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How NOT To Talk About Race – A NegusWhoRead Special Address

By Michael Harriot

A few months ago, I was honored to be invited to the October Secret Global White People Meeting to speak to their constituents about wearing blackface on Halloween. Apparently, I made such an impact that they requested a return engagement during Black History Month. The following is a transcript of my speech.

Once again I am honored to grace the stage at the Global Society for the Advancement of White People. I’d like to thank you for having me back and to speak to you about Black History Month. I know this is a busy time of year for you as you try to simultaneously regain your stronghold on the Presidency, the Supreme court and the NFL quarterback position. I first want to say that even though I don’t get it, I like what you guys are doing with Taylor Swift. I also want to apologize for Beyonce’s overshadowing Coldplay during the only time allotted for White people to shine at this year’s Super Bowl, but, c’mon my caucasian brethren, you should have seen that one coming.

Anywhoo, I am here tonight to give you a brief primer on how to talk about the subject of color, ethnicity and culture. As you embark on another Black History Month, a presidential primary (By the way, it’s good to see both Hillary and Donald in the front row) you will undoubtedly encounter a conversation about the subject. I’m just here to help you navigate the treacherous waters by giving you a few phrases  you should never say when talking about the race and racism.

I’m not racist but…”I know it is a difficult concept to understand, white people, because you get to judge everything: legal proceedings, figure skating, the hip hop category in the Grammys, even dance contests. Hell, your judging privilege stretches so far and wide that every year a pale, skinny woman with white girl features is selected as Miss Universe. The entire universe! How can a thick-hipped girl from Zimbabwe or one of the seven-tentacled alien chicks from The Alpha Centurion-QX7 nebula galaxy stand a chance of competing with your white people judging sensibilities?

But here’s what you don’t get to judge:

Whether something is racist or not.

Judging whether something you do is racist is like punching someone in the face and then telling them “That didn’t hurt.” Plus, when you have to qualify anything with “I’m not a ___, (fill in the blank) but…” it’s probably gonna be infinitely stupid. All of humankind will eventually evolve into carbon-dioxide-breathing fish in the next few years because climate policy is being determined by politicians who say “I’m not a scientist, but…” (Let’s see how Miss Ukraine scores when she takes her scant two arms to the Alpha Centurion evening gown competition). Furthermore, people who know what they’re talking about don’t have to prequalify their statements in this manner. I think it was Albert Einstein once said:

“I’m not a physicist, but I think E equals MC squared.”

Wait. You don’t remember reading that famous quote?

Exactly.

“What about reverse racism?” –  There is a widely held theory that Black people can’t be racist because racism is accompanied by a certain amount of power that Black people don’t yet possess. I believe that reverse racism exists in the same way I believe in Bigfoot and Hillary Clinton’s “experience” — I’ve heard a lot of people talk about it, but I haven’t seen enough evidence. White people crying about reverse racism is like a guy with a huge penis complaining about never being able to find underwear that fits (trust me, it is kind of a hassle). In fact, there is only one area where I have experienced reverse racism, and I am not ashamed to say that I benefitted from it:

When white people pick their basketball teams.

Even though I have a verified vertical leap of .0938 inches and the hand-eye coordination of Stephen Hawkins, I am routinely chosen in the early rounds of drafting a pickup basketball team at my gym. Perhaps it is because of the societal perceptions of race and athleticism. Maybe it is because racial stereotypes have conditioned to think that Black men are good at basketball. Maybe it is because of a rule that I adopted later in life: I only hoop with white guys.

I Don’t See Color.” Then, why are we having this conversation? Although no one should sum up another person based on their color, race does have cultural context. Colorblindness is not an asset, it’s a handicap that renders you incapable of having this conversation. I don’t trust people who “don’t see color” to understand the complexities of race just as you wouldn’t respect a tone-deaf American Idol judge.

“I don’t see color” is a subtle way of saying “I think my race is superior. SO superior, in fact, that I’ll pretend I don’t even acknowledge your non-whiteness, because.. well… I know it must be hard.” Here’s the thing: Most Black people love being Black. Asians love being Asian, and Latinos love being Latino. We wouldn’t want to be anything else. No one wants their cultural identity ignored, they just want it respected and placed into context.

I once proposed legislation that allowed people to punch anyone in the nose who uttered the phrase “I don’t see color.” While the victim experience the rainbow-colored effects of the pain and saw stars after their brain was temporarily stunned, the puncher could always say:

“See. I fixed it.”

Some of my best friends are Black” – No they’re not, because if you’ve uttered this phrase before, your black “friend” thinks you’re an asswipe.  I bet if we called your best black buddy Jamaal on speakerphone right now and asked him to rank his friends, you’d fall somewhere between his high school chemistry lab partner and the guy who occasionally asks him to spot him when doing bench presses at the gym. Even if you belong to one of those rare multicultural groups of friends who only exist in beer commercials and sitcoms, it doesn’t give you any insight or cultural extra credit. Would you undergo open-heart surgery from someone who told you, “I didn’t go to medical school but one of my best friends is a cardiologist.”

Plus, I thought you didn’t see color?

In conclusion, I hope you have all gained valuable knowledge on how to traverse the treacherous minefield that is race conversations. If not, always remember, you’re white and you’re in America.

What could be better than that?

About the author

Michael Harriot is a renowned spoken word poet, the host of The Black One podcast and the editor-in-chief of NegusWhoRead. He is perpetually just getting warmed up because he has no chill. He is on Instagram and twitter as @michaelharriot

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