Friday, December 4, 2020

Local People of Color share their experience in the valley

From subtle to overt…

[ By Mark Reaman ]

In the swirl of activity and controversy surrounding the local Black Lives Matter issue, many people have wondered what sort of discrimination or bias local People of Color have experienced in this pretty liberal mountain valley.

While we had hoped that we might attend a gathering of residents to hear their stories, the logistics and desire to remain anonymous did not allow for that. So we solicited their stories in an effort to share their experience and agreed to keep their names anonymous. Their experience ranged from strange looks when someone spots a Black person on Elk Avenue to being called racial slurs to experiencing outright passive-aggressive behavior to force someone to quit a job.

Here are some excerpts from the stories we received.

 

Growing up Black in a white town

I’ve been a Black kid surrounded by white people my entire life. I’ve always been grateful to have grown up around pretty progressive white people here in Colorado, and have experienced less blatant racists than some. Despite ignorant comments from kids growing up, I never thought I was surrounded by racists.

During the time when George Floyd died and we were all very hurt, scared and angry, I suggested we have a protest here in the valley. I was bombarded with a flood of bigotry and hateful comments from people right here in the valley including, “Black people aren’t special,” “There is no reason to protest here” and one that really hit me was, “Our cops haven’t killed any Black people here so there is no need to protest.” This one hit me because just because our cops don’t kill people, does that mean we shouldn’t be fighting against the ones who do? This town is part of America. We shouldn’t have to feel “lucky” that our authorities don’t murder Black people.

 

Subtle racism is still racism

When you experience racism it runs through your body. You feel it in your spine as you seek to fit a type, a shape, a mold, a model impossible for you to fulfill. If you are white and cannot understand what racism feels like, it is a subtle and brutal rejection of the essence of who you are. You do not have to be overt to be racist. Covert racism seeps in and undermines your identity, your joy and self esteem from the inside out. The small, everyday rejections implying you are “less than,” that you will never measure up, erodes your foundations and sense of self.

It happens everywhere—even right here in the Gunnison Valley. This is why we paint the streets with Black Lives Matter and elevate Black joy and pride, because small racisms and covert rejections are insidious and overlooked and it is time for us to speak truth to power and shine light on a problem that plagues even the most liberal of towns.

 

Coming to heaven—but then heaven started to change

Coming to Crested Butte was one of the biggest moves I’ve ever made in my life. It was a complete change of environment and a huge change in community culture. This place is like heaven compared to what I’m used to in my home country, and I truly appreciate the beauty of this place. It’s also the first place I came and experienced true, genuine love and friendship from a community. Everyone looked out for each other, cared for each other and made sure the safety of our community members was priority. I never had one negative experience here when I first came here. But as the years went by everything started to gradually change. The town got busier and started to grow. I decided to settle here because of the connection I felt with this town, the beauty of this place and especially the connection I felt with the locals. I fell in love, regardless of being a minority.

But then my whole perception changed when I was verbally abused with a racial slur, in the middle of the street a couple years ago. Now, me being the person I am, I don’t judge at all, and I believe everyone has their own perspective on life and has the freedom to be whatever they want to be.

I’ve never had a discriminative experience in my life. And I really didn’t think anything of racism, because I grew up believing that it was all in the past, so it doesn’t matter to me. Now, having experienced that, I was forced to rethink my beliefs on the topic. It was hard for me because I had the feeling that I was in a place that wasn’t for me. And it took a toll on me mentally. I felt alone and crushed even with the countless friendships I had, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t bounce back. I had to leave.

When I came back recently to the community, I came back with an open heart and ready to contribute to our community again. But it seems to have gotten worse.

Now, I believe in humanity, and Mother Nature. We are all here on this beautiful planet to experience life, to connect with each other as Spiritual beings. It’s not about the color of our skin, nor is it about how much money one has in their bank accounts. It’s about experiencing “Love” and spiritual connection as a human race. The real enemies are the soulless beings that led us into thinking that one race is greater than the rest, because they know that we are stronger together than apart. And they’ve been doing this for eons, way before our civilization.

We gotta open our eyes and seek truth in Love and completely reprogram our minds from all the lies we’ve been taught.

The world is changing and we all are feeling it, that’s why it’s so easy to be on either side of the river. We’ve got to start making better decisions or we won’t be able to survive this great shift.

 

Explaining the plight of a Black man

I keep my circle very small. Being in Gunnison, however, I have had to battle, duck and dodge through ramped complicity and mis-education. I’m often met with resistance when explaining the plight of a Black man. The constant cold stares I receive while I’m walking down the street or the looks of hate I get while simply grabbing dinner after a long hard day.

