The first time I ever had to use four-wheel drive was when I carpooled with a friend to a wedding out of town. Margaret (the name of my vehicle) climbed what seemed like a full 45-degree angle up a rocky hill. I was wearing dress heels, a floral-patterned cutout dress, and had to brush the hair that got stuck in my lipstick to watch all of the other cars behind me struggle to reach the top of the hill where our friends were getting married. It was a beautiful ceremony. However, there is something that happened on the way there that has stuck with me.
My friend and I ended up meeting in Bakersfield since it was in the middle of where the two of us lived. It was easier to meet there since both of our parents were still living in Buck Owens’ paradise. Before getting on the freeway to leave town, my friend pointed out the gigantic Confederate flag that used to wave alongside the busy long stretch of road.
“How does it make you feel seeing that?” she asked, referring to the flag that was designed to represent a divided nation, and that turned into a symbol of hate.
“You know what?” I said, still barreling down the stretch of road out of town. “I don’t like to see it, but I rather see boldness and honesty when it comes to racism than those who are quietly racist behind my back.”
The subtle, covert racism is sly, but it kills. Even accepted unfairness and microaggressions that go unnoticed to non-Black people can affect me significantly. People who have allowed these things to happen and who continue doing so even after they are made aware of the injustice are the ones that I fear. This is because when I try to call it out, I’m gaslit and others who allow it to continue to happen to do more harm than the individuals who proudly flown their giant Confederate flag in front of their place of business.
It is in these moments of constant gaslighting from the majority of society where I get stuck in the crosshairs. I become voiceless, unheard, and unable to make a change when the deck has been stacked against me since birth because of the way I look.
This week I had the experience of being lulled into passive racism again. I spent the past year as the ambassador for the Los Angeles Chapter of Hiker Babes, an international hiking group with amazing women leading other women in their local areas in outdoor spaces. I started the Instagram and the Facebook page from scratch and grew a community of wonderful friends who love hiking and nature just as much as I do. However, when a group of ambassadors from other chapters asked to stand as an organization in solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement, the organization’s figurehead fell into the destructive pattern of gaslighting and passivity.
Rather than her saying all lives matter only after Black lives matter, there were deleted posts, and the message that other Black people and I didn’t need to feel included was shared with the group of ambassadors behind my back. Several of the group’s ambassadors were kind enough to let me know that was happening. Like a good friend, they stood up for me and didn’t let anything negative go unchecked.
I’m happy to say that the organization’s founder and I have spoken about this incident since then. She has since made an effort to begin to educate herself on why it’s more important to be anti-racist than just not racist, and why you should listen to Black people instead of gaslighting them. However, I felt it was appropriate to exit an organization where I didn’t feel completely comfortable and safe. I am open to rejoining as a member in the future after some time for reflection and after more progress has been made to prevent this from happening again. I joined the group for more great hiking buddies, and it ended with me finally seeing more non-Black people showing up and being real friends.
I confess I only recently became especially vocal this week about the Black Lives Matter movement because of the death of a friend. She died months ago, but I didn’t know because I wasn’t being a good friend. It’s too late to do anything to save her or bring her back now. She’s gone. But I realize what I can do is my best to save as many lives moving forward.
Something changes in you when you lose a loved one out of the blue so suddenly. You can’t be there to say goodbye. So many people, because of the pandemic, has had to go through the same thing. They are scared for their life, and they are scared to lose even more family members and friends. I notice those people reach out to others more. They do their best to make amends with the people that they harm, and they always try to think about what others are thinking. These people aim to stop the gaslighting and start calling out the passive racism when they see it to stop the destructive cycle.
Many people flooded my inbox yesterday with love and support, but many were also asking questions on what they can do to help.
1. Educate yourself. There is a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips. We’re carrying supercomputers in our pockets with more technology than the rockets that took us took the moon.
2. Realize that although you may feel afraid and uncomfortable speaking about race, many of your Black friends are extremely exhausted having to deal with all of the passive and all of the violent hate and then turn around and call it out themselves. If you can text a Black friend a question, you can start your research by typing in that same question into the Google search bar. That doesn’t mean that we won’t answer your questions, but keep in mind the number of private messages from every non-Black individual I know flooding my DMs.
3. The most important thing to take away from all of this is to call out injustice whenever you see it, especially when Black people are not around. Calling it out doesn’t have to mean that you have to cancel everything either, but rather use this opportunity to educate those around you so that you can open their hearts and minds to perspectives other than their own.
4. Don’t let this be a trend. Don’t turn peaceful protests into your time to live out your wildest anarchist dreams. That isn’t what this movement is about at all. Black Lives Matter isn’t just a hashtag that was created. You should be living that truth if you love your Black friends and family, and you should be doing what you can to help lessen the amount of hate in the world.