Conversation: Chad Smith

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EDITOR’S NOTE – Below is the fourth of our six-part Series entitled Conversation: Questions & Perspectives in 2020. Winters Media & Publishing Inc. asked six black community leaders to share their points of view in the worldwide #BlackLivesMatter debate and how it relates to Coweta County. Today, our Q&A is with Chad Smith.

Chad Smith grew up in Newnan and was graduated from Oglethorpe University in 2013. Chad is a Financial Advisor with Edward Jones, and works to help people make better financial decisions. His mission of service includes volunteering and mentoring with the NAACP, Ruth Hill Elementary, West End Rotary Club and as a proud brother of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated.

1. When you walk into a grocery store and see “Aunt Jemima” pancake mix or “Uncle Ben’s” rice, what are your thoughts?

At first glance, it doesn’t mean anything. But when you think about the depiction of “Aunt Jemima” and “Uncle Ben,” and the stereotypes and stigmas associated with them – it is beyond frustrating. Even worse, people who are not affected by the stigmas associated with Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben are making billions of dollars in profit off of the idea of a docile black person being turned into a caricature. I have never heard either name used in a positive manner, but they are known big brands that profit off of their depictions daily.

2. How do you respond to the typical white person saying “well, if they (a black person) had just done what they police told them to, none of this (arrest, beating, etc.) would have happened to them?”

That thought process itself is a huge issue and frames issues incorrectly. That mentality assumes that the justice system has been so “perfect” and never treated groups differently. It assumes that there is no room for mistakes and human bias in the system, when that just isn’t true. It is a “cop out” answer and it is a waste of time trying to respond to a person that thinks that way. If someone does not care about how or why these situations have happened, they probably will not till they have a similar experience with the legal system either. But that only leaves room for us to evaluate a system based off our own personal experiences, and that does not allow for evaluations to evaluate if the system is equal and more importantly, if it’s rooted in justice. They do not want to address issues within the system.

3. Along those same lines, have you ever had an experience with law enforcement that raised concerns for you? 

I have had multiple concerning experiences with law enforcement, as have nearly all the Black community. But what isn’t addressed enough is the emotional tax and labor involved trying to explain these personal encounters with a racist system. It’s plentiful, it’s triggering, and it’s exhausting.

 4. What should be done with the Confederate Battle Flag? Should it be retired to museums. Should it be banned from public events? Essentially, where does it belong and not belong? 

The Confederate battle flag belongs in museums and history books. It belongs in the past. It is not representative of the America that countless people sacrificed to create, or the progress that American has made to date. The Confederate battle flag does not belong in any public place that is symbolic for the United State of America in terms of where we stand today, what we choose to value and focus on, and what we collectively deem important as a society. I am flabbergasted that the losing side of a war has statues and monuments commemorating their heroic actions. Let’s not forget how long the Confederacy was in existence. It is much more a symbol of oppression and racism, than history. It represents hatred, it represents capitalism over humanity, and it has no part in paving the way to a better future. It doesn’t need to be erased from history – it is important as acknowledgement of the mistakes and hatred we create, and don’t erase that – but it has no purpose or role in our path moving forward as a nation.

5. Do you see that flag as a symbol of hate speech or a relic of past history for Southern pride?

The Confederate battle flag is a symbol of the past.  It directly represents an era that did not recognize people that looked like me as people can, but either determined us to be a commodity or less than that. It represents a society and culture that undeniably built a prosperous economy off slave labor, murder, rape, fear and oppression— a culture that truly translated genocide to economic prosperity. Those persons were willing to wage war to keep things the way they were and lost. Southern pride by no means should be synonymous with these feelings or concepts. There should not be pride associated with these actions and ideologies.

6. What should be done with Confederate statutes of Civil War generals and heroes in public places?

 The Confederate statues of Civil War generals and heroes in public places should be taken down. When you evaluate these memorials in terms of what they support, it is the equivalent of waving flags to support genocide. It’s not okay, and should not be celebratory cultural content. They should be taken down to reflect what we are working towards as a society, and transformed into memorials for the victims of the Civil War. Healing should be valued way more than trigger intergenerational trauma in the false name of history.

7. What about the Confederate statues in downtown Newnan?

The statues should be replaced with a memorial serving the healing purposes of the victims. I think It is paramount to make sure our intentions are reflected in our actions. We cannot push for equality while memorializing oppression.

 8. Pop groups Lady Antebellum and The Dixie Chicks are now calling themselves Lady A and The Chicks. Dixie Beer is changing its name, along with many other product names like Aunt Jemima. Where does it stop? What about black coffee or brownies or Cracker Barrel or White Castle? When does this end?

This ends when people stop profiting and taking advantage of oppressed people, whether intentionally or not. As you become aware of something being offensive to your consumers, you have a social responsibility to do better. You cannot change the past but you can make changes presently in hope of a better future. It’s really simple- are you actively being part of the solution? If not- you’re likely supporting cultural elements that are a huge part of the problem. It sounds silly just saying it- but are we willing to support branding and names over human rights?

