My Side of the Tracks: A Call For Understanding by Justin Alcala and Anthony Alexander Avila
Like a lot of you, I have a simple rule with people. If they anger, baffle or discourage me, I try to spin the table, flip the coin, walk a mile in their shoes. I try to justify actions I might not understand by thinking about the world from their perspective. A fool will say this is foolish and a wise person will say it’s wise. Whatever you want to call it, at this point it’s instinctive.
So when people took to the streets after the recent string of police murders, it was easy to understand. Now I’m half Mexican, so maybe it’s because I saw the struggles of my father. It’s easy to see the pain when you’ve watched it on the faces of people you love. Yet, everywhere online, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, there seemed to be this static, a genuine confusion amongst people. Not just any people, but specifically White America. Now, before you react, before you think, Here we go again with another lecture, read a little further. This isn’t a speech of criticism.
See, most of the White America confusion that I saw wasn’t hateful. It’s just that the questions seemed to lack insight from the other side. As G.K. Chesterton once said, “It isn’t that they cannot find the solution. It is that they cannot see the problem.” So I thought I’d reach out to an old friend of mine. A person from another lifetime, when I still lived in Chicago. I wanted to ask him questions for myself, and for others. I wanted to ask what’s it like being black during these unrestful times, and what is it that most of White America is getting wrong.
Now let me introduce you to Anthony. He’s a proud new dad, a musician at MoneyTeam Music Group, and a man who grew up on the streets. He’s tall, brawny and has a fierce look in his eyes. Some people might not admit that they lock their car door when he passes by. Yet, for the brief time that I knew him, all I’ve ever seen was a smart, kind and open-minded man, a guy vocal about erasing hate and getting everyone on the same page. In his opinion, the problem can’t be solved unless you first understand. You have to see things from his side of the tracks.
Anthony, thanks for taking the time to talk. Can you tell us who you are and why you may have some insight on current racial issues?
My name is Anthony Alexander Avila. I’m a mixed raced male, Black & Mexican, from Chicago.
I grew up in Englewood one of the more urban areas in the city. I’ve survived for thirty years in that environment, so I think my opinions hold some validity.
Seeing what you have from the African American and Latino community, what’s one thing that White America gets wrong?
I think there’s this sense of criminality associated with black and Latino communities. This is a false. It’s a narrative derived from film and media. They show urban areas as some war zone. There’s some truth to the violence, but that’s not all there is We have neighborhood clubs and block parties. My uncles host cookouts where everyone is invited regardless of race and class. Everyone can eat and coexist. I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for these people. I had neighbors that would watch out for me and my sister when my mom was working. You know the whole It takes a village to raise a child?. That was us. Not everything about the “Hood” is kill or be killed. We are people too. And that’s who you see in the streets. A community of tired people trying to find a voice against the violence we’ve been trudging through since the day we were born.
If you could reach out to White America and make one thing clear, what would it be?
Simple. Don’t judge a book by its cover.. Don’t let that fear of the unknown be what continues to run a divide between us as Human beings. We are not some alien race. We are you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about things you may not understand. As long as you’re humble about it, asking questions is the beginning. It’s what will help you understand why we feel slighted as a race.
Why do you think White America is now vocal about protests and looting, but they weren’t vocal when George Floyd was originally killed?
Honestly, I think once a fire burns hot enough no matter where you are you’re going to feel it. It’s scary to see angry ethnicities marching together on the streets where you walk. But it’s this same fire my people and our communities have been smoldering in for years — the fear, anxiety, confusion. As much as I think social media is a curse to humanity, I’m thankful for it because these atrocities that were normal in black and brown communities and starting to land right in the palms of White America.
You were able to WATCH Philando Castile be murdered in front of his child while unarmed. You were able to watch Eric Garner cry out, he can’t breathe eleven times while multiple officers restrained him. The entire world watched an officer put his knee in the neck of an unarmed black man for 9 MINUTES! It’s almost inhuman to not want to act or do something. Now, some people are acting out of love and some just don’t want to be burned again, but hopefully these recent events will be the tipping point and we can start moving towards REAL change.
What’s one thing you’d like African Americans and Latinos to think about?
Think about your place in the world. Think about the significance of your existence and what it means. Once we understand who we are as individuals then and only then can we come together and make change as a collective whole. Think about our children. Think about the future they will inherit. What are we leaving behind? Let’s fight to change the way history is taught in the school system. Let’s get the people who are confused to understand. The Latin and African American communities have made our nation what it is today. We have to teach our youth that there is no knowledge of self. That’s why so many kids view life as insignificant. They’re told they aren’t as important as others. That’s why they are able to take life so easily. The real change starts with us.
What do you think it’ll take to make the world right?
I think if we can look past things like race and wealth and focus more on the things that make us all human, then we will really see how significant ALL lives are. We are all more the same than we are different. We should spend our time trying to be the best human beings we possibly can. I feel like that’s the only way to find true peace, and I thank everyone who decides that today, they’ll be part of that change.
Anthony, thanks for answering these questions. I know they might sound simple, but sometimes it’s important to remind ourselves that confusion doesn’t mean ignorance and differences don’t mean hate.
No worries. If we can get one person to say, yeah, you know what, this is a problem, then it’s all worth it. Black, latino, white — we are so much more the same than we are different. White America, can you help? Can you look past your fears and see that this gets fixed when we all come together.