• Arden Palmquist

Hear Their Voices and Listen

2020 has been a wakeup call. With the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many more whose lives were taken too soon and their murderers getting away with it, all because of their privilege, society is demanding a change. A change that is long overdue. With social media and conversations blowing up with Black Lives Matter, stories are being heard and it’s time we listen and it’s time we change. 

I have been so blessed to know these women you’re about to hear from. They are the strongest people I know along with the biggest hearts. Their stories are different yet all share one thing in common: racism. Hear their stories, hear their emotions, and listen to what they want to see YOU do to help them continue on this fight with them.

Photo submitted by Unique Haugabook, photo taken by Emily Kruft

Meet Unique, a college graduate from The University of Akron. She is twenty-three years old. “I am mixed. 50% black, 25% German, 25% Lebanese. So, my experiences are much different than a darker skin black person. It is important to listen to the experiences of many people of color because you will be surprised at the stories you will hear.” Here are her stories:

At what age did you first experience racism?

“The first time was when I was in the 4th grade, so I was probably around 10 years old? I wish I could remember the story exactly… But it was a boy who called me the n-word on the playground. One of my friends made me go tell the staff member that was on recess duty and he had to stand on the wall for the rest of recess. I wish I knew why he said it to me but from what I remember, I wasn’t provoking him in any way.”

What does your reality look like?

“It looks like always feeling; uncomfortable in my own skin. I am either worried about people hating me for my skin color, making me their ‘token black friend,’ or having to put up with passively racist ‘jokes.’ 

Right now, I also have the burden of my boyfriend’s parents being very racist. Have been with him for over two years now and this has been our reality the entire time. It’s heartbreaking and I wish it were different, but I have to hope that things will get better and that they can change. I hope one day we can all live in harmony and they accept our relationship.”

How do you explain white privilege to those who don’t understand it?

“White privilege is not a bad thing, it’s something you can’t control just like I can’t control the color of my skin. It becomes a bad thing when it is used for not the right reasons. I also always point out that having white privilege does not mean your life hasn’t been hard, it just means that your skin color is not the reason it is hard.

Reverse racism doesn't exist because racism is a systemic issue, white people are the superior race in the societal view. White people do not know what it feels like to be actively oppressed. Can white people have biases and prejudices against them? Sure. That is not the same of over 400 years of active oppression against not only the black community but many other minority communities, especially the indigenous community. Ultimately white people built the oppressive systems that we have in place including, but not limited to, the criminal justice system and the healthcare system. So, it’s their job to use their privilege for the good to dismantle and reform it. 

I also would like to throw in there that I, as a black woman, have a light-skin privilege. My darker skin community members experience much worse than I do. Even as a person of color, I have to check my own privilege. We all have it in one way or another.”

Did your parents ever practice with you on how to talk to law enforcements so your safety is assured?

“No, not in my home. But, I’ve always known I have a target on my back. I think when you know anyone can be racist towards you, it makes you terrified of all authority figures. I didn’t get that talk because my mother is white and my father is black. My mother is the one who raised me and she’s never been one to understand the true differences between myself and the rest of our family. I think now that I am more active in the activism community she understands and supports me, but it hasn’t always been like that. Plus, I’m from a small town that is in a fairly large ‘there’s not a race issue’ bubble.”

For your friends who can’t understand what you are going through, what do you want to see from them to help in the fight for Black Lives Matter?

“I want them to continue fighting even after George Floyd’s murderers are convicted. The fight for black lives doesn’t stop at police brutality. It’s also mass incarceration, redlining, underfunded schools, black women’s mortality rates in healthcare, etc. I want the white community to become educated on how they can dismantle the systems that were built for them and by them.”

What do you want to see out of the government?

“I want to see the entire criminal justice system dismantled and reformed. I want better education for police and convictions anytime police brutality occurs. I want better vetting of doctors, social workers, nurses, teachers, etc. so we can weed out the biased and racist people from the get go. Too many young people of color fall at the hands of biases and racism because we do not do a better job of holding people accountable for their hatefulness. I also think this means that racism needs to be deemed a public health crisis. It's dangerous to have and it is learned, which means it can be unlearned.”

