Confronting Racism and 400 Years of Oppression
This is a summary transcription of my podcast interview with Kimberly McCormick who works at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. I heard Kim speak on a live broadcast in a Facebook marketing group and found her to have an incredibly powerful way of getting past white defensiveness when talking about racism and the Black Lives Matter movement. So I invited her to share her experience and wisdom here. You can listen to the full interview here.
You ask me why I’m sad. What people are seeing come to a head now, is really the representation of over 400 years of being in an oppressed state of being, as people of color, African Americans, Black and in the United States.
As a result of that and I use this sparingly, because I know people have been affected by it, if you’ve been hurt by something and you’re in a situation where you’re abused over and over again, and you’ve cried for help for so long and no one heard you, you get to a point of hopelessness. I’m a woman of faith and I always have that to fall back on, but I’m human as well.
I think with that comes the reality of my duality where I have to exist in a space where I’m here trying to do the things I’m supposed to do. I’m being kind to people. I’m doing all the things that we think were ascribed to do to fit in the world and the world just seems to reject you.
When you’ve been living with that posture for so long, you really develop a place of sadness where you have to work at getting up to do business as usual every day.
When we think about the culmination of events that happened with Black Lives Matter specifically, what is pointedly causing all the eruption of emotions right now is really the culminating death of George Floyd.
We already had a series of events that happened in a short period of time that people may think is just happening. But the truth of the matter is, this has been happening for 400 years. It’s just the fact that now we have technology to catch some things that weren’t able to be seen before.
I’m speaking from my experience, because everybody’s experience is different, but from a cumulative perspective, we all were at a point where as soon as we saw the world noticed, it was almost as if the world recognized we had been on fire all these years.
It was almost like an exhale, or relief that someone’s finally paying attention. I think if you want to attribute the sadness to that, it’s just all the emotions coming back from that.
Just thinking about my mom, my parents, my grandparents, their parents and years and years before that, they are now gone and their tears of crying out from the grave.
We’re here in this present time in 2020 representing all that they sacrificed on our behalf and they aren’t here to be able to see that. The world is paying attention, so it’s been encouraging, especially since you saw me on that Facebook live.
It’s almost like gaining alliances you didn’t know of before. You knew people were probably there, but their fear of saying something just kept us feeling like nobody cared. That was the longest explanation, but that really summarizes why the sadness and along with that, with some people is extreme anger, because everybody’s journey is different.
Everyone has had a different experience along this journey. All of those experiences are the culmination of who you are now. Someone else could have had something very personal, they may have had a relative who died in such a tragic manner and so for them, their emotions are elevated.
My experiences are different, but I have them. I hope that gives you a better perspective on the sadness, the frustration and the anger, that’s why you were seeing that.
All these weeks there have been many different conversations. I have heard from my own colleagues, African American colleagues, heart-breaking. Everybody has had an experience and they’ve been some of the most tragic you could ever think of.
All of this to me is about politics and economics at the heart of it all. How it started, how we got here, how we were bought here, we didn’t choose to come here. At the core of it now, it’s like if your heart is moved, when you see something wrong, I don’t care if the person is green purple, blue, yellow, or red, it should do something to you as a human being.
First, to make you want to do something or say something. It’s been a learning curve for those of us expressing it because you can’t know if you don’t walk it and if you’ve never walked it, there’s no way for you to know.
The beauty of what’s happening now is that I feel a lot more people are listening. I feel a lot more people are willing to say in an open forum that they hear and feel us. I might not be able to empathize with you, but my level of sympathy has increased (nobody’s looking for sympathy, but I’m just distinguishing between the two words).
You can only walk in my shoes to reach real empathy, but you can certainly feel what I’m going through by me expressing myself to you.
It’s quite a journey. I sometimes wonder how my ancestors made it. It lets me know we are some of the strongest, most resilient people on this planet because you don’t persevere through 400 years of oppression and have people still coming out trying to make things happen. I believe that’s a powerful statement to make as a people.
I am encouraged again by individuals such as yourself, and many others I’ve encountered that are genuinely engaged; you’re at the point where you really want to understand.
People are finally listening now. What do we do differently? There is some give and take on both sides. I believe there’s a huge learning curve to our posture.
This is the first time where the world, in my lifetime and because technology has afforded it, appears to be paying attention. It’s something and I’m very hopeful. But I’m cautious and I’m not naive.
I want to say that too, because I know there’s some people who could care less, if anything changes about this and they could care less about me or anybody who looks like me and I’m not naive to think that there are not people who think that.
I read something today and what people walked back through their life through all the points where they realized they did or said something that was inappropriate. The reality of where they are now is recognizing the harm that it could have caused, which kind of does a couple of things for me.
It says at the point we know we’re doing something wrong. Acknowledging it now and in public and saying, not only do I recognize it, and I know it is wrong and hurtful.
