I was abused as a child.
It only happened once, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was asleep when she attacked me, but I knew it felt wrong. It was disgusting and left me humiliated, ashamed and—worst of all—moist.
That was the day my youngest sister smushed a watermelon rind in my face when I was sleeping.
All of my other sisters and cousins who witnessed this abuse thought it was hilarious. A boy even pinching a girl was a no-no in my family, so I couldn’t even retaliate. Even worse, when I alerted the authorities (my mother) about this heinous attack, when she began her investigation she asked the same questions she always asked:
- Whose fault was it?
- Did it leave a mark?
I may or may not have mentioned that my cousin could have possibly been mad because that watermelon rind was once attached to a piece of watermelon that belonged to her and was eaten by me. But we don’t need to go into all the details. I’m trying to make a point, here.
My mother assured me that my face would still work once I washed off the watermelon rind. She even asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital to get an MRI just in the watermelon inhalation damaged my ability to do long division.
As the only boy in the house, I was abused in other ways, too. My sisters disassembled my Legos without my consent. I had to lift the heavy things in the house. On long trips, I had to sit in the cargo area of our station wagon (I actually had to google the technical term because we referred to that part of the car as the “way, way back”). I also did the yard work.
And none of this is to say I didn’t take advantage of the privilege of being the only male child. I got my own room while two of my sisters had to share one. I had a later curfew than my older sister when we were teenagers. I now realize that my mother was aware of the power dynamics both in our house and in society. My sisters knew that I was stronger than they were and I knew it, too. Therefore, we all recognized that I could lift heavier things, punch harder and was less susceptible to predatory behavior of men (I still don’t understand why I had to sit in the way, way back).
I learned that—all things being equal—nothing was ever equal and that whining about things that didn’t leave a mark was pointless if you can’t understand the balance of power or recognize why you were smacked in the head.
I have abused white people.
In talking about racism, I have plucked them in the back of the head with words like “Becky” and phrases like “Mayo-Americans.” But unlike me and my sisters, they do not agree that there are different power dynamics. For them, poking fun at their affinity for sandwich spreads and unseasoned poultry is the same as a punch to the gut. They believe the two different attacks are equal forms of hate.
And the way they most often voice their discontent is by explaining that, if a white person had said that about black people, we would consider them to be a racist. Therefore, simply by reversing the race of the person, they contend that I and other black people are the real racists. It’s an empty phrase meant to deflect. “If a white person said that...” is the new “I know you are but what am I?”
A few days ago, I received a direct message from a Twitter follower who shared the 2018 Wypipo Tournament with a white friend, who the Twitter follower said is married to, and has a child with, a black woman. He shared the response with me, which was basically: If a white person wrote that about black people it wouldn’t be cool.
He was right.
Unlike most people who discuss race, I do not believe that black people can’t be racist. I do believe, however, that prejudice without actual injury is meaningless. If a group of black people physically attacked a white person because of the white person’s race, I would consider it an act of racism. But the cases of this are so rare that it is not indicative of a problem that white people have to worry about.
When someone refers to people who wear flip-flops in January as “white walkers” while it might be disparaging, it’s not like the average white woman has to worry about her resume being thrown in the trash because her name is actually Becky. It is a false equivalency.
Yet, there are mainstream media outlets who promote this flawed logic as an absolute truth. Damon Young’s recent column about the Andrew Sullivan’s column in New York Magazine focused on the racism of writer Sarah Jeong whose Twitter history included tweets like: #CancelWhitePeople” and “Are white people genetically disposed to burn faster in the sun, thus logically being only fit to live underground like groveling goblins.”
Fox News often promotes this bullshittery, including diet white nationalist Tucker Carlson, who recently called out The Root for our leftist “casual racism:”
And nowhere is this doctrine of false equivalency more prevalent than in the ranks of the zealots who believe white Jesus has given unto us a man named Donald Trump to put a halt to reverse racism. A Public Religion Research Institute poll found that 52 percent of working-class whites believe they are discriminated against as much as any other race and a 2016 YouGov/Huffington post found that 45 percent of Trump voters believe the same thing.
In response, the Trump administration has enacted policies to combat the oppression of people whose only crime is their understandable disregard for the environmental resources required to produce enough Kleenex to soak up their white tears. These tactics include repealing Obama guidelines promoting diversity in college admissions and alerting the world to the virulent, anti-white rhetoric promoted by ABC by naming a show Black-ish which, I must admit, I don’t quite understand because it insinuates that the word “Black” is inherently racist.
It must be nice.
It must be nice to have so little to worry about that you can feel injured by name-calling. To glide through the world like a bowling ball on a marble floor, so unencumbered by resistance that one could find themselves weeping about people poking fun at which sandwich condiment they prefer.
The false equivalency is either mind-numbingly stupid or intentionally obtuse. Listening to white people complain about reverse racism is like hearing the UFC world heavyweight champion bitch and moan about being punched in the gut by a toddler. Technically the champ is still a victim of violence, but the disparity in power renders the complaint moot.
Racism is like that too. It may be hurtful to white people to hear the fictional residents of a fictional country in a fictional movie refer to them as “colonizers,” but no matter what one “considers” it, it does not leave a mark.
White people are right.
If they referred to black people by a derogatory term they would be deemed a racist. If a white person talked about patronizing more white-owned businesses or made jokes about things black people liked, most people would consider it an act of bigotry. But all of that overlooks the same power-dynamics of mixed-martial arts, no-holds-barred, grown man championship baby-fighting.
The reason a white person would be considered racist if they said or did some of those things is that racist white people already did those things. White people had 100 years of making movies with black and brown stereotypes. They have shaped a language filled with Indian-givers being sold down the river for not adhering to grandfather clauses and people who say “no can do” because they might get gypped and forced to sit in the peanut gallery.
The stupidest part of the “...if a white person said it” argument is the intentional omission of context. Racism does not exist in a vacuum. Black people might not be so sensitive about the use of the derogatory language if it were not tethered to the 400-years of whips, chains, nooses and fire hoses. It would probably be easier to laugh at black jokes if we didn’t all live on a stage that is a comedy for anyone with white skin and a tragedy for everyone else.
That’s the part they always fail to mention when they explain why they are wounded about being the subject of a few laughs after a quadruple century of making black people the butts of their joke. Just like how I forgot to mention my sister’s already-claimed watermelon, they conveniently leave out how they stole the fruits of our labor when they falsely equate a tweet, a one-liner or an article with an embedded, codified system of oppression.
But the main thing they cleverly omit is why jokes that shade white people exist in the first place. No one uses “wypipo” out of anger, hate or even retribution. It is a small symbolic reclamation of power. It is a symbolic swipe at a powerful monster. It is a baby punch to the gut of a behemoth. No matter how much it hurts their ego, we all know it doesn’t leave a mark. They will make sure of that.
After all, those are just jokes, At their very essence, comedy and insults only work if they contain a modicum of truth. Therefore, jokes about colonizers, wypipo and unseasoned chicken are funny for the same reason that they are hurtful to white people:
Because they are true.
Whose fault is that?