So first of all, congrats on that last post you had in Salon. Apparently you digging deep into your inner hypocrisy was more interesting to people than our attempted take down of Rachel Dolezal. Apparently it didn’t work at all, she’s back. And much like the AC/DC song, she’s “Back in (still not really) Black!” But whatevs, we got bigger fish to fry: your boy, Donald Trump. And when I say “your boy,” this time I mean it. Lemme explain…
I posted this message (Does anybody say “status update” anymore?) to both my personal and my public Facebook page. I think you saw it, but if not, read it here.
“Donald Trump isn't a Republican issue or a rich people issue or a human issue. Donald Trump is a white people issue. Whenever Ben Carson says batshit crazy nonsense, Black people rise up, and let him know that he needs to STFU. Whenever Raven-Symone pops off, we put her cap back on. We even handled Rachel Dolezal for you. Yes, we also make jokes and come up with clever memes and hashtags, but at the core of all that is that we are letting these people know that they are embarrassing us as Black people. It is time, white people, for you to finally step up and recognize that you also (even more so) have a responsibility to your race. It is up to you to silence Donald Trump. Don't just insult him and make fun of him. You have to connect it to your race. Recognize that he is embarrassing you as a white person. Simple snark won't win here. You have to feel it. You have to use words like "as a white person" and "he is an embarrassment to my race." Stop acting like Trump isn't the pinnacle and the result of America's history and tradition of white supremacy. And again, P.S.: Simply put, white people, come get your boy.”
OK, I know there’s a lot to — as you white people say — unpack there. I’ll let you do it. Thanks for reading this.
P.S. After I posted this, my Facebook pages turned in to some combination of zombie apocalypse / nuclear winter / hippie drum circle in the park / monkeys throwing shit at the zoo / Boot Camp for Activists training simulator.
This idea fascinates me on a lot of levels. First of all, you’ve hit on something very true: white people in this country never feel any need or any pressure to denounce/regulate/distance themselves from other white people when those white people act out of pocket. Black people, and every other racial/ethnic/religious/sexual minority, understand “come and get your boy” all too well. Being forced to account for someone else’s words or actions is particularly old hat for black people – as is being made to speak on behalf of All The Black People, as translators or apologists, whether they want to or not. Similarly, everybody but white people has become well acquainted with the feeling of oh fuck, please don’t let him be while waiting to find out the identity of a criminal, an alleged criminal – hell, at this point, even a victim.
All this is because whiteness is invisible. To white people, anyway. The idea of checking Donald Trump just because he’s white makes as much sense to us as the idea of chastising an elephant for taking a dump just because we’re both carbon-based life forms.
Whiteness is invisible for a lot of reasons, but primarily it’s invisible because white people want it to be. It’s easier not to address racism – institutional, structural, since-the-beginning, empirically proven, affects-every-facet-of-life-in-a-nation-that-owes-its-wealth-to-slavery racism – if you de-race yourself by making whiteness a presumptive condition, a state from which any deviation is, well, deviant.
For some white people, the psychic trauma of knowing you’re part of a system of oppression and unearned privilege is too much to deal with, so they push it away. For others, the hole at the center of whiteness is embarrassing or confusing or infuriating – everybody else has a culture to be proud of; where’s mine? How come the only people who talk about white culture are crazy-ass white supremacists, and even they just talk about defending it, not what “it” is? Am I not allowed to be proud? Wait, should I not be proud? –so they push it away.
But this is where your idea about Trump comes in, and why it’s brilliant. Even white people like the ones at that White Privilege Conference we got drunk and spoke at a couple of weeks ago – white people who are furious about racism and police brutality and black death – don’t really know what to do on a personal level. And it’s all well and good for us to tell them (after, what was it, four rounds of gin and tonics?) to go confront their racist families, but it doesn’t feel like enough. But denouncing Trump from a position of whiteness, declaring that he disgusts you as a white person and does not speak for you as a white person does something different, something kind of cool. It’s a way to claim and use whiteness, to wield it with authority rather than apology, and that’s something white anti-racists seldom get the chance to do. We need a meme, though. Or a hashtag. You any good at hashtags?
