“They don’t want us here.” “You know how they are.” “You know what they say about ________ people.” They– the ominous, seemingly ever- present gender neutral plural pronoun that follows us through life. We include these social gatekeepers, an internalized inner circle of critics and pseudo sages of America’s many cultures in our conversations. Their words, never heard from the source though often repeated, determine our decisions and course of action. We take into consideration their opinions and perceptions of us and them. But, have any of us met those persons that make up the “they” that we speak so often of? How many persons are in the group and what are their names exactly? What makes them important or not so important? I mean, really, who are “they”?
Do “they” have a resume? And if so, who are their references? What connections, ties, strings pulled, loosed do they hold? What do “they” bring together? What makes them so trustworthy that we hire them, enlist them in our life’s decisions and discernments without so much as an interview? What skills, education or experience do “they” possess? What qualifies this group of distant though close to all that matters to me?
“They” is not a code word for a group of people whose identity we don’t wish to disclose. “They” are people passed down to us, recognizable but not known. We only know who “they” represent and even the representation is false. “They” are the safe and socially approved embodiment of what we truly believe but do not have the courage to say publicly. We don’t have to give a name. We don’t have to explain or defend the rationale for the thought. We pretend that we don’t believe it. That’s just what “they” say. It might be false but on the other hand, it could be true. “They” don’t have a reason to lie.
Or, “they” are the ghost of race’s past. What “they” used to do to “us” haunts us. We relive the trauma in our day to day interactions, making decisions based on social conditions that no longer exist. We live in the minds of those who remain racist, believing that we are not free so long as their thoughts have not changed about us. It does not matter the law or the length of time that the change has been in place. “They” must see us differently or our lives are unlivable. “They” don’t want me here so I don’t belong.
But, who says that “they” have to be here? Who invited them? Whose party is it? Who’s working security and if “they” are causing so much trouble why can’t “they” be thrown out? “They” don’t have any identification anyway so why can’t you or I see them to the door? If you can’t name them, then why claim them? Really, think about it. Who are “they”?