This week, while scrolling through Twitter, I ran across a video of author, explainer of blackness, and one of my picks to send in our delegation when the aliens arrive and ask black America to “take us to your leader,” Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Coates was speaking at a high school when a student asked him to explain why white people should refrain from using the n-word.
While Coates’ explanation perfectly expressed every thought I had on the subject, I was astounded by the sheer hubris of the question. I have heard the argument about why they should be able to use the word, and why it’s racist against white people that they can’t sing along when Tupac raps “Strictly for my N.I.G.G.A.Z.”
I was still dumbstruck at the level of unaware privilege it takes for someone to ask—with innocence in their heart and every iota of Caucasian curiosity—another human being to patiently explain why it is wrong for a white person to use the absolutely worst racist slur imaginable. I was going to write about it, but in the course of human events, shit happens. I had to pack for New York, because I was going to New York for The Root 100 gala—our annual party honoring the 100 most influential black people ages 25-45.
The thought was still in my head a few hours ago when The Root fellow Anne Branigin (apparently the only one not tired as hell from the festivities) told me she was writing about comedian Louis C.K.’s apology for his predilection for asking women if he can masturbate while they watch.
Again, what struck me about C.K.’s mea culpa is the sheer whiteness of his thinking. In the statement, he actually wrote the words: “I said to myself that what I did was OK because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first, which is also true.”
He went on to say:
Now I’m aware of the extent of the impact of my actions. I learned yesterday the extent to which I left these women who admired me feeling badly about themselves and cautious around other men who would never have put them in that position.
This is whiteness.
C.K.’s argument is simply that—until Thursday—he hadn’t been aware that he was a creepy, power-wielding pervert. It is the same as the come-to-Jesus moment white people experienced when Coates finally enunciated why white people’s use of the word “nigger” is a bad thing. It is the same excuse that people use to explain why Confederate flags and statues of Southern Civil War heroes are bad. Apparently, white people didn’t know that celebrating slavery was distasteful until a few months ago.
I was all set to write about that C.K. and the entire phenomenon of the white blindness to humanity, why it is a recurring symptom, and the privilege of expecting forgiveness and understanding. I even briefly talked to Very Smart Brothas’ Damon Young and Panama Jackson about it Thursday night.
Our conversation was short because we were surrounded by examples of black excellence at The Root 100 gala. In a room filled with the smartest, most accomplished black people in the world, none of us were eager to dig into a conversation about white men. I still wanted to write about it, but then something else happened.
On Thursday, in one of the whitest acts of government fuckery ever, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Brett J. Talley for a lifetime appointment as a federal judge.
Brett J. Talley is 36 years old. Brett J. Talley has never tried a case in his entire life. Unless he has served as a panelist for a talent show or poetry slam, he has never judged anything in his entire life. He has only practiced law for three years. He has never argued a motion or brought a case before a court. He has displayed every quality that would disqualify him as an impartial arbiter of the law, including weighing in on politics and rallying for the National Rifle Association. In fact, the American Bar Association’s judicial rating committee rated Talley as “not qualified.” There is only one thing that qualifies Talley to serve as a federal judge for the rest of his life:
Brett J. Talley is white.
The inherent value of whiteness is mind-boggling. Even in its unrefined state of middling mediocrity, it is more priceless than a gold-plated diamond wrapped in bacon and dipped in the blood of Jesus.
A few feet from where this Louis C.K. conversation took place stood S. Lee Merritt, the civil rights attorney and The Root 100 honoree. Merritt practices law around the country, representing people whose rights have been violated.
One day Merritt, who is one of the best civil rights lawyers in the world, will probably have to stand in front of Talley in a courtroom. He will have to acquiesce to Talley and plead the nuances of the law before a man who couldn’t carry Merritt’s legal jockstrap. Merritt will have to refer to Talley as “your honor.”
And in this imagined but likely scenario, in front of the American flag, under the Constitution, the great legal tactician S. Lee Merritt will have to explain to a hack white boy wearing a black robe attained through privilege and mediocrity why some dead or beaten black boy or girl deserves equality.
This is America.
But America still doesn’t understand that showing its dick is not a problem—the problem is that it wants to show its dick. America’s problem is not whether it should use the n-word. America’s problem is that it still wants to say “nigger.” The people who want to make America great again are not the problem. The problem is that there are people who think America was great once.
America is not great. It is a below-average, n-word-spitting, dick-showing white man.
The problem is ... America doesn’t think so.