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When the end comes

our minute genetic differences will be obliterated.

We will be reduced to bones, shriveled skin, and,

eventually,

dust,

or the ashes of cremation.

And our simple DNA material (our genes)

will be tested and processed

to determine who we really were.

And what will your DNA say about you?

Will it show whether you lived a life of acceptance and inclusiveness;

will it be able to pinpoint

if you spent your short or long life hating?

Will it tell a story of someone so enraged

by racial myths that they would murder nine innocent people

in a Charleston church, and after praying alongside them?

The definition of a species

is that we can reproduce together;

slavery and the institutionalized rape

of young Black girls and women for lust and profit

prove we are of the same human species;

we definitely reproduced.

And, please, do not portray Sally Hemings

as Thomas Jefferson’s “mistress.”

She was his slave, his property,

and he could do with her as he pleased:

and it did not “please” him to free her,

though she persuaded him

to eventually free the children she bore

carrying his genes.

No more denials or prettifying of history.

The rape of Black enslaved women is evidence that the idea

of “pure races” is a myth,

an urban legend, like the boogie man.

Today I look into the blue eyes and kinky blond hair of a Black man

and know that somewhere deep in his gene pool

there is whiteness inside his Blackness.

I need only be in a room full of Black people

and marvel at the phenotypic heterogeneity.

Blackness is America’s rainbow.

I also think of the almost white Black people (passe blanc),

and know there is Blackness inside America’s whiteness,

of which it is sometimes unaware.

And still these surfaces, skin deep characteristics,

tell us virtually nothing

about our genetic composition.

Or how we navigate our lives

across ideological spheres (fears)

of white supremacy, white privilege, enslavement, racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia,

heterosexism, ageism that plague our united history

despite our common origins out of Africa.

Are We so Different

if we both bleed when you cut me;

if Ebola or Tika, and now COVID,

can infect us regardless of our race?

Disease and viruses know no borders;

They have no respect for mythic racial classifications—

they are making us all sick and killing us, too,

across racial boundaries.

Are WE SO Different?

If we both share in karma—mine a legacy of enslavement,

living and resisting oppression and generational inequality;

yours of being descended from my oppressors and the beneficiary

of living (and sometimes resisting)

generational (white) privilege, white power, white entitlement?

ARE WE SO Different?

If we both suffer?

Yours a suffering of utter denial of racism

and lack of accountability

about the implicit biases and microaggressions

you act out daily

with non-white people you encounter;

mine a suffering of the daily stress of living while Black,

and wanting just a brief respite

from having to negotiate your power and privilege.

Mine is an exhausting dance

of humiliation, frustration, anger, resistance, and triumph—

knowing that the cycle is still unbroken,

and the same events of exclusion will start again when I awaken tomorrow

brings on a fibromyalgia-like fatigue.

I

ache

everywhere

sometimes.

ARE WE SO DIFFERENT

if we both seek solutions

to how to break the cycle

of inequality, of racial gaps, of social disparities?

Solutions to how you can step outside

your personal privilege & power

and institutional and structures of racism that undergird your power and privilege (your P&P)

to embrace me for who I am?

And after centuries of trying to “move on”

and a pathology of forgiveness, can I stop seeing

an oppressor in the eyes,

gestures,

insults,

microaggressions,

disdain,

and neglect

of every white person?

Even those who claim to be my ally,

but whose behavior suggests otherwise?

The answers are quite simple:

Racism and inequality function on two levels:

the individual/personal and the institutional/structural.

Stop being offended at the very personal level—

“get over” being accused of being racist.

Then, check yourself to see how often you manifest

unconscious bias and display microaggressiveness.

Focus on challenging yourself

and structural inequality—

for example, if all the leaders are white and/or male,

if the majority of teachers are white women,

and half the students are non-white,

we have a structural problem.

When the people of color have more experience

than those who supervise them,

and there is support for white incompetency

because whites who fail are rotated out

and placed on “special projects”

or made “special assistants to … the whatever,”

where staff of color are dismissed

for “not being a good fit,”

when the metrics used to measure success

focus only on cultural differences

in hair, speech, body language, body type, clothes,

and the comfort level of white colleagues,

Dallas, we have a huge structural problem: racism.

Case in point: If former President Obama

had taken just one of the actions

of the 45th president,

talked about alternate “truths,”

engaged in the irreverent, personalized tweeting attacks,

shared national security info with Russia,

a known enemy of our nation-state,

attacked the media as “fake news,”

there would have been an irreversible tide

from all (white) sides of the political spectrum

demanding his impeachment.

In this regard, the consequences

of a racialized system of inequality, says, yes,

we are very different.

VERY DIFFERENT.

Whiteness and maleness

carry a universal credit card

of unmitigated freedom

to abuse power and privilege.

And what is my place and purpose

as a Black woman,

a descendant of formerly enslaved people

in this landscape

of surging whiteness and privilege?

It is to know I am a “Native-born” daughter,

with no “immigration” card

or country to “go back to.”

It is NOT to see myself as victim only,

despite the best efforts to make me so.

My place and my purpose is to brand myself

always as a champion, defender of myself,

my people, and any other groups and individuals

who face oppression and exclusion.

My Place is to remain ever vigilant and fight

social injustice wherever it rears its ugly head.

My Place is to make This Place,

this United States, which too often

is far from united,

to make This Place a better place for all,

and not to be overlooked and dismissed because

I am a “Native-born, authentic, Black American,”

a descendant of the enslaved Black people

whose labor and whose love for this country,

have been the foundation of America’s hope and possibilities,

even when it denies the same to us.

ARE WE SO VERY DIFFERENT?

I think not.

We are simply two sides of the same coin,

unfortunately entangled

in both historic and present-day webs of history,

and the evidence of the seen and unseen legacy of racism

and a people’s struggle for liberation.

We are two possibilities

in America’s dilemma.

We can choose to enmesh ourselves

in prejudices and racism,

or choose to be humane,

thereby coming to terms with our fate

of the very same human mutuality.

IRMA MCCLAURIN is the founder of the Black Feminist Archive at the University of Massachusetts and holds a Ph.D. in anthropology and an MFA in English.

In this article, white is styled lowercase throughout, contrary to SAPIENS’ house style, at the request of the author.

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