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I read Black things. I write Black things. I say Black things, when the opportunity permits and presents itself. So, how do I feel less Black the older I get? How disconnected am I from my Blackness, from the things considered Black? There is a mainstream Blackness that pervades the inner linings of media and television, the likes that the BETs, Essences, Ebonys and New JETs of the world inhabit. Am I not speaking the language enough, I wonder? Have I whitey-fied my spaces too much, too often? Too much Seinfield, not enough LHHNY? The cultural zeitgeist that is the Wendy Williams Show and Empire and Power, the things I have not bound myself to. Mind you, there are layers to all experiences of life, especially that of the Black experience, and the Black experience cannot be relegated to a singular moment, catchphrase, trend, or television episode. Blackness cannot be co-opted, though mass media may have us think different.
What is white culture? Is mainstream media inherently white? Why does the Atlantic and New York Times and New Yorker quantify success as a writer? Why does inclusion in these publications qualify me as a legitimate writer, one whose words are worthy of reading? What makes these words less identifiable, less worthy, when they are not quoted and cited by a white authority? Pinrolling my pants did not make me an adopted citizen of Whitetopia, in spite of what my brown-skinned co-worker suggested with her “why you dress like a white boy?” question. I was no less considered credible after 400,000 views of an article, regardless of how many voices spoke up for my use of language. This whiteness predates colonialism and lives in the veins of oppressors, of Romans, Catholics, lending ears and all.
There is an agency that we have, that we allow, when we let the outside world dictate the functionality of the inner workings of a people; the mechanics that make up the shapes and sizes, the eyes, the hands and feet, the thumbs and the hair follicles — these things that make up the stories of us. I see it every day here; every day here, in this world, feels like Whitetopia. It is not fictional; it is not a story. This is not a tale about wizards or elves or a postmodern take on a dystopia that never was, has yet to be, or is soon to come. This is today. This is a concept. It is the constant reality of being of a body, in a body, that is haphazardly thrown and shoved about in ways that are not seemingly human. Have you ever not felt human? Not Wells-ian or Kubrick-like in scope, much in the way we sometimes view ourselves outside our own skin, as robots: walking, proverbial AI species inhabiting the world. No, not in that way.
In the way a Constitution was made for a united states of an American democracy that did not consider a certain segment of its population, a segment that tended to its fields, that birthed its children, that bathed and burped its babies, fostered the unwed, as worthy. A segment who would be tasked with being fucked by the sons of masters, fucked the wives of masters, raped by their masters, lived as slaves to masters — the idea of having a master? What is this? What is this idea of property, of an existence that lives not as a whole or a human but as an object to be bartered and sold? A thing—a thing to pick cotton, to spread legs, to be the bearer of both baby and billy club. A machine to make music, to jump high and do sports; something to be segregated, good for erections, for election figures and rezoning, suited for busing. A population whose work has been deemed being the mule for others, to carry their drugs, their guns, their burdens, their children’s homework.
Do you know the name of the Black nanny, of the Indian nanny, the Dominican nanny, the Ecuadorian nanny, the one who comes to the house near you? Have you been close enough to the cleaning lady, to the man who fixes your lights, your plumbing, to know their scent, the names of their children? Do you borrow their sugar? Can you count the wrinkles on their hands, in their faces? Is their skin like tree rings, each circle a symbol of a life, of a history, a wrinkle serving as a moment, as page in their story — could you read that in a lineup? Could I? How much blending in will you have to do to erase your color and find a new marker for how you live in a world where your race is spoken of in a context that alludes to the lack of your humanity? Where your Blackness or Chicano-ness can be affiliated with a number, a throwaway fraction, a number that settles in on the back of a throat or lines the papers that define your country?
There is a certain level of discomfort I feel when overhearing white people talk about Black things, or what feel like Black things, things that are seemingly affiliated with Black culture, in predominately White spaces. As I walked in my office one day, I overheard three white co-workers speak about a project that deals primarily with a major player in Black culture and, in particular, Hip-Hop culture. The conversation centered around a campaign we were working on as an agency. Within the agency, creative teams had been created to handle a portion of the campaign content to be delivered. I cringed when hearing them speak, because I knew they had no idea of the social implications of what they spoke, the weight that is carried when creating something that has Black hands on it and in it, all over it, prints that were deserving of more than footnotes and commentary about diversity; prints and hands that stay and smudge and shadow work always, whether it is visibly noted and noticed or not. But how could they? They do not see the world through this lens, fortuitous and often maligned by the prejudices of American society, this Black lens, that I carry in both my mind’s eye and back pocket, in case any one person questions my central authority on things Black — because, even though as a community, no one wants to be singled out as the authority on Black culture when in white spaces, you also do not want to be left out of the loop or not involved in a conversation about Black things among an all-white or predominately white base.
It is this lack of comfort, this missing thing that is cuffing the belly of this space, that is seen in the interactions of the silent purse hold, the wording used and ascribed to “thugs” and “gangstas” and “terrorists” and “hoodlums” and “immigrants” where nigger and spic would have sufficed; where “Coloreds Only” would have been more deliberate. This is where LeBron comes home to find shadowy slurs on his gates because he dunks better than you and I and them, because he sports better than them; a DUI-ing Tiger Woods is still a monkey with money.
Welcome to Whitetopia.