roaches & racism

It’s the summer of 2008. T and I have been dating for about a month, it’s hot as Hades outside, and the absence of the sun makes the nights a bit more bearable. My cousin is in town, so she’s chillin’ with us. I mention that I was invited to an acquaintance’s place for bbq, and the next thing I know we’re headed toward free food.

The moment we arrive and enter the house, my cousin grabs my arm. I look at her, she looks at the wall, and I do the same. THERE’S A BIG ASS ROACH ON THE WALL, AND IT HAS WINGS. We look at each other and immediately understand that this won’t be a long visit. Passing flying roach #1, we head into the kitchen, only to be greeted by more roaches on the floor and walls, along with a medley of uncovered dishes. And more insects. Flying over uncovered food. Landing in uncovered food. Possibly dropping off future babies and other things I don’t want to think about in uncovered food.

The acquaintance tells us to help ourselves, and my cousin and I walk through and out of the kitchen. T is close behind, with no clue of what is going on. T gets a chair, and my cousin and I have a seat on the VERY edge of the couch, still holding each other’s arm. The host’s cousin or sister or whoever is flirting with T, but my cousin and I are more concerned with the fact that we now have a very clear view of the roach that greeted us upon entering this home. We’re also deciding on the best way to exit so that we can go find something to eat, because we surely cannot eat in this house. T is basically following our lead, but I’m not sure if “Nah, we already ate” will be rebutted by him if I tell these people that that is not the reason I’m eating.

Let it be known: my cousin and I know that roaches exist. Neither one of us is afraid of insects. But we both love food, and when insects and other undesirables start encroaching on our ability to enjoy said food, we’ve got a problem. We once passed up an entire Thanksgiving dinner because we saw the cook in the kitchen repeatedly pulling out wedgies and scratching her ass while she stood over the stove cooking. Talked about her the whole way home too.

So this situation could have gone several ways. Our host could have:

  • feigned ignorance and pretended that the roaches/insects did not exist,
  • acted surprised that she had bugs in her house,
  • blamed someone else for bringing them in her house,
  • refused to accept that she had an infestation, OR
  • acknowledged that the roaches/insects existed and done nothing.

As far as I know (because we got out of that joint pretty quickly), she probably just ignored them.

Roaches are pretty similar to racism. We know they both exist, but through our personal worldview and life experiences, we choose to feign ignorance, act surprised, blame someone else, refuse to accept existence, or acknowledge and still choose to do nothing. A wise (and very funny) person recently said to me, in regards to racism in America: “America is the chick that acts surprised when a roach crawls out of her purse. She KNOWS she has roaches! This shit ain’t new to her!”

Racism isn’t new. It’s not something that was just invented or just popped up out of the woodwork. It is entrenched in the history of this country. Social media has given cowards the opportunity to hide behind their computer screens and spew hatred, nonsense and stupidity. I have trained myself to not read the comment section on articles, fb posts, etc., because while the level of ignorance and racism has not been surprising, it has definitely been infuriating, disgusting, and in many cases, deficient of sound reasoning.

I haven’t been surprised yet by some of the blatant acts of racism going on in the most recent years. Disgusted, yes. Surprised, not by a long shot. I’ve seen many argue that we are going back to the “good ol’ days” era of racism, bigotry and oppression. Truth is, America never left. So often, public rhetoric would have us believe in liberal magic, that through Obama’s presidency, there has been a cosmic shift toward equality, unity, understanding and expectancy in America. While that may be true in certain pockets of America (as could even have been said during slavery), overarchingly the experiences of people of color in America, and the vitriol spewed from Trump and his supporters should do enough to sober up any hopes of us participating in a victory lap to celebrate the death of racism in America. Anyone that is under the impression that America is moving backwards has been fooled. Sure, no one’s packing a picnic to see a good ol’ lynching, and no one has to worry about being lynched for allegedly looking and whistling at a white woman, but many of our Black men and boys still have the intrinsic response of worry and fear when being stopped by police. Through the actions of some, a fear has been ingrained in them that they may not make it home. Same racism, just packaged a different way.

Remember where you were when Obama won in 2008? I stayed up late, knowing that I had to work in the morning. When the final counts came in I was ecstatic. T had fallen asleep, and I ran into the bedroom, throwing pillows at him in glee. We had our first Black president. It felt like all of the triumph imaginable. It was a win for Chicago, like the Bulls’  three-peat times 2, or MJ’s flu game, or the feeling you got listening to Kanye’s Can’t Tell Me Nothing or The Good Life for the first time. But even more, it was a triumph for many people of color.

That excitement quickly gave way to the reality that this world would not change overnight, just because of the man in office. The idea that a “post-racial America” existed because, “look, we got a Black man in the White House” was unfounded. We were shown power that had never been wielded before, but we didn’t do the rest of the work. We worked on the surface and not the sustainability of the nation. This shit goes deep, way beyond a presidency. It’s like bragging about your 26 inch rims but your heat don’t work in the dead of winter. Or you have the top of the line audio system in your car AND a bad battery. If all the shit ain’t working, your car ain’t functioning.

I am an Obama supporter. Like any other presidency, shit hasn’t been perfect and I haven’t agreed with everything, but I’m glad that he has been in the White House for the last two terms. It has brought out some of the most ignorant people and helped me to whittle away at my circle of friends both on and off social media. There has been a blatant disrespect that has accompanied this presidency that is unprecedented. Many supporters (and non-supporters) truly believed we were living in a post-racial society, and that racism could not possibly exist if we had a Black president. In many eyes, Obama was supposed to be a salve, someone who could heal centuries old wounds with eight years in office. Instead, Obama’s presidency has been more like the kind nurse who comes to tell you that your stage 4 cancer has metastasized to several other organs in your body. Shit is STILL bad.

So it is important that we recognize racism as an infestation. It’s more than just the sporadic appearance of a pesky pest (or roach, in this case). Imagine you and I live in a big house. The house is infested with roaches. If we want to get rid of the roaches what do we have to do? Call an exterminator and have the entire house bombed and protected from future infestations. We have to take drastic action and thoroughly go through the process so that we can kill the roaches inside, keep others from entering, and possibly impact some that escape so that they can poison and exterminate those living outside of the house.

It wouldn’t be wise for us to only have the exterminator bomb a portion of the house. Even if the exterminator hit every room but one, we would still be left at risk for future infestation. We could move back into the house, and we may not see roaches at first. Shit, we may not see them for a while, but eventually, because we never fully exterminated the entire house, a new infestation will take over the whole house. The roaches were never fully gone, they were just beneath the surface.

Until racism has been fully exterminated from America’s system–and I’m not sure if that’s even possible, but we’ve got to hold to hold people responsible for their behavior/ignorance–America and its citizens (those respected as such and otherwise) will never see the end to this love affair with racism and oppression. I’m not even sure if this shit is possible with the way the world is going today, but it’s beyond that time when we sit silent and inactive.

P.S. Your vote matters! I hope you all got out and made your voices count yesterday, I did!

2019 Update: So, yeah. Shit’s bad right now. I hope that you’re paying attention. I don’t have much else to say, because yeah…shit’s REAL bad.

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