Tag Archives: Dear White People

Talking with White People

At a table of white females telling me to just keep up hope and have my children anyway, and you know what? It isn’t helping me.

I have just told them an edited version of the three possibilities that scare me:

  1. I will raise my children to have them killed for their melanin.
  2. My kids will realize the way the world views them, feel sad, hopeless, and worthless, and kill themselves.
  3. I’ll become so sad that I will no longer be able to properly care for them (translation: something so awful will happen that I actually end up killing myself, emotionally ruining my children for the rest of their lives)

These three possibilities were of course met with surprise, and mild ridicule. It’s very easy to look at someone’s situation from a distance and be like, “Well, don’t give up! You’d be a great mother!”

I think that I would be a spectacular mother, until I wouldn’t. I think that I would be wonderful and caring, until my depression swallowed me and I was unable to care for myself, let alone people who depended on me.

It’s funny how easy it is, even for myself, to make assumptions about people’s lives.
The woman who teaches with my mom, surprised that I’d forgotten my mother was receiving the Teacher of the Year award.
“It’s a very big honor. How could you not know?” she pressed. We were working at a camp for their district’s sixth grade, and I was helping her with an activity.
“She actually did tell me, a few months ago,” I told her. “It just slipped my mind recently.”
“Not knowing your own mother was teacher of the year?” she said, disapprovingly. “You’re very lucky to have her, you know.”

‘Really, lady?’ I wanted to ask her. ‘Am I lucky that my mother called me selfish for finally refusing to comfort her over my own rape? Is it unacceptable that with that, and the waves of black shootings and police brutality occurring all over the place, I may have forgotten an award ceremony?’
But of course, you can’t go around answering people’s judgmental questions with brutal honesty.

That’s the genius of tragedy: your story does not really belong to you.
Of course it’s your story; it has happened to you. You are the one who lives it, thinks about it, cries over it. But you cannot talk about it, without dealing with the people who listen to it. Once it is out of your head and into their ears, they have claim over it. Explaining myself to this woman would ruin the rest of our time working together. Telling my mother what happened naturally led her to expect comfort from me.

My mother, the white lady. Who, without being fully aware of the racial issues in America (or the world) suffers from extreme empathy. Who gave her mainly colored, largely conscious daughter empathic distress. Who is unable to completely mother me when I need it.
And now I’m supposed to take this, and have children of my own? I think I would be worse. If I look into my future and see fuzziness, how can I expect to be there for my kids?

“It’s just too bad,” someone told me. “I’d rather have your kids in the world than some of these other people’s.”
So would I. But it’s largely because of these other people that I don’t want to have them.

Want to make a joke? Tell someone on the edge of hopelessness to just stick it out; try a little harder; don’t give up. At the same time, admit that you don’t actually know how they feel, but tell them that there really isn’t that much to be upset about. Give them non-examples of things to be excited over, and expect that to replenish their energy.

“It’s hard to see the changes you’re making in your own lifetime,” she told me, “But they’re there. Like my mother, for instance, she never used to understand race relations. Whenever I’d talk to my parents, or try to correct things that were wrong, it would be like, ‘Oh, there’s Hippy Lacy, talking her crazy racial peace again.’ But now, with Trayvon Martin and, who was it? … Michael Brown! And all of those stories, they’re in the newspaper. My mom reads the New York Times, and those stories are in there. So now, she’s starting to think, and to recognize that maybe there is a problem, and now she’s sending me articles. That’s progress. All these problems and events are being covered, and that coverage is leading to improvements.”

