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← Black in Bend: being an extreme minority in suburbia | Anyssa Bohanan | TEDxBend

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Showing Revision 12 created 12/09/2019 by Leonardo Silva.

  1. Hi, guys.
  2. (Audience) Hi.
  3. Hi, Oprah, if you're watching.
    This is my only time for a shout-out.
  4. But back to you guys ...
  5. So, here in the audience,
    I know there are some parents, right?
  6. Out of those of you who have kids,
  7. how many of you have had
    "the talk" with them?
  8. Right? Right?
  9. It's weird, right? And it's awkward.
  10. And I can guarantee you,
  11. as someone who was once a child
    who received this talk,
  12. it is just as awkward for us,
    if not more so, than you.
  13. So I got that talk
    when I was about eight or nine,
  14. and it was weird, guaranteed.
  15. But when I was about 9 or 10 -
  16. that's me -
  17. I had an entirely different talk
    with my parents.
  18. And I'm not really sure how they decided
    that this was the day to have this talk,
  19. but one Sunday afternoon,
  20. my dad said, "I have
    something to show you,
  21. and afterwards,
    we're going to talk about it."
  22. And then, he cued up
    a History Channel documentary,
  23. and he said, "I don't want
    to hurt your feelings,
  24. and I know that this might scare you,
  25. but it's very important for you to hear."
  26. So he cues up this
    History Channel documentary,
  27. and the first images that I see
    are a very worked-up group of KKK members,
  28. and then shortly after that,
    black men hanging from a tree.
  29. Now,
  30. he didn't make me watch the whole thing,
    because I was a very sensitive child.
  31. But this talk that I had with my dad
  32. is one that many black children in America
    have to have at least once in their lives,
  33. about the discrimination and racism
    that they are likely to face at some point
  34. because they are black.
  35. And my dad said,
    "I don't mean to scare you,
  36. but I just want you to know that someday,
  37. someone might want to hurt you
    or even kill you because of who you are."
  38. And I remember going
    to my bedroom afterwards
  39. and laying on the bed
  40. and staring at the ceiling and saying,
  41. "Why do they hate us?"
  42. Imagine that little girl wondering
    why people didn't like her already,
  43. because of who she was.
  44. Now, despite the severity of the talk,
  45. when I went back to school on Monday,
  46. I was pretty resilient,
    as most children are,
  47. and I mentioned it to my friends,
  48. and I realized that
    they were uncomfortable.
  49. And I didn't realize until later
  50. that is was because some of my friends
  51. had not to have this particular kind
    of talk with their parents
  52. about somehow confronting someone
  53. who would one day
    think that they were beneath them
  54. or want to hurt them
    because of who they were.
  55. And after several other incidences
    that were similar,
  56. I just realized that
    there were some groups
  57. with whom I would not
    be able to discuss race.
  58. And so, in groups
  59. where even the differences between us
    were glaringly obvious,
  60. I would avoid the topic
  61. because I didn't want to make
    other people uncomfortable.
  62. Fast-forward a few years
    from elementary school.
  63. After I graduated from college,
  64. I decided to use my journalism degree
    and teach English in South Korea.
  65. It was an amazing experience,
  66. in part due to the fantastic people
    that I met, from all corners of the world.
  67. But moving across the world,
    let me tell you,
  68. can come with just a few challenges,
  69. as I'm sure you're aware.
  70. How many of you have ever been
    the only one in a room,
  71. the only one of your race,
    of your gender, of your sexuality?
  72. How does it feel?
  73. Some people are like,
    "Yeah ... it's fine. I felt alright."
  74. For some people, it makes you feel
    incredibly vulnerable.
  75. Now, imagine that feeling of discomfort
    combined with your dad's far-echoing words
  76. of someone maybe not liking you
    simply because of who you are,
  77. and take that feeling times a thousand
  78. because you're the only one that looks
    like you pretty much in the whole country.
  79. (Laughter)
  80. Oh, goodness.
  81. It was a fun time though, honestly.
  82. But I did feel like I was
    under a microscope at all times.
  83. I mean, I had some of the most
    interesting experiences.
  84. Like, I was going up the escalator
    one day in e-mart,
  85. and a man leaned so far over the railing
    to get a closer look at me
  86. I thought we were going to make out.
  87. I thought that that was it,
    I had a new husband, you know.
  88. And some of my students would
    call me things like "Africa teacher,"
  89. or "Jamaica teacher,"
  90. which was easy enough to correct.
  91. They just simply didn't know.
  92. One time, I got into the taxi cab,
  93. and the taxi driver was just as shocked
    to see me as pretty much anyone,
  94. and after a frantic conversation
    in rapid-fire Korean,
  95. he was asking to take my hand.
  96. I thought, "In marriage?
    What's going on here?"
  97. But it turned out that he just wanted
    to try to rub the brown off of it.
  98. (Laughter)
  99. Yeah! Yeah, that happened! It was real.
  100. Now, that incident was
    more amusing than anything,
  101. and these experiences that I had
    were more, you know, misunderstandings.
