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Well Meaning

By Kathy Y. Wilson · September 10th, 2003 · Your Negro Tour Guide
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Last week's What's the Matter with Self? exploded with fed-up rage and fear over the proliferation of white T-shirted black drug dealers. Black folks are mad over nigga shit.

The pull of middle-class black rage -- that we can and should self-criticize without trading in our blackness -- confuses whites, who won't ever understand this aspect of us.

I wanted Greg's opinion of the column. My colleague and friend, Greg patiently stops his work to listen to me read rough drafts of the Tour.

I didn't get to read last week. Instead, our after-the-fact discussion about the column morphed into an exchange about racial identity, profiling blacks in white T-shirts as stereotypes and the polemics of wardrobe.

He accused me of lumping all white T-shirt wearers together as dealers, of calling for their "extinction." He called me a racist.

I countered by telling him that if a black man isn't a drug dealer but wears a white T-shirt solely to have entrée on the block, he needn't be surprised if he's assumed to be a dealer. I disavowed being a racist.

"Racism is based on economics," I said. "They make more money than I do, and there's no way I can oppress them."

"You know what I think it is?" he said. "You're gettin' old."

"Since the antithesis of aging is death, then yeah, I'm getting old," I said. "I've seen a lot of shit, and I'm sick of niggas. I'm sick of crack dealers, of crack heads. I'm sick of niggas killing black people and of the disproportionate numbers of black men in prison."

Then a tangent I knew he couldn't match: "Do they congregate on your corner? Have you ever had to walk between them? Do you have to drive through them when they're nearly impassible? They're everywhere I look.

"Have you ever seen roaches? How, when they move, it looks like they're fluttering? That's what they looked like Saturday coming back from Findlay Market. There were so many, they fluttered."

Greg recoiled.

I was taken aback. I'd never known him to take issue with my criticism of blacks, and he'd sat through my racial rants.

But I get to criticize niggas -- anytime, anywhere. That well-meaning whites are afraid to do likewise at the risk of being tagged racist is what's got everybody all fucked up. Them, especially.

Whites once ensconced in the movement live out their days with the well-meaning behavior -- with entitlement around its edges -- of protesting, picketing, leafleting and even getting arrested. But the legal system favors them. And they get to return to who they were -- without the benefit of black skin -- before they got riled up over a white-filtered injustice.

Black ain't a cause.

Well-meaning whites overdosing on the limousine liberalism of their own glammed-out ideas of colored caricatures in need of saving (the welfare mother, crack ho, absentee men) and who self-medicate by writing checks their comfort can't cash aren't actually advancing black-on-white race relations. They're piling on.

When they do, they're smothering accountability.

A well-meaning white person points to the pigeon flock of white T-shirted dealers and traces street-level dealing back to Colombia and down through the empty hype of America's "war on drugs" with its faulty legal system aimed at blacks, Hispanics and poor whites as the reason -- no, the excuse -- why those poor dealers have little choice but to deal.

That trail is true -- no drug dealer is an island. But it's crippling.

It perpetuates blacks' knack for victim language. It thickens our dependence on others for self-preservation, making it harder for us to wrestle free and take responsibility for our shit. And Blame Whitey looms in the rearview like the Michelin Tire Man.

Blaming Whitey deletes black self-criticism. If we do criticize ourselves, the rules dictate that we're falling prey to the trap set by conservative whites to divorce ourselves from some part of our whole selves.

Yeah, niggas fuck it up for everybody. That doesn't make them disposable/invisible. It also doesn't mean I'm not allowed to bitch.

I stand by name-calling black dealers. Vermin. Pure roach.

Greg took issue with these labels. It's curious when whites recoil at how a black person processes her own culture.

All told, it boils down to information. How long we know one another is in direct correlation with how well we know one another.

I've known Greg since we did time together at the Hamilton Journal-News in the mid-1990s, and we've never really had one of those Hallmark'd "frank conversations about race" folks were so high on in the post-Timothy Thomas Era.

The afternoon Officer Stephen Roach was exonerated in Thomas' shooting, I told Greg I couldn't be around white folks, but I proceeded to spend the afternoon with him trying to explain why slippery white accountability accounts for blacks' mistrust of the system.

Though I balk at being a racial spokeswoman, I do my part to explain.

Yeah, we can talk about some shit. But when you come to me, be ready. And mean well.



Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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