“You do understand,” I said, feeling so tired, “That in order for any of this progress you’re seeing to come about, people have to be slaughtered. Innocent people have to be murdered, almost every week, and other people have to suffer and protest and exhaust ourselves emotionally. In my school, during the Baltimore riots, we had a blackout of the student center. We dressed in black, and gathered together, to mourn and share our experiences. It was beautiful, and horrible at the same time. Do you know what it’s like to sit in a space, sobbing, unable to go to class or even move very much, and have people stepping around you to get their lunch? Do you know what it’s like to observe the contrast between yourself, feeling stuck, and everyone else who feels unaffected enough by your situation to happily go about their lives? My friends and I are breaking, broken, and your mom is sending you a newspaper article.”
I did not know how to express how offensive I found the situation. I can exhaust myself to the point where I don’t want to leave my bed anymore, and that would be worth it to get a white lady to begin to think. People could put themselves in danger, plan, build, and march, so that a white woman could exert herself enough to put scissors to paper and cut out an article detailing the next murder of a black body. That was worth it.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked. ‘Should I be the next martyr?’ I wanted to say. ‘Should I write a Black Lives Matter manifesto, tattoo it on my body, put it in my pocket and jump off a building? That would make headlines. That would get your mother’s attention.’
‘And what will you do?’ I wanted to ask. ‘You four, sitting in front of me unaffected. Perhaps you think that what’s happening is wrong. Perhaps you can see a headline, and shake your head in disgust. What else will you do? Why am I the only one at the table trying not to cry?’
You,’ I wanted to point to a girl at my table. ‘We go to the same university, and I have never seen you before in my life. I have never seen you socially, and I have never seen you as an activist. You didn’t care about the AfAm department; you weren’t there for black lives; or Muslim lives. You are in Kenya now, but you couldn’t go to the vigil for Garissa. And yet you tell me that I shouldn’t be hopeless, shouldn’t give up? Should I be fighting, to make You proud?’
Once again, it was impossible to speak candidly. I probably wouldn’t have been able to get everything out, anyway. The effort not to cry was rough.
Misery is sobbing in front of people who do not have the capacity to understand how you are upset.
“I only want you to do what you want to do, I don’t want you to do anything else,” she said, hurriedly.

Fast forward to the next morning:
A woman, a researcher, is in our living room telling us about Kenya, past and contemporary. She is a white American woman married to a Ugandan man, who has been living in Kenya for 47 years. An interesting lady, a funny lady, a cynic.
“Why is it,” she is asking, “That no matter how carefully I try to explain these things, and how precise I am, they don’t get it?” She is talking about Africans, diseases, and information about the spread of AIDS. She says, referring to Africans, that there is always a skepticism or a rejection of what cannot be seen. Because Africans cannot see the bacteria and tiny organisms that give them the diseases, they will not believe in the ways that prevent them from spreading their existence. Thus, no condoms or caution when it comes to sex. It’s interesting that she does not seem to see how this issue of skepticism or rejection of what cannot be seen can also be applied to Americans. Perhaps not in terms of health, because they know that health concerns can affect them personally. White people and issues of race, though? I can tell you to your face about problems, about my deteriorating mental health, and you won’t get it. You won’t completely believe me.

We’re back, and the last white girl is comforting me.
“Just remember your dream, and the eighty-three year old matriarch,” she’s telling me. “You can’t give up. Because that has to happen.”

I wonder what it’s like in her head.

Talking to White Girl

“I don’t want a video of me giving a lap dance to be on some white girl’s phone,” I said. Honestly, we weren’t even friends. We would go back to our different schools on the same campus, and she would have that. Would other white students, strangers, see it? That’s just what I needed: to be sexualized by more white people. People had finally stopped expecting me to twerk on command. Enough time had passed since The White Boy Who Tried To Colonize My Vagina had demanded I send him sexual pictures of myself (and looking back, Why did he feel so justified in doing that? Had he seen a different video? Had he just assumed?). I didn’t need anything new popping up now.
“Some white girl?” the white girl repeated, clearly offended I’d mentioned her race. It’s funny. Black people know that they’re black. Hispanic people know that they’re Hispanic. Casually tell a white person that they’re white, and nine times out of ten they’re dumbfounded that you can tell races apart. “I’m a person, you know,” she said defensively, white tears already forming in her eyes. I sighed.
“Oh, I know that,” I told her. Believe me, I thought, Doesn’t no one doubt that white people are people. In fact, when speaking politically correctly, white people are the only people. You have African Americans (qualified Americans), Latinas, Asian Americans (qualified Americans)…no one else has ‘people’ next to it other than White People.
I don’t dance for white people. It’s a principle. I’m not here to entertain. If I dance for my friends, that’s one thing, but if we aren’t friends, you have no right to possess what I’ve done. Enjoy yourself in the moment, then let it go. It’s Not For You.
“Listen,” I said, trying a different approach. “There is a history of women of color being sexualized. I don’t want to add into that.”
“There’s also a history of simply women  being sexualized,” she said, and this was so exasperatingly White Feminist, I didn’t know whether to groan or laugh. I decided to do neither.
“That’s true,” I told her, “But it’s a little worse when it comes to women of color. That’s their role.” I hurried on, before we could get into a ‘black women are beautiful v. ALL women are beautiful’ situation. I also needed to ignore the fact that despite attempting solidarity with the ‘all women being sexualized’ bit, her filming me without permission and feeling entitled to keep it wasn’t exactly feminist. To point that out would derail the conversation. “Why do you think people were so upset with Miley Cyrus?” I asked, inwardly groaning that I had to bring this girl up again. “It’s not because they thought she was a slut, despite what some people were saying. (Some white feminists, I thought, but didn’t say to her. No one wanted the white tears to fall.) It’s because of the wall of women of color she had behind her, the oversexualized women of color who were only used to validate her sexuality as a white woman. This is a problem.”
“Yeah well, I deleted the video, so I don’t get what the problem is,” the white girl said. It was funny. Her head bobbed from side to side, she barely looked at me, her teeth were slightly bared, and her voice was mean. I was talking slowly, quietly, looking straight at her, my hands at my sides. Watch me do everything you’re doing right now, I thought. You’re already telling me that I’m being aggressive as I am. Is that a default? Are all black men thugs, and all black women aggressive?
“You and I just don’t get along, and I don’t see why we need to interact.”
“I agree,” I said, “But for different reasons. I still need you to try to understand why you weren’t in the right.”
“Oh, so you just understand everything, Khalilah? You just have all the answers to the situation, don’t you?”
“No, I don’t know everything.” But I understand more about the situation than you do, white girl.
“Well, if you’d just asked politely, I would have deleted it the first time. You need to be nice when you want people to do things for you.”

