I was in conversation with a white guy and he made a statement in which he said he “believes race relations were actually better 10 to 15 years ago.” During that time he says he didn’t hear about all of these different things, and it seems like you can’t go anywhere now a days without somebody yelling something about racism or discrimination. It just seems to be everywhere compared to 10 or 15 years ago.
So here’s the question: “Were race relations actually better 10 to 15 years ago?” The answer is “No.”
When he asked me this question, I actually laughed. I had a good laugh, too, because I told him it just seemed better because you couldn’t hear us. You simply weren’t in the vicinity of our voices. You weren’t in our communities, or in our neighborhoods.
See, I’m 40 years old, so I know for a fact that at least going back to the 80s we have had a lot of these conversations in the house with friends, with family, at church, while traveling with sports teams, or wherever else we went. If there were minorities, specifically black people, we had conversations about the things that were happening to us, to people that we knew, to people that went to other states, or were traveling. Everybody had a story.
If I’m being really honest, let’s just go back two generations. My grandfather was born back in the late 20s and you can look up what was going on then. My mom was born in the 50s, and my dad was born in the late 30s. You’re talking about right in the heart of segregation and all of these different things.
My family, by itself, has a ton of horror stories that many people probably wouldn’t believe, or wouldn’t want to hear about. However, those things were passed down. Those things were conversations that we would talk about, that we had to deal with. This was not just for my family, but many families within our communities.
So, what has changed? Technology has finally caught up. We finally have a kind of access that we’ve never had before. Never, in the history of America, has African American voices had the opportunities to be heard the way we do today.
You see, back in the day, we would have had to write up a report, turn it in to the police, and see if they do something about it. We would have had to create a story and send it into the news to see if they would run it. We didn’t have technology to make videos ourselves, so we didn’t have physical proof of it. We couldn’t just go on television. We couldn’t just get on the radio. Everything for us was blocked.
Fast forward to 2020. I have a cell phone with my own camera. I can record it live and don’t even need the news to play it. I can go live on Facebook and show you anything, happening at anytime, anywhere, and display it for the world to see. We didn’t have that in the past.
I remember that we had our own community magazines. Growing up in Lake County, Illinois, we had a publication called “What’s Happening!” and it would come out once a month with all of the Black news. It would allow us to learn about all of the upcoming events that were happening, all of the companies nearby, different churches in the area, and it had advertisements that catered specifically to our community. We had Jet Magazine. We had Ebony. These were things that were made specifically for us and our community, as our news looked a little different. That was what we had, that was what we had access to, things we could control.
Now, our news is your news. You have Black people who have risen to places of power who are now the newscasters. Black people who now have their own radio stations. Black people who are now running their own podcast, or even doing what I’m doing right now, sitting in my basement with a camera and a computer telling my own story and then putting it out. It’s amazing to me I can do something here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that can be literally viewed by somebody in Sacramento California, or China.
So, that’s what has happened. We’re race relations better 10 or 15 years ago? No. The only difference now is that everyone else is hearing what we’ve been saying and having to watch what’s currently happening the way we’ve watched it because now we’re the ones filming it and putting it out for everyone to see. Now, we’re talking about it, we’re creating content around it, and all of the doors that used to be shut closed on us, we don’t even need to knock on those doors anymore. Today, I can just walk away from those doors and I can make my own door and put out content to talk about the real issues that are being faced in my community.
I don’t think any of this necessarily gets quieter. I think that social media has allowed us to have a voice that we’ve never had before, and I believe that change is going to have to come in one way, shape or form. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but we’re going to keep talking about. We’re going to keep telling the stories in hopes that we can convince enough people to come alongside us to see real change happen.