Franz Fanon, the famed French psychologist, suggested racism was a psychosis internalized by both oppressors and oppressed peoples manifest by persistent paternalism and entitlement on one side and perceived inferiority and acquiesence on the other. People that know me know that I don't believe in racism per se, but I do believe that Fanon was on to something when he said whites and blacks are hard-wired into our colonial roles and bring those -isms and expectations, consciously or not so, to most every encounter with the "other." People can change: they can be redone. But that most often takes more effort than simply falling into the default stance.
In the course of a live QnA for the Washington Post, about the Skip Gates incident, I responded to one poster by noting that "the cops will sock it to a brother on a humble," a statement for which he required some translation. I refused with my usual brand of self-effacing grace and humble demure. Suddenly, email taking me to task for not offering this poor white man a primer for my jungle mumblings began popping up in my box: as a writer, as a journalist and as a black man, I owed that white man better, they said. I'm a writer and my obligation is to the page. I feel no obligation to spoon-feed my work to anyone —- what, I don't work hard enough?
I write it. The rest is up to you, right? WRONG.
You see, the real crime isn't a distinguished black man getting arrested on a trumped-up charge. Evidently, the real injustice was my refusal to stand and deliver, to be a Negro Tour Guide for a white person who lacks the rudimentary grasp of English language required to glean meaning from context clues, who by some happy accident has no black friends who may use or be prepared to translate this peculiar vernacular. I was unwilling to dignify such willful ignorance by giving a reply, and for this, I was called "arrogant," among other things. Arrogant is whitespeak for "uppity" and I didn't need a white person to translate that for me.
Insofar that anything is ever true in generalities, Black people, specifically black men, are expected to explain themselves and stand account upon demand. This is the pecking order, right? And any black person pushing back, demanding respect, demanding to keep hold of his dignity is pegged as angry, arrogant, loud, tumultuous, shiftless and generally disagreeable and sorely in need of a reality check. Here's a question: Instead of trying to rob me of dignity by making me your Guide to The Black World, why haven't you had any lasting, substantive relationships with people of color? Black people didn't just fall to earth. It's like, white people want to know black people, but they don't want to KNOW black people. And now that we have a black president, after years of ignoring you for years, now they need some kind of inside track.
Quiet it's kept, that's all it's about.
So whites tune in to the Tavis Smileys and Roland Martins of the world in hopes that they'll debunk the mysteries of nappy headed hoes, generally useless black men, Steve Harvey suits and recipes for fried chicken, steady looking for the answer t the musical question 'what are black people thinking this week?' They come to me here and elswhere looking for the same kind of Cliffnotes. There is some expectation by some white people that I have an obligation to stand account, to explain myself, to dignify questions they should, by rights, have the answer to, just because they tell me to. There is that persistent paternal tic that feels entitled to make such demands and enjoys the privilege to do so with impunity that is most often met with compliance and wide-eyed smiles and perhaps even a soft-shoe dance because this is the psychosis, the psychological reflex of all of us, white and black. The colonial hardwiring we aren't always aware of that comes with so many presumptions and expectations. And concessions. My dignity is not for sale, homie.
Whites who approach me on that frequency should be advised:
I am not angry, arrogant, uppity or militant.
I am free.
And I am rewired.
Consider this a PSA. And thank you for your kind attention.
Single Father, Author, Screenwriter, Award-Winning Journalist, NPR Moderator, Lecturer and College Professor. Habitual Line-Stepper