So here we were. This white girl was teaching me how to properly behave myself in White World, where you have to politely beg people to consider respecting your rights. Where telling someone that they have to delete something that doesn’t belong to them is the height of rudeness. Where speaking seriously is aggressive, but yelling, “Jesus Christ…you need to chill out!” is not. Where you aren’t allowed to do anything to better yourself, improve your situation, or have any sense of pride, because it either leaves white people out or makes them uncomfortable. Shutting a program down because it’s ‘reverse racist’, and refusing to listen to someone because they’re ‘aggressive’ are the new forms of oppression.
And honestly, who are we even kidding? How can we be surprised when people who have been silenced and oppressed for centuries are even slightly hostile? Do you know one of the reasons the Rwandan genocide happened? The Hutus were tired of being forced into subservience. All of the coups, all of the uprisings, they’re violent. You don’t go up to your oppressors and say, “Excuse me, but would you please give up the majority of your privileges and respect my opinions and see me as a valid person so that we may actually be equals?” It won’t work.
They say, “The Revolution will not be televised.” Some say, “The Revolution will not be on World Star.” I think it should be added on that “The Revolution will not be polite,” because it seems that people do not understand this yet. Particularly those with power.

She’d had enough, I could tell. She was about to leave, and she wouldn’t know anything.
“They tell us to respect SHOFCO youth and the people of Kenya, because we’re coming from different situations, and we don’t understand how we can be offending them,” I said. “And we do that. But we don’t practice it with each other. You and I, we come from different situations, and you won’t understand that. We go to different schools.”
“You’ve said that already,” White Girl said. Offended again, because I guess she thought I was unnecessarily emphasizing our racial differences. I put on my Educate White People Cap, and slipped into my softest, most possibly docile voice.
“When I got accepted to Wesleyan, behind my letter was a page that said, ‘We have great programs for students of color – LIKE YOU.’ That was my first label. Then, they sent us to our separate WesFest – “
“Wait, they were separated?” She was interested now. “Like, at different times?”
“No,” I said. “Well, yes. SOC WesFest was two days before, last year. Otherwise, it’s just separate events.”
“That’s fucked up,” she said.
“Yes,” I agreed. “So then, you come to campus only knowing a small amount of people, And now, I don’t know if you know this (you probably don’t) but the administration pushed SOC into five majors only: English, Psych, Soc, Economics, and AfAm. But as you may know, we only have one and a half professors left in African American Studies. It’s a failing department. That’s why we had all the protests and the march, because what they’re doing to us isn’t fair. And,” I gave a sad laugh, “It was pretty much only students of color who showed up, except for maybe three white people. No one is there for us, and in our majors we’re stuck learning about institutionalized racism, and recognizing micro-aggressions, and smaller-scale racism, but no one else knows and we’re left to deal with it. And then everyone else wants to know why ‘they only sit with each other’ and why there’s ‘self-seggregation’ as if we weren’t behaving the way the administration set us up to! Wesleyan doesn’t care about its students of color.
That’s where I’m coming from, and now here, it’s worse, because there’s no one on this trip to understand me, except maybe Roshanna. And every indication is that we aren’t supposed to be here. People only say ‘howareyou’ to us half the time on the streets.”
“But isn’t that what they call white people?”
“Yes, but we didn’t know that.”
“Ture,” she concurred.
“And besides, that doesn’t always lessen the feeling that we aren’t welcome. People who smile at you, won’t make eye contact. They put their hands out for you and withdraw them when they see us. We aren’t counted…even by SHOFCO! They only praise ‘the great work the mzungus are doing,’ and it’s as if we don’t even exist. We aren’t important.” I was almost talking angrily at this point, so I had to pause and calm down.

