Dear White People, This Is Why I Speak On Racism
Because Black Lives Trump White Feelings.
You could say that I’m Black. Currently as I write this, I’m wearing a black hoodie, black socks, black boxers, a black t-shirt, and black sweats. Even the du-rag I’m wearing is black. If I walked by you in the street, you’d assume I was Black. I wear my hair in cornrows, I say the n-word, I have my ears pierced, I have a plethora of tattoos, I love Black vernacular, culture, and of course hip-hop. Again, you could say I’m Black. But to some, that doesn't seem to be entirely true.
I once worked with a White lady who always asked me questions or made statements about being Black. “Do you prefer White or Black women?” “I just love Black men” “I bet Black men are huge” “Can I touch your hair” “Did you see that another Black guy was killed by the Police?” She was fascinated with Blackness. She seemed enamored with it. Except she always told me she didn’t see color. Yes, her statements and questions were racist, but it struck me that her microaggressions stemmed from ignorance and not an intentional hate towards Black people. Nevertheless, (I was still caught by surprise at her lack of thinking before she spoke) when one day she asked me, “well, you’re not really Black, are you?”
What? I was spun.
Could it be that in her mind I possess traits that are so often linked and limited to Whiteness that my Blackness transcends a racial divide? Could it be because of the fact I am articulate and speak with a British accent or as another co-worker once stated I, “do not behave like they (Black people) do.” Could it be because of that fact that I possess a bachelor’s degree from a well-known mid-western university, or maybe because I have never been arrested, have no problem finding jobs, being popular or well-liked by my peers, or maybe it could be because I have never taken drugs, sold them, or hung out with people who do them? Maybe it is because I come from a respectable Christian family and was raised “correctly.”
While it is most likely a culmination of these things. The answer is much simpler; it’s because I’m mixed race. I have a White mother and a Black father. Both are senior aged Americans. Also, it may or may not be worth noting that I was born and raised in England and did not move to America until I was almost 16 years old. I’m a dual-citizen and have lived in America for 9 years now.
So why do I speak on racism, if I’m not really Black? Well, it’s because I am Black. Duh. Not kinda Black, not partially, not only Black on job applications, or on the weekends. Stating or asking me otherwise is nothing but a subtle attempt to diminish my Blackness. So, don’t even bother. I’m Black. Entirely and unapologetically. As renowned activist DeRay Mckesson tweets almost daily, “I love my blackness. And yours.” Well, I love mine. This may seem a bit silly to even type but I am simply clearing up any confusion that some of you may have about my racial identity. I self-identify as a Black, heterosexual, Christian (yikes — did I lose you?) male. Simple, right?
I view the world through a Black lens because my experiences differ from that of my Brown and White counterparts drastically.
Please do not complicate this Black lens with playing the “race card” because A) no such card exists and B) this is a regurgitated and illogical fallback phrase used by those who have a very limited scope on what racism and White Supremacy is.
I speak about racism because as a Black man I wholly believe it intersects with almost every aspect of my life. To understand this it is important to first understand what racism is. A fine example can be found in John Metta’s article, “I, Racist”:
Racism is not slavery. As President Obama said, it’s not avoiding the use of the word Nigger. Racism is not white water fountains and the back of the bus. Martin Luther King did not end racism. Racism is a cop severing the spine of an innocent man. It is a 12-year-old child being shot for playing with a toy gun in a state where it is legal to openly carry firearms.
But racism is even more subtle than that. It’s more nuanced. Racism is the fact that “White” means “normal” and that anything else is different. Racism is our acceptance of an all white Lord of the Rings cast because of historical accuracy, ignoring the fact that this is a world with an entirely fictionalized history. (Emphasis added.)
To echo, racism is no longer denying burgers at a diner to people solely based on skin color, or believing Black people are inherently savage and violent, or igniting crosses in the front lawns of Black homes. Although all of these examples are horrific (and still happen) racism has evolved. I do not say this lightly but the greatest threat to me, as a Black man living in America, is racism in the form of White Supremacy. Racism and White Supremacy are fully intertwined and run deep into the workings of America. In her piece, “What is white supremacy?” activist Elizabeth Martinez writes:
The most common mistake people make when talking about racism (white supremacy) is to think of it as a problem of personal prejudices and individual acts of discrimination. They do not see it is a system, a web of interlocking, reinforcing institutions: political, economic, social, cultural, legal, military, educational, all our institutions. As a system, racism affects every aspect of life in a country.
