When racist fliers were passed out over the past couple weeks in Ann Arbor, I was livid. One of them, stating that white women should not date Black men because they are dangerous, hit me especially hard because it was so close to home. My father is Black and my mom is white, and I too am in an interracial relationship like them. I was so pissed off because the flier’s text was so untrue, so hateful, so misguided. First the KKK graffiti at Eastern Michigan, then this, and all of the tension over Black Lives Matter and Colin Kaepernick on top of it.

I asked my dad what to do in response to all of this. I asked him why people did this. After all, he’s lived almost four decades longer than I have and has had to react to stupidity like this. Surely he would have some wisdom. His response surprised me.

“These idiots crop up every now and then. Don’t spend any time thinking about it. They are not worth the energy.” I simply replied, “OK.”

At first I was upset that my dad wasn’t empathetic. I wanted him to comfort me and my feelings of frustration and pain. But after putting myself in his shoes, his response made perfect sense. My dad was born in 1957, right in the heat of the Civil Rights Movement for Blacks across the United States and 11 years before Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. He remembers the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham that killed four girls in 1963 and Dr. King’s marches. He spent his days in Mississippi and my hometown of Flint, likely facing discrimination and racism on the regular, though I don’t know many specific stories.

I find it saddening that my dad and many Black people in this country have lived their whole lives being hated and mistreated by certain people because of their race. Opportunities have been squandered, words haven’t been taken seriously and profiling has run rampant. All because of their dark complexion. It’s horrible that today racism is still alive, and it’s even more shocking that it has shown its face in Washtenaw County many times over the past couple of months.

I understand my dad’s words now. The people who think this way are not nearly the majority. We cannot let the words of hate change how we live our lives and keep us down. This is not to say that when we’re affected by hate speech we shouldn’t take time to grieve. It is just more important to not give these people satisfaction by staying upset.

My girlfriend introduced the phrase “illegitimi non carborundum” to me about a year ago. It’s a mock-Latin phrase meaning “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” It’s similar to Michelle Obama’s recent call to go high when others go low. To me, it means to not let the people who are against you — their words and actions — keep affecting you negatively. It’s easier said than done, but I think the phrase and my father’s advice are wise. Throughout life, there will be many trials and hateful things said to us. But there will also be fantastic moments of triumph. Which will we choose to focus on when things get tough?

As a mixed man in this world, I’ll face discrimination in many different ways, both noticeable and unnoticeable, probably for the rest of my life. I’ll still get stares when my girlfriend and I are walking down the street, and I’ll still have to be extra careful around police. I hope that the treatment minorities face gets better over time, but sadly racism will be around until the end of time. It will remain because of the multitudes of races in the world and the people who teach hate to those around them. Unfortunately, I’m becoming more accustomed to it because I’m getting older and seeing the effects of racism more clearly, much like my dad has experienced over the course of his life. As a result of that, my skin is getting thicker. I can still grieve when horrible things happen, but I can move on now, knowing I am stronger than the hate that comes my way. 

My dad’s statement was meant just for me, but it can apply to many situations. Let me paraphrase: People will always have horrible things to say, but it can never overshadow the supportive words. It’s not worth your time to have the negativity keep you from expressing yourself. Don’t let your enemies win.

Chris Crowder can be reached at ccrowd@umich.edu.

 

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