How Racist Would You Be if Black People Could Actually Be Racist?

Illustration for article titled How Racist Would You Be if Black People Could Actually Be Racist?
Screenshot: Chappelle’s Show (Comedy Central)

One of the great disappointments in my life—perhaps the greatest disappointment, really—is that black people in America do not possess the ability to be racist. We can try our damnedest and hate our hardest, but because of the way racism works, we’ll never quite be able to wield the sought-after status of “racist.” Which, in a way, is kinda racist in itself, because it’s saying that black people will never be able to be this thing that some of us want to be. Us not being able to be racist is pretty damn racist.


But what if things were different? What if black people being racist were a thing that could actually happen? How racist would I be? We’ve already had the first black president. But how would I look as the first black racist?

It’s a question I’ve asked myself since I first became aware that being a racist was a desirable status for so many (white) people, who go to great lengths to cultivate and maintain and signal and teach and evolve it.

Also, they make it seem so fun! Have you ever seen the sparkle in a racist’s eye when they’re denying you a loan? Or the glee in a racist’s gait as they follow you around a department store? I mean, look at this picture of Taco Laryngitis dog-whistling with her pistol in her yoga pants. She’s so happy to be racist that she doesn’t give a shit about shooting off her cooter during prayer pose!

Anyway, which type of racist would I be? Although being a sheer hateful bigot has an upside, since it’s a simple life uncomplicated by nuance or toothpaste, I feel like it would be boring. I couldn’t just hate everything white. Because then how would I shop at Trader Joe’s or root for the Cavs?

The ironic/hipster racist is trendy, sure, but I’d want my racism to matter, you know? Like, if I do something racist, I don’t want my friends to be able to defend me by saying, “Oh, he’s not racist. He’s just being derivative.”


Same goes with patrician and polite upper-middle-class racism. I don’t want my one white golf buddy holding a press conference to state that I “don’t have a racist bone in my body.” I want all of my bones to be, like, 60 percent racist. I want my fifth metacarpal bone to tweet: “But what about white-on-white crime?”

Steve Bannon-brand racism seems too time-consuming and devious. Metal bleachers trigger sciatic nerve pain, so soccer-mom racism is out. The performatively oblivious trolling racism of a Tucker Carlson would just make my face 30 percent more punchable, and I fear that, if I adopted a Jeff Sessions-esque lifetime commitment to legislative racism, I’d be cursed, just like Sessions has been, to spend my entire life in the body of an ugly baby.


All racism things considered, I think that I’d choose to be the not-in-my-neighborhood racist. This way, I could still engage with some white people and some white-people things. I could watch the Hallmark network, I could have a white guy on my flag football team, I could spend five dollars on a cupcake and I could even, if I ever wished to, eat an unseasoned chicken breast.

But I’d just be very clear that I didn’t want them on my block, in my schools or in my family. Everyone would know where I stood. And they’d respect me for it because I would be, um, standing where they could see me. People might even write New York Times profiles about me.


So, yeah, if I could be racist (which, unfortunately, I can’t), I’d totally be that racist. Which is something I’ll never be able to be. Because black people can’t be racist.

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)



As someone who is bicultural and can be both oppressor and oppressed depending on the sitch, I have to say it’s not fun to be on the racist side. It’s demoralizing, and I don’t know what kind of animal you would have to be to find it fun.