Malik Johnson: There was a change in the culture after 2016

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Malik Johnson — Courtesy Malik Johnson

Interview by Kyra Steck

I’m Malik Johnson. I’m 24 years old, and I’m from Connecticut. I used to come here for two weeks every summer, starting when I was 12 or 13. Then when I was 16, at the beginning of my junior year, I moved here full-time. Then I went to college at Fisk University, and now, I usually go off-Island for the winter and come back here for the summer. Because of COVID, I stayed a full year, and will probably stay another full year.

Growing up in New Britain, Conn., it was completely different than here. It’s more urban, like inner-city. Here, there’s way less violence. It’s way calmer. Coming here as a kid, it was actually nice because, where I’m from, you have fun but you have to worry about more. For example, at the high school I went to in Connecticut, we have way more fights. I’ve lost friends to gun violence and stuff like that. It’s hard to say whether I felt safer here, though, because where I’m from it’s dominated by people of color. So like, I feel safe here, and racism is not obviously apparent. I feel safer in a sense, but in another sense, when I’m in Connecticut, where I’m around my own people; you only see racism in certain situations. My town is dominated by my people, and we all treat each other pretty much the same.

Race was kind of taboo to talk about, but not after all this stuff. People have started coming up to me at the Stop & Shop and randomly apologizing. People say, “Oh, I’m sorry for the stuff you guys are going through.” Just random people. And, I mean, it’s not bad. I appreciate it. But it’s also like, you don’t have to apologize to me. I’m a regular human being. So the fact that they apologize makes me think that they feel like they have to make it a daily obligation. And that’s fine. They feel like that’s the right thing to do. I don’t know how genuine some of it may be, because I could be not talking about anything related to it, and they’ll bring it up. And I think, “How long have you been thinking about saying that? Did you walk in and see I was Black and think you should? Has it truly been weighing on your heart?” I take it as genuine, but I also think maybe I should shrug it off and just say I appreciate it.

There was a change in the culture here after the 2016 election. Trump only won because he says what people who feel the same way can’t say because they’re not of his power. So once he did that, people started to be more open. I guess I could say that when I see Trump shirts, hats, masks, I do feel some type of way. Because I guess if you support[ed] Trump, you can’t subtract how he feels about people of color. It sucks, because I feel like people who don’t support Trump and actually care for every race still get combined into that, because people think just because you’re white, you feel the same way. But it’s a guard you have to hold up, because sometimes people don’t say anything, but deep down, they feel a certain way.

It’s not postracial here. I don’t think anywhere is postracial. I think it’s just that the Island is one of the most private places in the country. People really come here to be on their own, so people aren’t trying to be bothered. But racism is here.