“So when I dance on my friend, my friend, and someone else records it, and refuses to listen to me when I tell her she needs to delete it; refuses to see me as a valid enough person to respect – “
“Okay, I’m sorry. I didn’t understand,” the girl said.
“I know that you didn’t,” I told her. “I’m not trying to be condescending.”
“I didn’t know it was like that,” she said. “I wish you’d have said that before.”
“White people don’t like being told about the racial undertones of situations,” I explained. “It makes them uncomfortable.”
“Well, not me!” She said. “I want to know when I’m being racist. I don’t want to be racist at all!”
“Alright,” I told her.

I chose not to point out to her how messed up the situation was. That in order for her to listen to me, I’d had to be as nonthreatening as possible. That despite the fact that she’d wronged me, I’d had to stop and apologize multiple times throughout the story to appease her, and allow her to keep listening. That I’d had to stand below her and make sure she was comfortable before she could take me seriously, despite the fact that this was a part of my life I was talking about, and so had always been serious to me. And most annoying of all was the fact that I’d had to play educator in the first place, and that the amount of contrition she felt was directly related to how personally I wanted to let her know about my life. The situation was racially fucked. I decided to let it go, for the moment.
“I think we’ll be able to get along better, now,” said Martha.
“Yeah,” I agreed, “So do I.”

Third World Black America?

I went to the Union Square vigil last night, the National Moment of Silence for victims of police brutality. I spent a minute chanting with the protesters, but decided that I wanted to hear what people at the vigil had to say, rather than walk through NYC. It was nice, being surrounded by people I did not know, who had all come out to support the same cause. There were a lot of us. We were a community with potential.
Community.

One morning on the walk through Kibera, there was a sort of mob forming at one of the intersections of our path. It seemed ominous, although its animosity was not directed toward us, but at whatever was happening at its center.
“Mzungu!” One man called out to the volunteer in front of me, “Come and look at this!” Other members of the crowd laughed, but we didn’t pay attention. We had to get to school, and despite being curious about what was happening, the vibe coming from the people gathered was scary.
We later found out that we had passed by a stoning. Someone had been caught stealing, and when this happens, the perpetrator is stoned to death. In this case, they stopped before the guy was actually dead. It was still slightly unnerving to hear about.
The way that it was explained makes a lot of sense, though. Kibera is a community. An actual, beautiful community, “where everyone looks out for each other. If someone is having a party a few houses down from you, you go to it, even if you don’t know them that well. You go, because they’re your neighbor. When you buy, say, a radio, that’s only possible after taking the time to save up for it. Once you have it, it is precious to you. If someone steals your radio, they are also stealing your security. You cannot trust them, because the same people who steal from you will also come into your house and rape you. A community without trust between its residents is not a community at all, and Kibera can’t function the same way unless that trust is restored. So the community must punish the person who breached trust severely enough to ensure that it will never happen again. They do not trust the police to help them, because they know the police are not their allies; they only hurt, and never help.”

Throughout the experience, I would be annoyed with other volunteers for looking at things that were happening in Kibera as sad aspects of a developing (some people actually still said Third World) nation that was behind the United States. Certain people actually seemed to believe that in four weeks, we would make everything better and set a good Western example for the people we supposedly helped. Meanwhile, there seemed to be no reflection on the United States’ own issues.