By not understanding that racism is systemic, we guarantee it will continue. For example, racist police behavior is often reduced to “a few bad apples” who need to be removed, instead of seeing that it can be found in police departments everywhere. It reflects and sustains the existing power relations throughout society.
Racism today encompasses a whole lot more than just overt racism. As I have studied this topic more and more over the past 6 years it has become blatantly clear that racism is just as detrimental, if not more so, when it is covert as when it is overt. It not only includes language and actions but the systems and power dynamics that are at play in the fabrics of American society. As stated by Melanie McGhee in her article:
study this infographic. Do you see yourself? Do you see your friends and family? What fears and furies are keeping you bound to such limited understanding and behavior? Root them out, integrate them with your home practice. For those who don’t know this process, how do you root out shadow tendencies? Do you have a reliable means?
Racism is denying the experience of a young Black girl who is saying she was racially abused by the next door neighbor. Racism is microaggressions. According to Omari Akii racism is when a “Black man is killed. They tell us all the bad things he used to be. But when a White man rapes they tell us all the great things he could become.” Racism is as simple as believing that reverse racism exists or even not challenging a racist joke you hear at work. As Reggie Noble stated on Twitter (read his whole thread here), “Covert racism is what comes from the power structure that is set up to the detriment of black people. If as a white person you are participating in any of the covert forms of racism, it’s still racism.” This may be hard to stomach but it is paramount to understanding just how deep racism is in our society. This is why I am vocal on it. Because regardless of where I turn it rears its ugly head. And as often as I have been asked, or more correctly told, ‘you’re not really Black, are you?’, which is a microaggression, I have also been asked a variation of this question in person and on Twitter.
Which is usually followed up by a response like this.
It is an interesting question and an interesting viewpoint. And the individual who asked this is right. Partially. I do focus on the negative. I focus on the negative because racism (White Supremacy) is completely negative. There is nothing positive about it. It is an abhorrent, disgusting, backward, and vile ideology. I constantly address the problem of racism because it continues to be present in our society and for many Black Americans racism is a huge part of life. If this appears to be “negative” then so be it, it’s still a shared reality for many of us. I believe that in order to offer a solution the problem must be fully addressed, explained, and persistently exposed. Also, just to clarify I do speak about the good or the positive that is done to combat racism. I.e the helpfulness of White co-conspirators, denouncing White Supremacy, anti-racism rallies, and so on and so forth. However, I tend to focus on the negative because my own experiences with racism and White Supremacy have been exactly that. Negative.
When I was 10 I vividly remember being called a racial slur at primary school. I was 10. I didn’t know the extent of the word or understand it but I knew it was meant to hurt me because of the tone in which it was used. So when 3:30 pm came around I went home and talked to my mother and told her what happened (my Dad was still at work). She was outraged, just like any parent would be, but she wasn’t surprised. I do not recall seeing any ounce of surprise cross her face. She matter of factly told me that because of my skin color and her choice to marry and start a family with my Dad, both of which I have no control over, people will dislike and even hate me. Imagine the impact that can have on a 10-year old. This was my version of “The Talk” that every Black child receives at some point in their upbringing. Because of the color of my skin, people will hate me. They will choose to be mean to me. They will choose to not talk to me. They will choose to exclude me from their activities due to something I have absolutely no control over. It was hard for me to comprehend but I remember leaving that talk with my Mother knowing I was different. That was the day the scales of color blindness fell from my eyes. I had always seen color but I had never before seen my own skin be an issue. As I grew up and got older being racially abused on a verbal level became a frequent event and it was both my White mother, but more my Black father, who instilled a set of beliefs into me. I was taught day in and day out to be proud of who I am and to be myself unapologetically. I learned this from my Dad. He loves his Blackness. He embraces it. He is not ashamed of it. Growing up I wanted to be like him in that regard. So naturally, I became more and more unapologetically Black.
Have I ever thought about that the fact I am a product of an inter-racial marriage?
