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← Black self, white world: lessons on internalized racism | Jabari Lyles | TEDxTysonsSalon

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Showing Revision 9 created 12/04/2019 by Peter van de Ven.

  1. So I'm in a job interview,
  2. and the interviewer asks me,
  3. "Talk about a time you've been
    a victim of racism or discrimination."
  4. I smirked because I knew
    to expect this question,
  5. and smugly, I said, "I've never been
    a victim of racism or discrimination."
  6. (Laughter)
  7. Three months prior, I was sitting
    at a table with a group of colleagues,
  8. and we were talking about
    privilege and prejudice,
  9. and I said, "You know, I don't understand
    this privilege and prejudice thing.
  10. People are successful
    because of the hard work that they put in.
  11. I'm successful because
    of the hard work I've put in.
  12. And if anyone isn't successful,
  13. that's because they just
    haven't worked hard enough."
  14. I'm sure we've heard these things before.
  15. I grew up in Pikesville,
    a suburb of Baltimore.
  16. It's an upper-middle-class area, Jewish.
  17. My parents were young
    when we moved to this neighborhood,
  18. and I remember there being a real sense
    of pride when we moved to the county.
  19. "Wow, we live near
    white people now! We made it!"
  20. (Laughter)
  21. And even though I lived
    in an affluent zip code,
  22. the mansions that I saw
    you couldn't find exactly on my street.
  23. I went to school with many of the people
    who lived in those big houses.
  24. I was in advanced classes in school,
    and so most of my classmates were white,
  25. and I made real strong, awesome
    relationships with many of them.
  26. They would say things like, "Jabari,
    tell us about how black people do this."
  27. And, "Why can't they swim?"
  28. (Laughter)
  29. And all of these things.
  30. So I would joke and laugh,
  31. and try and, you know,
    give them some knowledge.
  32. I began changing the way I dressed.
  33. I was wearing American Eagle
    and Abercrombie - when I could fit it -
  34. (Laughter)
  35. and listening to pop and rock,
  36. and for the most part,
    my family just made fun of me.
  37. But one thing that my parents said -
  38. that was pretty important,
    that I learned that it was -
  39. they said, "Jabari,
    sweetheart, you're black."
  40. (Laughter)
  41. "And that means something.
  42. You can have white friends,
    you can love them and you can trust them,
  43. but at the end of the day, you're black,
    and that means something; racism is real."
  44. Well, at that time, I thought these were
    just black people talking about racism!
  45. Again!
  46. Little did I know that it was
    much more than that.
  47. So I ended up getting
    a job at a nonprofit.
  48. I was doing low-income LGBT work
    in Baltimore city.
  49. And I had this brilliant black
    queer woman as supervisor.
  50. I was networking with leaders
    all over the city,
  51. and I was really learning
    how systems interacted in people's lives:
  52. housing, juvenile justice,
    education, transportation, healthcare.
  53. I was also in school at the time.
  54. I was a Gender and Women
    Studies major at UNBC,
  55. and this program really helped me
    deeply study concepts
  56. that I didn't really spend
    much time with in high school.
  57. I learned about redlining.
  58. I learned about state-sanctioned violence,
  59. and how gender violence
    is often underscored by racial violence.
  60. At the same time, this was 2015.
  61. I had lived through the news
    of Eric Garner and Tamir Rice.
  62. My lens was changing.
  63. I was no longer a black boy
    going to school in Pikesville, Maryland.
  64. I was becoming a black man,
    living and working in Baltimore city.
  65. So for one of my job assignments,
  66. I put together a training conference
    for colleagues all over the country.
  67. I was the coordinator.
  68. And when they arrived here in Baltimore,
    I got off the bus and I said,
  69. "Hey, I'm Jabari! I'm the coordinator!"
  70. And they looked at me
    and became confused
  71. and visibly uncomfortable.
  72. I remember it was raining that day,
  73. and so I rented a van so that folks didn't
    have to walk around the training site
  74. in the rain.
  75. I said, "Come on in the van!"
    They said, "We'd rather walk."
  76. The folks who were in the van with me
    referred to me as their chauffeur.
  77. They told me I should hold doors for them.
  78. At meals, they sat with me and they said,
  79. "You know what? I'm going to sit with you
    so you don't think that we're being weird
  80. or, God forbid, racist."
  81. They were saying stereotypical things,
    comparisons, statements,
  82. and at the end, I felt
    so emotionally drained.
