapital.com with the subject “interview request,” or “conference appearance request,” etc.