The Race to End Racism
Updated: Jan 15, 2021
Welcome back to The Shower Thoughts Series! Today I’m diving into a topic that has flooded the media, your timelines, and hopefully your topic of conversation: race. It can be defined as “a grouping of humans based on shared physical or social qualities into categories generally viewed as distinct by society” (wikipedia.com). We know what this word means, but many of us don’t know what those of differing race to us have gone through both historically and today. And, collectively, I think we’re all ready to put an end to the ignorance, and start building a country we are proud to live in.
After the tragic murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other wrongfully killed black civilians, our country finally woke up and realized we need to take a stand. Not for just a week, not just when it has its spotlight in the media, but always - from here on out. It has been a beautiful thing to see so many people come together in protest, donations, and spreading resources for education on the racism that still exists in our country today. As a white young woman, I will never understand what black people in America have endured, but have the privilege to educate myself, and lift black voices and their stories where I can.
That is why today, I am sharing the story and perspective of an old high school friend, Asong Leke; a 24-year-old African American man who grew up in the small town of Hopedale, Massachusetts. I was friends with Asong all through our teenage years and was honored that he was willing to share his experiences so candidly to educate and share with the world.
What was it like growing up in a predominantly white town?
I moved to Hopedale around 2000-2001, so around the time I was in Kindergarten. Even at this young age, it was tough at first. I wanted to fit in, but everyone was different from me, because Hopedale is far from diverse. But, honestly, I was grateful to grow up here. It really helped me grow to know who I am as a person, and by the end of high school, I was happy with who that was and with my childhood experience. I had a great group of friends and never felt like they treated me differently.
Did your perception of the world change when you went to college?
I graduated from UMASS Boston, which is one of the most diverse schools in New England. But, even being in this different environment, my perception didn’t really change, it just expanded. I never had a bad perspective to begin with, because I had a diverse group of friends. In college, I had Asian, White, and Hispanic friends, so I really just learned a lot about different cultures, which really broadened my knowledge and perception of the world. I’ve always been a people person, and have accepted everyone no matter their race.
Have you ever had a personal experience with racism?
Yes, a few times, but my personal experiences weren’t as bad as some. A recent example is I was driving at night with my cousin to get gas and a cop started following us. He trailed us for about five minutes, so we knew we were gonna get pulled over. We did, and he came up to my window and I wasn’t even driving, and started asking a bunch of questions. The questions that he asked, I already knew that he thought we were doing something bad.
He was like, “are you guys from the area? What have you guys been up to tonight? Have you been in any trouble?” and I was like “no, we’re just going to get gas.” So, I gave him my license and he asked me my date of birth and all of this stuff, and just the demeanor of how he spoke, it already seemed like he assumed we were doing something wrong. And then, he said that he clocked us for speeding and said we were going 43 in a 40, and I was like come on, you’re really gonna pull me over going 43 in a 40? And there’s no way he could’ve even known that because he was following us for a while and passed a car to get to us, but I knew better than to argue with him because it wasn’t a fight I was going to win.
So I have had experiences, but I don’t like to dwell on them too much because first of all, you’re going to be angry at everyone all the time, and how one person has treated you is not an accurate representation of people in general. Obviously there are nice people, so you can’t just take one experience and run with that mindset for the rest of your life.
Did your parents ever sit you down and tell you how to behave around police?
Oh, absolutely. When something big happens like the murder of George Floyd, my mom will send me videos of what to do if I’m pulled over by the police. And, it kind of hits home, like this is your mom and obviously she doesn’t want you to be in this situation. And, of course I’ll be upset when things like this happen, but a mom’s feelings, it’s just a whole different level of being scared for their child. So I’ve had multiple conversations with her, she’s told me there are some things I can’t get involved with even if my white friends do because if I were to get in trouble, my chances of getting a disproportionately harder sentence than them would be significantly higher.
How do you feel about the protests?
I definitely think they’re beneficial. It’s crazy, I feel like these protests are something we’ve never seen before. I mean, it’s been like 16 days and people are still out protesting. My brother lives in New York and he says he goes to protests like every day or two. And I’ve been to some too, I went to one in Milford and Hopedale. But, I will say, I’m not really in support of the looting; I don’t think it gets the message across. But, in some ways, I do understand how it has gotten to this point. The reason people loot is they feel like nothing else has worked and this is their last resort to get a message across or even just get people to listen. They’ve tried going the peaceful route, and it hasn’t worked, so people are like, well what do we do now? And you come to a point and you’re just like, we have to make noise somehow. But like I said, I’m not in support of this, but I do understand why it happens.
In your opinion, what steps can people take to fight racism?
The most important thing I would say is having the hard conversations with not only your peers but your parents too. Racism is the elephant in the room that we all know is there, but it won’t get solved unless we talk about it. Educating the older generation is one of the biggest things we have to do because they grew up in such a different time and may have unconscious biases they aren’t even aware of. It’s also easy to have a bias towards black people if you don’t know any black people. So, really just being willing to educate yourself and expand your circle and listen to black people and their stories and experiences. And, another thing, is just when you see something, call it out. Ignoring things isn’t going to push us forward, we need to hold people accountable.
How can we bring attention to the current and historical context of oppression?
Learn the history of America. And, I’m not talking about what we learned in school. Seek out information about the things we weren’t taught. The education system has funneled what they think we should know and doesn’t do black history justice which just enhances ignorance. Watch documentaries, do what you can to understand how things have gotten to this point so we can understand where we need to go from here.
Some people say black people, some say African Americans. Do you feel as though one term should be used over the other?
Some black people don’t like the term African American. They think, “I was born in America, I don’t even know where my lineage is from and I have no ties to Africa, why do I have to be referred to as African American?” For example, a black person in England or Italy wouldn’t call himself Black English or Black Italian, they would just be English or Italian. But, in America, they try to box you in a label. A lot of people wonder, why can’t we just be Americans? Other people can come from anywhere else and say they’re American, but not us. But, as for me, I know my lineage so I consider myself African American. It really just depends on the person.
Is there anything else you want to share or want people to know?
Read. I’ve always had an interest in history, so I’ve done a lot of reading and it was very eye opening. The more knowledge you obtain, the more your perception of the world changes. I really think if people put in the effort just to educate themselves, we’re gonna be in a lot better of a position.
I think I speak for everyone when I say thank you to Asong for giving us such great insight and tools to help fight against racism in our everyday lives moving forward. If you want to check him out, you can find Asong at will_leke on Instagram, his music account at beatsbywilly on Instagram, and @AfricanWilly on Twitter. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in my next post! (make sure to subscribe!)