A Letter to the Shameless Negroes Marching in Suits to 'Change the Narrative'

Illustration for article titled A Letter to the Shameless Negroes Marching in Suits to 'Change the Narrative'

A screenshot of a news clip is an efficient way to find art for an internet essay when an image from Getty or one of the other subscription-based photo libraries is unavailable. If lucky, you might even find a clip with a synopsizing chyron—which is the roving electronic caption usually at the bottom of a news clip. (I didn’t know there was an actual name for that until maybe four years ago.)


I’m sharing this with you today because sometimes the screenshot tells the entire story and the accompanying words are just garnish on an already prepared meal. This is one of those times.

In this image, we can see at least a dozen of you silly and shameless and shameful motherfuckers lifting your right fists—an act meant to signify solidarity. But solidarity with whom? Your tailors? JoS. A Bank? Black men with bare ankles? Definitely not with Breonna Taylor, who will remain dead—and the police who murdered her remain unarrested—regardless of whether your belt matches your fucking shoes. And what would this solidarity have done to protect Oluwatoyin Salau? What value does it have besides thirst traps for pick-me’s?

In this image, we can see a crowd of white people behind you, cheering you. You daft fucks probably felt good about that. Like you did something worthy. Like you did something other than play dress up like a six-year-old in his daddy’s closet. If you had any sense—any shame—those cheers would’ve haunted you. Would’ve possessed you, would’ve scared you, would’ve weighed on your back like a fog or like a log. Would’ve broken you. Would’ve compelled you to run home, strip those suits off, throw them in the trash and jump your body, naked, penitent, ashamed, into a hot shower.

In this image, we can see that most of the crowd is wearing masks. Most of you are not. Look, I am still terrified about COVID-19, and I’m still social distancing as much as possible. I’m also terrified for the people in the streets, fighting for their lives while risking their lives. If you are not terrified, that’s fine. (Actually, that’s not fine. It’s dumb and dangerous and, well, on-brand, but whatever.) But the very least—literally the least—you motherfuckers could do during this photo-op, this performance, this audition for retweets, is respect the lives of the black people in your own lives who might be more vulnerable to this virus, and wear a fucking mask. You could’ve even accessorized and found one that matches your tie.

In this image, we can see that several of you are young. Presumably in your 20s and early 30s. If this is you, please know that the elders marching beside you, suited up next to you, basking in praise from white people with you, have failed you. I’ve failed you too, and I’m deeply sorry for that. You still have time, though. They do too, but less of it.


In this image, we can see “We Can Change The Narrative” quoted in the chyron, and I have so many questions for you: Exactly what narrative are you changing? That black men can’t shop at Macy’s? That we can’t march while sweating profusely? Do you not realize that professing a want to “change the narrative” by wearing suits is like saying you want to “hydrate more” by playing the lottery? Did you really believe that coordinating an effort to coordinate suits for a march—while we’re literally dying in the streets—would change anything other than your dry cleaning bill? Would do anything other than make people so very sad that, of all the things you group of grown-ass adult fucking men could possibly be doing now, you chose this?

Also, do you realize that, in this performative challenge to anti-blackness, you’re being anti-black, too? That by claiming to change a racist narrative by wearing suits, you’re implying that your suit makes you worthy of life? Which would imply that black people without suits, or degrees, or bank accounts, or safe jobs, or stable housing, or cis male-hood, are not? Do you realize the thing you’re actually doing is reinforcing the narrative that we (black men) are only concerned with the veneer of equality? That we, collectively, are too self-centered, too invested in patriarchy, too dense, too interested in replicating white supremacy instead of destroying it, to be of any good use in a serious time?


This, ironically, is actually a narrative you have the power to change. White people are going to feel how they feel about you regardless of who your fucking tailor is. What you can do, what we can do, is prove, to the hundreds of thousands of black women and black queer people and black trans people, who have cried for, who have marched for, who have stood for, who have fought for, and who have died for us, that we have value. That we will stand and fight and die for them too. But you’d rather wear suits to a summertime march to get a smile from a white person.

Fuck you.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)


Damon Young

also to be clear, i am not anti suit. i own several suits. nice ones (i think). even like three skinny-ish suits from suitsupply. which give me trouble because of my thighs, but the look is worth the pain.

i’m just anti-coordinating an effort to coordinate suits to “change a narrative” that can’t be changed by your fucking inseam.