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It was interesting to listen to Tayari Jones discuss privilege, a concept we mostly hear bandied about in regard to the white, the male, and the wealthy. To be sure, it isn’t a term that springs immediately to mind in conversations about black women in this country. Between earning inequities, media misrepresentations, the “mule of the world” meme, and everything in between, we aren’t exactly the poster children for entitlement.
And yet there are several circumstances that can potentially place us at higher stations in life than those around us. Certainly, some of those circumstances are familial and relational. Wives are often in positions of privilege, as it relates to their husband’s other children. Children who have “full custody” of their fathers are privileged over their siblings who don’t. Maternal grandmothers may spend far more time with their grandchildren than paternal grandmothers. The possibilities along those lines are immense.
But there are plenty of other instances where black women may experience privilege. Some of those are cultural. Consider the hiring bias against applicants with “ethnic-sounding” names. In a hiring pool, Sharon Jones may have the unwitting upper hand over Shaquanita Jackson. Similarly, there are situations in which American-born black women find themselves at a distinct advantage over other women of the diaspora.
Because of its connotations, privilege isn’t always something we want to own. The idea suggests an unearned superiority and the power to oppress. And who wants to be associated with that? But what Jones said in her reading was key: It isn’t the privilege or how we obtain it that matters as much as what we choose to do with it. If we use it to lord our better lot over those less fortunate, we abuse it and squander its ability to heal, reconcile, and improve.
I need white people to stop pretending consent was possible during slavery.
Stop lying to yourselves that those black cousins are the result of illicit love affairs & grasp that slaves could not say no.
When consent is not an option, when you’re only seen as 3/5ths of a human being & you have no legal standing? You can’t say yes.
I need white America to sit down for a sec. Look into the faces of black Americans with the same last names & figure it the fuck out.
Our ancestors were raped by your ancestors. Regularly. Some of the kids were treated kindly. Most were not. They were sold.
White mistresses punished the slaves for “tempting” master & congratulated themselves on that bloody work. Read the narratives.
Not the cleaned up ones either. Read Incidents in The Life of A Slave Girl & understand that Mammy was a victim, not the one who loved you.
She couldn’t care for her kids, couldn’t choose her husband or their father most of the time. She was a slave.
Millions of people died on the Middle Passage. Millions more died here at the hands of your ancestors. Own that.
Now you want to sing Kumbaya & keep oppressing our communities & erasing our contributions. Spare me the tired bullshit.
Male slaves fared no better. There’s a long history of them being raped, tortured & killed too. That was slavery. Stop romanticizing it.
Our children were fed to alligators as bait (feel free to look that up) died of starvation or exposure & that was slavery too. Yep, we were livestock & you use sickly livestock as bait.
Stop watching Gone With The Wind & fantasizing about beautiful plantations if you can’t accept what happened on those plantations.
House slaves had it better in the sense of access to food & possibly better treatment, but they were still slaves.
14 year old slave girls weren’t falling in love with the men who could beat them & everyone they loved to death.
Read the tales of enslaved women who killed their children to spare them. Read about people beaten to death as an example.
Sally Hemings could have left Jefferson in Paris. Of course her entire family was still in his power. And his “love”? Didn’t free her. Ever.
Go look at the pictures of former slaves backs. Whipped until they bled & left to scar so they were maimed for life & couldn’t run.
Also before you talk about the cleaned up narratives, remember that the people relating their stories knew lynching was always possible.
Records of slavery were deliberately destroyed so that former owners wouldn’t have to pay anyone.
That “peculiar institution” was generations of blood, pain, & terror. That’s what built America. Never forget that.
Now stop talking about anyone’s white ancestors like they deserve the fucking credit for the success of people descended from slaves.
American slavery began in 1619. June 19, 1865 was the last official day of slavery. Do the math on how long it takes to heal that wound.
After slavery was officially over? Black codes & Jim Crow laws followed. America’s history of oppression is longer than that of freedom.
