We know that it is impossible for the human mind to comprehend the true fullness of the universe in its encompassing of galaxies, planets, stars, twerk videos, “90 Day Fiancé,” consciousness and the concept of Pokémon. The same can be said for racism. Therefore, when your goal is to talk about racism, it’s like deciding to talk about the universe. Despite my perpetual avalanche of racial shit-talk, I don’t actually know if I can bring anything new to the table that isn’t already available in countless books, movies, stand-up specials, poems and even some more forward-thinking porn, but as far as enlightenment goes, I’m confident we’ll land somewhere between “The Blind Side” with Sandra Bullock and anything Cornel West has ever said. Pretty broad spectrum.
Why do I have to start with an ostentatious analogy to existence itself? Don’t think that I don’t know that it’s a reach as an opener, and I’m not convinced even lampshading it makes it any better. Let me at least explain that it’s because I feel like I have to prove to you that I’m smart. I was adopted and raised by two white parents in Salt Lake City, Utah, and that fact alone is already just too much. According to most sociological texts, the only way for a Black person to be living in Utah is by playing in the NBA or some sort of clerical error. As an African American who grew up in a predominantly (aggressively) white, and I would argue atypically insular area (even relative to other white communities, shoutout to Mormonism), I had the relative privilege (or plight) of coming face-to-face with the version of America that white people assumed was ubiquitous throughout the nation. I don’t have a story about a cop pulling his gun on me while I was walking around my neighborhood because the cops weren’t even patrolling my neighborhood. That explicit form of racism is Super Mario. What I experienced was Waluigi.
Like Waluigi, being a lateral derivation of a character already antithetical to Mario, the racism I experienced was trickier to comprehend and identify, but it remained practically omnipresent in my upbringing, particularly in school. I had at least one teacher in every grade that I can remember who would take it upon themselves to implicitly assume I was dumb, or less competent than other kids. This manifested in many ways that became less and less surprising as I got older. My eighth-grade biology teacher, Mrs. Cottonpicker (that’s not her name, she just called her computer a cotton picker out of frustration once), would always ask me why I wasn’t working on the in-class assignment. The answer was always because I had already completed it. Her response was to force me to show her the front and back of each page to verify that I wasn’t lying, and then she would check to make sure that I hadn’t just scribbled a bunch of random bullshit. There are a lot of movie scenes that play out similarly, usually involving a computer code or whiteboard, and this is how we the audience find out a character is a Super Genius and that’s why he’s the movie’s protagonist. This was the inverse, starring me, proving constantly that I wasn’t a Fucking Idiot. It never mattered how many times we had acted out that scene, she relentlessly questioned my ability to complete a Punnett square, or remember the phases of mitosis (Interphase, Prophase, Metaphase, Anaphase, Telophase, bitch). You may be wondering if she ever treated other students this way. The answer is yes. The single other Black student in my class, Tye, got the same treatment. We were often confused for each other. (The day she called her computer a cotton picker, the two of us got to do that thing where you look at each other and simultaneously think “Did she really just…?”)
Thanks to Mrs. Cottonpicker, and countless similar experiences from educators, every time I open my mouth or type a sentence I feel compelled to scream my lungs out into the void that I can be both Black and intelligent, and I probably won’t ever stop. I can say the alphabet backwards. I can solve a Rubik’s Cube. These are two things that I learned in about an afternoon, and regardless of what it says about my intelligence, I learned them, at least partially, to help me project the image of intelligence. It’s called trauma, and it’s a compensation for my insecurity produced from an incessant stream of what woke culture has dubbed “microaggressions,” which I was fed a hearty diet of throughout my entire childhood. The quickest way to throw me into a blind rage is to simply assume I don’t know what I’m talking about. Here in 2020, Black America and I are similar in that regard. The burning Target is a symbol of anger from those who have been silenced. White audiences have levied the burden of proof onto African Americans when it comes to our persecution, but to continue the metaphor, act as both judge and jury even while they themselves are the defendant, so of course the verdict constantly comes down to not guilty. To quote James Baldwin from 1961, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” To quote myself this morning, “I swear to god, these goddamn white people JESUS CHRIST the audacity FUCK.” We are of equivalent eloquence.
