Black folks have always done the heavy lifting. We have asked for humanity. We have asked to be seen. We asked for legislation. We have asked white America to walk with us, and white Americans refused. You were apprehensive, scared, uneasy. Why? Was it us or is it our Blackness? The Blackness that gave you Little Richard, Hendrix, Stevie Wonder. The Blackness that you access and occupy when you hear Nina or Beyoncé. It is the Blackness that you absorb when you listen to hip hop. It is the literary Blackness and lyrical fearlessness of Audre Lorde, DuBois, Morrison, Angelou, Wright, and Baldwin. It is Stormie DeLaverie and Coretta’s bravery. It is the same Blackness that killed Martin Luther King, Fred Hampton, and others.
Now we are wrestling with the ugliness that has always been America. It’s a different kind of double consciousness. It is easy to point to the election of the first Black president and feel progressive and assured that we’ve moved past it. I would argue that white America’s attitude about justice — Black justice — is directly correlated with the election of 2008 and 2012. The everyday man and woman and politicians thought it was done. “See Black America, we aren’t all…,” they said. The playing field is leveled. Justice is served. If so, why is Blackness being over-policed in Black communities, parks, and parking lots? Why is Blackness being over-policed while walking, or jogging? Why aren’t you addressing over-policing and police violence like a malignant tumor annihilating your loved one? Like the philanthropic gestures corporate America uses to symbolize support for initiatives and organizations, I submit the following question: was the support for Obama a philanthropic gesture? Are the anti-racist reading lists white Americans use as a guidepost — at the moment — to learn about Blackness a philanthropic gesture? Is it time to lean into social decentering to understand the thoughts, feelings, and dispositions that are ensconced in Blackness? Or is that, too, a philanthropic gesture?
I have had many conversations over time with white colleagues and present-day friends about “why?” since the lynching of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others — then Atlanta happened. I’ve had more dialogue about race, covering a myriad of topics. And they have been tough conversations.
White people all around me are asking questions, seeking information. In Commentary: Bay Area’s black community is drowning in the tears of white people by George McCalman, the journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle coined a term that summed up how I’ve felt since adolescence. It has come in waves. I have recognized the vessel and the voyage for which I’ve been a passenger for years now. It is a different type of colonialism; it is emotional colonialism. McCalman defined emotional colonialism as discovering something that already existed. I am a 47-year-old abstruse Black body — like other Black bodies — rediscovered.
I am a Black body co-opted. Co-opting Blackness is emotional colonialism. White people appropriating culture is emotional colonialism. Embarking on an expedition for natural resources, and taking the discovered: the mannerisms, language, dance, swag, and more—this is emotional colonialism. Why haven’t you, white America, taken the time to learn our stories, our lived experience, and our history pre-civil rights movement? Is it much easier to visit, take, and worry about the consequences later? Why does your liberal politics prevent you from fully leaning into issues of Blackness? As we continue to teach you about Blackness, why did you abandon it pre-George Floyd? Why have you sanitized our grievances, our pleas for help? In The Price of the Ticket, James Baldwin said, “Whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.”
Why is that?
White American is awake now. But why not before now?
Will you be here next year?
I hope so.
Twain Carter is an author that advocates for marginalized communities covering culture, race, and politics. He served as a public affairs writer for the federal government and currently works for the United States Department of Agriculture in Knowledge Management. Carter was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He currently resides in Alexandria, Virginia.