When I moved to NC as a teenager I experienced quite a bit of culture shock. My grandparents, Eastern NC natives had retired and purchased a beautiful home on the water. It was the small, quaint, but awe-inspiring retirement home that most people dream about. It was the final chapter of a long history of hard work and perseverance that most middle class families dream about. It was the natural progression of things that occur when you grow up doing “the right thing”. But after one too many questions about who I was and why I was walking through the neighborhood because our family “couldn’t possibly live there”, I realized that seeing a black family walk through this natural progression was often foreign to many outside of our cultural norms.
I grew up with people who exceeded the expectations of those who judged them. Stereotypes were never really a thing to lose sleep over. They existed, but we always proved them wrong. To me, stereotypes about black and brown people were something that you read about or stories that were passed down from generation to generation. In my little bubble stereotypes were addressed as a thing of the past. But it wasn’t because stereotypes no longer existed. It was more because we created a barrier to the effects of stereotypes out of our necessary need for survival. The looming effects of stereotypes were often a distraction that caused us to get caught up in societal ills that destroyed our hopes and dreams. In order to successfully navigate through this thing called life we put on blinders and forged full steam ahead, ignoring the fact that most young black men will at some point be the target of undue discrimination. We ignored the fact that although many of us came from middle class homes with educated parents we would still be questioned about our ability to make it through an Honor’s history course. And we most certainly ignored the fact that when we went to the mall with a group of friends that most people would assume that the black kid would be most likely to shoplift, even if we had our parents’ money in our pockets.
I remember the excitement I felt when I turned 18 and got my brand new ID. My excitement wasn’t for the same reasons as many of my peers. My excitement was because I now had the power to Vote. I relished in the fact that I was about to be a part of history. I had the power to create circumstances that would shape the rest of my life. My family, my career, and my finances would all be impacted by the people we elected. I came from a long line of leaders who believed in the power of collective action, and for many of them, voting was the way to long lasting change.
Voting has allowed black people to be treated as everyday citizens. It has given black people the right to vote. It has given women the right to own their own homes. It has given us the right to sit in classrooms with our white counterparts. And it will give our future generations so many more freedoms and opportunities that will change the trajectory of their entire lives.
The black community is not only facing the stereotypes that apply to our careers and our family lives, but we are also facing the stereotypes that apply to our local, state, and federal elections. When given the choice to select the candidate that will protect the interests of their families, most Americans assume that the safest choice to protect their suburban lifestyles is a white male. These strong and uninformed opinions are elements of what unfortunately lays the groundwork for an attitude that reflects the remnants of the Jim Crow era. This year’s election has created a sense of fear and exhaustion that many have never experienced in their lifetimes. As we draw nearer to November, many are worried that their trek to the polls will be met with opposition. Many of these voters are still homebound, stricken with the fear of the looming coronavirus pandemic, and worried that their decision to mail in their ballots will be a regrettable one. Substantial Magazine has partnered with the When We All Vote campaign, a nonpartisan organization that strives to keep voters educated and empowered, while ensuring that access to proper voting is never denied to anyone.
Stereotypes can definitely bring about a silver lining. Those blinders that we put on to block out the distractions often make us stronger. They create black men who became the first Vice President of their sales division for a major hospital. They create little black girls who grew up on the stomping grounds of the campus at Microsoft and easily surpassed their funding goals when creating a tech startup that showcased blacks in tech. Those blinders also created black millionaires from humble NC beginnings who went on to stand beside people like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., and John F. Kennedy. Stereotypes are often the source of pain and struggle, but they can also be used to create a life that is unlike anything we ever imagined. The road was paved for me to live a life better than my ancestors. It’s up to me to continue to fight against those stereotypes.