By Tami Warren
At an elevation of approximately 5,430 feet above sea level, engulfed in magnificent mountains and surrounded by sprawling open space Boulder, Colorado has the combination of nature’s splendor and modest metropolis sparkle, encouraging people to flock to its Flatirons. My family moved from Highlands Ranch, Colorado to Boulder, Colorado in 2009 hoping for a more open, progressive environment amid a financial crisis that strained our savings, pushing our income away from the restaurant industry, into a presumably more secure position with a family business. Highlands Ranch was as suburban as it could be, a planned community with filled conservatism and little pockets of progressives. Having attended the University of Colorado in Boulder, I wasn’t expecting utopia or an egalitarian community, however I did optimistically hold fast to the expectation that Boulder would be liberal. What I was painfully pushed to acknowledge was the awkward truth that Boulder is not inhabited by liberals, instead many of its residents utilize Boulder as a stage upon which the illusion of being liberal is portrayed and depicted down to the bumper sticker. I observed whites carry an over indulged arrogance, seemingly unconscious to their connection to lives outside of Boulder or to anyone not white, whom exist at the pleasure of the white majority. In Boulder it appears each person is their own sovereign power, playing to individual prerogatives, while publicizing the imaginary pedigree of privilege to reside in Boulder. I observed a kind of hybrid offspring of the M3 Man brilliantly penned by Gore Vidal, part Henry Miller, Norman Mailer and Charles Manson, wield trust funds and control municipalities with an arrogant ease.
Liberal for numerous Boulderite whites is purely theater; a production part comedy part tragedy in which ones costume out weighs character. “The Peoples Republic of Boulder” as the established playbill is often titled, heralds real estate, which out prices most free thinking hippies and average earning families, pushing Boulder toward being an elite country club rather than a progressive population. We were renters, at the mercy of avaricious and intrusive landlords at times. Like a knock off Nancy Myers film, Black people in Boulder are typically relegated to the soundtrack, with the occasional ode to Billie Holiday, not in lead roles in Boulder’s homogeneous cast. White Boulderites have indeed freed themselves not only of gluten and dairy, but also of courage, perspective and self-reflection as they immerse solidly in the false Caucasian fantasy of superiority and celestial wisdom. Like many white Americans, Boulderite whites are sick of apologizing for being white and more so for being successful and white. Unfortunately what they fail to realize is apology is not needed, awareness is. I wonder if Boulderites realize they have far more empathy for dogs than they do for Black people. Perhaps Black Lives Matter and PETA could partner, providing puppies to Black people that we carry at all times. Then maybe there would be justice if a puppy were killed, as clearly Black people being killed yields little justice.
Boulderite whites are sheathed in a veil of narcissism, never have I seen so many people with the ability to kiss their own ass, I attribute this remarkable ability to intense yoga. Encased comfortably in a pseudo liberal bubble of blissful self-ascribed superiority, Boulder was an uncomfortable place to call home; at least I learned it was for me. Where white residents inhale the fresh air of entitlement, propelling unnaturally high confidence levels, which blocks the humility receptor in the largely Caucasian population. Boulder is out of alignment with the very philosophy it attempts to portray, intransigent, as it presents a false face of what it prefers the world perceive it to be. The mass delusion of being liberal, being progressive is widespread. In reality, Boulder is about optics – cultural appropriation, Caucasians with dreadlocks or cornrows, styles which they embraced on each other, yet saw the same styles as being dubious when on Black people. Some liberal whites prefer to think cultural appropriation doesn’t exist; America is merely a melting pot. I saw quickly that most things in Boulder were inflated, real estate, egos, and self-confidence. Boulderite whites profess the “white savior” complex in their pilgrimages to save black people with deeply patronizing paternal like attitudes. I was constantly being told what a privilege it was that our son went to school in Boulder and how extra grateful I should be. I am sincerely horrified and humbled by the cross burning history in America, yet I think if a cross were burned in Boulder, it would be made of sustainably harvested wood. That’s the Twilight Zone type of atmosphere in Boulder; white Boulderites would say bigoted statements, thinking simply because it was delivered by a white person wearing sandals, a beard and a Save the Groundhogs t-shirt, all was fine.