I’m sharing this because I hope someone else can see themselves in what I say and recognize that you too may need to readjust your thinking and readjust the way you view people.
We all want to live in safe communities. We all want to do well in society. We all, for the most part, know bad people have bad intentions, but for the most part, as a human race, we all want the same things.
We are much more alike than we’re different, but it’s not until we can see each other on that level and come to appreciate our differences. You’ll never look at me and see me as somebody that’s white, because I’m not.
I never look at you and see you as somebody black, cause you’re not. But I can look at you and I can appreciate you and call your name instead of giving you some other names cause that’s what your name is and that’s what I want.
I want to be able to dialogue in that manner and I want to be able to be free with somebody asking me a question and you be comfortable enough to ask because at the core of all this to me is our lack of communicating about the unknown.
It’s no good just taking a posture of fear by design and not having the courage to ask a question. There are many people who look like me, who wouldn’t even want to talk about this right now or probably don’t want to hear because they’ve heard enough.
I’m at a place where I want to talk about it because if you’re interested. I want you to hear what I’m saying. I want to understand from where you see it so that we can see and get to a common place where you can comprehend and feel and understand. It’s not about trying to beat you down with the message or anything like that; it’s just like a realization, an actualization, or just coming to a point of knowing.
I was brought up by a leader of people and I still believe that the human race has the capacity to do better. I also am completely 100% aware of the fact that people in my community are extremely angry. For all the reasons I’ve said before, people are mad. They could be directly connected to somebody who was recently killed or lost as a result of some of these atrocities so of course their posture is going to be different from mine.
I totally understand it, and nor would I ever say they don’t have the right to feel that way. Not everybody’s going to come at it that way, but just being aware, when you hear that, just stop and say 400 years.
Just stop and think 400 years and allow yourself to give that person grace. They may go on and on and there is such a phrase as an angry black woman. I know I’ve heard it. I’m sure it’s the stigma that goes on and I get that. Keep reminding yourself with this that we’ve been on fire for so long and nobody’s watched or listened or said anything. You’ve got to allow people the time to exhale and that’s what’s going on right now. It’s a lot of exhaling in our community. A lot of things being shared. People got a lot of different opinions about it and a lot of different approaches to it as well.
This will probably always be my approach. It won’t be everybody’s and I can’t hold them accountable to how they approach it because I’v not walked in their shoes. I’ve only walked in mine but I’m willing to do whatever I can if people are willing to learn.
I believe that’s the only way we’re going to be able to cross over somewhere else into this new normal.
Just align yourself with people who are willing to talk to you and when you get somebody that comes at you with a fire hose, just remember, 400 years. Step back, regroup, align yourself with someone else because you want to keep learning. If it’s important enough to keep learning that incident in and of itself, won’t shut you down. If you really want to know, you won’t allow that to shut you down.
It now becomes about how badly people really want to see change. There is enough and when I’m waking up in the morning and I’m seeing posts in my stream from New Zealand, Australia and Japan and people posting all kinds of things that are pretty much saying “Black Lives Matter”, “We’re with you”, “We understand I can’t breathe”, all the things that are symbolic of what’s going on right now.
I don’t want people to get stuck on that word symbolic either because it’s not supposed to be like just the flag or a tree or anything like that. It’s something that represents a communal voice that you’re hearing right now that says, “Hey, we hear you. We’re with you.” Aligning with people who are willing to talk is going to be the best resort.
I’m a woman of faith. This year 2020, I’m sure people have all kinds of things they were thinking about doing for graduations, weddings, and the like. I’m sure there were so many plans in the works, but God thought to shut it all down because people are behaving very badly.
We need to shut this thing down and we need to try to do a reset because we haven’t gotten it and we need to get this because our very existence as a world is dependent upon our response, not our reaction, but our response to this moment.
The fact that this pandemic came and had everybody captive at home. People never been on their computer more. People never been at home, cooking more with their families and driving less. The air has never been cleaner.
I align to the whole concept of a reset because this stuff wouldn’t have happened if the whole world hadn’t shut down. It is so heart-breaking that it had to come with such an enormous loss of life and the people that died as a result of the complications from it.
The combination of these two was such an unlikely occurrence. That whole pandemic just shut us down and now here we are with this situation, which just shook the world up.
It’s having us come to a place of reckoning to really determine what we’re going to do now. Are we gonna make it better, or are we going to go on with business as usual?
I’m hopeful to believe that the human heart can only take in puncture so long because ours could. The eruption of emotion has come from people’s hearts, just being broken and living in a broken place to the point where all this eruption comes from it.
I’m hoping people’s hearts are just as broken on the opposing sides. If I feel it, what does somebody else feel? What is it really doing to them? How is it really impacting them?
When we look at the way in which we were bought, transported into this country and the emotional turmoil that had to come through when fathers were lined up on the ship or separated from their families.
