Politics & Race
White People Can’t Tell Me Nothing

Earlier this year a friend ( I want to add that he was a White friend. His color is not relevant to the story, but I think it is important for you to know that some of my best friends are White) whose talent I greatly admire found himself caught in the crosshairs of feminists when he insinuated that a Black woman who was raped should have gone to the authorities instead of telling her school administrators about it. He believed the school shouldn’t have kicked the accused rapist out from her word alone, and that if the guy was guilty of rape, he should be in jail, not left to roam the streets. In trying to clarify his point, he just further entangled himself in the mess until it grew to epic proportions. Finally I advised him, as a friend, to “shut the fuck up.”

I created NegusWhoRead as a forum for people of color who wanted to read and discuss ideas outside of the litany of news sites, think piece writers and blogs who offer varying opinions about race, culture, politics and anything meaningful to Black people.  I intended the tagline “Smart. Bold. Brilliant. Black” to serve as a clarion call for both writers and readers who wanted unfiltered, unapologetic content. NegusWhoRead was supposed to be a small space on computer screens or phones where we can get free. Then a funny thing happened.

White people started reading it.

To be honest, I didn’t think this, or any site, can fly under the radar of the Caucasian multitude for long. If you put content out into the world, there is no way to control who consumes it. Furthermore, I wanted White people to read it. I think it is constructive for the entire world to hear how unapologetic Blackness sounds when we don’t feel the need to lower the bass in our voices and get comfortable enough to turn our code-switches to “off.”

As writers and people who create for public consumption know, you cannot control the response to your work. Once you open your mouth to sing, it is not up to you whether the listeners will like the song. Furthermore, anyone who writes about any subject even tangentially related to race or culture will testify to the streams of emails, social media messages and comments from White people who want one thing from them:

To shut up.

I am not an overconfident man. As with most people who put together words for a living, I have a larger-than-normal helping of inadequacy fears. When I write about race, I am aware that there may be conflicting points of view. I know that just because I say it doesn’t mean my opinion is correct. I am sometimes even presented with ideas that that run counter to what I have said, and I try to listen and consider those dissenting viewpoints. Sometimes I even change my mind and acknowledge that they are correct and I was wrong. But there is one subject about which I will allow myself to stuff my fingers into my ears and disregard every time:

White people can’t tell me nothing about racism.

I know that is grammatically incorrect. I meant for it to be.

I am often called racist. I cannot count how many helpful Caucasians have virtually pulled me aside and told me what was wrong with my views on race. Aside from refuting what they call “flawed statistics” with equally flawed statistics, they say matter-of-factly that Black people are just whining, or that the calling out of racism divides the country. I understand. Race is an important subject and everyone has an opinion on it. But, that doesn’t mean your opinion means anything to me.

Imagine being a runaway slave heading north for freedom, hiding face-down in the mud, evading fugitive slave hunters, Sherrifs’ posses and  masters looking for stray Blacks to recyycle. Imagine, while on this quest for freedom, hopscotching through the underground railroad fearing for your life, following your instinct, the stars and those who gave you instructions–with the history of the atrocities perpetrated against you, you ran into a White person. You didn’t know if he was an abolitionist or a slavecatcher, a true friend or a real enemy. Now imagine that White person told you that you were going the wrong direction, and what you needed to do is turn around and head in the other direction.

Would you do it?

Me? They couldn’t tell me nothing

If you take a cursory glance through the comment section of any online discussion of racism, oppression or anything adjacent to those subjects, you will undoubtedly find Caucasian commenters raising their hands and voices in objection to any premise put forth. Some of them are even well-meaning. After the election of Donald Trump, I published a piece here (which was subsequently published by one of our partners, AfroPunk) entitled “I Told Y’all: White People Don’t Give A Fuck.”As soon as the piece was published, there arose a cacophony of Caucasian grumblings insisting that:

a. Not all White people are racist
b. Not all White people voted for Trump
c. I should point out the first two facts if I want to be fair.

I am not in the business of fairness. In fact, fairness is sometimes an entirely separate entity from truth. Fairness allows that when Hillary Clinton won 88% of African American voters,  it was referred to by every media outlet and pundit as the “Black vote.” Therefore, by the dictates of “fairness,”  the reason we now have a pre-pubescent, pussy-grabbing frat-boy numbskull packing for the White House is because of the “White Vote.” Hence, I blame this election on the owners of the white vote–“White people.” Besides, chastising a Black man about fairness is like stabbing someone in the chest and then yelling at them for bleeding on the floor.

