TENNESSEE DIVIDED: African-American perspective

Feb 13, 2018

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (OSBORNE)  --  The White Supremacist gatherings held in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville this past fall were unsettling for many Middle Tennessee residents regardless of their skin color.

Credit BLM Facebook

But overt racism is hardly something new for the mid-state’s African-American residents. Dr. Jennifer Woodard teaches communication at Middle Tennessee State University. She said black residents like herself experience some level of bias every day.

“It’s like ‘OK, I’m going out into the world now.’ And I know that everyone sees me…the color of my skin first. They don’t think about my character, or who I am. It’s simply the color of my skin, and so you brace yourself for the world,” Woodard said.

by way of example, Dr. Woodard said that regardless how nicely she dresses, it’s typical for employees to follow her around the department stores where she shops. They assume she is there to shoplift.

Woodard goes on to say that in the past year the tone of the bias incidents she endures have changed, and not for the better.

“Since Trump has become president, those little things are becoming more commonplace,” she said, “and there’s a new sense of threat that I feel wherever I go if I’m not in my safe place with people I know aren’t going to harm me.”

Nashville resident Denzel Caldwell describes similar fears. As a young, black man, he worries about what will happen anytime he’s out in public.

“I could be minding my own business, I could be driving, I could be hanging out with friends, and by virtue of the fact that I’m black I’m seen as a threat until proven otherwise,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell is a spokesperson for the Nashville chapter of the advocacy group Black Lives Matter. He agreed that the racial environment has deteriorated in the past year. He said others are now experiencing what the African-American community has long endured.  

“This threat, this type of threat that some people are now becoming aware of, in some ways encapsulates what it’s like being black in this country regardless of the administration. It’s just more explicit, more obvious,” he explained.

While she wasn’t ready to describe any part of the present troubles as a sliver living, Dr. Woodard said she’s pleased to see that it’s prompting some serious soul searching among a wider cross-section of the American public.

“It seems like that group is really realizing that the fight is – against racism and sexism -- is much deeper,” Woodard said. “That the racism and the roots of it in our nation are much deeper than any people who weren’t minorities understood. So it’s exciting to see that realization come to the forefront.”

Caldwell said the next step is to move beyond merely acknowledging the presence of racism, to taking action against it.

“Because it’s more direct, it’s more loud, more explicit, we have to be more direct and more intentional about the things that we need, not only to survive, but in order to affect policy. …Use the fear to guide you,” he concluded.

This story is part of the WMOT series entitled Tennessee Divided: An exploration of the cultural, racial and political discord across Middle Tennessee and the nation. Use the links included here to explore other stories in the series.