I’m a the worst at hashtags. The best I’ve ever done in coming up with one was #LetsAllHaveAThoughtful discussion, which didn’t trend for obvious reasons. By the time you use that hashtag, there’s not much room for the discussion. And as we all know by now anyway, social media is a pretty ineffective place to try to have a thoughtful discussion. Because even if two people are doing a good job of it, at any point a third party can jump in with their brand-new Derail-A-Tron 3000™, and hijack this thread to Obamaisamulim Town. And wow, did I learn that after putting up that post. Now, certainly there was a critical mass of white people who understood what I was writing, even if they didn’t exactly know what to do with the information. But there was maybe even a bigger, critical mass of white people who were very much like, “Screw this! I don’t want nothing to do with that race pot that you colored people roll around in, even though my ancestors were the ones who designed the pot, ordered colored people to build the pot, and then told them to get inside the pot.” And just to be clear, these weren’t Trump supporters and Tea Partyers, not by a long shot. (I’m sure it is not a surprise to you that those types aren’t generally in my target market.) No, this was Bernie Sanders-supporting, "Scandal"-watching, recycling-separating, two mom friends-having, white people. You know, the good ones.
I got whitesplained, white knighted, gaslighted, and — maybe worst of all — condescended to by white people who felt bad that I didn’t really understand what I was saying. One white woman actually accused me of mansplaining when I was trying to clarify my point with her. We are all the way through the rabbit hole now. If white guilt was a physical substance then I would have been covered in it like those two women from that Two Girls One Cup video. And I felt about the same way about it as I would have if you had made me be in that video. (If you don’t know the reference, Adam, please do yourself a favor and don’t Google it.)
But yes, it is like you say, white people are used to “white” being the absence of race as opposed to the preeminent race of this country (for now). Whiteness is America’s No. 1 export. It’s our No. 1 cash crop. It is a seemingly renewable resource. And it costs white people nothing, while it costs people of color everything — job opportunities, housing options, jail time, safe neighborhoods, general comfort and a sense of well-being. And all too often it cost us our lives. Sorry to get all soapbox-y. But that is what was going through me when I posted that on Tuesday. I was basically trying to say…
Look, white people, I was there with you for the first few months of the Donald Trump campaign, laughing along at the random word clouds of hatred he called speeches. I, too, thought he would be gone by now. But he’s not. And in the currently climate he is even more dangerous than before. And I know Black people, Latino people, Asian people, Native people, who have all felt a responsibility to step up and try to shout him down. Meanwhile, you liberal white folks just feel like he’s not your problem because he’s a Republican and you are a Democrat, or a member of the Green Party, or a Game of Throne-er. You feel like he doesn’t relate to you. Well, I’m here to tell you that he does have something to do with you. Because you have convinced me that Ben Carson, Raven-Symone, and the next random Black person on the local news who says something autotune-worthy has everything to do with me. I accept my responsibility, now you accept yours.
Also, when I was on CNN, I may have called Donald Trump the pinnacle of white privilege and white supremacy, so now I am starting to hear from his supporters. They aren’t very good at grammar, except when it comes to spelling the word “n****r.” They EXCEL at that.
P.S. Also I have a new show coming out on CNN next year called "United Shades of America." I just wanted to remind you.
The moment at which your white Facebook fans get off the Kamau Bus is the moment when you point out that Donald Trump is not an aberration – not a perversion of whiteness or capitalism or Americanism but rather the result, the logical outcome, the pinnacle of it. Mass white exodus time, like when the 2 train hits 96th Street. It’s the same thing that happens when our friend Ta-Nehisi Coates points out that police killings of black people are not glitches in the system, they are the system. The moment the critique becomes structural, it implicates everybody. And once the finger starts pointing at them, most people are going to turn their backs.
Which is why, sadly, any movement for racial justice that seeks mass white participation is going to have to do the odious, depressing job of figuring out how to make white people feel good about themselves while doing the work – at least until they become invested enough in the work to stop jetting the moment they feel implicated … because the more work they do, the less implicated they’ll feel, or the more the work itself will obliterate the stalled, hand-wringing, I’ve-tried-nothing-and-I’m-all-out-of-ideas state in which we’re currently mired. Kind of like the way you have to song-and-dance your kid into cleaning her room by convincing her it’s fun, but once she gets going you can slip out and she’ll finish the job. It shouldn’t have to be that way, but shit, a lot of things shouldn’t have to be the way they are.
So your #WhitesAgainstTrump movement (best I can do right now) gets the party started by empowering white people to wield their whiteness with authority, in service to the country. That’s great. It fulfills the Feel Good Imperative. But then it pulls the rug out from under by asking them to acknowledge that Trump is the fruit that falls from the tree of whiteness – that while he may be a bilious, hate-spewing human satire, he is also the ultimate manifestation of unchecked whiteness privilege, ingeniously marketing himself to the “silent majority” of scared, angry white voters.
