What It Means When White People Call You Racist

Illustration for article titled What It Means When White People Call You Racist
Photo: Dia Dipasupil (Getty Images)

The angriest I’ve ever been was when my cousin failed to show up after promising to give me a haircut on the day of my senior prom. Coming in at a close second is the day I gave Gray Segal (not his real name, but close) a black eye.


Gray and I had gym together when I was in the eighth grade. One day, while we were getting dressed in the locker room, Gray told a semi-racist joke that I can now admit was kinda funny. As I fluffed up my high top fade next to his locker, Gray, who wasn’t in the top 5 class clown candidates at Hartsville Junior High School, turned to the mostly white crowd in the locker room and cleared his throat.

“How do you stop a black kid from jumping on the bed?” he asked. “You put velcro on the ceiling!”

For the next three days, while Gray’s black eye healed, we both sat in the in-school suspension room as I vowed that he would forever be my mortal enemy. The fact that we were caught fighting and suspended wasn’t the reason for my hate. When we both were sent to the assistant principal’s office, Gray explained that he told the racist joke because I called him a racist name first.

Gray didn’t accuse me of calling him a “cracker” or—my go-to favorite, back then—“uncolored.” The assistant principal concluded the fight was both our faults because Gray untruthfully said I used a racist slur against him. I tried to explain that not only was Gray lying to excuse his own racist joke but—even if he was telling the truth—his accusation against me was still not the same.

The second angriest I’ve ever been was when I was suspended from school because Gray Segal, a boy who happened to be white, said I called him the worst, most unimaginable, racist slur ever:

A “white boy.”

While he is surely still basking in the glow of his Oscar win from Monday night, Spike Lee also received a higher honor than the Oscar committee could ever bestow upon him. The Academy of White People’s Arts and Sciences honored Lee with a distinct commendation lavished upon countless other African American luminaries:


Spike Lee is a black racist.

During his acceptance speech for his long-overdue Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, Spike Lee invoked the history of slavery and racism in America, pleading with the audience to “be on the right side of history” and “make the moral choice between love and hate.”


“Four hundred years ago, our ancestors were stolen from mother Africa and brought to Jamestown Virginia, enslaved,” said Lee. “Before the world tonight, I give praise to my ancestors who built our country, along with the genocide of our native people.”

Strangely, but not unsurprisingly, many white people found Spike Lee’s speech to be “problematic,” which is a neoliberal word defined as “making one feel uncomfortable even though there’s technically nothing wrong with it.” Lee’s sheer mention of America’s sordid past was deemed racist by people who put the white character from Green Book right up there with freedom fighters like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Miss Daisy’s driver.


Although Lee didn’t mention Donald Trump by name, the Imperial Wizard of the White House found a gap in his “executive time” on Monday morning to tweet about how racist Lee’s speech was.


Spike Lee should not be angered by this criticism. Instead, he should be immensely proud of this achievement. There is perhaps no higher distinction for a black man than to be called a “racist” by the group of people who created, perpetuated and enabled the worldwide phenomenon of white supremacy. In the history of the once “great” nation, every single person who has spoken out for freedom and against oppression has been met with hate and resistance by white America.


It is nothing new.

It will never end.

It is a documented, provable fact that a majority of white people have always believed that talking about racism makes it worse. According to a 1961 Gallup poll (pdf), 61 percent of Americans disapproved of the Freedom Riders who were trying to desegregate transportation by simply riding a bus. In 1966, most whites (57 percent) believed civil rights protests were “not justified,” and another 50 percent thought Martin Luther King hurt the “Negro cause of civil rights.”


Even today, the sentiment is pervasive. A 2016 Rasmussen poll found that two-thirds of whites believed Obama made racism worse during his presidency. Currently, only 23 percent of whites have a favorable opinion of Colin Kaepernick, which is slightly lower than their current approval of Malcolm X (28 percent), according to a January 2019 Ipsos poll. To this very day, most white people (54 percent) still dislike the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.

This is perhaps our oldest national pastime. America killed the indigenous people and labeled them as “savages” when Native Americans spoke out about stolen land, broken treaties and genocide. When black veterans asserted their rights after returning from World War I, whites called it an anti-white uprising, prompting a series of racial lynchings across the U.S. during the Red Summer of 1919. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has documented the perceived danger of every black protest movement that ever existed. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO called civil rights leaders “communists” and painted the black power movement as “dangerous.” Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the NAACP “un-American” and “communist-inspired.” The feds monitored Black Lives Matter groups and said the new threat to American lives was the Black Identity Extremist movement.


If history teaches us anything, it’s that white people will always denigrate anyone who speaks against white supremacy. There has never been a single moment in the history of this country where the majority of white America has been right about anything having to do with race.


One of the more famous historical examples of the superiority of the white intellect involves prominent Mississippi surgeon and scientist Samuel Adolphus Cartwright. In 1851, Cartwright published an article titled “Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race” detailing his discovery of a medical malady called Drapetomania—a precarious condition that caused some slaves to run away from their masters.


“The cause in the most of cases, that induces the negro to run away from service,” Cartwright wrote in his psychological analysis, “is as much a disease of the mind as any other species of mental alienation, and much more curable, as a general rule.”

Cartwright’s medical findings were widely mocked and dismissed, but there are still many people who believe that there is something wrong when black people react to racism. For them, any slave who wanted to run away must have a mental disorder. Any black man who speaks out against racism must be an insolent, rabble-rousing racist. Even a seventh-grade fight must have “both sides” explained.


I was not mad at Gray Segals’ joke. I thought punching him in the face was an appropriate response. I was just mad at the lie. Twelve-year-old me had no idea that sometimes, in their flabbergasted state of Caucasity, even our illustrious president will instinctively revert to the age-old “I’m rubber and you’re glue” white lie when they have to face accusations of racism. But historical and empirical evidence teaches us that the great majority of white Americans believe one thing to be true:

An attack on white supremacy is an attack on white people.

So be proud when white people call you a racist. It is a white badge of courage that should be nobly displayed. Being deemed a racist by the people who uphold, participate in and perpetuate white supremacy is an honor because Donald Trump’s tweet is a newfangled version of the outdated diagnosis of Drapetomania. They’re mad Spike Lee gave them a black eye.


Let there be no doubt. When a white person calls a black person a racist, what they’re really saying is:

“That motherfucker wants to be free.”

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.


At the age of ten in fifth grade a kid called me the magic word. I said what did you say and in his smug whiteness he said “you heard me, boy.” I reached back and punched him in the nose breaking it in the process. The whiny bitch went to the nurse and I for my troubles was sent to the principal’s office. After explaining what happened I was told that I was suspended for the remainder of the day and that my mother had to come in the next day. I told my mother what happened and that she had to come in to meet with the principal. While angry she understood. Little did we both know that the worse was to come. The next day we sat in the principal’s office, while the boy with his father tried to play the victim. He explained that he had to be late for work, as if my mother a doctor by the way, didn’t have to. He tried to smooth it over with the boys will be boys bullshit but I was seething and I could see that my mother was as well. We both had to apologize and shake hands, but I was never so angry in my young life. I was insulted in front of classmates not him and he doubled down on it. Why was he being seen as some type of martyr and his father taught him that word and it’s meaning. I told my mother that evening I wasn’t sorry and I bet he’ll think twice before using that word again. Time moved on and I never saw that kid past 6th grade but the anger and humiliation of white people always thinking that us standing up for our rights somehow threatens their very existence never left me. I doubt any of these weak ass men or women could handle what we deal with in blatant and subtle ways. After last night I know they couldn’t. Keep swinging Spike. Oh James sorry that joke wasn’t funny. Never will be.