“Oh my God, you have a racist ear!”
A colleague and I were sitting in a coffee shop. This was before my cochlear implant a few months ago when my hearing disability was really at its peak. My work as a consultant puts me one on one and in groups with a lot of different people, including Black men.
I’d just told her that I had incredible difficulty hearing most Black men. Other men were often problems as well but not as bad as Black men.
It was funny and not.
Now that I have the cochlear implant, I hear everyone better, including, I think, Black men, although I’ve got to have more experience to testify. The notion of a racist ear persists, though, because I think I still have it even if my hearing is a lot better.
I think I hear everything through a race filter. I think I see everything through a race filter. In the same way that I am always conscious when talking to someone that they’re male or female, that identity overarching and defining everything they say and do, I am always conscious of someone being Black. I am never not conscious or aware. It doesn’t worry me or bother me. I don’t feel superior or inferior. I’m not frightened or anxious in any way. I’m just constantly conscious.
I’d like to lose the constant consciousness of race. I think it makes me guarded and careful. It means that I don’t relax. I guess it means I’m not myself. It’s a barrier between me and other people. It makes me wonder why I am so wary. What do I think is going to happen?
There has to be something that fuels my race consciousness, that tells me to keep my guard up. Something that has outlasted a lifetime of working with Black people, being friends with Black people, being welcomed and treated well by Black people. What is that tiny, mean nugget?
Is it genetic?
Is it cultural?
Is it an unhappy family heirloom, a secret gift slipped into my suitcase when I left my parents’ home?
If it came down a line of my ancestors, have I passed it on? Am I a link in an endless chain of people who do their best but just can’t get past race?
I don’t know. That’s my answer. I don’t know.
But at least I’m asking. It’s something. It’s a start.