What’s something you want to say to those who aren’t in support with the black community?

“Please stop being blinded by your own privilege. Just because these things aren’t happening to you doesn’t mean that they are not happening. Systematic Racism is real and it’s been happening since the slave days. Discrimination just looks a lot different than it did back then. Black people live everyday in fear for so many different reasons. We deserve to feel safe in the county that was built on our backs.”

Photo submitted by Unique Haugabook

Meet Olivia, a college graduate from Kent State University. She is twenty-three years old. She is currently in grad school to accomplish not one, but two masters. “There’s a diversity in the black community. One black person does not advocate for the entire race. That’s something that has always been a part of me because I come from a very mixed family I guess you could say. My grandma and her siblings are biracial. So in my family, we have every color under the sun.”

At what age did you first experience racism?

“The first thing that pops into my head is the first time I was called the n-word. At the time, I went to a mostly white school so I was the only black kid in my grade. It was a smaller country school. Some kids don’t have anything while some kids have everything. It was in the 4th grade in the cafeteria while I was up doing something. My friends told me what happened. I didn’t even know him. My friends went over and talked to him and put him in his place. I had some good friends. So, I sat back down because I didn’t know how to respond and waited for lunch to be over. Up until that moment, it wasn’t something I focused on. 

I remember having issues with the color of my skin. I remember having those thoughts of not wanting to be black because I thought I would like myself more. I don’t feel like that anymore!”

What does your reality look like?

“It’s something that is so ingrained in you. I smile a lot because I don’t want to look threatening or present myself as threatening. Just the way I hold myself and move myself around the world. I mean, I’m approachable but sometimes people look at me differently. When I leave my house, I flip a switch to where I’m smiling, helpful, move out of the way, and even talk in a certain way… Like the voice I use when I’m teaching. But if I’m in a predominantly black space, I switch and talk differently. Like I use different language. Of course I’m still friendly, but this is where I’m more relaxed.”

How do you explain white privilege to those who don’t understand it?

“White privilege is just the ability to make choices. With everything going on, it’s the ability to make the choice if you want to think about the movement or learn about it. I mean, everyone has their own struggles and own obstacles in life… But white privilege makes those obstacles not affected by the color of your skin.

My first semester of college, I took this basic education class that was an honors class. So everyone in the class was not only an honor’s student but also in the educational field. They were smaller based classes where you could have more in depth discussions. Prior to the semester, I came to Kent early to take part in a cultural program to learn more about African history, which really opened my eyes to start thinking about who I am as a black person.

So, we started talking about race in the class. I was the only black person in the room, which I was used to. But in that class, I was more hypersensitive because I was assessing the room more, noticing that I really was the only black person. Some of the views that my classmates had in the class were really troubling me. I really felt a burden that I had to carry my race on my shoulders in that class. Some of the things my classmates were saying made it really personal. 

If you’re black, you wake up every day and have to think about race. It affects the way I move in the world. And that is something I will carry around with me forever, just like the first time I was called the n-word.”

What are your thoughts on the protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement?

“It was something for me that I don’t try to dwell on because it’s too much and it happens all the time. It was something about the George Floyd case that just ruined me. Just something about this instance that just really struck me and other people as well. I’ve learned and seen how other people from other countries pay more attention to what’s happening in America more than Americans do.

Personally for me, I’m scared to protest. With the career field I want to go into, I can’t put myself in certain situations that can lead to jail time. That’s a choice that I’ve made, to find other ways to support. It’s been nice to see other people, especially white people, put their lives on the line to protest.”

For your friends who can’t understand what you are going through, what do you want to see from them to help with the fight for Black Lives Matter?

“I’ve had a few of my friends who have thanked me for different resources that I’ve posted online or reached out to see how I’m doing. 

I knew I had good friends and supporters but these last few days, it has been really affirming and made me feel loved and seen that my friends are reaching out along with taking a stand. I already knew but it’s nice to be reminded that I have a bomb ass support system.”

What is one thing you want to say to those who aren’t in support with the Black Community during this time?

