Reflections of a White Girl (working title)
I come by way of my hometown Denver Colorado, Southern California, where I attended college and began my work as an activist, and New York, Brooklyn to be exact, where I found my home, my heart, and my life’s work. I also come by way of the communities I represent; empowered young women; educators and activists, and hip-hop culture. All three of these communities give me cause for celebration and are a critical part of my life.
Susan Goldbery and Cameron Levin, founders of AWARE state, “ until the legacy of white supremacy is fully addressed, all people living in the United States will be unable to move forward with our humanity intact.”
What drove me to write my life story is rooted in this belief. The belief that I, as a white person, am indeed responsible for the legacy of my forefathers and mothers. That I, as a white person, can not run away from my white people, or my own whiteness. And that I, as a white person, do myself, nor anyone else any good if I hide behind feelings of guilt and shame.
But I have to tell you, it was a long journey for me to get to this place. When I was a pre-teen I started feeling the tension in my community and school.
I couldn’t name it.
Couldn’t touch it. But it penetrated deeply within me.
Growing up in a diverse neighborhood I was blessed with friends of many colors and backgrounds. And that was all good, until I became of “dating age.” Freshman year, high school: a guy from down the block asked me to go out with him. 3 months later we were an item. He was black. And although my mom was fine with it, there were many others adults who were not. He was walking me home one night when the cops pulled up beside us, shinning a light it our faces. The two cops, who were white, started giving my boyfriend a hard time, asking him for ID and threatening to take him to jail if he didn’t go home. They told me to get in the backseat of the car. I was scared, and I didn’t want anything bad to happen to my boyfriend, so I did as I was told. They slowly drove down Glencoe street to get to my house. It felt so long, that drive, as they took turns berating me, asking me ‘what’s wrong with you? Don’t you know that white girls like you aren’t supposed to be with black guys?’
That experience, coupled with many other racial slurs, and ignorant comments and behaviors began driving a wedge between me and my white community. I felt like I was being lied to. I felt dis-ease in the pit of my stomach with each of these interactions. I began internalizing the mixed messages of the myriad of adults around me—my teachers, my relatives, the priest where I prayed every Sunday, the cops, and sometimes, even my parents.
So I fled.
I fled as far from myself as I could get, thinking I could escape the destiny of my skin color, of my whiteness. I would show them. I would just leave it all behind.
So at 16 I joined a gang. I got down with the Crips. It took a while, cause the set I joined didn’t want me in the beginning. Lucky for me my best friend was the top graffiti artist, had been down with the Crips for a while, and pulled massive weight. His juice helped me get in the door. Then I had to do the rest. The next couple of years I spent living two lives; school girl by day, gang-banger by night. Hiding my new crew affiliation from my family was a challenge in all ways, especially emotionally. See the biggest problem was I wasn’t happy in either life. I felt a huge, empty and painful void, and I was desperate to fill that void; I was desperate to feel whole.
Without going into details, I was lucky to have survived my high school years, and not just because of my involvement in the Crips. My life was a mess; full of self destructive behaviors and bad decision making over and over again. Many people I hung out became addicts, or incarcerated or were killed.
I am truly lucky to be alive today. But, in reality, it wasn’t just luck.
Even though my goal was to escape my whiteness, it followed me everywhere. It was there for me upon each robbery; it was there for me when the cops came and hauled everyone to jail except me; it was there when I got off and my friends got hit with the max.
So no, it wasn’t just luck. It was privilege. Skin privilege. White privilege.
I left Denver a month after I graduated from high school. My best friend, and my boyfriend at the time, both Crips, got locked up, looking at 4 years. I was desperate to escape. My class privilege allowed me to do just that, escape.
College was the best things that could have happened to me. At first I was in culture shock, surrounded by a sea of white people. I felt out of place, so I took Africana studies classes to meet people of color, folks who liked hip-hop and that I could relate to. It was in these classes that my cloud of ignorance began dissipating. It was during these lectures and discussions that the bomb exploded in my brain. It was the first time I was able to contextualize my experiences in Denver. I began to see the larger picture, learning the difference between prejudiced people who were mean spirited, and institutions that used structual racism to undermine, exploit, dehumanize, and oppress children, youth, and adults of color. I learned the importance of Franz Fanon’s assertion that each generation, out of relative obscurity, must discover its own destiny. Then it has a choice. It may fulfill that destiny or betray it.
