Discomfort. We all know that feeling don’t we? For Black Americans, our daily reality is like an Olympic event built on navigating and adjusting to the different levels of discomfort we all are forced to deal with as we go forward with our daily lives. If there were world records or gold medals for navigating “discomfort,” Black Americans would be ranked number one in the world.
We have this discomfort because our reality in American society is one where our mere existence in the public sphere is a constant reminder of our historic place in American society. When we enter a work or school environment, we immediately smile and exhale just a little bit if we happen to see that we are not the only Black person in that space. It’s the nod of acceptance that, no matter how uncomfortable things get today, we will not be alone.
As Gen Z Black Americans, we all have our own stories—stories that are often work- or school-based and have the recurring theme of comments or actions made from a foundation of ignorance or hate.
We have experienced the unwanted touching of our hair.
We have experienced being the only Black person in a space when the discussion in the room is about a certain part of American history and the expectation is that we, the only Black person there, will somehow carry the burden of making the “others” comfortable with their connection to those who enslaved and dehumanized us.
We have experienced that group setting where someone says out loud the thought in their head they knew was racist and should have kept it to themselves.
We also understand that no matter how much discomfort we experience in our society, those who are responsible for our school or work environments seldom—if ever—express concern over our discomfort. The expectation has and will likely continue to be one where our feelings as Black Americans are of little concern to those who have never had to feel one moment of discomfort over their ethnicity or gender in any space in our society. They honestly have never cared how we have felt and that is unlikely to change.
The Public Anger of White America
And while we sit with our discomfort, we have also watched the rise of the overt and growing expressions of public anger that “white” America has recently demonstrated when confronted with the truth. The real truth of the American experience is now being told in small ways in many spaces in our society. The backlash against this, otherwise known as the anti-critical race theory movement, is one deeply rooted in the underlying fear that so many white Americans have with having to actually acknowledge the real history of our nation.
The first stage of this orchestrated effort to create outrage started in our schools. Parents, motivated by the fear of having a new version of “the talk” with their kids about the history of racism in our nation, reacted to this potential discomfort by storming school board meetings from Southlake, Texas to every part of our nation. They screamed and yelled at everyone in attendance veiled threats of action against any administrator, teacher, or librarian who would teach with a critical lens, or who would simply teach the truth about America.
This outrage spread into other parts of our society. From colleges to Fortune 500 companies, these same people expressed their outrage at having to deal with any type of education, training, or even email that made them think about the historical struggles different ethnic groups faced in the birth and rise of the United States of America.
And as these angry white folks captured school board seats across the nation and led efforts to defund any type of corporate diversity training, they realized that this would never be enough. The blowback to some of their best efforts to ensure that “both sides” were taught about the Holocaust or Nazi ideology made them realize that more action was needed. They needed to reach deeper into our society and create a new level of action that would give them the legal right to shut down anyone or any entity who dared to make them feel discomfort.
As crazy as this may sound, their call for action was heard and taken up by one of the current leading figures of the newly emerging “white discomfort caucus.” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the Republican members of the state legislature have now taken the leadership mantle in ensuring that white America never has to learn the truth. To protect those who are so fragile that a simple statement of facts can cripple them, new legislation passed the Florida Senate Education Committee last week that will prohibit Florida’s public schools and any private business in the state from making white people feel “discomfort” when they teach or train students and employees about the history of racism and discrimination in our nation.
The legislation, Senate Bill 148 By State Senator Diaz, is entitled as an act relating to individual freedom. It states that
An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, does not bear responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex. An individual should not be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race.
For every Black Generation Z person reading this so far, I can assure you our level of rising discomfort associated with knowing what these words really mean, not only for us but our future children and grandchildren, can not be understated. We understand that this is an attempt to ensure that our nation never has to address and apologize for the centuries of racism that created the wealth and privilege for white Americans while sentencing everyone else to an existence where the American Dream can only be a fantasy that is never truly attainable.
The honest goal of the leaders of the discomfort caucus is not only to protect white Americans from ever having to hear the truth about our nation, but also to put into law a new form of segregation that ensures our current system of white privilege is never challenged. When you read the legislation in detail you see on line 291 that it also includes the following:
Meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are not racist but fundamental to the right to pursue happiness and be rewarded for industry.
The audacity to propose placing into law language about “hard work ethic” when the history of our nation is one based on using the stolen labor, income, and the very lives of those they enslaved to create the very wealth and privilege that they are now desperately fighting to protect with this fake outrage is maddening.
What scares them the most is not the discomfort that comes from having to learn the truth about our nation’s history, but the reality that with this truth will come the need to address the long-overdue reparations for the descendants of those whose lives and collective “hard work ethic” they stole from to create their wealth and privilege. As uncomfortable as it is for many to hear this truth, the time has come for us to push back and demand an end to this blatant effort to once again disregard the discomfort and stolen legacy that Black Americans have and continue to face here since 1619. We built this nation and we will not allow your discomfort to silence us in our effort to achieve justice and equality for all Americans.