There is a popular misconception that the death of George Floyd has ignited Black America to finally unleash the pent-up frustrations we have swallowed for lo so many years.
Even though I’ve waited my entire writing career to use the word “lo” (I’m still waiting on the opportunity to use “persnickety” and “haughty”), this moment that we’re in is not about anger. And, although many people have intimated that black people are just tired of wearing the mask, this is not about our cumulative weariness, nor have we reached our breaking point. There is no fundamental shift in the collective negro consciousness. There is no uprising. There is no spontaneous, simultaneous effort to fight white supremacy. In fact, this entire cultural confrontation that America is experiencing can be summed up in three words:
White people see it.
To be clear, white people have always seen the pervasive effects of white supremacy. But they were willing to put their hands over their eyes and pretend that institutional inequality wasn’t real. After lo so many years of existential peek-a-boo, they managed to convince themselves that America was really a land of liberty and justice for all.
Actual footage of white people’s reaction when people tell them to stop being racist:
White people be like:
But if there is one thing about the unequivocal truth, it is this:
The truth cannot be unseen.
Celebrated podcaster and noted curator of the white male cultural zeitgeist Joe Rogan unknowingly expressed this reality on his podcast that, for the sake of transparency, I must admit that I am a fan of. I find Rogan’s marathon talk sessions about everything from psychedelic drugs to comedy to Egyptology to be a fascinating look into the cocksure, often wrong-as-fuck culture of white men with tattoo sleeves.
“I don’t know what you’re saying,” said Rogan, who has never been reluctant to sermonize about shit he knows nothing about, adding:
I think if you pulled one of those kids aside and said: ‘What’s your message and what are you trying to do?’ I think a lot of them would have nothing to say. And that’s very concerning to me...It seems like they’re very enthusiastic and passionate about an invisible enemy. An enemy they can’t put on a scale; they can’t tangibly describe it in a way I understand it completely. It just seems like the structure of things, they feel like, is unjust.
Nah, Joe. You understand it exactly.
White supremacy is invisible. And, as a white man, you might not care to see the countless ways systemic racism has been put on a scale (school funding, prison sentencing, drug arrests, employment, salary, health disparities, gerrymandering and voter suppression, to name a few) but you are absolutely correct about one thing.
We do feel like “the structure of things” is unfair. That’s what they’re protesting. And, while you might not pay attention to things that don’t affect you, those people who you say “can’t tangibly describe it in any way” have actually created a term to define the “structure of things, they feel like, is unfair...”
We call it “structural racism.”
A perfect example of this cultural moment happened at an East Baton Rouge Parish school board meeting. After residents petitioned the body to rename Robert E. Lee High School, which is 68 percent black, Baton Rouge resident Gary Chambers Jr. was set to address the meeting when he noticed board member Connie Bernard was shopping online instead of listening to her constituents explain racism.
Just before the meeting, board member Bernard told a local news station: “I would hope that they would learn a little bit more about General Lee, because General Lee inherited a large plantation and he was tasked with the job of doing something with those people who lived in bondage to that plantation, the slaves, and he freed them.”
Well, Gary had some thoughts for Connie:
That motherfucker spittin’!
But Chambers isn’t mad. He is simply relaying the same shit we have said amongst each other (and sometimes, to white people) for four centuries while white people blithely ignored Black America’s angst. He wasn’t even “speaking truth to power,” because if Connie B. was powerful, she wouldn’t have run out of the meeting as if being called out on racism gave her explosive diarrhea.
ESPN’s version of the Oscars was another perfect example. Last night, to open the show, they trotted out a menagerie of athletes to celebrate black people after years of warning their employees not to talk about “that black shit” (Stephen A. Smith was excluded from the policy after combining his celebrated shuckery with his award-winning jivery) and nearly 2 years after “parting ways” with Jemele Hill for constantly summing up the ESPN’s newfound revelation that black lives matter.
ESPN and their parent company Disney are not suddenly “woke.”
They shouldn’t be applauded for recognizing black people after they made billions off black bodies while silencing the state-sanctioned harm that this country has done to black people. They are just riding the wave that has enveloped the country as a whole.
And it’s not that white people are finally willing to fight alongside the people who have been battling white supremacy all this time. It’s that they can no longer pretend that they don’t see it.
Now they have to do something about it:
OK, baby steps.