By Sheri Leigh, February 9, 2024
I talk with a lot of people – men, women, People of Color, white people, community leaders, young and older – and I want to point out something that deeply concerns me.
Four of my friends, who happen to be Black and who live and/or work in Benicia, have shared some hurtful experiences directed at them by other Benicia residents. I offered to write an article about their experiences, even anonymously, so Benicia can learn to recognize and challenge acts of racism, yet my friends prefer to keep quiet about it, rather than expose the situations. Each of them is an educated and professional individual of a mature age. What they experienced was clearly unjust and downright racist. And yet, they don’t want to share their story because they are afraid the perpetrator of the comment or act may see themselves in my article and may be upset and/or because they are concerned about the ramification if they complain.
Let me give you two very real examples: one of these friends eventually moved their business from First Street to Vallejo because of the ongoing hostility of the customers and neighboring businesses; another was directly asked how they feel about being promoted because of the color of their skin rather than their experience.
Clearly these incidents are not just well meaning but ignorant comments or even microaggressions. This is blatant racism, and my friends have every right to express that.
In comparison, look at the comments on Next Door or Benicia Happenings. I see people complaining about the littlest things all the time. Someone is upset about a neighbor’s guest using the parking space in front of their house. Another is angry because their trash was picked up late and the can was knocked over when it was finally emptied. And my personal favorite – someone complained that it’s disrespectful for a dog walker to put a baggie of droppings into their trash can. Would they rather the dog walker disrespectfully left the droppings on their lawn? Really, people?!
Yes, these things are annoying, but let’s keep it in perspective. And when I look at the photos of the people complaining, they don’t appear to be of color. Why is it that white people feel they can gripe about relatively insignificant and not personally intended slights when People of Color don’t always feel safe exposing something very deeply and morally wrong?
Ever since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the Black community on the whole has been admirably vocal and active about individual and collective experiences with racism. Their response to the obvious inequities in this country helped make some very hard-earned and very slow progress towards equity. But we’re not there yet, and it came at a very high cost. Many people lost their freedom, their health, their sanctity, and even their lives. Here we are sixty years later, and there are still injustices and inequalities, and yet, not all people feel safe speaking up. I get it. Who wants to be hated, harassed and alienated, particularly from within a small community? I wouldn’t like it, would you? But just because my friends don’t complain doesn’t make their experiences acceptable.
Here’s what I would love to see happen. First of all, for those of you who use public forums to air your frustrations, please think about your need to complain. Is it really something important that needs to be addressed, or is it something that can be easily resolved or quietly let go?
Secondly, everyone should feel safe and supported speaking up when they have been directly or even inadvertently targeted by an individual or community. A caring and inclusive community supports all of its residents and should help to right injustices. Finally, racism is ugly and unjust. It’s a blight on humanity, and it needs to stop. We are all humans. Let’s treat each other with respect.