Yes I have thought about the fact I exist because my White mother loved my Black father and vice versa. Not thinking about it would be a near impossibility as this is the only life I know. I am thankful for both of my parents. However, their love for each other has not spared me any pain, tears, heartache, moments of anger, and fury that I have endured due to racism. To think that a minor achievement (like having a mixed race baby) would offset experiencing racial slurs, being followed around stores because I “look suspicious”, or being racially profiled and stopped by the police in upper-class neighborhoods because it looks like I, “don’t belong here” is ludicrous. My Mother knew exactly what she was doing when she married my father and agreed to start a family with him. Their decision has lead to having nearly all of their children endure negative experiences because of their race and has lead to several of my Mother’s White family members cutting off communication with her because of who she married. My Mother is incredibly supportive of my passion to speak on injustices and racism and has never once condemned me for identifying as Black. I would definitely label her as a co-conspirator in helping dismantle the monster that is White Supremacy and she too wants to abolish this racist system in which we live. This is a step in the right direction.
White people are responsible for dismantling racism and in particular White Supremacy because they are the very people who uphold it and benefit from it.
It is that simple. Racism will never die if we continue to look at minorities to deliver the fatal blow. It will continue to be a cause of death for Black bodies if those who benefit from the system do not dismantle it. Yes, again, I’m talking about White people. We can continue to step around the issue or we can attack it directly. No societal problem has ever been solved by only looking at the surface, we must look at the root cause and main underlying factors. That’s why I speak on racism. Because it routinely takes the last breath from Black lives and is far more important than the feelings of those who center themselves when having discussions about it. The centering of White feelings or the White individual in the discussion of race stems from feelings of self-preservation, to remain as ‘one of the good guys’ since you yourself do not hate but as Scott Woods states it’s much bigger than just a conscious hate:
The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you. Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe. It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world.
There are few things more infuriating than seeing self-described “White allies” constantly put themselves at the center of the race discussion. You can see this with their use of “I.” A Black person will say something as simple as, “racism is real” and I see flurries of replies from White people like, “well I’m not racist” or “I haven’t ever seen anyone be racist” or “but I don’t hate Black people” even when, as Scott Woods perfectly stated, racism is bigger than just hating someone. Instead of listening to the Black voice speak on its experience White people attempt to protect and center themselves, in a conversation that has very little to do with them. I also see many White people be more upset with being labeled a racist than at racism itself. It is often a ping-pong game of conversation that achieves nothing other than going back and forth. The result? A headache.
But let me be quick to this point so that we do not talk in circles, I’m going to say this as simply as I can, Black lives trump White feelings. They do. They really do. All day. Every day. Any day. Black people do not deserve to die because White people feel uncomfortable talking about and dismantling the very systems they benefit from and uphold. Yes, it really is that deep. Quoting John Metta again:
Ask any Black person and they’ll tell you the same thing. The reality of thousands of innocent people raped, shot, imprisoned, and systematically disenfranchised are less important than the suggestion that a single White person might be complicit in a racist system.
Some of you may be uncomfortable simply because this is the first time that you, as a White person, has been viewed as an individual and not compiled as a collective, as a group. Metta again comes through with a great point.
She [his Aunt] is unable to differentiate her participation within a racist system (upwardly mobile, not racially profiled, able to move to White suburbs, etc.) from an accusation that she, individually, is a racist. Without being able to make that differentiation, White people, in general, decide to vigorously defend their own personal non-racism, or point out that it doesn’t exist because they don’t see it.
Non-White folks are almost always painted with the same stroke of a brush. A fine example of this is when a terrorist attack is committed by a self-described Muslim extremist. Tweets, articles, news segments, etc. flood the media suggesting that ‘Islam is evil’, yet, pretty little Annie would bet more than her bottom dollar when the terrorist is White this is not the case. The individual is never associated with the group. The White terrorist is blanketed with the ‘lone wolf’ and the ‘mentally ill’ defense almost instantly and put on an island, far from the collective of Whiteness. Why should the whole Islamic religion take the burden for an individual’s horrific choices to do evil in their name and White Christians be allowed to breeze on by and be held unaccountable? When the terrorist is White everything I mentioned takes place. It’s like clockwork. It’s premeditated.
