Today I was sent an article about Call Out Culture, it was written by a Black feminist and the topics it centered were how we as Black people engage with white people and how we shame those accused in the MeToo movement.
To be clear, I have no intention of bashing this person, though I highly disagree with many of the points made in the article — I think that Black people are entitled to their opinions. My issue with their opinions is when they label their opinions as fact. And I have been a perpetrator of this myself. I think it comes from being in elevated positions where our voices are heard so loudly that often we think we are speaking for all Black people. We have also seen a lot a positive reinforcement from whites in our work praising us and like success in general we equate white approval with doing good and being right. We usually are not successful until a white person tells us we are.
I try to be aware of these mentalities that creep in so easily in this work and be deliberate in pulling my own words apart before I publicly air them. I do this because I don’t want them to harm another Black person, or to sound like I am speaking for all — I’m not. I am speaking from my perspective in this Black body. And I think sometimes some Black people begin policing how we all speak in these bodies because they equate their experiences to all of ours. Some Black people can speak softer and with more patience because maybe they have not been broken down in the same ways as others. However when I see a Black person upset, I tend to ask why, not tell them we should tone down the sound of our voices.
One thing I know for sure though — this thing I’ve seen play out in so many ways is that when our audiences are white many of us speak about the topics we are passionate about differently. Most of us Black writers and educators will deny that straight off the bat. But there is no denying that we code switch often — we do it at work, at school, in groups of white people — we do it when we need to sound articulate because we have been told that Blackness is not professional. It would make sense than that we would also do it in our work. That we would bend words to easily flow into the ears of those listening — and we all need to be really honest about the fact that if we are claiming we fight for Black liberation than the question that stands to be answered is: “Why Are So Many White People Following Us Online?”
One day I asked myself this and what followed was a deep pit of depression and realizations about myself and my work that I had been really proud of up until that moment. I realized that whites were following me so closely, hanging on my every word, coming up to me at events to say how much they loved what I do because I was giving them something they wanted. At the time I didn’t know what that thing could possibly be but now I realize — its an ego boost. I not only was centering them in my work but was also making them feel seen and at times even helping them separate themselves from “other” white people. I was doing all this even in the moments where I was constantly calling them out because… I was still calling them. True Black liberation has never centered whiteness or their ability to learn about the very systems they built and uphold daily. Somehow we went from creating programs to uplift Blacks and fighting constantly in the streets to lining up rows of chairs for whites to sit their asses in as we stand on a podium and explain racism to them for the 900th time. Then we collect our money and they all pat us on the back and we go home and they go home to their white families and do nothing differently.
If white people look at our work and feel joy and an excitement to learn we are doing something wrong. If they look at our work and instantly praise it, agree with all points made, and do not use it to look deeper within — than we are doing something wrong. If white people look at our work and send us a string of emoji clapping hands and don’t apply the words to themselves but rather applaud our voices (voices that they strangle with their white privilege daily) and internally assume that we are talking to “those other whites” then something is wrong.
For this many whites to be following our words, praising our words, sharing our words — for years and yet the world looks the same something is missing. For Black people to keep writing articles like the above which polices how we as Black people are engaging with whites — something is wrong. For us to write articles criticizing other Black people and then release them to the mass population because we want whites to see too — the same way I’m about to release this one — something is wrong. Where are the Black community events that we should all be hosting not only to uplift each other and figure out how to combat internal oppression — but also to figure out how to fight racial injustice in ways that do not center whiteness? Why are we not organizing those?
Im gonna be honest in that most of us have been appeasing whiteness in these ways in our work because we are getting paid to do so. It pays to teach white people about racism — I know because now that I do it less I’m showed how beneficial it was by looking at my old bank statements. Not only does it affect our pockets but it puts us in a position of power. We now have voices whereas other Black people have been fighting to be heard for decades. We have also now gained the trust of many whites because instead of them doing work to end the system of oppression that they created and sustain they can log online or go sit in an event and see Black people doing that work for them. To be clear — the education of the white population was never a Black responsibility. Many of us took that work on because we had no idea, and still have none, on what is actually required to end all this pain.
The thing is when a white person sends me an article written by a Black person and calls it radical or agrees with it, when a white person suggests I watch a show with an all Black cast, when a white person suggests I read a particular book about racism, or see someone Black speak about racism — I know automatically that the Black person who created that thing did something to make that white person feel comfortable or entertained them in some way. Usually the Black person did it without even realizing because this is how we are used to working in order to be successful. Our words, our work, and all content that we create as Black people whether it be to outline racism or not should not make the white population feel comfortable. Comfortability would mean that all work is done, it is the equivalent of coming home after a long day and relaxing on the couch. I do not want my activism to be a safe comfy place for white people to land. I do not want them to feel held. I want my work to make them want to rip open the deepest parts of themselves, their friends, and family and build a better world. I want my words to be like a punch in the gut not a hand hold. But more than any of that, I want to stop centering them in my work. I want Blackness to be so massive that white people feel like they are drowning in it. What exactly are we doing if we are not working this way? How exactly does change happen when the perpetrators of the abuse are not smacked in the face with what they have done everyday but rather are calmly and politely asked to change it?