I am not real.
I am a fictional character in a 244-year-old fairy tale called America. I am a bit player in the simplistic children’s adaptation of this story where all men are created equal in a land that offers liberty and justice for all. I overcome slavery and Jim Crow in the young adult version of the story, which ends with a character called Martin Luther King standing at a podium sharing his biblical, Revelation-like fever dream thanking God Almighty that we are free at last. In the adult interpretation of this American novel, I am nearly human. My suffering is symbolic. My blood almost looks real. But I am still just an aggregate metaphor in the great American folk tale that is based on a true story.
White people do not want to know the true story.
They like me because I am not real. They prefer me this way. I am the fabricated personification of the white imagination and as such, they can wish away the things that their very real people have inflicted upon me. They do not hate me “in theory” because they do not have to touch me. Because they get to choose their own adventure (and mine), they do not have to burden themselves with washing out the bloodstains caused by the conquering swords of their heroes. After all, I am not real.
I am “Black people.”
There is no such thing as me.
Most of the time, Black Americans will eventually recognize themselves in the cast of characters as soon as they hear someone spin this bullshit yarn. They will discover Thomas Jefferson’s racism when they hear about his enslaved rape victim, Sally Hemings, who was called a “mistress” in the fairy tale. They will recognize the Founding Fathers’ hypocrisy when they realize that 41 slave owners affixed their names to the document declaring “all men are created equal.” They will see Abraham Lincoln in a new light when they read his declaration that “there is a physical difference between the white and black races,” which, according to him, “will forever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality.”
But, because it is impossible to exist in this country for any period of time without ingesting at least a small amount of the psychedelic elixir America produces, some people will refuse to acknowledge the true story and choose to continue their belief that this national fable is actually true. The fantasy is inspiring and the truth is too damn sobering. It hurts.
Just as there are people who believe that humans were invented in an invisible sky-man’s botanical garden 6,000 years ago, there are people who believe in the authenticity of the American myth. They will condemn you if you say anything negative about this country. They will shame you if you disparage the flag, the myth or white people in general. They truly believe the bullshit. Oftentimes, Black people simply haven’t read the true story because no one has. Even the best of us have only uncovered snippets that make us question the veracity of it all.
And then, there are the Black people who have invested in the fictional version of America. The list of names is too long but some of the most notable include Jason Whitlock, Candace Owens, Terry Crews, and many more. These people are not ignorant; they are charlatans. They have carved out a niche for themselves where they dutifully serve as white people’s example of the rare Black person who escaped from the Democratic plantation and became a “free thinker.” Their apparently lucrative grift depends on perpetuating the tall tale on which white supremacy has built its bedrock foundation.
And, because their myth-profiteering rests on this infrastructure, they shamelessly contort themselves into knots defending whiteness and creating a strawman chapter in the book of bullshit that makes white people believe that the negro community has stripped the free-thinking outcasts of their Black card for not falling in line. But the truth is, no one has questioned any of these people’s Blackness. It is a myth made for the same white people who believe in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
This is not real.
ESPN anchor Sage Steele told executives at her network that she believes she was excluded from a June 24 television special produced by the company’s platform for race and culture, The Undefeated, because she wasn’t Black enough. She went to management to complain that she wasn’t asked to participate in Time for Change: We Won’t Be Defeated.
The Wall Street Journal reports:
Ms. Steele said colleagues told her she was considered for the special by the executive in charge, Michael Fountain, until two of the other on-air personalities involved, Elle Duncan and Michael Eaves, complained, saying Ms. Steele wouldn’t be accepted by what they considered the Black community, according to the person familiar with her account to management.
Ms. Steele’s critics on social media have accused her of not being supportive enough toward the Black community and being insensitive in her comments about racial-justice protests...
In a joint statement about the race special, Ms. Duncan and Mr. Eaves said, “We wish we had more than an hour to include more of the many strong voices we have at ESPN; however, we are hopeful that this doesn’t distract from the important message conveyed that night.” The pair didn’t address the comments attributed to them about Ms. Steele
“I found it sad for all of us that any human being should be allowed to define someone’s ‘Blackness.’ Steele said in a statement. “Growing up biracial in America with a Black father and a white mother, I have felt the inequities that many, if not all Black and biracial people have felt—being called a monkey, the ‘n’ word, having ape sounds made as I walked by—words and actions that all of us know sting forever. Most importantly, trying to define who is and isn’t Black enough goes against everything we are fighting for in this country, and only creates more of a divide.”
I, too, found it sad that Steele takes every opportunity to take the opposite position held by most Black people. When asked about Colin Kaepernick’s protests against injustice, she chose to perpetuate the narrative about the “appropriate way” to respect the flag, the anthem and the country. She threw shade at Jemele Hill when Hill was disciplined by ESPN for speaking out against Trump and defended Trump’s Islamophobic travel ban. And when asked about racism, who did she choose to castigate? According to Steele, the worst racism she has ever faced came from Black people.
To be fair, I cannot find an example of Steele referring to herself as a Black woman. Still, when people criticize her for saying people don’t watch ESPN to hear about Charlottesville (She never would have said that about 9/11 or any other act of terrorism) or note her unwillingness to speak out on anything Black, they’re not challenging her Blackness, they’re holding her feet to the fire for the shit she actually said. It’s literally the same argument she made about Jemele Hill.
Or take “linguist” John McWhorter, a staunch opponent of “wokeness” (including my “attack” on Pete Buttigieg) who also chomps at the bit to defend whiteness anytime he starts feeling like the benevolent Caucasian class has taken too much criticism. McWhorter finally got around to reading Robin D’Angelo’s 2018 book White Fragility, which has been mentioned on several lists of essential reading in the wake of the protests over the death of George Floyd.