So on one hand, you’re giving white people the chance to get on some “not in my name” shit, which makes them feel righteous and has proven effective in the past. But to do it, they have to think about what else is happening in their names; they have to become “race traitors” and denounce whiteness, to use some classic old-school terminology. And keep in mind, whiteness is still invisible. And white people have invested so much in making it that way. Maybe you’ve illuminated it for a hot second by shining a spotlight on Trump and connecting him to it – and as long as that’s a diversionary tactic, as long as he’s an aberration, everybody is gonna stay on the bus. But when you spin that spotlight toward the audience? 96th Street, my dude.
Shit, I gotta go pick my kid up. I leave you with the $64 billion question(s): What do white people get to move toward when they turn their backs on whiteness? And how do you turn your back on something you can’t see? And how do you get them to feel good about admitting their complicity in a system of oppression? And is there any practical, non-semantic way in which they can actually turn their backs? Or is it more about turning their fronts to whiteness? Can the “as a white person I denounce ” concept be generalized? There ought to be a billion ways to end that sentence.
Aaaaand, now I’m late.
For me it’s got to be about white people turning their fronts to whiteness, not turning their backs on whiteness. As you know, I have two kids who are half-white because of their mom. Not her fault. It’s how she was raised. Actually that’s a joke. She wasn’t raised white. She was raised Italian, because that’s how it works when you are white in America. Your family gets to pick one branch of the tree to hang off: “OF COURSE WE’RE CELEBRATING ST. PATRICK’S DAY! WE’RE IRISH!… on your mom’s side… I think it was her great-grandfather… by marriage.” I’m not bothered by it. That’s the rule of whiteness. It can hide under the country of ancestry. But if that country was a “white” country then you still are white. Whereas, no matter how much Ancestry.com I pay for, I can’t start identifying myself as a Cherokee because my mom says her grandmother was one. But I’m not asking white people to reject that stuff. I’m saying just add whiteness to it. Like you, Adam, you are white AND Jewish… Right? If not… we need to hang out in better lit situations.
Now of course my kids are Black. My oldest one knows she’s Black people, as she calls it. Because that’s the rule of Blackness. Once you get touched by it, it takes over, like that Vietnamese fish sauce. It is delicious, and it takes over anything you put it in, even if you only use a little. Meanwhile whiteness is like high fructose corn syrup. It’s everywhere. Even places it doesn’t make sense. And once you realize that, you can’t not see it. I’m asking white people to notice they are the high fructose corn syrup of races. And if you always ignore high fructose corn syrup or whiteness people will get hurt.
Whiteness is why People magazine has just happened to have picked all white guys except for one in 30 years of picking the sexiest man alive. (You can guess who the one non-white was. Yup, Denzel.) Now of course sexiness is subjective buuuuuuuut, according to People magazine, David Beckham is this year’s sexiest man alive. David Beckham?? What is this? Throwback Thursday? Nobody except his wife and kids have thought about him since he kinda played for the L.A. Galaxy in 2007. And really, Americans only thought about him until two minutes after the press conference introducing him. Idris Elba is the sexiest man alive. You know it. I know it. He knows it. Everybody knows it. But if People magazine is mostly into white guys, they should be able to say it. But they are afraid of sounding like “The KKK Presents People Magazine’s sexiest man alive!”
White people need to have some pride in their race so they can stand up to Trump (and others). All people of color and all religious minorities (there’s gotta be a better word for that) have pride in their struggles and in their achievements, so when a member of the group pops off we feel comfortable putting their cap back on. For an all-time great example of this, check out Jamilah Lemieux’s astounding takedown of Raven-Symone after one of Raven’s many that’s so Raven moments on "The View."
And she wasn’t the only one who went in. Black Twitter was on it too. Now, I know white Twitter is generally just called Twitter, but white people need to own their whiteness and start to feel connected to other white people. It is apparent to my Black, Latino, Native, Arab and Muslim friends that Trump needs to be stopped now. We can’t wait for your white butt to just vote against him if he makes it to the general election. Mostly because unless you live in Ohio, Florida or Pennsylvania your vote really won’t mean that much anyway. But we can talk about the Electoral College next time. How much more damage is it possible for Trump to do by then? More than I want to imagine.
#WhitesAgainstTrump is fine by me, but remember I’m not very good at the viral thing. Also Breitbart wrote about my CNN appearance, which means the death threats staaaaaaaart.... now.