Even when the whole group is evil, let’s say like in Charlottesville, when a group of Klansmen and Neo-Nazis held a rally that lead to the tragic death of Heather Heyer, the idea of being a collective and a group is still non-existent. This luxury is never afforded to non-White people. As soon as these events started taking place, a somewhat controversial hashtag appeared on social media — mostly being used by liberal and left leaning Whites. I understand the sentiment but it was an attempt to distance themselves from a group of people and continue to play the “it’s not me, it’s them” game which maintains the individualistic innocent nature that I have been talking about. Instead of thinking “you know what. Racism is real and it is violent. And as a progressive White liberal, I need to do more to combat it” people are happier to end a few tweets with #ThisIsNotUs when in fact this really is us. You can read that as “us” or as “U.S” because it makes no difference. White people benefit from and uphold the system that is White Supremacy. White Supremacy is like that annoying Aunt who comes to your every birthday party, it’s been here since the birth of this nation. It is the very first brick in the foundation of this country. But again, to remain as an individual and be separated from the collective that you belong to is a privilege not offered to non-White people.
Iam sure some will read this and feel White guilt*. You may believe I hate White people, that I said all White people are racist, or some other twisted variation of the words I wrote and that’s fine because it is simply incorrect. But please do note that if you’re struggling with this piece because I have continuously wrote “White people” and you think I should write “not all White people” consider reading this, another stellar piece by John Metta. Here is an excerpt:
It’s perfectly acceptable for Dr. King, or Son of Baldwin, or me, or any Black writer to use the phrase “Black people” and lump them into a group. But the phrase “white people” requires the acknowledgement of good white individuals in a way that Black people need not be afforded– even when they are used in the same paragraph.
Your response suggests is that we should not paint you with the same brush as other white people– making the message “less painful”– which in fact centers your personal goodness above the message itself– retaining white importance over Black people by putting you above their message.
Do you see it? You as an individual are still more important than whatever the Black writer is saying.
I have spoken about race and racism on a daily basis for so many years now and I’m positive a large number of folks think I’m wrong and highly annoying. But I’ll tell you what’s more annoying than hearing about racism; living it. So while some may be annoyed just know that your annoyance means nothing to me:
let’s get a couple things straight, just a little side note — the burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job, alright — stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest, if you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down. (Emphasis added.)
This is just one of the many powerful lines from Jesse Williams’ brave and truth soaked 2016 BET Humanitarian Award acceptance speech. Read the entire transcript here.
I state that people’s annoyance means nothing to me because I myself am in pain every day when I read, see, or hear stories about racism towards my Black brothers and sisters. It pains me to wake up every day and hear our President dog whistle to White Supremacists and White Nationalists. It pains me to wake up every day and see someone who looks like me is dead because a trigger-happy cop simply believed they were a threat when their only weapon was the color of their skin. And then have that officer be placed on paid administrative leave, investigated by their own department, and conveniently never be found of any criminal wrongdoing, but have cities and police departments offer large monetary settlements to the victim’s families, almost acting as if our silence can be bought. It pains me when White people, in particular, White Christians, who have no interest in racial equality, attempt to dictate how and when Black people should protest and attempt to silence those speaking out on oppression.
“They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” — Jeremiah 6:14
It pains me every day to see Black women take the full blunt force of White Supremacy square on the head. It pains me when America, at a disproportionate rate, locks up Black men for extraordinary lengths of time for the possession of marijuana but offers White men business opportunities and licenses to sell it. Talk about a real life hustle. It pains me when racism claims the lives of those who challenge it. More times than not the body belonging to a Black soul. It pains me every day to see injustices towards people who are simply wanting a level playing field. It pains me because our goal is so simple but so incredibly difficult to achieve.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” — Desmond Tutu
I speak on racism because it intersects with each aspect of my life thus affecting me, and every other Black person, daily. Racism is not a new topic for Black people, it’s as well known as Grandma’s apple pie. I want to educate those around me and bring awareness to the idea that all men are created equal but are not treated equally in America. Racism systemically and routinely brutalizes Black bodies and puts them in the ground. I hope that my White readers have grasped the fact that just because our realities differ, it doesn’t mean mine is a fantasy. I encourage you to speak up or at least begin the journey to speaking up on the racial injustices around you. If you do not feel any inclination to do so then please ask yourself why not? Remaining silent when dealing with racism and White Supremacy should not be an option for anyone, especially those who benefit from its privileges and systems.
Special thanks to SJ for helping me get my points across clearly and precisely. You’re a real-life editing wizard.
If you have any inquiries or would like to work together, pitch me an idea at: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be more than happy to connect and chat with you.