‘To be Black in Minnesota is to be Able to Live Wounded by Racism’

Commotion echoed through the house from the living room while my father’s right hand tightly clutched, forcefully pounded the center of his left hand. With veins so prominent, his hands always seemed like that of a giant. They seemed to pulsate while he told my mother of an altercation he and my uncle had encountered.

My father is a natural storyteller, but the deep bass of his voice carried through the house so intensely that the walls seemed to tremble. This was different from his usual funny stories, in which he would talk about his childhood growing up in a house with eight siblings. His stories ended with an open-mouth laugh that would fill whatever space he occupied. There was no laughter at the end of this story. 

Around the late ’80s, my father and uncle stopped at a stop sign on their way home in the East St. Paul area one evening. They came across a large group of about twenty white men who appeared to be white supremacists, easily identified by their shaved heads and tattoos that loudly stated the nature of their beliefs. 

Beliefs that were aligned with the significantly long history of racial tension between Black and white people. The same beliefs that justified chattel enslavement, the nooses that wrung necks, and the flames that burned Black bodies. The same beliefs that could prevent two Black men from getting home to their families. Knowing and experiencing this level of disdain, my father and uncle intensely watched the group cross in front of and behind his car. 

After noticing there were two Black men in the car, a member of the group kicked the bumper making the car move slightly. Coming from the tough neighborhoods of westside Chicago, Illinois, my father and uncle did not have the spirit of backing down no matter how obviously outnumbered they were. They jumped out of the car to confront the men. While talking to one member of the group, another man came behind my father and pushed him in the back.

This inevitably resulted in a physical fight, which ended with my father and uncle running the group off. I think their willingness to fight twenty men may have been the deterrence for the group. It was a small win in a lifelong battle. My father and my uncle returned home unharmed, but this event like many others they encountered, added to wounds already accrued due to generations of racism and oppression. 

These wounds revealed themselves in the aspiration he set aside to provide for his family. Dreams are frivolous in a world that places intentional barriers in the paths of Black men then point and laugh at their demise. His wounds were shown through the pressure he put on my siblings and me to succeed and the embrace of our many talents.

I started to watch the lines in my father’s forehead and how they started to cut deep over the years even though now he still looks relatively young for the age of 55. They seemed to grow every time his skills were overlooked in the workplace, every time he was pulled over by police officers because he “fit the description”, and every time he saw or heard of another Black man being killed by the social conditions they were forced into, or by the hands of police officers.   

Minnesota was a culture shock for my family and I. Although my parents understood the dynamics of race in America, coming from predominantly black communities in Chicago, they were allowed to exist without continuous explanation of themselves. In Minnesota, they needed to explain the nature of our hair, adopt the ability to code-switch and acclimate to white society to get and keep a job. They simply had to learn how to navigate in most Minnesota neighborhoods, businesses, and schools. 

I, however, being a young child and barely understanding my own identity outside of Barbie dolls and cornrows, had to quickly learn the complexities of my existence starting with the first time I was called a N—- in kindergarten for being the only little Black girl in a predominantly white classroom. I had no knowledge of what that meant until I went home and had the generational “talk”, which is a conversation every African American family has with their children to prepare them to fight and survive society. 

I gained my first wound that day.

I had to learn that not only was I Black, but my Blackness would determine how I navigate a society that views Black people as commodities, therefore seeing us as less than human. A system that intentionally oppresses people of color but blames them for their conditions. A society that sees Black bodies as dispensable, barely batting an eye when Black bodies are hung, shot, or diminished to stains on concrete.

And in Minneapolis, the devaluation of Black people lay evident in George Floyd’s last breath while former police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds while his body slowly became lifeless. 

To be Black in Minnesota is to be able to live wounded by racism.

To be able to sit in offices and classrooms where there are few that look like you and to endure continuous microaggressions and a different set of rules when it comes to policies and practices. It is to be void of emotions for fear of being labeled as “mad” or “unstable”, and the inability to make mistakes because they are unforgivable.

These pent-up emotions create feelings of hopelessness and defeat. So, we have to numb our pain daily to prevent screaming out from the pit of our gut in agony. The emotions that we harbor daily have not solely damaged our spirits but its energy has motivated us to excel beyond obstacles and continue to fight for our freedom and confront injustices.

Although I did not personally know George Floyd or know anything about his life, his death represents the historical perpetuation of white supremacy and systematic racism that denies people of color access to basic resources and equitable practices in housing, education, and banking.

He represents my fears as a Black mother raising two Black sons, who could one day go to the convenience store, go for a jog, play with toys outside, or even sleep in their own bed and be subjected to death by hate.

He was not simply murdered by a knee on his neck, but by generations of open wounds worn raw from Black men and women and people of color being killed for simply existing. 

People are tired. The Black community is not willing to continue to be scarred by bigotry, ignorance, and hate, and forced to smile in the midst of heartache and bloodshed of its people. I understand why my father chose to risk it all and stand and fight that night. Understanding his joy when there were small wins and anger when exhausted from fighting daily, I now carry his wounds and my own while watching my young children gain theirs. I am screaming with the world right now, “enough!”

Cassie J. Williams joined Labor Education Service in 2020. She earned a B.A. in Literature and Creative Writing and a M.A. in Education from Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU). With a passion for education, she has an extensive background in student affairs, diversity, equity and inclusion. When she is not teaching and advocating for the rights of others, she enjoys spending time with her family and writing poetry with aspirations of one day completing multiple works of poetry. 

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