It must be a hell of a feeling when your skin, ideas, and presence become a golden ticket of Willy Wonka proportions in life. It must be nice to not only create the rules, systems, and standards but to actually be “the standard”. It is utterly astonishing when you can be given the space and grace to be both tone-deaf, ignorant, a disaster, and human all while stumbling towards what seems to most of your counterparts as you “trying to be a better person”. The memo I missed in all of the years I have spent explaining everything from my disposition to why I was worthy of equal treatment is the people; white people in specific did not care. We don’t even penetrate their aura even slightly.
We (people of color) have spent every waking hour of our existence trying to be perfectly-packaged and poised for a people who don’t really care one way or another about us. Yes, there are a few who genuinely care, but at scale, most white people are happily trotting along in their very monochromatic world where they get to choose amnesia daily about the way they choose to participate and show up in the world. This is the same world and society where being a person of color is synonymous with responsibility, accountability and being of moral character 24/7/365 or at least that is the expectation. There was a time that I wished for a single day where I could have white powers, the kind that gave me the license to screw people over, engage boldly in a debate over the black experience and then play the victim when I realize I am in over my head, create laws and systems that enslaved (and currently enslave) people, the ability to appear smarter and more capable (even though on paper I wasn’t worth a damn) and still get ahead anyway, the audacity to tell people how to feel, speak, and present such that they would do anything from applying harmful chemicals to their hair to make it more presentable to suffocating entire cultures of people so their language reverberated in just the right frequency that could only please my senses. I realized after evaluating these “white powers” that there was absolutely no honor in that life, so black power it was for me and it has served me quite well.
I stopped caring what white people thought the day I realized it would serve me better to preserve myself and my community. Why bother teaching or preaching to someone who has a “but” for every story you have about being disenfranchised or oppressed? Why should I bother giving space and grace to someone who would prefer to play the victim every time I challenge their thinking or perspective? What is the point of debating someone who is not only ignorant of my experiences but isn’t humble enough to simply listen and if applicable offer a genuine apology?
Newsflash: White people are not better or greater than anyone else walking this earth. Judging by the past year and a half there are white people along with people of color that will vehemently agree with that assertion. That said, it turns out black people and people of color, in general, are great, strong, resilient, valuable, capable, smarter, and so much more. This is a shift of consciousness, not a perspective meant for you to cry oppression and whine as if someone stole your IRA money. From the boardroom to online, I have experienced white people puffing their chest out to correct me when I was actually right all to make sure I know my place. I have had white people make lame excuses for their bigotry while simultaneously likening me to a bully for merely stating the truth and holding their asses to the fire they lit. How sway!
In business and HR, we speak a lot about ROI, what exactly is my return on investment when I am encountered with unabashed ignorance and bigotry and the expectation in return is that I overextend myself to help shift the other person’s opinion?
As I know it from my background in Psychology, shifts in behaviors and beliefs happen as a result of these examples:
- People shift behavior when they are ready for a change
- Real shifts in behavior and thinking are intrinsic jobs. Extrinsic elements may be catalysts to people shifting, but ultimately the act of shifting is within the individual
- If extrinsic variables are minimal in impact, then it must be true that we are only ever able to change ourselves and never another person.
- It helps to understand that any person who only thinks of themselves and only believes their own perspectives are valid is still and will always be diagnosable as a “narcissist” among other things
Number #3 is what got me thinking. The only thing that I can change is me. If I focus inward and on my family, my people and stop worrying about white people at all maybe then things could change. Just maybe we have given this group of people too much credit for being the smartest, the best, the most ethical, moral, purest evidence of humanity. Isn’t it possible that white people as the shining example of everything we know is a farce or at a minimum a half-truth? Perhaps, there are different perspectives yet to be examined that aren’t grounded in any human developing debilitating and generational hate of themselves, spelling their names a certain way, losing their language, culture, identity, voice to please another human. Just maybe, it is plausible that we were all duped (white people included), into thinking that white people know what’s best in every situation. Maybe they don’t and maybe there is a better way yet to be discovered and tried.
By 2050, the world population is purported to be heavily focused in Asia and Africa. In other words, a quarter of the world’s population will be African. Times up! No one cares if you don’t think we speak the King’s English (especially when you play yourself speaking our slang in our presence). Language is changing every day and has always been a product of the times. No one cares if you don’t like the kinks in our hair, we like it and thank God we are finally wearing them proudly. We don’t care anymore if you don’t invest in us, we will invest in ourselves (just see what Richelieu Dennis did in buying Essence Magazine back). We already know you aren’t mourning the loss of our babies and men and only march when it suits you – we know our lives matter and continue to march and protect ourselves. A peer of mine in the online HR sphere is quoted as saying “For the first time in the history of the United States it’s not very comfortable to be a white dude…I’m seen as a really great replacement of Trump to pounce on”.
To that I say, talk to us in about 300 years after you process what it has meant to endure enslavement, systemic oppression, and racism, censoring, stealing of ideas, livelihoods, being robbed of your essence and life for no other reason than being a living, breathing thing of this planet and without barely a collective of humans with whom to share our woes authentically. Lucky for you no white man or woman will have to live that plight (unless of course aliens of the Independence Day variety finds your way equally disturbing and come for you). You know why you will never meet that very deserving era of reckoning? It is because with all of the hate that has been shown to us through the generations and even currently we always find a little more compassion, a little more empathy within ourselves to extend an olive branch of kindness or at a minimum a very tired ear to listen to you excruciatingly talk about how hard it is to face your privilege. Did I mention we are a compassionate people? It is worth repeating. Breathe in what you see as so-called white oppression and sit with it as we have our own. I trust you will find the answers you need and deserve whether you like them or not. Until then we will be living our best lives in color- happily and free as we were meant to be.