I met my new roommates on Craigslist. Two white, one Chinese. Together we represented Portland, Florida, China and (with me) D.C., and as we moved into our apartment in Bed-Stuy last fall, I was excited for the potential of cross-cultural exchange.
We had a get-to-know you powwow on the rooftop. We talked about ourselves, what brought us to New York. It was a warm evening in September, a couple of weeks after Michael Brown was shot, and somewhere in the mix I brought up Ferguson, hoping to spark a “conscious conversation.” Then it happened. The nightmarish response.
“What’s happening in Ferguson?” one of my white roommates asked. “I heard some kid got shot or something like that.”
The words clamored in my ears. How could he not know? Weren’t his Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds flooded with opinions and hashtags? I’m sure he meant nothing by his statement. We’re all ill-informed from time to time. But as I stood there, awkwardly not saying a word — while hundreds of words ran through my head — it was a reminder of how much I would have to suppress in order to get along with my white male roommates in our tiny four-bedroom apartment. This place I would call my home for a year. […]
These non-indictments reiterated what I’m up against every single day: the unintentional ignorance of white people. But I was also aware of my willingness to put away my justified “black rage” in order to ensure that my interactions with white people remain comfortable. And the more I hid it, the more crazed I became. By the time my birthday rolled around, in December, I was cooped up in my bed, without an appetite, my fro needing a good deep conditioner. I was making myself sick.