Any pushback of that notion, especially by liberal, progressive Caucasians is a result of privilege. In fact, the conservative, alt-right racists at least acknowledge their privilege. They want America to be a White, Christian nation, and their stated rationality is that there are more of them, and their forefathers helped build this country. Whether you agree with them or not, that is an acknowledgement that their argument is built on the idea that they deserve what they want because of White privilege.

They too, condemn me often. When they say people of color are the reason for the downfall of America and tout their racial superiority when compared to the “savage,” animalistic people of African descent, at least I know where they are coming from. They are racist, and their condemnation of any insight on racism undermines their ideals. Me taking time to examine the opinion of the alt right is like Emmit Till standing in front of his lynch mob and listening to a detailed explanation of why whistling at White women should be punishable by death. An American soldier wouldn’t carefully listen to a member if ISIS explain why the idea of a caliphate is a good idea that necessitates terrorist acts.

Alt Right White people can’t tell me nothing.

But if you want to really want to see the wondrous works of White privilege, look no further than progressives, liberals and people who call themselves “allies” when you bring up the idea of “White people.” I feel no need to inform them that when I say “White people,” intelligence mandates that–for any discussion–I don’t mean “all White people.” Nothing is true 100% of the time. When I turn on ESPN and they say the Dallas Cowboys played a terrible game, they don’t single out the 3rd string punter and say “except for him. He didn’t play.”

Yet the unshirkable force of privilege overflows from my inbox whenever I write about White people. If I object to safety-pin wearers, they will point to how long they have been working for equality. They will send me selfies of themselves standing in protest lines wearing Black Lives Matter paraphernalia. In order to shake off the indelible stain of their fellow compatriots electing a billionaire buffoon as leader of the free world, they will reiterate how hard they worked for Bernie, Hillary or–for a triple word score–Barack Obama’s campaign. They constantly raise their metaphorical hands and interject with “what about the White people who don’t…”

What they really want is credit. They want acknowledgement. They think that, because of their Whiteness, they should be excused being lumped in with the oppressors and confederate flag-wavers. It is ultimately an exquisite kind of privilege that endows them to speak up whenever they think they have been forgotten or when anyone neglects to mention their royal benevolence. When Moses descended from the top of Mount Sinai with the ten commandments and read them to the people, I’m sure there was a self-righteous privileged motherfucker in the back of the gathered crowd who raised their hand and shouted out “But what about those of us who don’t steal or commit adultery.?”

If Moses was like me, he would’ve exclaimed back, “Then I’m not talking about you. Now shut the fuck up!”

You don’t get a lollipop for doing the right thing.

White liberals can’t tell me nothing

Even White moderates who “don’t” see color”  love to elbow their way, uninvited, into the cypher and then want the DJ to change the beat. They like to point out that race is a social construct, so talking about and acknowledging race actually perpetuates racism. They ask if the social commentary is productive because it offends white sensibilities. They say I am profiting from and widening the divisions in society. They think that talking about race creates racism. They don’t understand that they have the privilege of ignoring racism because it doesn’t affect them. I always want to ask them if that has ever worked on any societal issue in the history of mankind. If we could eliminate racism by not talking about it, then why don’t police make the world safer by ignoring crime? By that logic, shouldn’t we stop talking about everything bad–terrorism, poverty–even Donald Trump’s hair?

My friend from the beginning of this story ultimately met by the woman who was raped, and they became friends. She taught him about how many untested rape kits are piled up in police departments around the country. She told him about how many rape cases are never convicted–even when the victim reports it. She explained to them how she would have to relive that day over and over again for years in testimony, depositions, police statements and maybe even a trail if she pressed charges, and that it ultimately might not even make her feel any better if he was convicted.  As a white man, his problem was that he had never been told that there are discussions where is voice was not needed. That’s the thing about White people:

You don’t live in a world where you are subjugated every day because of the color of your skin. You don’t have to live with the insane paranoia of wondering why every failure in life or every mistreatment you receive is because you are Black. You don’t have to carry the burden of 400 years of slavery, 100 more of Jim Crow and another fifty of skewed perception. You don’t have to consider whether every movement you make can be considered a threat that could end your life. You don’t have to worry about whether your son will make it home–even if he behaves himself. You can’t tell me how to not resist when I am stopped by the police. You don’t get to advise me to “stop making everything about race.” You don’t get to tell me not to be angry, or loud or opinionated.

It is the same as my White, male friend chastising a woman of color about how to act after she had her humanity and safety stripped from her and ripped to bits by a rapist. No, I am not equating White people with rapists, and I don’t believe all White people –or even most– are racists. But you have no insight on the dehumanizing, back-breaking burden it is to carry Blackness around daily in America, so any opinion you offer comes from the perspective of the sidelines having never played in a real game. It is the ultimate haughtiness.

And no, you can’t tell me nothing.


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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