I have seen Confederate flags flying in Boulder. My son was called the “n word” at schools in Boulder. The majority of white America is far too comfortable, living in a white calm, while placating each other with delusional reassurances of liberal platitudes. Just as the police cannot be trusted to police each other, white liberals must look outside of themselves, they must get out of their respective comfort zone for space and perspective. Intellectual evolution is not continued in only privileged or like-minded rooms. Tax brackets bring people together like country clubs once did. It is difficult for me to speak on white privilege to a white America struggling to make ends meet. I will leave that to a messenger far more knowledgeable and recommend reading Tim Wise for whites who believe they have built themselves up all alone, have built their respective fortunes all on their own, have made it out of poverty by the sheer power of self, with no help at all. If Boulderite whites represent a sample of what the so-called “good white liberals” are, we are in serious trouble.
White Americans are by in large the most privileged humans on the planet. Everyone experiences hurt, pain is not exclusive; everyone experiences loss, death is not exclusive. What is exclusive is privilege, power and wealth. White people in America are and have experienced a country literally created for their benefit. White men created a constitution to celebrate and elevate the white man. Much is still the same as we saw the creation of new words in the American vocabulary, with the term affluenza injected into the vernacular with ease by white people seeking to absolve themselves of responsibility. Yet Black people are supposed to look past that convenient reflexive denial of culpability. White America relies upon the benevolence of Black Americas, upon a deep reverence for Christianity and the tenant of forgiveness and turning the other cheek. Black Americans are expected to forget and forgive our experiences. To immediately look beyond a system where oppression festers, in the architecture of what is considered democracy. I cannot forget that Christianity was force-fed through a feeding tube stretching centuries. With immeasurable humility and gratitude, I respect and honor ancestors whom made a way through faith, practice and belief in this predominate religion in America, preaching verses from the Bible, holding to stories of faith and prose filled with the possibility to overcome slavery, to overcome Jim Crow, to overcome injustice, to overcome inhumanity. However, I do not accept religion over reciprocity. Reliance solely upon prayer is not enough.
My experience as a Black parent is a precarious daily walk along a constantly changing pathway paved with people who doubt my words, who see themselves as a benefactor to whom I should forever be grateful. I am caught in an uncomfortable position of earnestly needing to be an advocate for my son, to protect him and support him in the face of bias and prejudice, as his color is seen as reason to lower expectation or target him as suspect. I had to always put Boulderite whites at ease, as anything I said or did was all to often interpreted as being somehow wrong in their eyes; as they cannot understand why any person, much less a Black person, would complain, as they viewed it, about the privilege of living in Boulder and going to their schools. I realized my words were not accepted as truth and that I was instantly discredited at the convenience of my white counterparts. White mothers have the natural space to protect their children in ways I do not. In being an advocate for my child, I must be mindful to always monitor every aspect of my voice, body language and word choice. I must always watch my step. Expressing a dissenting experience is not welcome and to even speak of racism or bigotry in Boulder is deemed immediately offensive and without merit. I saw how my rare instances of confidence were manipulated into being seen as arrogant, as I was assigned the label of being uppity and an angry Black woman. I quickly realized that to stand up for myself or to advocate for my son was akin to treason in the People’s Republic of Boulder.
To be an advocate for my son in majority white schools are problematic waters to navigate. I experienced bias, both conscious and unconscious over the acceptance of fact when attempting to advocate for my son. Unlike my white peers, I must at every interaction ensure to monitor my manner, smile and try to make white people feel comfortable, in an earnest effort that they may see that I am a Mom, and my son a student. It is not an impediment white mothers’ encounter, they are not up against the walls of ethnocentrism and white righteousness. I volunteered in my son’s classroom and observed white children who acted out in class were handled far differently than the few Black kids who engaged in the same behavior. The white kids were treated as needing to be challenged intellectually while the Black kids were treated as disciplinary issues and punished. It was remarkable; I read articles about the statistics in disparities of discipline in education, seeing it first hand was confirmation. My attempt to raise this issue with my son’s teachers was not well received. It was like watching Spencer Tracy’s character, Matt Drayton, in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner confront his own racism and come to terms with the liberal ideals he’s professed but did not practice innately.
It would be a stretch to imply Boulder is a modern-day agricultural technical estate upon which certain Negros, whom have been scrupulously selected by Boulderite whites, are willing to play a role the white Boulderite desperately needs, the role of the American Black who does not see racism, who does not recognize the well orchestrated meticulous design that created white privilege and perpetuates white privilege. Like the character, Stephen in Djgango Unchained, they see themselves as both a follower and protector of their kind-hearted Caucasian. Similarly, it would be a stretch to imply this American Black gathers identity in being the “Black friend” and comes to the defense of their white chief without hesitation whenever the figurative whip is snapped. There is no benign racism; every atom is dangerous impacting all the cells in humanity. Asphyxiated by the promise of acceptance into the Caucasian sphere, some American Blacks enthusiastically give corroboration to the white self-serving fantasy of the white version of equality, which is that Blacks are as smart or as good as whites deem us to be at any given moment. Caucasians vie to have Blacks whom stand ready to reject and deny the deep-rooted historical psychological truth of racism itself, refusing to bear witness to another’s experience from their own racial group. By pitting Black against Black, Caucasians trumpet a perverse vindication via a kind of Stockholm syndrome induced support of their trusty dependable Negro. White people intellectualized their bias and bigotry by purposely clouding the water. Whether it is by creating debate over Confederate statues reflecting heritage instead of reflecting hate, or justifying yet another killing of a Black person at the hand of police, white people bastardized Socratic conversation to justify racist actions and give reason to bias behavior.
