The Only Way Out Is Through

I’ve known this for a while now, but I need to say it: twice as good will never be good enough.

It wasn’t told to me explicitly, but in so many ways it was implied that I was one of the good ones. You know, the black person where you didn’t have to think so much about their blackness. A soft racial pillow for your microaggressions.

I could tell stories all day, stories so numerous it seems silly to bother. The stories always seemed small to me because only three or four times have the Big Bad Slurs come out. Those stories are clearcut, right? “Wow, what a racist.” And despite the nonsense that has surged alongside #45, it’s still relatively rare to come across that nonsense in public.

I know I wasn’t treated as poorly as the black students from less economically privileged backgrounds, so it just seemed like sour grapes to speak up.

The theme was simple, and always unstated: you’re okay because you’re not like The Others. Whether it was a job, a friendship, a date, it was shown to me that I was, indeed, twice as good and deserved extra consideration.

But what does that actually do for a person, to be cloistered from reality in such a way? I’ve been thinking about that a lot over the past few years, how my “special” status was both a gift and a curse, and one that has always been rather unsettling.

I’ve known since college that there was no way for me to achieve my way out of racism. It took me another decade to fully accept it and only recently did I start to name it and verbalize it.

With all that said, though, I do think I’ve been given a gift. I’ve spent three decades ensconsced in very, very white spaces with people who saw me (and my immediate family) as better than other people of color. We can’t ever see what goes on when we’re not there, but people have been remarkably unguarded with me, so much so that I never realized how distasteful their statements and actions were.

The truth of the matter is that I speak Standard American English more than African American Vernacular English. I sound awkward when I try to slip deeply into AAVE and I stopped trying a while ago. I can dance a little but only in the way that makes groups of white people think I’m good at it.

I hereby turn towards the darkness that is the particularly type of patronizing, ostensibly liberal racism I’ve been soaked in with the understanding that there is no way out of it just by amassing accomplishments. It needs to be named and shamed and only once out in the open can it be defeated. There is a tightrope to walk when calling this stuff out, one I’m sure I’ve already fallen off here and there, but being “twice as good” only means that people are more surprised when injustice occurs, not that the injustice won’t actually happen in the first.

It seems unlikely I’ll ever end up in a situation where people wear my face on a shirt, which is certainly a comfort to me and my loved ones. I can get my foot into the rooms where some decisions are made. And I have enough privilege to speak up without expecting to lose my entire livelihood.

I wish I’d told off all the polite racists I’d once known. But, if I’m lucky, I’ve got half a century left to keep them honest, and I’m not wasting any more time.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality