My uncle be lying.
When I was a kid, my uncle James, whom we called “Junior,” owned a Rottweiler named Duchess. Duchess was huge, well-trained and house-broken but my mother and sisters were all afraid of dogs, so it was usually my responsibility to feed and care for Duchess whenever my uncle was out of town and needed someone to dog-sit. (My mother particularly might not have cared for Duchess because of that one time Duchess ate an entire sweet potato pie off the dining room table.)
He may have been blowing smoke up my ass, but Uncle Junior always told me that I had “a way” with animals. He told me dogs could tell that I cared about them when they looked into my eyes. And I believed my uncle because he was not only smart, but was the only black person I knew who allowed a dog to live in the house, I figured Uncle Junior knew what he was talking about.
“If you’re ever scared of a dog, look into their eyes,” he once told me. “They will see the love in your eyes and they will leave you alone. Most of the time, they just want to play.”
Now the only dog I had ever seen that was as big as Duchess was Rex, a Doberman Pinscher who belonged to the Bacote family who lived around the corner from my childhood home. Unlike Duchess, Rex lived outside, tied up in the back yard. Every time I walked past the Bacote house, Rex would bark and pull at his chain. To be fair, Rex was probably so far in the Bacotes’ back yard, he probably couldn’t see my loving 10-year-old eyes.
One day, on my way to church, Rex got loose. He came bounding toward me and I almost didn’t see him until it was too late. I began running for my life but I realized my pre-teen speed was no match for Rex. At that moment, I thought of my Uncle Junior’s advice. “A Doberman is basically a skinny Rottweiler,” I thought. So I turned around and looked Rex directly in his eyes.
My uncle Junior be lying.
That Doberman lunged for me like he was Carl Lewis in the Olympic long jump finals. I’m pretty sure he had wings or something. It looked like a Pegasus landing, but with sharper teeth. The only thing that saved me was that Rex caught the bottom of my suit jacket and wouldn’t let go. I Harry Houndini’ed myself out of that Doberman-chewed straitjacket so fast and hauled ass to church to ask Jesus to forgive my uncle for bearing false witness against thy neighbor’s pet (I’m pretty sure that was one of the original commandments before Moses dropped them).
My mother, convinced I had lost my jacket playing basketball or football on the way to the sanctuary, never bought my story about Rex (probably due to the fact that I may or may not have previously ruined a pair of good church slacks dunking in Monte Tony’s milk crate basketball goal). When I later relayed the story of how Rex attacked me to my Uncle Junior, he wondered if I looked into Rex’s eyes long enough. He asked if I had ever done anything to the dog. As he laughed at me being nearly-amputated by a dog the size of a baby Zebra, Junior offered one other theory:
“Well, Mikey, sometimes dogs bite people,” he said. “You should always assume they will bite.”
On Saturday, Presidential candidate and the guy who acts like he had one too many Red Bulls, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), appeared in Marshalltown, Iowa to convince people to vote for him in next year’s Iowa caucuses. According to ABC News, while speaking to a crowd that appeared to be almost exclusively white, in the town whose population is only 1.6 percent black, Booker touched on the blackface controversy involving Virginia governor Ralph Northam. The senator claimed he has friends who came to him and asked why blackface is bad. Booker then offered praise for people, white people, who were brave enough to broach the subject.
“Imagine, in this climate now, saying that publicly,” Booker said. “If you want to have more courageous empathy, put yourself in a white person’s position who might have questions.”
We have to be able to talk about race in America …
If you want to have reconciliation, you can’t have reconciliation without truth-telling. And there are a lot of folks who don’t want to tell the truth about the persistent problems of race of inequity in this country. We gotta tell the truth, but we, all of us — black, white, gay, straight — we have got to start extending grace to one another so we can have honest conversations and leave room for growth.”
That did not go over well:
To be fair, Cory Booker’s position is neither new nor is it original. There are many people who believe the only way to end 400 years of white supremacy is to offer grace and mercy to the oppressor class. According to this tender-hearted philosophy, racism only exists because racists have simply never looked a black person in the eye and seen our love and compassion.
Apparently, the education gap, police brutality, school underfunding, sentencing disparities, the drug war, the incarceration rate, the racial difference in money bail, the statistically-provable anti-black leanings of the criminal justice system, the discipline disparities in K-12 schools, the undervaluing of black real estate, the fact that resumes containing black names are less likely to get callbacks, racial biases in mortgage lending and even the fact that two out of every three white people in America think there are times when it is okay to use black people’s skin color as a temporary costume—all of it—is due to the fact that black people simply refuse to sit down and politely explain racism in a calm and soothing tone.
This is the ideology that has created an environment where being called a racist is worse than actual racism because—unless one wears a swastika armband on their tiki torch-carrying arm while screaming the n-word at newborn black babies—nothing is racist. And, according to Booker and his ilk, the only way to disabuse white people of the notion that racism has less to do with hate and more to do with the impact of their actions, is for black people to pretend that we haven’t studied the history books, read the newspapers or tended to the puncture wounds from institutional racism’s teeth marks every time whiteness is unleashed on us. The notion that black people must create a system of reverse-benevolence and learn a Jedi mind trick to fight the empire of white supremacy is not only laughable, but it is ahistorical in its stupidity.
When has this ever worked?
When has white America ever shown the ability to absorb empathy and compassion? Is there a single example in the quadruple-century-old history of white people in North America that demonstrates this theory works? Has it ever happened?
When the native Americans taught European settlers how to farm, fish and eat, the settlers turned around and stole the indigenous people’s land. Even when the first nation people huddled on reservations and signed peace treaties, America slaughtered them for raising their voices, insisting on their rights or even dancing.
America had to fight its bloodiest war with itself to end slavery. It needed federal troops to integrate, but only after terrorists bombed churches, busted heads and set buses on fire. And contrary to popular belief, the civil rights movement was not nonviolent. Black people were nonviolent. White people have simply managed to whitewash the black blood from the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the 16th Street Baptist Church, and Medgar Evers’ driveway.
In fact, Martin Luther King Jr. promoted fighting hate with love. He offered the exact same “courageous empathy” as Booker proposed and might have explained the need to eliminate racism more eloquently than any man who ever walked on the planet. And what happened when King “extended grace” to America, as Booker suggests?
A racist put a bullet in his face.
Cory Booker and my Uncle Junior be lying.
I realized that my uncle Junior didn’t know shit about dogs. He just knew about his dog. I took my uncle’s advice because he was one of the few people I knew who had a trained dog. Similarly, Cory Booker appears not to know shit about history, race or truth but he was probably one of the few black people the citizens of Marshalltown, Iowa had ever heard talk about race. I’m sure they ate up Booker’s “most racists just need to have a conversation” theory just like I believed my uncle’s theory that “most dogs just want to play.”
Whenever anyone suggests that this country simply needs to have a conversation about racism, it either implies that white people are the only “real Americans” or black people just haven’t felt the need to voice our concerns. Black people have whispered about it. They’ve told this country of dreams about it. They have yelled and screamed about it. They have written songs about it, sang it, danced it, joked about it, penned poems about it and, at least once, even got down on their knees hoping someone would address it.
“America” doesn’t need to have a conversation about racism.
White people do.
Anyone who believes that white people just don’t know why black folks keep talking about this racism thing is either a liar or a fool. Anyone who believes white people need an explanation of why racist things are racist is a similar fool. Asking the oppressed to extend the right hand of fellowship to people who are clueless about racism will only result in a population one-armed negroes. We’ve tried that before but Booker must believe we weren’t nice enough. Maybe Booker thinks white people didn’t have enough time to gaze deeply into the windows to black souls.
But here’s some advice from someone who has “a way” with dogs and racists:
Don’t just stand there, stupid.
And always assume they will bite.