We Fought Wars Together White Americans, So We Don't Know How To Be Allies?
There were three personal projects I kept blowing off studying before the pandemic gave me additional time to no longer uncomfortably avoid. I read "Roots: The Saga of an American Family" by Alex Haley, "Black Like Me" by John Howard Griffin, and watched "O.J.: Made in America" produced and directed by Ezra Edelman. Then I read Shannon Ashley's article, "White People Don’t Know How to Be Allies to Black People" a couple days after George Floyd's murder.
She's right. Then I started thinking and remembering all the seasonal friendships, relationships, and cordialities I've had with American white people now that I'm 48 years old. The racial disparity and dehumanization biases aren't "patch it up" fixes as it has been since the end of the civil rights movement. We can't be allies when eventually you treat our humanity as uncomfortable business endeavors.
Ashley wrote, "Growing up, so many of us want to believe that the racial hangups of our parents, teachers, and other adults won’t affect us. But they did and they do. I’m just as guilty as any other white person of being at least a little uncomfortable around black people who don’t 'act white.' And I’m guilty of pretending it isn’t true."
The O.J. Simpson film reflected that assimilating sentiment in the same appeasing fashion. I lived with my parents in two upper-middle-class neighborhoods (Indiana and Kentucky) that were suburban, white, and we were anomalies. We were the Huxtable family with all the curiosity or contempt that went with it. My juvenile identity got skewed from all the influences of "dressing the part" to make white people feel comfortable by not seeing me as black. I wanted to be judged as a person by my merit; early O.J.'ed.
Tiger Woods wrote in his memoir, "The 1997 Masters: My Story," 'But it would have been naive of me to think my win would mean the end of ‘the look’ when a person from any minority walked into some golf clubs, especially the game’s private clubs. I only hoped my win, and how I won, might put a dent in the way people perceived black people. I hoped my win would open some doors for minorities. My biggest hope, though, was we could one day see one another as people and people alone. I wanted us to be color blind. Twenty years later, that has yet to happen.'
University life brought out the Kurt Cobain in me (after doing that white fraternity thing for a year) and the timeless array of John Hughes and socially theatrical characters. Welcome to paying dues and higher education. I was still a black male (dredlocks, early 1990s grunge, and hip-hop fashion) allowed a "pass" in a white ensemble. What was coolly tolerated with me then is a weighted burden now. We can't just be a part of the human race, we have to have the "black" label. As we grow older, blacks see how white privilege gives you accessibility to a comfortable quality of life in America.
These are some examples of the social experiences I've had with white people advancing in adulthood where "the racial thing" always comes up.
⦁ At university studies, there was the lesbian white friend that always wanted five minutes of "black people not being smart" jokes before meeting our clique at the party circuits. She had a twin sister (#straight#they clashed) that just wasn't like that. I have met some white people in my life that never brought up, said anything, or had uncomfortable gestures when being around me.
⦁ The white guys that only see you as being a utility. Do I know some girls you want to meet? Do I know the cooks at the restaurant? I know you want to see what my girlfriend looks like, or do I have acumen in something you want to know? They are fly persistent. The guys that "felt more cool" by association. They're the ones that want to be "quick friends" without investing in the time equity of "listen and learn" about my humanity.
⦁ Back then it wasn't taboo, but you could see the early signs. If you joined the white fraternities and met the aspiring socialites, the one would come around. One of your drinking buddies to ask, probe, agitate, compare and peeve his white only perspective against everything racial he sees/hears (from the media) or witnesses happen to you.
⦁ The male work colleagues (when we were all neophytes in the retail/corporate workforce) who ask you the, "Why do black people eat this, drink that, like the lyrics/beats of that song, ect.," questions.
⦁ The white guys that voluntarily tell you about their sexual experience with a black girl, just to see your reaction as a black male. Young bravado is cool, but tell the graphic details of being with a white female to a white man. Exactly, it should never be mentioned.
ESPN's Bomani Jones said on an episode of 'High Noon' in January 2020. "We’re not going to get to the bottom of this—or any other issue that matters with race—as long as we keep centering the feelings of white people when we talk about this. And if we keep talking about this in a way where we’re just trying not to hurt people’s feelings, then nothing is ever going to get done because the only way to fix this is to hurt people’s feelings."
The culturally insensitive white guys always had those same approaches, up until they established their own families and security. I realized that was their season to have the exotic token because if given that time accessibility, that's their only lifetime chance to. In working-class or non-elitist America after age 32, don't ascertain the thought of having white allies made from their sacrificed privileged bubbles.
Shannon Ashley, "It’s a luxury to not care about race. That’s a privilege."
You learn to become more cautious with white women beyond the clutching her purse default in workplaces. In the cubical era, the culturally insensitive would find an official reason to keep you distantly away from them. If not, they made being around them agonizing.
⦁ You anticipate the ones to (uncomfortably) clear their throats or say, "excuse me" long before we had six feet of social distancing.
⦁ The workplace flirting (yes, white women flirt with black men in America) elicited toward us, is to some unwarranted, it's just a dubious temptation.
⦁ So then you have an opportunity to be the "fun guy." The lunches, Friday drinks after work, and privy to the gossip circuit. If you're married, in a committed relationship, or just too quiet and want to keep to yourself, you become Milton Waddams from the 1999 film "Office Space."
Shannon Ashley wrote, "As I grew older and often waited at bus stops with her (my mother) outside my grandma’s high rise, she warned me to watch out for black men who go after young blonde girls. Whites avidly wish to defend themselves and claim they’re not racist. It’s a luxury to not care about race. That’s a privilege."
Awareness comes by education and making personal resolves. In my opinion, the books and films I've listed above are a must for junior high school students. White Americans are already influenced by their parents and peer value systems, so those materials can add "The Black American Experience" to their personal (cultural) choices. To these kids with the exuberant energy protesting, "You are appreciated," but keep your minds savvy, guard your hearts, and be prepared for disappointment.
Ashley wrote, "But America has never been okay. America was built on racism. It is an ugly history that infects everything we do today, and the racism which made slavery commonplace never actually left us. White people need to listen and believe black people when they tell us about the racism they endure. And we need to keep on listening even when we find out that it 'makes us feel bad.' "
When I realized that white people's security (the culturally insensitive) and how their peers view them in American society is their "life essence," that's when I realized America doesn't want us to be allies.
© 2020 Sy