In writing this, I hesitate to repeat points that I have both seen and myself have regurgitated online ad nauseam within the overlapping echo chambers of liberalism and Black intellectualism, especially given that most who already disagree don’t actually care to listen and go on their merry way as is their assumed birthright. They’re probably not reading this. Here’s the thing, though: The presence of systemic racial oppression in America is beyond disagreement. You cannot actually disagree when you have ignorance on the subject, and whiteness in America comes with an inherent level of ignorance to the experience of other races. It’s as if I said I was being punched in the face, but for the sole reason that you were not being punched in the face, you responded “I do not believe you are being punched in the face,” or more popularly, “You’re not being punched in the face that much,” or my least favorite, “Well, if you’re being punched in the face, I’m being punched in the face, too, maybe even more than you.” To argue from this place is insane, and makes me want to punch you in the face.
If I’m being transparent, I’m secretly inspired by the hope that once this is published, I can absolve myself of the need to engage in arguments online regarding these points. For the reader who shares my perspective, this paragraph will probably not reveal anything too profound, but I want to get the information that all white people need to hear out of the way: You benefit from white privilege, whether you want to or not. Yes, it is real, it’s not a ghost, and believing that it is not real is a function of said white privilege. No, it doesn’t mean every aspect of your life is privileged because you’re white, but that there is a privilege that is innate to being white in America, and it interacts with all of society, whether that is schools, jobs, banking, the medical system, policing or legal system, to name a few. Your white privilege gives rise to racial biases, conscious or unconscious, which again you have (and if you think you don’t have them, then congratu-fucking-lations, they’re unconscious), and the cumulative effect of aforementioned racial biases creates and perpetuates institutional racism which feeds into the overall systemic racism that is foundational to the United States because of slavery—YES, slavery, I said it—which was abolished(ish) by the 13th Amendment, although caveated by the prison system allowing for targeted mass incarceration working parallel to segregation, redlining, food deserts, hiring discrimination, predatory lending, profiling and police brutality to uphold our nation’s precious consolidated patriarchal power structure of white supremacy eventually resulting in the murders of Ahmad Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Tony McDade, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Amadou Diallo, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, Alton B. Sterling, Christian Taylor, Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley, Natasha McKenna, et god damn cetera, and if all that seems a bit overwhelming then how the fuck do you think Black people feel? Let’s break for commercial:
We here at Hidden Valley Ranch know that it’s unpopular to be overtly racist, so we’d like to let everyone know that out of obligation and bloodthirsty hunger for higher reputation capital in our brand, we’d like to say that #BlackLivesMatter. We have decided that Black people are good, and they shouldn’t be murdered just for being Black. Let’s Ranch™!
I started with a memory from school as both an example of an institutional struggle, and because education of perspective is what this really comes down to. I’m tempted to title this essay something clickbaity, like “Why I Hate Martin Luther King” or “Why I Refuse To Say Black Lives Matter,” because each, in their own way, have been perverted into a token of completion, whether that’s a single Instagram post with a black screen, or the narrative from our educational system that suggests the entire civil rights movement was Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks tandem riding a unicorn over a rainbow before quietly submitting a request for racism to be over forever, riddled with “just”s “I was thinking maybe”s and “it might be nice if”s. We exist within a system—there’s that word again—that allows white people to comfortably not know what they don’t know, and continue replying “#AllLivesMatter” to any expression of racial justice, even in the face of the goddamn ocean of analogies that explain the obvious rhetorical flaws with that response. They would much rather put up a soundproof invisible wall to relax in their massage chair of willful ignorance powered by veiled racism. It is this same invisible wall that has caused some to create an unignorable display of merchandise going up in flames. This is a real curriculum, perfect or not. We can argue about the efficacy of looting until we’re dead, but my take is simply what is inarguable: It’s happening.
Many fear the chaos of riots, and would prefer things went back to normal. Understand that the riots started back in 1619 when the first African slave set foot in Jamestown, and that this definition of normal is unacceptable. My race has informed my entire life, from my adoption to my well-meaning white parents who assumed they could “give me a better life” as an expression of their white savior complex, to my now-estranged adopted father who according to my mother remarked at some point that I couldn’t be his “real son,” to my spiteful recollection of the phases of mitosis (Interphase, Prophase, Metaphase, Anaphase, Telophase, you stupid old racist bitch!).
W.E.B. Du Bois introduced the concept of “double-consciousness” among African Americans, the idea that the core of one’s very identity was not only that of a human being existing within reality, but also that of a Black human being. As socially constructed and paradoxical as the idea of race itself, Blackness is its own universe layered over the one I big-headedly mentioned earlier. White America, (and hopefully white people reading this), for only the past sixty years starting—not ending with—the civil rights movement, is only beginning to glimpse a bit of this universe. This painful, divisive process is growth, evolution, and as much as I truly fucking hate to say it, mitosis.