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Black Voices On Racism: 'To Be Black In America At My Age Is Exhausting'


At this moment when many Americans are reckoning with the country's long racist history, we've asked Black Americans to talk about their experiences with racism in America and to tell us stories that have shaped their understanding of the world. Today let's listen to Rochelle Williams. She's a 59-year-old Black woman and native Californian.

ROCHELLE WILLIAMS: When I wake up in the morning, I wake up feeling like all things are possible. And I have a loving husband. I am safe. I have a lot of good things going on in the midst of all of this. But when I leave the house, the whole dynamic changes for me. It leaves me feeling unsettled because I don't know how and why people are responding to me the way that they are. You don't know if someone was rude to you because they're just rude or it's because you're Black. You don't know if you didn't get the job because you were not as qualified as another candidate or because you're Black. There are things that you are always second-guessing about yourself and your life and how people respond to you. And so when you get back into the door of your home, you are returning to your safe place.

One of the analogies that I like to use when I am speaking to people is when I hear them say things like, oh, that was a long time ago. You know, I didn't do this to you. Get over it already. You know, it's not my fault that you guys were slaves - blah, blah, blah. And I say, you know, if you were dating a woman who had been abused in a previous relationship and there were certain things that, from time to time, triggered her, that made her respond defensively, you would not dare say to her, I'm not your old boyfriend. You need to stop whining about this. You would never say that to someone because that experience is embedded in them.

And that's the point that I try to make. This is a generational, embedded experience. Don't just blow it off and say, well, it wasn't us. I'm not blaming you in particular, but I need for you to recognize what a system has done and continues to do and not diminish my experience. Just because it's not yours doesn't mean that it's not meaningful. To be Black in America at my age is exhausting.

CHANG: That was Rochelle Williams in Hemet, Calif. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.