  102. It wasn't like they were purposefully
    trying to hurt me at all.
  103. Which was fine.
  104. But there were other incidences
    where the whole purpose was to hurt me.
  105. So, I go down to Ulsan one weekend
    to visit a couple of my friends.
  106. Ulsan is this beautiful city
    on the southern coast of South Korea,
  107. and they're far more used
    to seeing foreigners and tourists.
  108. So I was really
    looking forward to a weekend
  109. where fewer people stared at me, at least.
  110. And my friends and I,
    we go out and we have a great time,
  111. and we end the day
    in one of our favorite bars,
  112. and all of a sudden, mid-conversation,
  113. my friend to the left of me freezes
    like she has seen a ghost,
  114. like someone has walked over her grave.
  115. And she turns to the three
    Korean men sitting next to her
  116. and starts yelling at them!
  117. "What? What is going on?"
  118. So, of course my friend and I
    are concerned.
  119. Maybe they've said
    something inappropriate to her.
  120. I'm kind of ready
    to throw down a little bit.
  121. I mean, I'm small but mighty!
    Like, I'm ready to go!
  122. (Laughter)
  123. And instead,
  124. she turns to me and she says,
    with tears in her eyes,
  125. "They just called you a 'dumb nigger.'"
  126. Yikes.
  127. My other friend's reaction turns visceral.
  128. Now she's yelling at them,
    now the bartenders are involved.
  129. The guys are frantically
    trying to explain,
  130. but it's just because they've been caught.
  131. My friend who originally heard it
    has run to the bathroom, crying,
  132. because she's so angry.
  133. But you know what?
  134. In all of the chaos,
    once I realized that that was the issue,
  135. I got very calm
  136. because this is exactly what I had been
    fearing since I was 10 years old,
  137. watching a documentary
  138. about the fact that someone might say
    exactly what this man had just said to me,
  139. and I survived!
  140. I always thought
    that such a blatant racist event
  141. would feel like a knife through my chest.
  142. And instead, it felt
    more like a paper cut -
  143. quick sting,
  144. little scar,
  145. a reminder that this was not the worst
    that I would ever hear,
  146. but that I would survive.
  147. Now, not every part of my life
    in South Korea was this dramatic.
  148. I'm just telling you guys
    the craziest parts.
  149. Honestly, it was the greatest
    experience ever.
  150. It really made me a stronger,
    more confident and resilient person.
  151. And that newfound confidence
  152. is probably why three months
    after I moved back home
  153. and I got offered the job here in Bend,
  154. I lapped at the opportunity.
  155. It sounded like my dream job
    to be a storyteller,
  156. and not just a news reporter.
  157. And when I talked
    to my now boss on the phone,
  158. he informed me that Bend
    was not very diverse ...
  159. (Laughter)
  160. And by "not very diverse,"
  161. he meant that there were
    a lot of white people!
  162. (Laughter)
  163. Which was fine!
  164. I said, "Well, you know, I moved
    to an entirely different country."
  165. What was moving
    to an entirely different state?
  166. The difference, ladies and gentlemen,
    is that, by moving to South Korea,
  167. I had other people around me who
    recognized that feeling of outsiderness,
  168. of feeling like a foreigner.
  169. And here in Bend, I didn't
    really have that relatability,
  170. and I was experiencing
    all of this in the public eye.
  171. You see, journalists are not
    really allowed to have a public opinion.
  172. We are unbiased figures of the community,
  173. something that I've struggled with
    on certain topics,
  174. but, for the most part, I understand,
  175. because this is all
    that I ever wanted to do,
  176. and it's part of the job.
  177. But being the only one who looks like me
    on TV can pose unique challenges,
  178. and I find myself putting myself
    into two categories quite often:
  179. Anyssa the journalist
    and Anyssa the black chick.
  180. Now, these two categories clashed
    for the first time last summer,
  181. the same week that Philando Castile
    and Alton Stirling, two black men,
  182. were shot and killed
    in two separate states,
  183. the same week that five police officers
    were shot and killed in Dallas
  184. in response to those shootings.
  185. It was a tough week to be an American,
  186. and it was certainly
    a tough week to be in news.
  187. But the morning that I woke up,
  188. two days after Alton Stirling
    had been shot,
  189. to see the fairly graphic video
    of Philando Castile dying in his car,
  190. I felt more exhausted than anything.
  191. And I watched a few minutes of the video
    and got ready for work,
  192. hopped in the car,
  193. got ready to drive out,
  194. and I got about 10 feet
    down the road, if that,
  195. before I burst into tears.
  196. And it's still very hard for me
    to talk about without getting emotional,
  197. because these men are people
    that I could have known.
  198. They could have been friends, family,
    co-workers that I'd had in the past.
  199. And when I got to work
    and no one was talking about it,
  200. I've never felt so alone.
  201. I felt like it didn't matter,
    what had happened to these men.
