Shaw: Stand up to racism, lose shelter
Entrance to the Sunnyvale homeless shelter on Hamlin Court. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

I will no longer be writing articles as a client of the Sunnyvale shelter. Unfortunately, I was removed from the facility for fighting.

I got into an altercation with another client after I asked him to wear a mask while sitting beside my bed. Harsh words were exchanged, and it escalated after I was called the n-word. Although I didn’t throw the first punch, the word sent me to fury.

 To me, the n-word is a slave word. There’s no other slur used to degrade an ethnicity that is more racist than that. Derived from the pain and suffering of Black people, when they were treated as sub-human in this country. To direct the slur at me shows total disregard for the brutality, suffering and dehumanization of my ancestors. To say it out of spite, because a mask was asked to be put on, turns an argument into a fight.

About a week before being exited from the shelter, I visited Washington, D.C. for the first time. I didn’t think I would enjoy it, but there is so much history there. I visited the Lincoln Memorial and stood in the spot where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. I visited the MLK Memorial and took pictures next to quotes that I felt spoke to me.

The most important attraction to me was the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which was amazing. The museum is huge, and the many exhibits make it impossible to take everything in with just one visit. The multi-leveled space is filled with various galleries and walks visitors through the history and culture of Black people in America, beginning with slavery through the current era. It was a very sobering experience.

Racism is the main reason for the constant erosion of the rights of Black people in America today. States like Georgia have enacted voting laws that suppress minority voting rights. States like Idaho have enacted laws banning books and the teaching of critical race theory. States like Mississippi have enacted laws criminalizing abortion, even under extreme circumstances.

There is a dangerous undercurrent of racism that has found its way into legislatures, and has emboldened extremists, as they try to turn back the clock in America. The killing of innocent Black people by white civilians, just because they’re Black, shows how America has changed.

Sometimes people get accustomed to treating people a certain way, with no retribution. Maybe there is a Black person who will allow you to call them the n-word to their face and let you get away with it. Hate and open hostility is meant to cause fear and intimidation. I’m not that person. The more a racist goes unchallenged, the more emboldened they will become, which is what we’re seeing today in this country.

There are lots people who are proud and stand up for things, but not many who will stand up and fight, whether literally or figuratively. Racism and bigotry has been allowed to thrive, and Black lives are being lost because of it. But standing up to racism, after asking someone to put on a mask, got me kicked out of a shelter for a year.

I chose to fight against racism, because I love my heritage and culture. I have a feeling people will be fighting for other individuals rights that are being taken away in this changing America.

Jerome Shaw is homeless and previously lived at a HomeFirst shelter in Sunnyvale. He’s a leader in the Sunnyvale Clients Collaborative—a union of homeless shelter residents in the region—and is part of a group of homeless columnists writing for San José Spotlight’s In Your Backyard column to shine a light on the homeless experience in Silicon Valley.

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