“I think that you should think about why you’re not in support. Take a critical look at yourself. Why are your views that way? Try to educate yourself about why people have those opposing views of yours. I’m a thinker, I think and ponder about things. For me, I naturally think about fairness and both sides of the story. Take a critical look at yourself and try and think about why you think the way you do.

This is something we all have a stake in. Like I kind of said earlier about white privilege, if you’re not black you have the ability to make that choice if you want to have a stake in it or not. It’s something that we should all be trying to learn about, listen, and fight for to make a better future.”

Photo submitted by Unique Haugabook

Meet Reagan, founder of her own company, To The Bone. She is twenty-two years old. “What if it was your mother, father, child, sibling, cousin? Would you be tired of seeing your people’s blood be shed senselessly for the color of their skin?

At what age did you first experience racism?

“I was 7 years old, my parents enrolled me in private school for my second-grade year. Second grade was the first time I experienced overt racism from children my own age. After a constant back in forth with the school, my parents pulled me out and enrolled me back into public school again.”

What does your reality look like? 

“Although no black experience looks the same, I’ve had the privilege of having a seemingly good black experience compared to others in my community. One thing that the vast majority of black children have in common growing up is having ‘the talk.’ This talk is what it means to be black in America and what the reality of the black experience is outside of your own home. I had this talk at the age of five and although I’ve had a beautiful and powerful black experience, I’ve also had this ongoing fear anytime I leave my house.”

How do you explain white privilege to those who don’t understand it?

“I’ll explain it this way, a white person being born into this world with white skin, automatically gives them an advantage over people of color in this world. They’ll possibly be chosen for jobs over people of color even if they are less qualified as their persons of color counterparts, they won’t be racially profiled, or followed around a store because the store manager thinks they’re stealing, even if they’re doing nothing at all. They’ll probably be able to cry their way out of a speeding ticket before a black person can. I could go on forever with examples, but in simplest terms, being white gives them a life advantage over people of color. Whether they think so or not.”

Did your parents ever practice with you on how to talk to law enforcements so your safety is ensured?

“Of course. I got that talk at 15 when I started driving. This is what I was ordered to do by my parents in the case that I am pulled over by the police: 

Step one: FaceTime my parents so they can screen record the interaction in case anything happens to me and to have witnesses of the incident. 

Step two: Pull out my license, registration, and car insurance card and place them on my dashboard BEFORE the police come to my window. Mind you, I have about thirty seconds to FaceTime my parents and pull out all of this information before the officer gets to my window. 

Step three: Place my hands on the steering wheel where my hands are visible to the officer and not move them.

Step four: pray.

There are more steps, but these steps before I speak to the officer eliminates movement, so the officer has no reason to suspect me of reaching for a weapon that I don’t have.”

What are your thoughts on the protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement?

“I think they’re great and powerful. This time you don’t just see black people fighting injustice, there're so many races fighting alongside us. I feel like this is the first time where we finally have the whole world watching.”

For your friends who can’t understand what you are going through, what do you want to see from them to help in the fight for Black Lives Matter?

“I want them to listen, educate themselves, donate, protest (if they want to), call state and local officials to demand action, and most importantly to speak up. There is too much to do to help this cause so I will not accept any of my friends doing absolutely nothing when black people are being murdered at the hands of people who are meant to protect us.

Keep persisting in the movement, our fight isn’t over. Black lives depend on our persistence.”

What are your thoughts on the rioting?

“I see both sides. It’s upsetting to see small businesses and mom and pop shops getting ruined. But I also see that people are tired of being peaceful because bringing peace has gotten us nowhere for over the last 400 years. America has had their knee on our necks for over 400 years and we’re tired.

But one thing I need people to understand is there are lots of grey areas in this situation of rioting. The police aren’t innocent and neither are some non-people of color. Those are the parts of the rioting that the media won’t show in order to make the Black Lives Matter Movement look violent.”

What do you want to see out of our government?

“I want to see action and I want to see change. This country was built on the backs of our slave ancestors for free. I want to see the government treat its black people with the same respect and urgency they show their white citizens, and most importantly, I want the government to see that black lives are of value.”

Photo submitted by Unique Haugabook

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