This was one that I almost missed. I didn’t really think about it until, while listening to speakers at the vigil, I found myself wondering about Mike Brown’s body lying in the street. When you find a body in the street, who do you call? Who do you expect to move it? It’s funny, because my automatic reaction would be to think of the police. You’re supposed to be able to call the police when you find a dead body, and they’re supposed to rush over and then do their detective thing, find the killer, and put the killer to justice. Right?
Right?
But what if the police put the body there in the first place? That sounds crazy.
That sounds crazy. What if the police shot the body and left it there to rot in the middle of an active street? And what if they shot the body for no viable reason? What if the police are actually killers?
Who do you call now?

There are those stupid Youtubers who have their racist “In the Hood” pranks, where they harass black people into beating them up. One especially stupid one involves them going up to random black guys and snatching the cell phones out of their hands to “check” the time. They Know it looks like they’re stealing the phones. They Know they’re going to be beaten up. They Know they’re creating extremely fucked up situations, but they keep creating them because they Don’t Know that they’re participating in yet another form of racism.
If you can get shot for being black, are you really going to call the police when a shrimpy white boy takes your phone? That’d be stupid. You have to take care of it yourself because you don’t even have a community to stone with you. Black people are not enough of a community yet. I have hope. It can be done. If black people continued to come together and didn’t just wait for the next abominable killing that made headlines, there Could Be a community.

But for right now, it seems that we’re behind Kibera. This must be when what Monsignor Ivan Illich meant when he told volunteers to stay in America and fix its own inequalities first. Who will fix this?

Frat Throws Racist Party; is Chastised for Instagramming

I’m in the gym, starting off the new semester (somewhat) right on the elliptical machine, trying to distract myself by watching the news. There’s a story (maybe you’ve seen it) about a fraternity in Arizona State that threw an MLK-themed party. Note that the link refers to the jerseys the students are dressed in as “gang attire”.

I was already over the story at “MLK-themed”, but when I saw the watermelon cup, I was done. I turned around to make sure that my friend, who’d come to the gym with me and was on a machine behind me, was also watching. Of course she was.

“This is literally ‘Dear White People’!” I yelled back at her (to be heard over the machines). “Are they serious? How are they serious?” I then realized that we were virtually surrounded by white people on the cardio machines, all of whom swiveled their heads questioningly in my direction. They looked confused, as if they didn’t know whether I was about to make an announcement, or if I was trying to offend them. Guess they hadn’t seen the trailer.

This was wrong on so many levels. The fact that only white people attended (although, what black person would really want to go?); the fact that jerseys, gang signs, and watermelons were the only things anyone could seem to think of in connection with blackness; that this was captioned with #ihaveadream as if THIS is what Martin Luther King Jr. imagined, and that fighting for THIS is what made someone think he deserved to be shot…

Making everything worse, though, were the reporters.

“Oh, this is bad,” they were saying. It is.
“This is really bad.” Tell me about it.
“And these kids, they don’t even know!” Obviously not.
“They’re just stuck in their own little world…” Yeah, their white privilege world.
“…and what they don’t even realize…” Tell ’em! Channel your inner Eli Pope!
“…is that this is seriously going to negatively affect their lives.” …Excuse me?
“Kids today don’t realize that what they put online stays around forever! In a few years, they’re going to have to break out of their world, and employers are going to look at what they’ve been up to, and it’s going to be hard for them to find jobs. Those kids are in for a rude awakening. Now let’s talk about this bungee jumping vine!”

That was literally it.
“Are you kidding me?” I was yelling to my friend again. “Are they really going to talk about the people who did this like they’re victims, and completely skip over the fact that this was racist and wrong? Aaah!” People were looking again, but I did not care.

I know that this has happened before, and it will happen again, but somehow it’s still hard to believe that things like this occur. How are you really going to talk about what happened, not as if it was a blasphemous thing on MLK Day (or offensive on any other day), but as a lesson to kids at home who should be more careful about what they post? It was as if the reporters were shaming the frat, not for what it had done, but for being stupid enough to get caught doing it. That is NOT the kind of rude awakening that should be happening.

You know who had a rude awakening? I did. I realized that if you have power in this country, or anywhere, the worst thing you can receive is bad press. It doesn’t matter if the world finds out you have affluenza, or if the world finds out you’re somewhat racist; as long as you have social power, the worst repercussions you’ll face are your media record. For everyone else who’s dead, dying, or oppressed, well…I don’t know what to say, and reporters clearly won’t waste words on you.