McWhorter dismantles the book by—you guessed it—defending white people. He does it with a clever, almost imperceptible gaslighting trick that is regularly employed by Black conservatives like Candace Owens and Jason Whitlock. To achieve this variation of the conservative “bootstrap argument,” these people (who invariably refuse to ask their barbers for an edge-up and restrict them to using a No. 3 clipper guard) will tacitly agree that racism exists (although they never concede its breadth and depth) but go on to explain that bringing up race only subjugates Black people.
Namely, McWhorter suggests that any action by white people to mitigate the effects of white supremacy is actually an attempt to infantilize Black people. Essentially, this argument can be condensed to: “Sure, America stole Black people’s candy. But if the thieves are forced to acknowledge the theft, white people won’t have any candy and Black people’s teeth will rot eating all that free candy. Why do you hate Black people’s teeth?”
Admittedly, McWhorter does it far more eloquently, writing in The Atlantic:
And herein is the real problem with White Fragility. DiAngelo does not see fit to address why all of this agonizing soul-searching is necessary to forging change in society. One might ask just how a people can be poised for making change when they have been taught that pretty much anything they say or think is racist and thus antithetical to the good. What end does all this self-mortification serve? Impatient with such questions, DiAngelo insists that “wanting to jump over the hard, personal work and get to ‘solutions’” is a “foundation of white fragility.” In other words, for DiAngelo, the whole point is the suffering. And note the scare quotes around solutions, as if wanting such a thing were somehow ridiculous.
A corollary question is why Black people need to be treated the way DiAngelo assumes we do. The very assumption is deeply condescending to all proud Black people. In my life, racism has affected me now and then at the margins, in very occasional social ways, but has had no effect on my access to societal resources; if anything, it has made them more available to me than they would have been otherwise. Nor should anyone dismiss me as a rara avis. Being middle class, upwardly mobile, and Black has been quite common during my existence since the mid-1960s, and to deny this is to assert that affirmative action for Black people did not work.
In 2020—as opposed to 1920—I neither need nor want anyone to muse on how whiteness privileges them over me. Nor do I need wider society to undergo teachings in how to be exquisitely sensitive about my feelings. I see no connection between DiAngelo’s brand of reeducation and vigorous, constructive activism in the real world on issues of import to the Black community. And I cannot imagine that any Black readers could willingly submit themselves to DiAngelo’s ideas while considering themselves adults of ordinary self-regard and strength. Few books about race have more openly infantilized Black people than this supposedly authoritative tome.
While McWhorter is very articulate for a Black man, Candace Owens summed up this entire article in less than 280 characters:
The ever-shucking Jason Whitlock reached even further to describe this phenomenon. Somehow he defended Sage Steele and Terry Crews by creating, out of whole cloth, a subversive, anti-religious “Holy War” that sacrifices Black unity in favor of Communist principles and anti-white sentiment that will turn Black people into heathen sluts.
“The white Marxists financing and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement have recruited Black worshippers to join forces with non-believers of all races in the reshaping of America,” Whitlock writes for Outkick the Coverage. “Inside the court of social media, Black Lives Matter and its appointed racial gatekeepers declared the practice of and adherence to the values taught in Christianity as crimes against Blackness. It’s a clever political strategy that provokes the abandonment of religious principles that inhibit sexual freedom and the disruption of the nuclear family.”
Here’s the thing about all of these anti-Black takes:
They are Black as fuck!
Every Black person in America has an uncle, a pastor or a barber (Maybe not McWhorter’s barber, but still…) whose ideology rests in conservative principles. Martin Luther King castigated white people and told Black people to do better. Black people know they have to do better. Most of Black Lives Matter work is in the Black community. Do you know who hates Black-onBlack crime more than white people?
But none of that abrogates white people for creating a system that disproportionately harms Black people. These grifters’ unwillingness to denounce white supremacy louder than the calls for negro respectability is malpractice at best and a terrible con job at worst. You have to do both or you look like a damn fool. My uncle knows it. The preacher knows it. John McWhorter’s barber knows it.
That’s how we recognize the grift.
However, the strawman argument that Black people have banished these high-minded sycophants from Blackness just because they have liberated themselves from groupthink is laughable. So we laugh at them. The reason no one fucks with them is not that Black people have stripped them of their Blackness; it’s because we just don’t fuck with liars.
We are fully aware that Steele, Whitlock, Owens, et. al. are hucksters who have secured one of the limited vendor spots at white people’s version of “the cookout.” We aren’t buying their bullshit because we know they are selling a fictionalized version of Black America that white people are more than eager to devour. It looks like Jason Whitlock explaining Black people’s problems with the “absence of Black fathers.” It looks like Sage Steele equating the devastating effects of white supremacy with a few random people wrongly disparaging her biracial relationship. It looks like McWhorter saying racism has affected him “now and then at the margins, in very occasional social ways,” but has made resources “more available” to him than if racism didn’t exist.
And this is why white people can comfortably believe that white supremacy is confined to cross-burnings and screaming the n-word and not the structure of this great American phantasm that Black people can only read about in whitewashed history books and Jason Whitlock columns. They are fodder for people who live in that marvelous universe where benevolent, well-meaning white people only wish the best for the poor, hapless darkies whose potential is only restrained by the collective incompetent negro brain.
Those Black people are not real.
That America is not real.
But goddamn, I wish it were.