Academic accolades are plentiful in Boulder, having certain letters follow your name exalts one to higher levels; never mind the fact that one can be a highly decorated person academically and still be unconscious, walking around in a self-induced academic fog. The academic fantasy of superiority is astounding. Boulderites proudly find value in the exclusive academic circles they have created and the illusion of somehow being above those without a degree, above those who have not attended college. Academic snobbery is palatable, you would think in a self-proclaimed environment of eccentricity and freethinking, people would gravitate towards the value of education and intellect being absorbed from an atmosphere other than a university campus. John Henrik Clarke said, “Powerful people cannot afford to educate the people that they oppress, because once you are truly educated, you will not ask for power. You will take it.” Education can be absorbed from reading, having experiences beyond the limits of your neighborhood and getting to know people other than those who only look like you. Surrendering the fantasy of superiority, which might provide momentary comfort, and the illusion of control is a necessity in order to evolve. I observed this only to be a surface concern in Boulder, as it seemed white people salivate at mouth for a picture of themselves surrounded by smiling Black children. Such pictures were predominately placed on desks, featured on refrigerators or served as the ultimate screen saver. Yes, white folks in Boulder love to travel and report back on how happy Black people are around the world, in comparison to Blacks in America.
There is a great deal of pedigree talk in Boulder, who your family is and how long you’ve lived in Boulder has importance to many. Regrettably, the perceived importance of pedigree is not restricted to animals as I thought. Lineage is often home to lies. I did not inherit money or privilege, as is often the case in Boulder. Saturated in a womb of sorrow is where as a fetus, I grew. Fertilized by discussion of adoption and other options, my brave mother’s belly swelled as I grew inside. A seed in the womb absorbs the energy of the cultivator, as the umbilical cord brings nutrients along with emotions, a conduit of connectivity to a world where Wharton’s jelly provides no protection. I have no memory of steeping in a womb of heartache and secrets, but I do know the imprint of pain those secrets have upon me. People proclaim to be native-born in Boulder, as if they believe themselves to be indigenous to the Flatirons. Perhaps Boulder is simply one example of what happens when affluent white people are given pretty much all they want and left alone, it becomes more of a cult than a community.
Boulder is not much different from other white liberal ecosystems, where there is often an evident blind spot to race. White people across America have racism inertia many are done with the topic, now the ism is sexism. The method by which inequity is dispensed impacts the severity of its influence. Instead of placing racism and sexism in a sort of depraved competition of importance, all of us must acknowledge the structural advantages established for whites in this country. Historically white women have had power over Black women, even as the white man has had power over all women. Paula Giddings called choosing between the civil rights movement and the women’s movement a false choice, as Black women cannot separate their race from their gender.
Throughout history white women in America were viewed as needing to be protected and defended. Whether living as a plantation mistress or in rural poverty, there is a segment of the population white women have had agency over – Black people, specifically Black women. Scarlet O’Hara, the widely praised character in Gone with the Wind and Mayella Ewell, a character from To Kill a Mockingbird were characters portrayed in film by Vivien Leigh and Collin Wilcox respectively, but the power over Black people each character depicted, reflected the social structure of superiority white women held. Though valuable and vital, Prissy and Calpurnia were characters depicted with diametrically different reflections of Black women brilliantly brought to the screen by Butterfly McQueen and Estelle Evans. As a Black girl growing up, I appreciated seeing Black women in film, in books, on the cover of magazines, albums or reporting the news. It meant something profound to me. In a world of characters and stories illustrating white women in positions of economic power like Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce, I still valued Butterfly McQueen’s work in the film, even if I didn’t appreciate that her character was relegated to fumbling to understand a phone juxtaposed with the business savvy projected by the white women in the film.
