Oh yes, because there are things I want, things you will need to give me to ensure our easy interaction. And yes, I could say that respect is what you need to give me, but I’ve been saying it for years and have finally accepted that it doesn’t mean the same thing to you as it does to me.
So I’m making my demands known. Demands, making me sound like a hostage-taker. Maybe I am. My hostage is this moment, this moment that has flipped a switch for me, for so many people. I’m holding it and holding it. Holding it as if there’s a forever-fermata hovering overhead just now. Holding it and holding it, stretching it and myself. Will I post other things? Of course I will. At the very least, I’m only halfway through my 30-stories run, so there will be stories. But for today there are demands. Listen up.
1. Stop telling me slavery ended in the 1860s. Stop. Because, obviously, I know that. But — and this is the big bit — slavery’s end doesn’t mean slavery never happened, doesn’t mean all of the social and institutional constructs that were put in place to keep me down never existed, don’t still exist.
2. Stop telling me your family never owned slaves. Mostly you should stop because there isn’t ever a reasonable context for telling me this, and you just sound ridiculous. But also, it’s likely that you don’t know this for a fact, so you should just stop. I know you want to tell me this maybe-fact about your family because you think it explains something. You think it will help me see that all this “racism stuff” doesn’t have anything to do with you. You never owned a slave a day in your life. Yes, well …
2b. I am no longer going to do your homework for you. Go look up “white privilege” for your own self.
3. Stop telling me I need to “get over” slavery/Jim Crow/racism. Let’s play pretend: You have debilitating arthritis that causes you pain nearly every day of your life. Every once in a while, the pain is so severe, you complain. And when you complain to me, I say, “Oh Lord, not with the arthritis again! Can you give that a rest already and get over it?”
Wasn’t that a fun game? Didn’t you feel heard, valued, cared for, understood? No? Well, get over it! (See what I did there?)
Racism isn’t something to “get over,” like a cold or a broken leg. Would that it could be so simple. And, even if it were something to be gotten over … I’m actually not the one who needs the cure. Just let that sink in your mind for a minute.
4. From this point forward, I will no longer entertain any sentences that include the words, “not to be racist, but …” or rephrasing of same. You and I both know that when you say these words you’re thinking they excuse whatever racist thing you’re about to say. They don’t. Period. My hand is up in your face as you try to defend yourself. Stop.
5. Just as I will no longer do your homework for you (see item 2b above), I am no longer willing to be your understanding of the monolithic body of Black People. I represent myself. I talk about things that piss me off. The things that piss me off may also piss off other black folks, but I don’t speak for them. I don’t need you to listen to what I say and then follow up with some nonsense about how you “didn’t know black people felt that way.” I want you to fix this, but I’m willing to understand your confusion. You may be thinking of “black people” as a collective noun, and we all know that collective nouns are singular. Absolutely correct. However, collective nouns — the glee club, the army, the prom committee, the senate — are made up of individuals. Individuals who may all be part of that collectively described group but who rarely think and feel the same way about all things (please refer to, ahem, the senate). So you are welcome to be surprised that I feel some kind of way about something, but you need not assume that what I think is what all black people think. After all …
5b. I am equally unwilling to listen when you try to convince me that what I feel and think is somehow wrong or invalid because you’ve heard of some other black person who doesn’t agree. I can easily accept that there are plenty of other black folks who don’t get pissed off by the things that piss me off. When I tell you that something is irking the crap out of me, when I tell you that a particular comment is racist, I don’t need you to hold up for me some random other black person you know (or know about) who disagrees. Do you agree at all times with every other person in your particular racial or ethnic group? In your family group? I’m guessing not. Also, please refer to item 3 from the grievance list. Those folks may be singing the song you’d rather hear. That’s on them. That’s on you. That has nothing at all to do with me and what’s on my mind.
Maybe you think pointing out what you perceive as dissension in the ranks is just some friendly Devil’s Advocate playing, helping me see perspective. You got no takers here. And the devil? Already has more than enough advocates. You need to sit down. Maybe read something while you’re keeping your mouth shut.
6. Stop telling me that police officers have difficult jobs. You’re right, of course. They do have difficult jobs. That’s one reason most of us can’t and don’t want to be police officers. That’s also why police officers all went to the Police Academy to be trained to do their very difficult jobs. By telling me how hard it is to be a cop, are you saying police work is so hard that it’s impossible to properly train officers? Are you suggesting that police officers have no ability to assess the stressful situations they find themselves in while doing their difficult jobs? Are you saying that the situations which have led to numerous armed, actively-violent white people being arrested and not killed were somehow less difficult than being faced with an unarmed black person? Again, I have to tell you to take a seat. Take several.
7. Stop telling me you’re colorblind, that you don’t see color, that you don’t see me as black. No one believes you. Even you don’t believe you. Being colorblind isn’t even desirable. If you can’t see color, you can’t see me at all. If you can’t see color, you’re negating all the work people of color have done to make this country. And maybe that works for you, but I’m not interested. Seeing color isn’t the problem. Seeing color and deciding that mine is “wrong” or “bad” is the problem. Seeing color and telling me the job is already filled, or the apartment is no longer available is the problem. And really: the idea that you don’t see me as black? Come on, people. Let’s never, ever go there again.
It’s a lot all at once, isn’t it? And this is only a piece of the list! But we’re at a good moment now, a chance for you to step into the national conversation, to listen rather than jumping in with your convo-killing, “We need to stand together,” business. Maybe you really want us to stand together, but remember what I told you last time: all of us standing together to face racism means you coming to stand over here with me, not vice versa. That’s not up for debate. For many of you, it may also mean keeping your mouth shut for a while.
In this moment, you have an opportunity to have what may be your first real conversation about race in America. You can do this. And you have to.