I had a chance to read the Cracked article “Ferguson, Eric Garner and Why Death Should Outrage Us”. I was hesitant because usually Cracked, albeit a fairly funny publication, tends to show in more ways than it thinks that its target audience is White and middle class (and usually male. Only recently have they started featuring pieces that acknowledge women exist as people and not walking trophies). Then I thought, “Eh, I might as well read this article so I can figure out if I need to delete the app and reject the site rather than play yet another game of Schrodinger’s Racist.”
The article wasn’t thaaaaaaaat bad (it was penned by a White author, I’m not expecting greatness when they write on race. I’m relatively placated if they just avoid using the n-word and don’t try to validate stereotypes since that seems such so herculean a task, humanizing people as people) but the part that struck me was “Until this month, I had no idea that black moms teach their sons how to survive police encounters. It’s called ‘The Talk,’ and black boys get it as soon as they start hitting puberty….” It only struck me because A) Black kids of both genders start getting the Race talk when they’re usually in elementary school, no need to play it off like Black women and girls are so safe in the hands of cops and society. At least Black boys don’t have to worry about rape and murder at the hands of law enforcement. Or from White individuals in general. B) Boys do get more of the “how to act around cops” talk because they are targeted by officers more but both genders are reminded heavily that people are going to treat them differently, and for the worse, just because of their skintone and absolutely nothing else. You’re explained to that you’ll be followed in stores, passed up for jobs, pulled over a lot more, treated unnecessarily meaner and instantly distrusted the second you’re seen all because of your skin color. And that even if the person says, “I don’t see color”, it really means, “I don’t see you as a person, acknowledging your different heritage makes me uncomfortable so I’ll blatantly ignore it.” And that despite all this special behavior just to avoid death, White folks are supposed to tell us whenever it suits them that “racism is over” and then act surprised when they find it isn’t and start squawking to everyone else… who already knew and forever said so. Come to think of it, it shouldn’t be too surprising that now Cracked saw race and current events as relevant and therefore want to hyper focus on it.
In the race talk, you’re also taught how to navigate those experiences so you can at least reduce your chances of turning up missing and/or dead: What neighborhoods you can be in and which are sundown towns, who to trust, how to dress, what and how to eat, what speed to run at, how to never wear a hoodie (I have walked through rain with my head uncovered despite having a hood on both my shirt and coat since I was younger, kinda don’t want to end up dead. My umbrella collection is bananas, though), how to talk (and be reminded that you could talk better than the person judging you, you’re still subjected to JAN* syndrome), how to tell when the White folks are going from “Normal, level-headed” to “you scare me, you’re going to die” or “We’re not letting you leave. Not effortlessly breathing, anyway”.
When I was a kid, my mom showed me this picture from the Civil Rights movement from a dark blue textbook to help illustrate her point:
I remember being confused by the picture because I didn’t know why the lady in the back was so upset at the lady holding the schoolbooks and looking like a fellow student. This was the during the “Little Rock Nine” integration and the White woman was screaming “B*TCH!” at the Elizabeth Eckford. Kinda like what happens now, but on Twitter and Tumblr. And the foul screaming chick would probably have on a “This is what a Feminist looks like” shirt on in her selfies and avi. Mom took this moment to explain how racism works and that the woman in the back was yelling because she didn’t want Eckford going to her school purely because she was Black and nothing else. This was her springboard into explaining how we don’t live in a society that is very fair and that I could be treated really badly – even though I was an elementary school child – because I’m Black. She explained that nothing was wrong with me, this is just how White people are and always have been, seemingly. She framed it as, “They’re just mean because they think they’re better than us.” Of course, she also mentioned how sometimes other minorities who aren’t Black may treat us bad but that’s learned behavior from Whiteness being seen as value and we’re the opposite of Whiteness. She continued that while not all of them are bad, you have to be cautious of the majority of them because they could hurt you and even the ones who say they’re the “good guys” will just let it happen.
Just to pause for a moment: For White allies that are probably whinging right now and sobbing into their Stephen Colbert books, this is why White allies are – and should always be until vastly proven otherwise – under intense scrutiny. You may not have thrown a slur at a Black person for just existing but making excuses for the person who did or keeping quiet while it happens is no better. Also, you don’t have to be a card carrying member of the Klan to crack an Ebola, “That’s so ghetto” or welfare queen joke. Notice you don’t have one. Alright, moving on.
Mom continued teaching about slavery and how our family traveled up the South and rested in Maryland as well as what job folks in my family had, such as dayworkers**. Also, she talked about the many successes of Black individuals such as Benjamin Banneker and Rosa Parks as well as what it was like growing up in during the Civil Rights movement (My mom was 10 when Dr. King was shot). She explained to me how the riots and protests happened and how, pretty much, everything repeats itself.