Well I had a new destiny. It was redemption.
Remember when I spoke earlier about guilt and shame? This is the time in my life when I had to really work through this—forcing myself to move beyond hating myself because I was white, to not stay stuck in the paralysis of privilege. It was different from my teenage years, where I knew something was deeply wrong but I couldn’t name it; didn’t understand it. Now I had the knowledge, the language, and the historical framework of what I learned was white supremacy, institutional racism, and oppression. All that was left to do was to act on that knowledge.
So now we come full circle in a way. What I learned during college in my Africana Studies classes was about slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, integration (which I was part of in Denver), the civil rights movement, the first, second, and third wave. What I learned was that things have gotten better, that we’ve made gains.
But today I wake up to emails about nooses. About Jena 6. About Megan Williams. More nooses. A resurgence of despicable, degrading, and disgusting behaviors on the part of white people against people of color. Cowardly white people, who hide behind painful symbols of hatred. Who feel emboldened under the cover of anonymity.
How did we get here again? Or did we ever leave this place? This place of great divide, of inequality, of greed, of racism, of war inside and out?
If we had made the great strides politicians always speak about, if we had made significant gains in laws, policies, advocacy, I do not believe we would be here today.
See it is not just the individuals hanging the nooses and terrorizing people of color that is to blame. It is the continuation of a society built upon structural racism that allows a white person growing up in this country to feel entitled to have these feelings, these thoughts. Its everywhere you look: from the educational system, to police brutality, to the prison industrial complex, to the unemployment rate, health care…inequality is everywhere. So for every murder of a black person that goes unsolved or unpunished it shows us it shows us it is okay; it is okay to treat some children better than others; it is okay to education some children more than others; it is okay to clean up the air in certain neighborhoods and not others.
But I’m not here to give you stats and facts to prove that racism still exists, because honestly, I don’t feel like I need to prove it to you. I believe everyone here knows that we are living in a society that places a white child’s life as more valuable and important that an African American, or Latino, or Asian child’s life.
One racist person can indeed hurt us, but it is the systems, structures and institutions who perpetuate racist practices on a daily basis that truly inflict the most damage. And until those systems, structures, and institutional practices are destroyed, we will continue to live in a place which perpetually denies and limits the beauty and power of human potential and possibility.
So what can we do?
Fighting for racial equity is the name of the game. A multi-faceted approach is the way to do it. Individually, every single day that you draw breath you must consciously walk in the world demanding justice. It looks like not co-signing on bullsh-- from a racist joke to job discrimination. It looks like speaking up whenever necessary, whether you are in the mood or not. It looks like engaging people in dialogue, provoking deep thought and mindset shifts of family, friends and co-workers. Institutionally, it looks like penetrating racist institutions and changing them from within, kinda like an undercover revolutionary. Radicalize from within.
Simultaneously we need to have an independent movement that uses "by all means necessary" to interrupt and eradicate all forms of white supremacy and institutionalized racism. That, I believe, should be the master plan to create a just, harmonious, and sustainable planet.
I absolutely believe that the hip-hop generation has the power and ability to bring about change in society. But it's gonna take something, and it's not gonna happen overnight. No real social change does. What we have going for us is unity, hip-hop activists, intergenerational and multi-racial membership, and a sense of purpose. What we have is hip-hop organizations across the nation who are fighting for change systemically as well as individually. What we have is a critical mass of voting age hip-hop heads who really do care about social, economic, political equity. An organized movement is the key, and that movement is building as we speak. If you don't believe me, do some research. Look up people, places, and organizations like Rosa Clemente, Davey D, Kuttin' Kandi, Kahlil Almustafa, REACHip-Hop, Imix Bookstore, the Hip Hop Mental Health Project, We Got Issues! Tools of War, the Bishop of Hip Hop, Tim Wise, M1, MXG, Hip Hop Sustains, the NHHPC, the League of Indy Voters, Jeff Chang, Danny Hoch... the list goes on and on and on.
My name is Jennifer JLOVE Calderon.
I am a dedicated to truth love and freedom
I commit myself to creating community, building healthy tribe, righting wrongs, and loving completely.