Race in America is at the forefront of recent news, after shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the targeted killings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. President Obama connected race to these at a memorial service last week in Dallas. Some feel this conversation is long overdue.
Texas State Sen. Royce West from Dallas posted an open letter to his Facebook page this week titled “Questions from a Black Man”. It details some of the pain he’s felt from the judging eyes of others.
West says he decided to write the letter after listening to the perspectives of other black men. “I think we need to have this discussion,” he says. “Perceptions tend to become reality. Whether perception is real or not really doesn’t matter.”
The letter, West hopes, will prompt conversation among Texans, especially with their African-American friends.
“African-Americans sometimes feel, What about me frightens you?” he says. “Why is it that when you approach me you feel a sense of insecurity?”
West says he’s had people moved away from him when he’s been in an elevator and he has wondered why it happens. “Is it happening because I’m 6’4″? Or it is happening because I’m 6’4″ and African-American?”
Reactions like that, West says, may have to do with a “preconceived notion” the person may have about him as an individual. He says this happens to him despite the fact he’s an election official and a lawyer.
“There are a lot of people that fit the same profile that I fit (who) feel the same way,” he says. “It’s not just me individually. It’s a collective ‘we’ as it relates to how some people feel that they are being perceived.”
After he posted the letter on Facebook, West says he received favorable responses and he encourages everyone to continue having conversations about race and perception. He says that white people calling black men “boy” isn’t always due to racism, but nevertheless black men view it as “derogatory.”
“People need to understand that most people aren’t raised to fear African-Americans,” he says. “Sometimes people do that out of an insensitivity, not necessarily racism…. It’s a piece I’m asking people to read and hopefully have conversations about.”
Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.
Post by Hannah McBride.