Given a few spottings of X hats, one on the stoop of an adjacent Brownstone, and my recent deep desire for one the those mid-nineties Black college sweat-suits, I'll now reconsider that infamous tee-emblazoned pronouncement, "It's a Black thing. You Wouldn't Understand." The statement, however simplified and essentialist, has/had/will always have something to it. I recognize some folk's reticence to lend it any credence like the self-righteous white woman quoted in this 1989 Letter to the Grey Lady's Editor
Who but an avowed racist would wear a T-shirt that reads: ''It's a Black Thing - You Wouldn't Understand!'' Blacks have had masterful white role models for racism. It's easy to justify the building of pride based upon it. But let me dream of a time when at least our better-educated children know better.
Who but an avowed racist would wear a T-shirt that reads: ''It's a Black Thing - You Wouldn't Understand!'' Blacks have had masterful white role models for racism. It's easy to justify the building of pride based upon it. But let me dream of a time when at least our better-educated children know better. Please make me a T-shirt that says: ''It's a Human Thing - We All Understand!'' - Lois Atkinson
Now, I imagine Lois thought she was really saying something with that tie-dye trite motto and by indicting white racists as originators of American racism before she indicted Black youths in kind but she was sadly and commonly mistaken. Her misapprehension was/is the thing.* The lack of understanding of how and what that statement resonated amongst us evinces a lack of understanding of us, which is what the damned t-shirt said quite clearly in the first place. That the uneventful course of confusion made Atkinson angry and ready to paint Black youth biased, instead of embarking on the team tasks of working to conquer her own racism, sincerely engaging Black people in relationship, and humbly acknowledging those things about the Black experience that she would never understand, is unsurprising.
I get how Blacks could have balked at the statement too. As Maya Angelou gravely enunciated on "African American Lives II"
the other night, we range in color from "plum blue to milk white" and our experiences and judgements are just as vast. But I don't think the statement has to preclude difference, it just suggests a
common thread amongst a complex and colorful tapestry.
And I get that many people across the spectrum think that everything is all good these days what with all the interracial familes, multi-hued crews and some Black people allowing their close non-Black associates to call them nigger, I'm sorry nigga, and what not. But the dream was not to repurpose the epithets undergirding racism but eradicate them and their informing ideologies. The dream was not for Black people to exploit their exploitation for financial gain but for parity, for the opportunity to not have to coon or mule for dough. That the reward for acting a fool is greater and more widely parsed, although still enriching but a sliver of our population, doesn't make it right.
A central feature of white privilege is an unchecked cognitive audacity, such that most white people, especially the earnest, are unwilling to accept that there exist people and places and things that they don't understand, that they might not ever get: bi-racial offspring, lifelong Wu affinity, 2 year Tibetan sojourn or Teach for America stint notwithstanding.
Sometimes white people just don't know what its like, that's why I detest canons. They exists to perpetuate a feigned monopoly of knowledge: the we only know what it's like. The misled of us work or fingers to the ashy knuckles for token inclusion. The wiser often toil in obscurity. And neither is a fulfilling fate.
Black things and understanding weigh heavily on my mind this morning as I just read at Variety
that Martin Scorsese has signed on to direct a Bob Marley biopic. Discouraged just strikes the surface of my sentiment at this news. Recently, I have seen too many, in some cases well-funded, big name directed, one dimensional studio takes on Black life to hold much hope. Just as the mainstream media culture has no empathy for Black female abduction victims, the mainstream film culture has no empathy for the Black female character. Gesticulating or greasy stark-naked female bodies stood in for Black female character in both the Last King of Scotland
and American Gangster
. They had no purpose other than sassy advisory, or titillation, or earthy spirituality despite the admirable efforts of skilled and perpetually underemployed Black actresses. And the virile stoicism of Washington or Blackfaced buffoonery in Whittaker's case was little better but at least them two had a bit of screen time. Black interiority is but the dream of dusky film buffs, excepting the underfunded undercirculated work of some Black independent filmmakers so I am not excited for this new Marley biopic or eager for the mass advent of 3D theatres. I haven't picked up them goofy glasses since an elementary trip to the Pacific Science Center
. We don't need any more distortion.
*The genius of the statement was that the author(s) repurposed this white deficiency as a source of affinity amongst Blacks.