Last Saturday, I was not studying racist White people. I sat watching Black folks coming and going in front of a Black bookstore in Northwest D.C. R&B played nearby from a speaker I could not see, providing a soundtrack to the balmy summer afternoon. From my perch at a picnic table, the scene on that front patio was the closest to a Northern stoop I have ever experienced in my life. Two elders, Black men, from the UNIA and the Black Panthers, asked me over to their table to chat. They called me “little sister” and I greeted them like family.
Over the next 30 minutes, I got a good-natured youth-to-old-head grilling about freedom and the legal system. Whenever I made a salient point, one man’s head would bob up and down, the other’s mouth curved upward. Then they asked me if I had any questions for them. I looked at the shock of crinkly hair growing on one brother’s hoary head.
I asked them, “What seems new to you?”
One of the men looked me in the eyes and said, “You do.”
The other man told me flatly, “Nothing is new.”
And I thought about the way history repeats itself, about the way sometimes history doesn’t even have to loop because the nightmare never ended. Charlottesville must feel for them like it happened a thousand yesterdays ago, again, again.
I am too young to be tired. I tell myself this when I wonder why I don’t feel anything about a throng of weak-chinned White men wielding lit tiki torches in protest of…the devil knows what. Yet and still, the numbness bothers me more than my own burning anger would. Mobilized White supremacists should terrify me, bloat my stomach with anxiety. It surprises me that my annoyance doesn’t fall chiefly on the White supremacists. Sure, they have reappeared clad in polos and khakis like the Great Value versions of their sheet-wearing Klancestors. But who irritates me more than the White supremacist syndicate doing what they do best?
White people who believe what the world needs now is love, sweet love, instead of White progressives collecting their klanfolks.
From the not-so-covertly racist POTUS #45 calling for “both sides” of a one-sided conflict to chill, to Governors telling “people of good will” to go home as the police let hate groups cook, to other White folks praying for peaceful responses from oppressed people. Clasping hands in symbolic and literal barriers against flying spittle from foamy-mouthed mayo nationalists. Father, forgive me, but I do not feel lovey-dovey at this moment.
I refuse to kumbaya today, or in the future, about Charlottesville, as if our collective disunity caused an American Nazi flare up. I see people asking what else “we” expected from Nazis when we keep calling them names, like “Nazi.” No. Black people’s animosity toward White supremacists isn’t what’s inviting them to crawl out of the dark like roaches. This country’s addiction to racism did that.
I do not have time to hold White people’s hands and reassure them that Black people will not return pain for pain. My arms are too busy holding up those most vulnerable to White supremacist violence. I am leaving “well meaning” White people’s hands free to collect their racist cousins. You’re welcome.
We can paper over our hurts with flowery language about togetherness when we have accomplished the work to make America inhospitable to racism. But I will not assuage your fears about Black anger. This house has been racist since its inception and the oppressed haven’t burned it down yet. Yet. Remember that the only people marching with fire are White. If you are White and your hands are idle right now, know that I see the devil in them and in the demons wielding tiki torches.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” –Edmund Burke
In pondering what the brothers on the “stoop” both answered me, it occurred to me that I feel a historic fatigue. Surely, as one of them said, nothing is new. But I am. Charlottesville–where racists felt emboldened to march without the protection of mama’s 100-thread count–has never come to pass on such grand scale in my lifetime. However, in reading my ancestors’ accounts, in speaking to them, I see a thousand yesterdays, again, again. I see the active aggression of White racists and the passive acceptance of White liberals. The endless loop. I hear the same pleas for Black folks and POC to educate, to exercise love instead of anger toward both groups, and I can only think one thing:
My God, but we treat White folks like perpetual children.
Too many White people need their hands held. They can’t be trusted to cross the street to see the “other side” of their racism, their prejudice, their privilege, or their implicit biases. You must show them how to Google. Tell them the right search term to type, the correct articles or books to research. Key it in for them. Hit “Enter” with your finger. And then you must read for them, read to them. Ask them if they understand. Let them search you, key you, hit you with dehumanizing questions until it finally enters their brains. You are their personal Google.
White people have to be constantly, for decades and centuries, educated and re-educated about their very own racist history. When they gaslight us as if we’re exaggerating about, say, the medical establishment treating Black people unethically, they cannot quote to us “The Tuskegee Syphilis Study” or the “Father of Gynecology.” Even though White people have terrorized Black people’s bodies for centuries, we must tell them the horrors their ancestors enacted on us.
White people, especially men, receive miles of latitude to get it together, as if red-lining was so much youthful ignorance. Their racial “missteps” are viewed as a kid’s growing pains. Black folks are chastised to exercise patience with White people who show a modicum of willingness to unlearn racism. How will they ever learn if we do not teach them? We are expected to draw this patience from a never-ending well and gently place the ladle to their lips. Consequently, White people stay suckling at Black people’s breast for knowledge of good and evil as if they can’t wean themselves from their ancestors’ mammy habit.
So often, social justice advocates assume that Black people know our cause–ending racism and discrimination–is just. That’s why people tell us to take the high road when responding to hatred. But no one demands racist White folks take the high road. We expect the low road from them. Black people are the rational adults in America and racist White people are children of whom we have no expectation. Like we disbelieve they have the capacity for humaneness. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
By infantilizing White folks, we implicitly place the responsibility for change in Black/POC hands. Well, I have two beautiful children and my hands are full. I am busy raising them to love themselves in a country that cannot admit to itself that it hates Black people. Lord help me, I cannot raise White people, too.