The stability of the family is seen as the father, and when they left their families, that was the beginning of a high level of stress. There was no technology back then, but worrying back in the 1600s is just like worrying in 2020. The impact it can have on your physical body can really start to show and it goes physical and then it goes to your heart.
Just think about having to live for a hundred years under an oppressive state of always trying to do more. We got to be twice as fast, do twice as much, be three times as good to get recognized.
Half as often, that is the mantra in an African American community. You’ll hear that a lot. You’re constantly climbing and trying to do the right thing. Whether you work at an hourly position, or whether you work at a career position, you’re still trying to do the best you can.
You climb and you climb, only to realize your ladder’s up against the wrong building, or somebody completely moves the whole thing when you get there.
When you think about all those things and the stress that comes along with it, I believe that’s why the African American community has things like hypertension and diabetes and all these other comorbidities that are underlying health conditions that absolutely challenge our health.
We’re trying to live through all this. We still got to keep climbing not knowing where we’ll get to. Everything may be completely moved. The rug may be pulled under you in one place. The building may be moved to a whole another neighborhood but we still keep going physically, mentally, emotionally that begins to take a toll.
All of us know that we’re made up of, mind, body, spirit and a lot of different things to be a human being. All of those need to be in some sort of balance and if they’re not, our bodies are going to react.
This is why there are a lot of medical conditions in the African American community. We were given scraps. In the days when African Americans were slaves and they were serving, they would not get the best food, they got the scraps or what was left over.
We knew how to take the worst of what we were given and make the best out of it and that’s been the mantra. They were loving their children. They were trying to take care of their communities. They were doing all the things they knew that make family important and they were doing the best they could with what they had.
I’m not 400 years old but I’m looking here and speaking with you today as a representative in the flesh for every one of my ancestors who will never get a chance to see this day. That is a lot of responsibility and a lot of stress in us trying to do the right thing. The more you try in some instances, it just still is never enough for some people.
I identify as an African American at the core of it. In the context of race, Black and African American, at least for those of us in the States is appropriate but I don’t know what’s appropriate outside of the country.
Please don’t get frustrated by going down the rabbit hole trying to figure everything out. You will not be perfect. There’s only a journey of trial and error with this right now.
For whatever you try to do, you’re coming into something you’ve maybe not experienced before. Give yourself some grace and don’t try to get it perfect.
Seek out someone who will respond to you in a manner of grace so they give you the room to make an error. Ask questions and you’ll find the people who will really genuinely say, I’m glad you asked me that.
Learning about this issue is a lifelong marathon and not a one and done. People need to allow themselves the ability, time and grace. I know I’ve said that probably a thousand times, but you’re not going to get it perfect but just get started and do something. Along that journey, you will discover things, and somebody will meet you along the journey and say, “Hey, I’ll talk to you.”
You can’t take the posture if somebody blows back and you just give up. If you’re in a relationship where there’s friends, or if you’re married or your kids and you got chastised by your kids, you don’t get mad and just throw everything, the baby out with the bath water.
This is somewhat of a similar situation. It boils down to how badly do you really want to know the answer to the question because now the questions are uncomfortable. The conversations are uncomfortable.
Ask some questions because it’s going to get you farther than trying to guess. If you ask, you may get one thing from one person or you might run down a couple rabbit holes and be okay with that.
What can white people do to help? I can tell you there have been hundreds of times, thousands of times, an innumerable amount of times, when I can walk up and down the street, and people intentionally look the other way when I’m approaching.
They look down, they look away or do everything they can to not establish eye contact. I know in cities like New York and stuff like that, it’s kind of taboo. You don’t really do that in the city because it’s just kind of invading my personal space.
But when you’re in a grocery store or some other places, wherever those places are that you find yourself and you are in proximity and it’s something that you could do, stretch out and do something you haven’t done before.
Reach out to someone who doesn’t look like you. Get to know them. I’m not saying get into somebody’s business, but the only way for you to break the ice is be willing to be the ice breaker.
You know subconsciously when you’re out that you have subconscious thoughts about situations that you find yourself in. I’m not saying sometimes you don’t need to be careful but there are some situations where you just blindly go into auto mode and you think things and you do things.
Do that one thing that you haven’t been doing with us in your friend circle, your business circle, your church circle, your civic circle or whatever the case you may find, wherever you may find yourself, be the ice breaker. It’s going to be uncomfortable. You may not always get it right and you might piss somebody off, but you will learn from someone.
You may run into somebody who genuinely will answer your question and you just walk away with something learned. You have to be willing to see the glass half full instead of immediately viewing it as half empty. It changes the way you look at people. It changes the way you view them. It changes the way you respond and not react to them. That’s my message. Be the icebreaker.
You can find out more about Kimberly on her Facebook Page.