 9. A lot of people watching the protests on television cannot grasp why blacks would riot in their own neighborhoods, destroy black businesses or businesses that hire primarily black employees. What is your response?

It can be easy to sit back and comment about what an appropriate reaction may be while you’re comfortably removed from and not impacted by the issue at hand. Stop trying to understand from the comforts of your home, and go into those communities and listen, empathize,  and advocate. Instead of criticizing, ask yourself how much pain and frustration led to this. Ask yourself how much trauma one community can handle.

Martin Lurther King Jr. said “A riot is the language of the unheard. And what is that America has failed to hear?” I echo that same question. What is going on so bad that Black people would riot in their own neighborhoods and destroy their own businesses? I would go further to challenge people watching on television in the safety of their homes to ask the question “how can I be a part of the solution?”

10. Most parents have “the talks” – drugs and sex. It seems black parents/relatives also have to have another talk with their teenagers living in a white world. How does that go? 

As a teen, I was a six foot 270 pound football player with dreads that alway made good grades and was active in my community. Everyone from my dad to my cousins would tell me that I have to carry myself a certain way so that I would not be seen as a threat to people, not just white people. White people would not see how smart, kind, funny you are because they would see a thug, gangsta or whatever term was being used to describe black people at the moment. Black teenagers are taught that they cannot be themselves very early and are constantly being reminded by the world that “we are not ok with you.” Our conversations are not “you can be whatever you want to be if you work hard” but more like “you can make it in the world if you keep your blackness in check and are twice as good as the white people in the room with you.”

While their white peers are getting fairytales, our Black youth are getting coached to survive, to simply make it out alive. We don’t get the option to just be a kid- our childhood is cut short by having to be told we are seen as a societal threat simply so we can keep safe.

11. So what is correct in responding to race? Is it “black,” “Black,” “African-American,” or “people of color?”

Black. Even though black is a single color and does not give justice to all the beautiful shades that we Black people come in, but it is a trauma bond that we can all relate to. But that does not take away from the fact that we are American and want to be treated accordingly and saying African American and Black can be an easy and unconscientious way to create more divisions between Americans. But if we have to talk about us in terms of race, we are Black and proud.

I think it’s also important to take note of how historically, our identities have been taken from us. Not all Black Americans have African lineage. We have roots from other places too, and it is important to allow us to express our cultural identity rather than assigning one to us.  It’s also important to reclaim the word “Black.” It is a beacon of strength, not an insult.

12. What is one main thing you wished white people understood about race in America.

“One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Just because we have words in our constitution, anthem, government and laws that talk about equality, freedom, and justice does not mean that we do not have to actively participate in making this nation “indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” People of Color need for you to have empathy and compassion for our issues because for hundreds of years, our government actively and conscientiously discriminated based on color. We, Americans,  have a lot more years of race being used to oppress people of color than years that we have “moved on from caring about race.” So just because you do not see color, does not mean that color is not real and affects people differently.  You don’t need to have personal experience with these issues to take them as truth, and to take them on as issues you want to change too.

13. What is the most significant thing white people can do to improve their part of race relations?

Remember that everyone sees the world through their own lens. Life and experiences make each person’s lenses totally differently from the person next to you. If I put on your glasses, I will see the world completely different. That being said, white people have to understand that people of color face everyday challenges that a lot of people will never have to contemplate. So listen, empathise and advocate for your brothers and sisters of color.

14. Should we focus on being “colorblind” or acknowledge and celebrate our various “colors” as a part of our makeup?

Celebrate various colors. Being colorblind does not acknowledge the biases that we may or may not have against people. Whether implicit or explicit, we need to be aware of how we treat different people and we will never see it if we cannot see the group that it happens to. We should celebrate other cultures and not wash other cultures down enough that we feel comfortable with it.  The world is a lot more beautiful in color than it is in black and white. My color isn’t the issue – our societal relationship to it is.

15. Every parent has problems with their kids’ choice of music. But how do we deal with certain mainstream Rap music that glorifies gangs, cop killing, degrading of women and more than enough of the N- and other similar derogatory words? 

Music is simply stories created  from feelings and experiences, whether positive or negative. You cannot be upset with artists for telling stories that are true to them and people can relate to. If anything, I think that it shows there are people that we need to change their experiences so that their stories will not be about how they had to join a gang to survive, they felt that killing a cop would be a better choice than dealing with the consequences, degrading women was ok or there are other ways of expressing themselves than using derogatory words.  But we have to remember that it is also entertainment and the entertainment and media world is controlled by white people. It is time for the system that controls these narratives to start sharing stories that meet these criteria because those artists exist also. We can do our part by putting our money where our mouth is and supporting the artists that do not glorify gangs, cop killing, degrading of women and the N- and other similar derogatory words.

I also think we have to change the relationship between capitalism and race. We cannot as a society demean these experiences and life narratives, while also providing no alternative or support for these communities— all while profiting off of them. Black existence cannot matter solely in terms of profits for White America, and their entertainment.

16. Any final thoughts?

These conversations are important but it is paramount that actions are taken. Words alone will not be the catalyst for change that we desperately are overdue for.

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