Like nearly every black person in America, I’ve fielded a lot of messages from white friends and acquaintances over the past week. Well wishes, I guess. Hallmark should make some kind of card: “Hoping Your Windpipe Hasn’t Been Crushed by Racism Today.”
I perceive that white liberals who are reaching out to the black people they know are well-meaning and honestly confused about what to do. They want to help and have no idea how to, because “fighting systemic racism” is not part of their daily lives or professional competencies. The most this country has ever asked of white people is that they not be individually racist, and most people struggle even with that. Tearing down the structures of institutionalized white supremacy, like the police, is just not something many white people have spent a great deal of time thinking about. In this moment, as they Columbus the deep pain and anger that black people live with every day, they really don’t know what to do.
Normally, well-meaning whites might look to community leaders to give them cues about how to express condolences over racial oppression before going back to business as usual. And sometimes, the president attempts to provide some of that leadership: He tries to tell white people where to send the “sorry about racism” care packages, while assuring them that only one or two white people are still bigots and we’ve almost got this race problem licked.
White people are lost right now because this president tells them black lives are worthless, and we should save the Sunglass Hut. That’s a fine message for the majority of white people. Trump won the white vote in 2016 and he certainly will again in 2020. But that message is deeply unsatisfying to a minority of white people. They want to help and, absent any official guidance, they’re reaching out to whoever they know, or know of, to see what they might be able to do.
I don’t really know what to tell them. I’m not the one with the racism problem. I think y’all should probably do something about your biased police forces before they kill me. I think that every day. James Baldwin said: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” I am in a rage almost all the time. My real-life white friends will back me up on this: If you see me, then I am pissed off about something, usually racism. My life does not get better or worse depending on whether white people feel like acknowledging that rage. My life is a war that I’ve already lost.
If white people want to help, they can do what I do, and go fight the racists. Fight them in public, where everybody can see you. Fight them in private, where nobody can see you. Fight them at parties where I ain’t invited. Fight them every day, at all times, everywhere.
White people know who the racists are. They’re in their freaking families. They’re in their companies. They’re in their networks and clubs and social media feeds. I don’t need to hear that you really understand how police brutality is a systemic threat to my health and well-being—your racist uncle does. Your boss does. Your “let’s not put politics above friendship” sorority sister does. Go make some racists know that their opinions are frowned on in this society. Go make them know that you hate them as much as I do. That makes less work for me.
Here’s a white person who has really helped me personally over the past week: Seth Rogen. I’m serious. Seth Rogen found time this week to spend hours on Instagram simply telling white people who didn’t agree with the statement “black lives matter” to “fuck off.” He told them to stop watching his movies. He told them, and their parents, to go jump in a lake. Seth Rogen is the first white person my wife and I have talked positively about in days. We just sat together, reading his responses and laughing, and a good laugh has been hard for us to come by recently.
Telling racist white people to go F themselves might not seem like serious social justice work, but, for what it’s worth, it’s some of the most time-consuming and emotionally labor-intensive work that I do. If I’m playing a video game, I have to spend time telling racist white people to go F themselves in chat. If I take my kids to the park, I constantly have to be on the lookout for white parents who need to be told to keep their racist ideas the F away from my kids. My Twitter life is pretty much a rolling documentation of white people who need to go get F’d. Most of my posts are long essays trying to explain why specific politicians or judges desperately need to F off.
It’s hard. It’s draining. It’s not the most important work, but it is useful. One of the reasons we find ourselves being led by a bigoted president who advocates police brutality and violence is because that bigotry and brutality has been entirely normalized in American life. The racists are comfortable. They think most white people agree with them and are just too afraid or “politically correct” to say it. It is important that they know that any time they spout their filth outside one of their neo-Klan Trump rallies, they’re going to be challenged. It is important that they know that they can’t walk around with MAGA hats that symbolize racism, and then have a nice quiet dinner around fellow white folks.
I’m sick to death of white people showing more civility to racist people than those racist people show me, and then acting like that civility is part of some grand strategy to convince these deplorable racist, violent white people to change their ways. Because those white people, the ones who counsel civility and courtesy and building bridges to the land of kumbaya, are never there when the cops come. They’re never there when the officer has a knee in my back and a gun pointed at my head. Asking me later, if I survive, “Oh, are you OK?” does nothing for me. I am not OK. I haven’t been OK since the first cop called me the N-word when I was 15. I wonder why that cop was on the force. I wonder how many people heard that cop use that word and said and did nothing. I wonder why I have to take the pain because somebody’s parents, teachers, and friends did such a bad job.
If you want to help me, be on my side. Not just during “protest week” but also during restaurant week and beach week and finals week and “I know a guy who has a yacht” week and all the weeks in between. Be one-tenth as pissed off about racism two weeks from now as I am every day, and let all your white friends know about it.
I do not need white validation of my rage. But I wouldn’t object if more white people shared it. Go be angry at other white people for me, because some days I’d like to stay under the covers and hide from all your cops and crap.