I remember a few months ago, it was a pleasant Friday evening on the westside of Los Angeles. I had just finished working early, and I decided to take my dog Sammie to the park to give her a little exercise. She’s an excited little creature with black and white fur and a love for every living thing imaginable. When I arrived, I decided to take her on the larger side where some of the bigger dogs play so she would have more room to run.
There were two other women with their dogs on the same side – one a younger Asian woman in her 20s and the other and older Caucasian woman, mostly likely in her early 50s. I let Sammie off her leash and she did what she always does – ran around in excitement to get the other dogs to chase her and say hi to all the people present. The two women marveled at her sweet nature and wonderful coloring. It was then that that same Caucasian woman looked at me and spoke these words, “I love the black and white fur. She’s a biracial dog!”
The air filled with an awkward silence. There was a part of me that wanted to scream at this woman, or maybe just call her Karen. But I decided that what was best in that moment was to accomplish what I had came to do. I turned my back to her, picked up Sammie’s ball and threw it for her.
I can’t be entirely certain of that woman’s motivation was for uttering that sentence. But it served its purpose. From simple rude encounters to an officer kneeling on a man’s neck, the goal is the same – it’s a reminder that in America there are separators between people based on skin color. And if you’re not born with European features, you are something that is not entirely human.
I didn’t wake up that morning thinking, “How I can be more biracial in the dog park?” No thoughts about my race or ethnicity entered my mind. But by the end of it, I was given a reminder. A reminder that all people of color get in one way or another to remind us of our place. And far too often resulting in either madness or death.
James Baldwin often posed the question, “America needs to ask itself, why does it need a Negro?” And indeed we need to ask ourselves what is the purpose of these separators of people based upon skin color and ethnic heritage.
I had the pleasure of meeting James Baldwin when I was a little boy at a local book signing with my mother. We waited hours in line and he smiled when he saw me, a young man with large glasses, curly hair and a book in hand awaiting his signature. My mother told him how to spell my name as he wrote on the inside cover and I shook his hand before I left.
I was too young to realize the significance of that moment. And in truth, I’d forgotten about it until recently. Now I find myself reading more of his works and listening to his speeches from a similar era of outcry. I recently stumbled upon a television interview from the 1960s where he gave a prophetic statement:
“The future of the Negro in this country, is precisely as bright or as dark as the future of this country.”james baldwin
Racism is a worldwide occurrence. There will always be those who are considered outsiders and treated as so. But what makes America unique, is how we have tiers of treatment and justice based upon how deep brown one’s skin is. And these tiers are a visual signal to one’s place in society and how low one can sink to. The deep brown skin is often associated with fear and poverty and cheap labor. With violence it must be tamed or subdued for our benefit or entertainment. And even if your skin is of a slightly lighter shade, your fate can still meet the same end.
We don’t want the reminder anymore. We’re exhausted with being confronted about our race. Of having our skin color and our struggle waived in front of our faces. None of us saw ourselves as black, or brown, or Asian, or Indian until our colonizers made us so. And we no longer want the burdens associated with those labels. We want our differences woven into the fabric of the American story. Our contributions and bloodshed recognized as we helped build this nation. And to have our spirit regarded as lovingly as we admire the pilgrims and the Founding Fathers.
That is why we are marching.
And why after the marches are over, the good work will begin of enshrining our calls for justice into law.