I find people are often inclined to tell you how to feel or what you haven’t been through, trying to rip you of your struggles. The blind eye that is cast over our town has a strong effect. Those who chose to stand up for something and those who simply do not care. I’ve been followed by store employees and called an epithet from time to time but I chose to refrain and disengage.

I’ve seen the darkest of times, which have allowed me to mentally distance from the hard dark realities of racism that plague us. I don’t mean this in a sense of content, I mean I stand for what is right and we have always been seen as wrong. I’m trying to do what I can to teach and expound on the ideas of true equality without becoming a target, but I know it might have to happen.

 

Being invisible

A recent racism experience happened at a local business I was trying to support. There was a sign letting customers know that only two patrons at a time were allowed in the business. Seeing two customers I waited (by the door) but the lady working tells me to stand outside so I obliged. So I’m standing outside on the railing when about 20 seconds later a white lady walks past me and goes inside. I’m still standing outside thinking “Oh well, she must work there,” because she didn’t come back to join the line since there were still two people in there getting service. About three minutes later the gentleman that was inside as a customer leaves and sees me still standing at the door. He asks if I’ve standing there all along and I replied yes. He then said “Huh, that’s funny because another lady walked in right after you were told to stand outside and she’s getting service right now!” To which I asked, “Doesn’t she work here? Because I thought maybe that’s why she wasn’t sent out as she passed me standing right here?” To that he replied “Hmmm, interesting…” then walked to his car and drove off.

I went inside and expressed my grievances to the employee who told me to stand outside and instead of her acknowledging what I was saying, she instead saw fit to dismiss it by telling me that it’s a busy day for her too. She said she doesn’t have time to see who’s in line or not—totally disregarding what I said and now making her problems mine, which sounded to me like “Be happy you even got service.” I never went back again.

That entire experience made me feel unseen, unvalued and very much discriminated against! Identifying and dealing with racism is a community effort. This incident had a ripple effect. I say this because if the gentleman that informed me of what was happening used his white privilege to address what was happening, things would have turned out different. If the lady that walked past me actually acknowledged me, she would have also known I was in line instead of just brushing past me like I was invisible! It then all goes back to the lady that rudely told me to stand outside. I’m grateful all that happened because I don’t want to support local businesses that don’t actually want and appreciate my business.

 

Are you really suited for this job?

I vividly remember how fast I got the e-mail that I got the job. My first “career” job. I had interviewed over the phone and I’m typically really good at those possibly due to my very “white-passing name.” I usually surprise people during an in-person interview or two with how “eloquent I sound with a real promise of good work ethic.” Yes, these are racist beliefs. I had never had someone so quickly decide on hiring me, a then-20-year-old, without meeting me in person. I was born and raised in Colorado and I have the diction and mannerisms of my white peers.

About seven years ago I was hired to manage the front desk of an office in Gunnison. This job was different from the moment I stepped in the front door to meet my new boss. He was very evidently surprised by my appearance. I took it in stride and thought this may be the start of a very powerful new partnership. Over time this dynamic drastically shifted. Comments were made about me being, “overdressed for the job.” I found this odd because I would wear a lot of the same things that I had worn in reception jobs just down street. My boss would say, “Around here we don’t really dress like this.” I began to dress in more casual attire (jeans and blouses). The boss then pulled me aside to let me know I needed to wear larger clothes, because I wasn’t dressing properly “for my body type.” Embarrassed, I profusely apologized. He could tell I was close to tears and then said, “I know this transition might be hard for you so I’m happy to help you.” This felt awful and condescending but, the boss was my superior and I was desperate to please, to gain the boss’ respect and acceptance.

My body was scrutinized and my hair was touched. The boss told me, “Women with chests like yours shouldn’t wear shirts like that,” while I tried on the most modest of shirts. I left work that day sobbing. Everything I did in my position was problematic; from being too friendly with patients to drinking caffeinated drinks. Finally, I was let go. I was told, “You don’t fit the image envisioned for the front office.” The boss said he felt bad and offered to pay me for an additional two weeks. I have never felt so degraded or depersonalized in a professional atmosphere in my life. Scarred from that experience I refused to share it until recent days. I only do so now to shed light on the very real racism that exists in the Gunnison Valley today.

This is why Elk Ave. is painted with the declaration “Black Lives Matter.” I have been devalued and disempowered in subtle and embarrassing ways in this very community and we, as Crested Buttians must do better. I want to raise my children here and know that I send them out the door to a community that judges them not by the color of their skin, but values them for the content of their character.

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