Black People: Our Humanity Is Inherent; It Doesn’t Need Approval
I was listening to Solange’s A Seat at the Table for the millionth time the other day while cooking dinner. One of my favorite songs on that album is “Don’t Touch My Hair” and it’s preceded by a beautiful interlude featuring Solange’s mother, Tina Knowles, talking about the beauty of Blackness. She also comments on how much pride she has in being Black and says the following:
“It really saddens me when we’re not allowed to express that pride in being black and that if you do, it’s considered anti-white. No, you’re just pro-Black and that’s okay. The two don’t go together. Because you celebrate Black culture, [it] does not mean you don’t like white culture.”
I’ve listened to that interlude as many times as any other song on that album (because you don’t skip through ASATT, you just don’t), but for the first time I thought, “Why did she say that?”
Why did Mama Tina say that celebrating Black culture doesn’t mean one doesn’t like white culture? I mean, was she not talking to Solange? Were there white people in the room that she wanted to appease while talking about her pride in Blackness? Or is that just a thought she’s had for some time? If so, why?
And since I’m asking questions, what in the hell is “white culture”?
Mama Tina’s words made me think of a meme that was in heavy circulation at one point last year. It said, “pro-Black doesn’t mean anti-white” and was often accompanied with a spiel by the person sharing about how being pro-Black doesn’t mean they hate white people. I always thought the meme was cute but never shared it because I didn’t agree; I just couldn’t articulate why I didn’t agree. Then a friend of mine explained why she didn’t like the meme either and simply said, “Bruh…being pro-Black is anti-white as fuck.”
She’s right. To be pro-Black, you have to be anti-white. Like white supremacy and anti-Blackness, the two concepts are inextricably linked. (Explaining that link and what it means to be “anti-white” is another post for another day.) So, why did I see even my militant Black friends/acquaintances sharing that meme?
I’d posit that most of them meant, “pro-Black doesn’t mean anti-white people.” In other words, taking pride in my Blackness and defending the lives of Black people against white supremacy doesn’t mean I hate every single white person. That statement, while not suitable for a meme, makes more sense. But why does it need to be said?
Why do we need to tell white people that we’re not anti-white people? Why do they need to know that there are good ones among them? Why do we fall over ourselves to assure white people that we can think critically, and separate those good ones from the bad ones?
Why are we so pressed to let white people know we don’t hate them?
I stopped hoping that my white friends knew I could be reasonable, and started questioning why they silently doubted my common decency…
Between June 2015 and November 2016, the amount of white people in my personal circle plummeted. It’s no mistake that this coincided with me being increasingly unapologetic about calling out the white supremacy that this country was founded on and how it still pervades our society today. And I’m not saying my white friends shunned me (at least not to my knowledge). On the contrary, I slowly and quietly nudged them away.
I found myself throwing these difficult topics about race into the universe, and watching them get sucked into a selective vacuum — the only people willing to respond were my Black friends. The more I talked about things that were important to me, on social media or in real life, the less my white friends talked to me.
My initial reaction? “I hope they know I’m not talking about them.”
I was honestly worried that the people I called friends would think that I suddenly hated them. I hoped that they knew I could distinguish between white supremacy and individual white people. I hoped they understood that while I was critical of white people as a whole, I could give nuance to the individual white people I knew personally.
Then one day, “I hope they know” turned into “Why don’t they know?” I stopped hoping that my white friends knew I could be reasonable, and started questioning why they silently doubted my common decency by avoiding me on certain topics. Eventually, I stopped caring about what they thought altogether. Finally, I stopped calling them friends.
Well, maybe they were too nervous to talk to you about it.
Listen. I don’t know what “friend” means to other people, but the meaning and manifestation of that word is about as sacred to me as Bible verses are to Christians. (Ha…that’s actually probably not a good analogy but let’s roll with it.) I don’t call someone my friend haphazardly; I highly value the people I give that title to. So imagine my disappointment when those same people conveyed, through their actions, that they don’t value me as much as I value them. Even worse, they quite possibly never understood the value I placed on our friendship in the first place if they thought any subject or conversation would jeopardize that relationship. We were never truly friends then.
Amending my previous question: Why are we so pressed to let white people know we don’t hate them when they’re not particularly pressed to let us know they love us?
“Don’t worry, white person! I know better than to think you alone are the problem!”
That’s what we’re saying when we share those ‘pro-Black isn’t anti-white’ memes. That’s what we think when we censor ourselves so our white “friends” don’t get offended. That’s what weighs on our hearts when we worry that our white “friends” think we hate them.
Why do we do this, Black people? Why do we worry about what white people think and rush to prove our humanity to them?
On the surface, you could argue that some Black people do this to maintain their proximity to whiteness. That argument is definitely a valid one. But do we ever stop to think that the reason we feel obligated to prove our humanity to anyone is that they don’t believe it exists in the first place?
And you want to know what’s really fucked up? The only way we can prove our humanity to white people is by affirming their humanity. So, where does that leave us? What does that leave us? For centuries, white people justified their oppression of Black people by proving we were sub-human through pseudo-biological, legal, and social means. And here we are in present day perpetuating our own oppression — seeking confirmation of our status as people by prioritizing white people’s status above our own.
When and where do we acknowledge our humanity absent white recognition?
Here’s a revolutionary idea: Anyone who needs you to prove that you’re decent doesn’t deserve your decency.
Black people, our humanity is inherent. No meme, no amount of censoring, and no amount of pleading are required to prove it exists. We are not obligated to confirm what should already be known as fact. The moment you feel like you need to let a white person know you’re a human, with complex thoughts and feelings, is the moment you should question why they need that from you.
When you figure that out, join me in the kitchen. I’m still bumping Auntie Solo, currently listening to “F.U.B.U.”