  83. I referred to my brilliant supervisor,
  84. who happened to be
    a participant of the training,
  85. and I said,
  86. "Was that racism?"
  87. And she said, "Yes, baby.
  88. It is."
  89. (Laughter)
  90. And immediately, years
    of suppressed memories came back.
  91. I remember laughing it off with my friends
    when they used the N-word.
  92. I remember black peers making fun of me
  93. because of the way I dressed
    and the way that I talked.
  94. And most importantly,
  95. I remember that message that my parents
    told me when I was young:
  96. "You're black. Racism is real."
  97. And I guess I never wanted to believe
    that we could really live in a world
  98. where we treat each other this way.
  99. So afterwards, I was studying
  100. and learning of what I can do
    about this thing called racism.
  101. I learned about internalized racism.
  102. Internalized racism happens
    when black folks, people of color,
  103. start to behave or act in manners
    that uphold whiteness and white supremacy.
  104. Donna Bivens,
  105. who is a consultant and a writer
    for the Women's Theological Center,
  106. says that internalized racism
    is a system all in itself;
  107. it has its own life,
  108. and therefore, its own system
    of rewards and consequences;
  109. and that black folks
    are unconsciously rewarded
  110. when we participate
    in internalized racism.
  111. And I read that and I said,
    "You know what? I feel that."
  112. We are rewarded when we embrace
    white-standard English
  113. and abandon African American
    vernacular English.
  114. We are rewarded when we start
    to adopt white life styles
  115. and styles of music which are almost
    always characterized as more luxurious.
  116. These are things that I realized that
    were going on in my own life for ever.
  117. I grieved for a really long time
    after that training.
  118. Not only did I realized
    that racism exists,
  119. but I was embarrassed!
  120. I thought, "How could I learn it this way?
  121. How could I abandon the narrative
    that my ancestors set forth?
  122. How could I reject all
    of the wonderful evidence there was
  123. that racism was real?"
  124. But I've realized that there was
    no degree, no job, no pair of shoes,
  125. no preference for medium-rare steaks
  126. that's going to protect you
    from the violence of racism.
  127. And I felt embarrassed
    that I learned in this way.
  128. Even as I was preparing
    this speech, I wondered,
  129. "How is this going to be received?
  130. 'Black kid grows up in rich,
    white neighborhood,
  131. white people were mean to him,
    and that's how racism is,
  132. that's how he learned it.'"
  133. But it wasn't how Eric Garner
    or Tamir Rice or Rekia Boyd
  134. or Korryn Gaines or Maya Hall
    or any of these people learned it.
  135. So there was some privilege
    in how I grew up,
  136. and I had to learn about that,
  137. but that doesn't absolve me
    from being shot down in the streets,
  138. because at the end of the day, I am black.
  139. So today, I am a nonprofit
    leader in Baltimore.
  140. I'm executive director of an organization
  141. where I get to give back
    to LGBTQ youth every day,
  142. particularly LGBTQ youth of color.
  143. I'm also president of Baltimore's
    LGBT Community Center.
  144. Being a black gay man, you really start
    to see how whiteness operates
  145. even in spaces of inclusion and diversity.
  146. I saw the millions of dollars and droves
    of support for marriage equality
  147. but today hear the deafening silence
  148. when we talk about the deaths
    and murders of trans women of color.
  149. So this gay rights movement,
  150. I wonder, what would the gay rights
    movement look like today
  151. if being gay as something
    that only someone black could be?
  152. So I've learned a couple of lessons.
  153. First,
  154. racism is real!
  155. Internalized racism is real.
  156. I'm a victim of it, and I'm learning
    to be a survivor of it.
  157. Today, it's probably the most
    important lesson that I've ever learned.
  158. I've learned to love myself in ways
    that I never thought that I could.
  159. Because that's what
    internalized racism does,
  160. it seeks to decimate your own culture.
  161. But today, I walk proudly
    down the street as a black man,
  162. as a gay man.
  163. Two, I learned that black folks
    or people of color
  164. can be operants of white supremacy
    if they're not checked,
  165. but to no fault of their own.
  166. Whiteness is pervasive, it's powerful,
  167. and sometimes we don't even know
    how it shows up in our world.
  168. But most importantly, three,
  169. I've realized that being black in America
  170. is one of the most unique, amazing
    and beautiful revolutionary things
  171. that I could ever do.
  172. And black love and black joy is something
    to be cherished and honored,
  173. and I'm so proud that I've learned
    that lesson, and so grateful.
  174. Thank you for listening to me.
  175. (Applause) (Cheering)