“I’m just so over that.” I was sitting in the cafeteria at my school and mentioning the discussions I’d been having with people on Facebook about the happenings in Ferguson, MO, and this was my friend’s response. “Ugh, is this about Ferguson? I’m so over it.” A second passed, and flustered, she quickly remembered her company, adding, “I mean, I care about the issue, I’m just sick of all the opinions about it on my FB. The negativity, really…” And that was it. What my friend probably didn’t know is what I heard when she said that. I heard, “Yeah, I care, but I don’t want to hear about it anymore.” This is what rests at the heart of moderate white America.
Ever since the August 9 killing of Mike Brown in the town of Ferguson, MO, I’ve been listening. I’ve listened to members of the armed forces saying that police militarization was inappropriate, I’ve seen protests with the hands up symbol, and I have heard moderate white America whitewash the past and pull out their favorite one-trick pony, Martin Luther King, Jr.
Yeah, I care, but I don’t want to hear about it anymore.
I could tackle this with facts, but since we all have Google, I know you have access to information. You just don’t want it. Instead, I’ll share experience. When I was a child, I went to an almost completely black grade school, and I got made fun of because I liked to read and use big words. I remember one time that my classmate, Eric, insistently told me that the correct way to say it was “a elephant” while I said “an elephant” and was subsequently very disappointed when the teacher told him that I was right. Not only was I made fun of for my intelligence, but I was told that I “acted white”, a comment reverberated from my white friends later in life as “You’re the whitest black guy I know.”
You’re the whitest black guy I know.
I don’t know how to explain white privilege more clearly to you than this. A young black boy degrades another young black boy, telling him that he “talks white” when what he’s doing is using more complex words, grappling with larger ideas. This is your image, white people, so pay attention. You are someone who is smart. You are someone who studies in school. You are a person that matters.
And this isn’t just what white children are taught about themselves, this is what black children are made to believe about themselves. That black really isn’t beautiful, that they are not smart or talented, that being black and being good are mutually exclusive.
I hear many of you peddling a weak kind of moderation. My friend posted a picture of people burning the American flag that said, “The 1.2 million people who serve our country don’t deserve that.” What you don’t realize is that you’re offended because burning a flag represents a disrespect of the freedom our military provides us. But how much more offensive is it to have a flag that promises freedom it doesn’t deliver?
Your repeated remonstrations of “This is not how Americans should act” or “No work boots were stolen in Ferguson” or “We need to look at all the facts” are part of an effort to remove the suffering of a people, an injunction to silence, an affirmation* that you don’t really believe that these people are experiencing what they’re telling you they experience. For every I’m Just Saying and Jonathan Gentry video you post with black people saying the racist shit you don’t wanna be caught saying, you convince people that you lack the empathy they say you do, and you’re doing it with aplomb. If that’s what kind of person you are, I’m ashamed for you, and may try to help you if I can. If it’s the kind of person you want to be, I’m both ashamed for you and of you, but I will rage against the dying of the light.**
But how much more offensive is it to have a flag that promises freedom it doesn’t deliver?
And no, you don’t get off by exalting me because I’m the one that “talks good.” I don’t care if one of my first albums was by the Dixie Chicks, and I love musicals to death – you don’t get to take my identity from me. I’m black, and any notion you have otherwise is attempting to wash me free of my melanin sin. When you erase history, when you distort facts, when you blame the black community itself for the oppression it faces, when you use all the same backwards justifications for institutional racism that others have used before you (yeah, you’re not original), you’re a racist, and you’re erasing my history, too. And if you’d like not to be, you must help fight the evil, not tacitly support it.
At the end of the day, I come around to the same conclusion of my friend’s opening statement. We’re so over it, too. We really are.
*Paraphrase of Michel Foucault in The History of Sexuality
** Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
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