  202. I felt like I didn't matter,
  203. and no one even noticed.
  204. So after our morning meeting,
  205. I asked our producer
    why we weren't covering the shootings,
  206. and he said that we needed
    to find a way to localize it.
  207. Fair enough.
  208. So he suggested that we do
    man-on-the-street interviews,
  209. and I wasn't that excited about it,
    but I figured, "Alright, here we go."
  210. So my videographer and I go downtown,
  211. and not many people
    were willing to talk about it.
  212. You know, unpleasantness
    just doesn't belong
  213. on a sunny summer day in Bend.
  214. But we did get a couple
    who gave us a very modest opinion,
  215. and I was feeling pretty good about myself
  216. because I didn't think
    we were going to get anything.
  217. So we were just talking about
    packing it in and getting ready to go,
  218. when a man rolled up on his bike:
  219. white man, mid-40s or so, very Bendite,
  220. and he asked what we were doing.
  221. So, we told him:
  222. we were getting opinions
    on the shootings that had happened.
  223. And he said, "I have opinions,
    but I don't want to say them on camera."
  224. And we repeatedly asked him,
    "Are you sure? Are you sure?"
  225. Because, you know,
    he wasn't going anywhere.
  226. He definitely wanted to share his opinion.
  227. And before we could get him convinced
  228. that maybe he should just tell us
    while the camera was rolling,
  229. he launches into this long opinion
    about everyone from Muslims to immigrants,
  230. and then he tops it off by saying,
  231. "I hate to say this,
    because you're black ..."
  232. Let's just stop right there
    for a little mini lesson:
  233. no good sentence ever ...
  234. (Laughter)
  235. starts with "I hate to be racist, but ..."
  236. (Laughter)
  237. So, he says,
  238. "I hate to say this, because you're black,
  239. but you guys are just built,
    stronger and faster,
  240. and sometimes police
    have no choice but to shoot,
  241. because they're afraid."
  242. (Audience) Aww ...
  243. "And black people
    are more violent, statistically.
  244. You can look it up."
  245. I go completely numb.
  246. I cannot believe
    he has just said this to me.
  247. And he said this to me on a sunny day,
    in the middle of downtown Bend,
  248. as placidly as if he was telling me
    the sky was blue.
  249. That was a knife.
  250. So,
  251. now that you guys have heard that,
  252. a few weeks ago, we aired a story
    about me telling this exact same story,
  253. and the backlash and comments
    were startling.
  254. A lot of people were upset
  255. over the fact that "I had made
    everyone in Bend look racist"
  256. and said that they would never
    watch our show again.
  257. Others suggested
    that if I wanted diversity,
  258. I should just move!
  259. And then, of course, there's the infamous
    "five black people in Bend" comment.
  260. If there's anything I could take back,
  261. it would be that.
  262. I've just recently said
    that there were five of us in Bend,
  263. and people countered with,
  264. "I know at least 12
    black people here in Bend."
  265. (Laughter)
  266. "13, even!"
  267. (Laughter)
  268. And to them I say,
    "I think you missed the point,"
  269. and also kind of made mine.
  270. Because it doesn't matter
    that you know 12 black people,
  271. or 13 or 25 black people in Bend.
  272. The fact that you can count us at all
    in a city of literally thousands
  273. should give you pause.
  274. I wasn't looking to give
    a Census Bureau count
  275. or call everyone in the area racist.
  276. My point remains
  277. that we've got to find a way
    to comfortably talk about race.
  278. As soon as I mentioned it,
    it was attack mode, defensive.
  279. See, so often, people want to shy away
    from the fact that I'm black.
  280. My least favorite phrase
    is "I don't see color."
  281. And I get that you mean
    that you see us as equals,
  282. but why can't you see me
    as your equal and black?
  283. I would never say,
    "I don't see you as white."
  284. (Laughter)
  285. (Applause)
  286. See, you should acknowledge that I'm black
    because I'm okay with it.
  287. I want you to know
    that I am a professional woman
  288. and I am black.
  289. And I also want you to know
  290. that even though there may be
    more than five of us,
  291. sometimes I feel like the only one
    in a sea of literally thousands,
  292. and that can be a real
    challenge, and exhausting,
  293. on days when I'm already
    not having the greatest time.
  294. I want you to know
    that living here in Bend
  295. can be just as amazing
    as it was living in South Korea,
  296. but it's also scary
    when I'm walking down the street
  297. and I wonder who is walking past me
  298. that's thinking the exact same thing
    that that man once said to me.
  299. I don't want to leave you
    with oversimplified generalizations
  300. like "all black people feel victimized,"
    or "all white people are racist."
  301. But in a community like Bend,
    where the majority is white,
  302. I want to know: How can we learn together?
  303. How can we hope to create
    a better community
  304. if we never see each other's differences,
    but only our sameness?
  305. If we take on each other's differences
    and see each other more fully,
  306. think about how much better we can make
    not just Bend, but the world.
  307. Thank you.
  308. (Applause) (Cheering)