So, yeah, it must be nice to be so oblivious to the “A whole group of people wanna ruin or kill you so bad for something so superficial, you feel like you live in a disturbing version of The Twilight Zone,” up until a month ago. I wish I could say that. And remember, I’m not a boy. Nor was I close to even being a tween, I think I was around the second grade or so. I had to have this talk because if you didn’t have the talk, you could act wrong in a future encounter and wind up dead because you didn’t know that being Black meant “walking threat”. None of my White friends know what having the Race Talk was, I discovered that in college from talking to a group of my friends. All the minority kids – the Indian kids, the Black kids, the Mid-East kids, we were all talking about when we got the Race talk and all my White friends were looking around, completely lost but wanting to participate. They had no clue that we gotta get the “So, this is what it means when a White person follows you in a store or on the street and/or start saying crazy things out of the clear blue and how to navigate” chat. They were surprised because they thought, “But, Dr. King,” and how his actions (which resulted in him getting shot in the throat on a second story balcony in a murder supported by the US government) should have magically solved everything. Newp. Or else I wouldn’t have been stopped by that cop who defensively stood behind his open car door with a hand on his pistol when he stopped me while I was waiting for the bus on college campus, heavy bookbag in tow because “I might try to case that warehouse over there.” All this, despite being dressed in casual cybergoth, complete with the red and white hairfalls.
They don’t get told “Here’s how you act so a group of people don’t see you as a threat, regardless of how much you accomplish, your clothes, mannerism or your cultural status.” The kicker: they don’t even mind mouthing off to cops or reciting various amendments because no one had to tell them that their skintone made all that Constitutional stuff null and void. Some still couldn’t buy into the fact that the government would actively hurt American people. Talk about living in a fantasy world.
I get the Cracked post is supposed to be a “For White People, By White People” type post, which is nice in some respects because White folks are supposed to some heavy lifting in dismantling their own prejudices and the institutions they framed around them but it still is irritating. Part of me wants to go, “Oh, c’mon, no1currs. Can you go back to your other funny stuffs?” It’s like this stuff is inescapable. Again, on one hand, this is good because everyone needs to know that racism has never left, they just stopped being willfully and actively oblivious. On the other hand, I just want a break. White folks may love to discuss this stuff like it’s NFL fantasy football but that’s because they’re not at all affected. They don’t get reports of White people being murdered after being harassed by cops, complete with HD pictures and video, and people telling them that they’re delusional for thinking there may be a trend. There’s no loss in hyper examining things, even if they get it super wrong. Nothing in these string of deaths is scary to them, just fascinating and something else they can go Kony 2012 about. It’s like watching a new soldier dumped in a warzone, completely enthused and alert because he’s played so much Call of Duty and Modern Warfare, he still thinks he’s still inside a video game.
Basically, it is not to questionable to wonder if White people are talking about these grievances mainly because of either White saviorism (which is what fueled Kony 2012 and currently many universities’ Alternative Spring Break and trips to Africa and Asia) or because right now it’s the hip thing to walk around with a #BlackLivesMatter placard, possibly because nothing better is on TV. It’s reasonable to wonder if it will be a “Won’t someone please think of the White people,” moment because for actual change to occur, everyone has to be on board and that includes White folks actually taking a critical eye to the systems they uphold, the privileges, how it all functions in overt and subvert ways (usually subvert, such as micro-aggressions and “playful” jokes) annnnnnd that is probably never going to happen. At least not for the longest of times. It’s like telling a rich person to give up their Bugatti for a Ford, simply out of the goodness of their own heart. Not happening. It’s hard to want to give up a system that actively benefits and rewards you…but being really kumbayah and whingy about that system is good enough because feel-good lip service. That doesn’t require any mental heavy lifting or even a real sense of caring. It’s like that aforementioned rich man, he won’t want to give up his Bugatti but he’ll fuss about how it’s so terrible that economic inequality is awful and how everyone should be able to own a Bugatti and how brands like Ford and Chevy are so humble and the icons of the hard working American…while getting into his Bugatti and driving away. After all is said and done, White folks tend to resume business as usual because, again, this is probably horseplay for them until the weather finally warms up and then the conversation can move to beach-related subjects.
At least the writer for the Cracked article, Kristi Harrison, didn’t act like the Covenant of the Goddess because they made a pretty bad statement that is much more predictable of what White folks say in racial issues.
I don’t care of doing a close reading since what they wrote is totally expected. I had a feeling they would pull this, so glad I never joined. However, you guys can and here’s the Culture Bingo Board so you can play at home. Great for outings, parties and single players, ages 5 and up:
CoG most likely will backpedal like crazy so just keep this handy when they start with the fake apologies and the flame wars that will most assuredly be in their Facebook fan page’s comments.
Next week is The Arts!: Language!
– Hello Talk
– Live Mocha
– Talking translator
– and more! (that will be language specific)
After that is Ask Black Witch, send in your questions. Good questions are appreciated, bad questions are eviscerated.
*JAN syndrome: “Just Another N***er” syndrome is when you could be greatly accomplished and even be as non-stereotypical as possible but you’re still seen as just another porch-monkey, you just know how to talk better than the rest, therefore, must be ultimately distrusted and taken down a few pegs at all cost.
** Day workers are Black (or just any minority woman) who work as mammies/nannies/maids in White women homes to help them take care of their kids…y’know, while White women were clamoring about how they are treated so poorly because they have to stay at home and raise kids because women don’t have the right to work. They were half right. White women had to stay home, but Black women always had to work…usually in their homes.