Confession: I’m Not Black and I Don’t Want to Be
“You don’t know what it is to be black. You don’t get to have an opinion on THAT.”
Obviously, being a privileged white college educated male, this perspective did not sit well with me. However, as a believer in the previously written about West African saying “The opinion of the intelligent outweighs the certainty of the ignorant,” it’s hard to escape the fact that as someone not black, my opinion on issues that affect black Americans is definitely circulating the ‘certainty of ignorant’ realm like a turd in a toilet bowl. I can’t possibly know — on a visceral, personal level — what it is to be a black man in America any more than I can know — on a visceral, personal level — what it is to be a Latino man, an astronaut, a woman, a neurosurgeon, or a world class athlete.
I still get to have an opinion on issues related to all of those things. Are those opinions of value? I guess it depends on how much I CAN know — aside from the actual feeling of living those realities — and how high a value you place on being black, Latino, a woman, or trained to fly in space influencing that knowledge.
I can’t play piano. I took class piano as a part of my Music Education degree in college but I’m not built for it. That said, I know how to teach someone else how to play. The pedagogy is the same whether I can play or not. Is my opinion of piano technique a valid one? Sure but not as valid as someone who can actually play.
I’ve experienced being prejudged based on how I look or the clothes I’ve worn or the fact that, because I’m a white male, I have the naive confidence to go eat at a Soul Food restaurant and be the only white face in the room. That does not suddenly imbue me with the innate knowledge of what it means to be black in a system that has routinely marginalized, discriminated against and brutalized black people. Not. Even. Fucking. Close. I can comprehend prejudice and oppression but I have not nor will I likely ever experience it first hand. To know what being Black in America means fundamentally, I need to ask someone who has the “opinion of the intelligent.” I need to ask someone black living in America.
So, certainly I get to have an opinion on THAT. It just isn’t as substantively valuable as someone who lives it every day.
Now, let’s get to an opinion that I possess more intelligence about than any of my black friends: White Privilege.
Yes. My black friends know what it is and can describe what it feels like to be on the shit end of that stick but you can’t be the expert on being black AND white. You can know what it feels like to bump up against white privilege. But I have it. Everyone white has it. I’ve heard the argument that those with it need to acknowledge that we have it. Here is a tightly held White secret: we all know we have this unearned privilege. No matter how much we argue against the presence of our blatantly obvious advantages, we KNOW. I’d argue that acknowledging it isn’t most white people’s difficulty with the situation. Giving it up is the problem.
Here’s where things get sticky.
I have a born in privilege. It gives me an edge in everything I do. I get more regard from the police. I don’t have people afraid of me when I walk into a building. I generally get helped in convenience stores rather than followed as if I’m there to steal something. I can turn on the TV, watch movies, read comic books and you know what I see? ME. I’m the hero of most of the stories told over the airwaves. Christ — we even take black heroes and MAKE THEM WHITE in retrospect. Including Christ. I get paid a living wage for the work I do and my job prospects are pretty fucking good. In the competitive marketplace of life, my only competition is other white males. Society and all its trappings is built for ME.
Why on Earth would I willingly give up my advantage? Why would ANYONE?
I mean, feeling good about myself for doing the right thing is awesome but it doesn’t pay the bills, am I right? Altruism is mostly a fiction in human beings so that angle is already drawing some weak tea. Non-whites are fucking PISSED about it but when I’m screamed at, I just stop listening to you and go about my privileged way. Because I can. I’m privileged that way.
Told you it was gonna get sticky…
And this is the conundrum faced by those who wish to even the playing field. If it’s a playing field, it’s a competition. For resources, for access, for privilege. And if it’s a competition, no one playing is going to simply give up their advantage. If it’s a competition, let’s face it — we outnumber you in this country by a huge margin. Even if blacks and Hispanics and Asians could manage to band together for the overthrow of the White Racist System (hard to imagine as that would mean putting someone in charge and following that person all while still clinging to the very real hardships each group faces as the highest priority) the Whites have a legacy of brutally squashing resistance in such horrifying ways, the odds are still in our favor.
Now, for some odd reason, there ARE white people (even middle-aged angry white males) who seem to be willing to work to create Equality of Opportunity and even offer systematic changes that assist in Equality of Outcome (two different things) for ALL people. Some white people do not have a homegrown belief in their own (falsely held) superiority and are intelligent and empathetic enough to realize that WHITE isn’t even an ethnicity but a social construct.
Crap, there are even some whites who not only celebrate the cultural similarities between all the multitudes of races in America but celebrate the rich cultural differences, too. As if we are all supposed to live together on this fucking dying rock in space.
Maybe those white folks don’t see things as a competition but as a coalition. Maybe they don’t see the sense to have to compete in a country with SO FUCKING MUCH. Maybe they just like sharing. Who knows? The interesting thing is that, when really put to it, there are more of the white people who want equality than there are who don’t. I’d wager FAR more. But remember, we’re privileged. And screaming at us isn’t working. Even when you scream at us and then tell us/shame us that we should just shut up and listen.
Righteous rage is an awesome destructive force but it rarely gets you what you want. No question, blacks are tired of being told to watch their tone and approach the wholesale slaughter and imprisonment of their own kind with respectability. Fuck, I’m tired of hearing that. The gall of anyone to say to someone subjugated to watching their children killed by police and thrown in prison at absurd rates to be more civil is jaw dropping. But facts is facts. The rage of the righteous DOES NOT MOTIVATE CHANGE. It just gets headlines.
BLACK LIVES > WHITE FEELINGS
Black Lives > Black Feelings
Black Lives > Black Rage
It’s #BlackLivesMatter not #BlackRageMatters.
It’s #BlackLivesMatter not #BlackRighteousnessMatters
Hopefully, this is an intelligent opinion on the situation. I’m absolutely not certain of anything but I believe, with more conviction than anything I can think of except my love for my wife and mother, that we are all more similar than we are different. That while we all are individual snowflakes, floating around as different in crystalline structure as any two things can be, we’re all just made of fucking snow*. I believe we can change this White Supremacist System into something better, more egalitarian, more humane, and without another Civil War. We can but we have to do it together because there are too many of me and not enough of you. You may not like that but tough shit. Facts is facts.
*yes. I realize snow is white. Not the point in the analogy at all.
Don Hall is an Angry White Guy in Chicago. More can be found at donhallchicago.com.