I don’t like to boss people around, but you, white person, self-proclaimed progressive, have a seat. Look at me and listen. This is not the feel-good article you want, but it’s the medicine you need.
Stop telling me to fight. Stop saying on your social media platforms, and in your blogs and your op-eds, that everyone should dust themselves off and get up and fix this. Stop saying that addressing this issue is everyone’s duty, because I can’t even begin to explain to you how far from the truth such a statement is.
But I’ll try. I will overcome my exhaustion and explain this to you as clearly as I can, and you can thank me later, if you’re so inclined. Let it be known that I like Edible Arrangements.
White people have a duty to fix this. Plain and simple. Write that on a sticky note and put it on your fridge. Make an event in your iPhone and set it so that you get a notification every single day for the rest of your life (or until you get in line to buy the iPhone 8). Black people and other people of color have been trying to fix racism in America, and racism in the world, for far too long, when it was never our problem to begin with. Racism is not a universal issue. It is not a universal burden. It rests on the shoulders of white people and white people alone.
This needs to be said because so many white progressives are just now beginning to notice that every time African Americans get a little bit closer to equality, a whitewater wave of white resentment comes hurtling around the bend to wash all of the progress away. What’s up with that? What’s that all about?
I’d tell you what that’s about, but I honest-to-goodness don’t know. But you do. You may not think you do, but subconsciously you know, and your cousins know, and your parents know, and all of you need to organize a family reunion so you can sit down and get on the same page and ask yourselves the questions Toni Morrison was gracious enough to pose to you, in a 1993 interview with Charlie Rose.
“What are you without racism? Are you good? Are you still strong? Are you still smart? Do you still like yourself?”
“If you can only be tall because somebody’s on their knees, then you have a serious problem. And my feeling is that white people have a very, very serious problem, and they should start thinking about what they can do about it. Take me out of it.”
Take the rest of us out of it, too. We’ve been in the game longer than we were supposed to. It’s now the fourth quarter, there’s only two minutes left on the clock, and our sweaty selves haven’t seen you since we left the locker room. You may think you’ve done a lot, but I’m sure there’s that ultra-regressive person in your family whom you choose to speak to as little as possible, because the things they say and believe make you uncomfortable and angry, and you don’t want to make things awkward between you. Your parents may love you dearly, and think the world of you, and therefore you can’t possibly tell them that the things they believe about black people are killing black people, that the things they believe about Muslims are killing Muslims, that the things they believe about immigrants are killing immigrants.
All of you who are going home for Thanksgiving need to make this year’s dinner a NAAWP (National Association for the Advancement of White People) meeting and decide that the “advancement” portion of your organization’s name is finally going to mean that you are taking it upon yourselves to advance your beliefs and morals and, above all, your maturity. Because what we have in front of us — a Trump presidency — is ridiculous. It is so flat-out ridiculous and yet so real, and here’s an even bigger yet for you: You should have seen it coming.
Because I did. So many people of color I know saw this approaching us like that giant rock in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. In the days that immediately followed Trump’s announcement of his candidacy for president, I said to so many of my white progressive friends, “He will be the Republican nominee.” And all of them looked at me like I was crazy.
When Trump won the nomination, I said to many of those same white progressive friends, “He has a significant chance of winning this election.” But I might as well have been talking to a Gary Johnson for President campaign poster.
You did not think that racism was still a thing, that it was as strong as it clearly is. You read so many articles about hate crimes and police brutality and voting rights, and still you did not think that this could occur. You saw Obama win the presidency in 2008 and naively thought that we live in a post-racial society. That was you.
And that’s what I wept about on Nov. 9. Not that Hillary Clinton lost, or that Donald Trump will likely be our most white supremacist president since Andrew Jackson. It was that I said this all along and my white friends didn’t listen, white people didn’t listen, because they couldn’t see it in their charts and graphs and polls and statistics. And if they couldn’t see it, then they also couldn’t see me, and still don’t see me. And that’s hard to digest. I thought that, if nothing else, my white friends had overcome race, but they didn’t. And they may never do so.
Because I’m going to be honest with you: I feel more black, more other, than I ever have in my entire life. I abandoned my job at Sojourners on Election Day and went to Pennsylvania — went deep into that now red state — to canvass. I walked alone through predominantly white neighborhoods, while wearing a hoodie, and I passed by Trump signs erect on front lawns, and I knocked on the doors of registered Democrats to make sure they were going out to vote. I stood on the side of a street, waiting for my ride to pick me up, and watched as white people eyed me and stared at my afro and wondered what I was doing on their turf.
I said “Thank you” after I walked by a house that wasn’t on my list, and was told by the homeowner — who stood guard in front of their front door as though I was going to rob them — “Don’t come here.” I said “Thank you” not to be a smart aleck, but because the instincts of my slave predecessors overpowered me, that need to say “Yes sir” if you want to keep Master happy, and therefore live.
I walked and walked and walked, and I thought the entire time, “Is this how Trayvon Martin felt? Is this the anxiety that engulfed him? If I turn around right now, will there be a gun aimed at my chest?”
I turned around many times. I saw no one and yet I felt an angry mob behind me. I still feel those ghosts now.
Like I said, this isn’t the feel-good article you want, but it’s the medicine you need, because all of those comparisons of Nov. 9, 2016 to Sept. 11, 2001 are not faulty. They are not exaggerations. It is likely that the same number of people who died that day in New York City and Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. will die, over the next four years, because of this incoming administration. The sick will perish. The innocent will be slain. Families will be torn apart and drowned in poverty and will not survive.
So fight. You, white progressive, who reads so many articles to make yourself feel moral, but who never fathomed that this could happen, and therefore didn’t do all you could to prevent it. You fight. You talk to the people you love, or can’t stand — the people who look like you — and you hash out whatever it means to be white in America, and white on this weary, revolving planet.
Because people of color are tired. Suicide hotlines are receiving the most calls they ever have, and several people of color, within the next four years, will get rid of themselves before our society does. You have to live with that. You have to change that. Or not. Because it is very apparent to people of color that doing so is beyond our ability, and beyond our jurisdiction, and, above all, beyond our responsibility.
For once, let it be the singular burden of people of color not to serve, or justify our value, but rather to live. Just live. Wake up every morning, even though we may not know why we’re here, and why life is worth it, and try to keep our mental health in the clear, and not fall into despair. Allow us to do that.
Do the heavy lifting that white Jesus has called you to do. Otherwise you can weep like he did when he was with Lazarus. But, if the latter is your option of choice, I’m going to let you in on something big.
Unlike Lazarus, when we people of color die, we will not wake back up. We will not open our eyes. We will be so still, as still as you have been for years, as quiet as you have been for decades. We will not move.
So you move. You get up from the chair you’re sitting in and do something, anything. It’s about time you got off your butt and did something meaningful. It’s about time you figured out why you can’t live without killing everyone around you.