White women, fall back to a faux fragility, when faced with their own discriminatory actions, hiding behind an artificial outcry of feeling “threatened” by Black women who dare speak up and attempt to use our voice in day-to-day life unapologetically standing in our own space. White women are more comfortable dealing with Black women embodying a white writer’s description of characteristics, depicting Black women with the persona of the on-screen characters of Prissy or Lottie.
As I watch the current state of women being heard to a greater extent with regard to abuse, discrimination, and pay equity, I am encouraged. When I see actors or politicians returning money from tainted sources, I am encouraged. When I see men standing with women, I am encouraged. Yes, there is sexism in the workplace, and yes it must be dismantled. I am encouraged that the same space of equity will be engaged for all women, including Black women. I have often found myself as one of the few, often only the Black woman in an office, and with this is an intricate set of conditions I’ve endured. As a Black woman, who has experienced discrimination from white women in the workplace, I see the precarious nature of bias and workplace discrimination. When discrimination is perpetrated by white women it is often overlooked and dismissed. I am ashamed to admit all the times I lacked the nerve to speak up in the moment to defend myself, opting instead to keep my head down and work, with the fear of perpetuating a negative stereotype and losing a job. I am embarrassed to acknowledge that I comprised part of who I am to appease white people. That I allowed the stereotypical image of what they think of Black people to infiltrate what I know of myself.
The pseudo sisterhood projected in the workplace masks the reality of discrimination faced by Black women at the hand of white women and white men. I realize it may be difficult for some to understand the impact racial discrimination has in the workplace, when committed by white women, as I saw my voice be ignored and trivialized when I dared to speak out. That somehow my experiences were not worthy, that I was not as valuable as the white women I worked for. It is isolating, painful and intimidating to have your livelihood and professional reputation on the line. For some reason, racial discrimination in the workplace, when perpetrated by white women, is softened. It seems that in this dynamic, discrimination suddenly becomes an instance explained away by personality differences; with little credence provided to Black women. I’ve experienced and observed white women still exercising their agency of power, in the workplace, over Black women. White women have the space to express opposition and challenge the status quo in a manner that Black women are denied. My Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde said, “Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference, those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older, know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to take a stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish.” I reach out to my immigrant sisters, I reach out to my migrant sisters, I bear witness to your experiences. Black women know all to well a history of pain in having our children ripped away and families shattered by racism.
I have held jobs cleaning white people’s homes and worked alongside white people in corporate America. Working while Black and female carries daily hazards that I’ve always been aware of, as the slightest infraction is magnified with the weight of representing my entire race hanging in the balance. I understand that I must keep receipts, as I know my word does not have an equal exchange rate. I know that the burden of proving racial discrimination, often to predominately white adjudicators, is levied on my shoulders with the implicit understanding that my white female colleagues will be given not only the benefit of the doubt but also justification for their actions and behavior. Black women realize that when we are performing, we must ensure to over execute, Black women have no room for error. As a Black woman I know my every action is under a microscope, every word I speak is parsed, with each component judged. In the office, I am in a state of constant awareness, watching my tenor, ensuring to convey professionalism, while trying to anticipate the desires of my white coworkers in order to bolster their comfort level, as often I am the only Black person they may interact with at a professional level. It is a challenge to get a job, much less build a career in which you are equally trusted and treated with dignity.
The difficulties of being a woman is not lost on Black women, it is intensified. On almost every level the task of living with racial inequities negatively impacts Black women. Experiences of discrimination put our very well-being in peril. High blood pressure, depression, disease, it takes a toll on our vessel as we make our way on this Pale Blue Dot as Carl Sagan described the planet. It is reflex for Black women to be shamed when we stand up for ourselves. Shamed for calling out discrimination, shamed for calling out inequity. While we see a different standard for white women, whom recently are associated with bravery and courage for calling out gender discrimination. The word of a white woman historically has carried credibility and influence over Black women. White women need to use their influence to shed light on discrimination with tangible action. Complicity and silence only enables inequity by ensuring its continuation in whatever space it has been allowed into.
There cannot continue to be a false belief among women of there being one female seat at the table and that seat being preferably occupied by a white woman. Writer’s rooms needn’t all be alabaster faces. News anchors need not resemble the cast of White Oleander. While I am encouraged by the actions taken to expose abuse in the workplace, I am hopeful there is courage among white women to expose racial discrimination amongst their own. It is time. Namaste roughly translates to mean I greet the divine in you; I bow to the divine light within you. My mother taught me never to let anyone steal my joy. In the wake of all she and my MeMaw experienced, they looked toward light, it is this legacy, not pedigree I find pride. Therefore, I greet the light in my sisters of all hues and in turn, hope they greet the light in me. Namaste.