Also before any dumb motherfuckers land in my mentions. I have a degree in history. I will read you to filth & bury you in sources.
Trust & believe there is no country here for people who want to romanticize a system that is still grinding away at my community.
All this fluffy fucking talk about American history to coddle white kids feelings & engender patriotism? You won’t get it here.
My ancestors built this country, I served this country & I will tell the damned truth about this country. Don’t like it? Fuck you.
Now let me get in my feelings about slavery before Africans were brought here. Because we weren’t the first people enslaved.
We were deliberately sought out for our skill sets & resistance to disease. Know why we were resistant? We’d had contact for years.
All of that “My ancestors never owned slaves so it has nothing to do with me?” Go look at those NDN ancestors again. See how many were free.
While you’re in there checking that out? Look up those old country ancestors & see how many benefited from slavery indirectly.
Also while we’re talking about NDN relatives? Yo, learn a name besides Cherokee. Better yet, learn about the genocidal tactics they faced.
Look up immigrant groups becoming white in America. Find out who had to bleed so they could gain access to white privilege.
Let’s really talk about the Red Summer of 1919 & how it wasn’t an unusual occurrence. Tulsa, Rosewood? They were just famous.
Let’s talk about welfare & who could access it. Hell let’s talk about who is collecting more of it right now.
Let’s talk about the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action (spoiler! White women!) & what it means to attack black people instead.
Shit, let’s get into the Great Depression & the Great Recession & who is hurting the most financially through both.
Let’s talk about conditions on reservations, in the inner city, & the violence faced by POC who try to leave those areas.
Hell, let’s talk about why we don’t see shows that reflect the American population set in the past, present, or future.
Go read Columbus’ diaries & see what “civilization” really meant to the people he encountered.
For that matter go read up on King Leopold & the Congo. I’ll wait while you cry.
That’s the thing about whiteness as a social construct in America. It’s not about white people, it’s about white power over others.
When we’re talking about white privilege? We’re talking about what it takes to shape this society based on oppression.
America is a young country with a lot of power because of genocide, slavery, & continuing oppression. Individuals build institutions.
All of these conversations aren’t about bringing out white guilt, they’re about ending this institution developed over the generations.
Also let’s be clear that America is sick with this ish across the political spectrum. It may manifest differently but it exists everywhere.
Before I go, let me also suggest that people who are curious about anything I tweeted about take a tour through Google with terms.
It’s not that I won’t answer questions, but there are books out there that I think everyone should read on slavery, whiteness, & America.
Ever been described as “Aggressive” when you feel like you’ve been going out of your way to keep your cool? Yes, it’s another tool of the racist.
This one took me years to figure out.
When I moved to the all white school, people (some that I didn’t even know) would walk up to me and say “I’m not scared of you.” This was the strangest thing in the world to me. I couldn’t understand it. At the time, I would always just say “Um…okaaaay?” Then just move on in complete confusion. Now I know why. It’s because “Black people are angry.”
Not only are we seen as angry aggressors, this idea is often encouraged in everyday life. The media, TV and movies play a huge role in continuing this myth. The myth (like many racist myths) is set up in a way to penalize us for reacting to the way we are being treated.
Ever called someone on being a racist and heard “You are overreacting?” Yes, that’s what it’s about. If you are seen as the angry aggressor, the overreactor and the antagonist at all times, they can never be wrong. It will always be your fault. You will always be the one “Who started it.” They have a way out.
The other problem with this myth is that it often opens the door for true aggression. White people are often overly aggressive towards black people. They seem to feel the need to “Put us in our place.” Any reaction from us will lead to a barrage of accusations of “Overreaction.” Then, they will be justified and we will be vilified.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s a genius system.
Broken down so it’ll forever stay broke.
I don’t begrudge anyone getting their due attention and diligence when they go missing. The coverage they receive more often than not helps in their eventual recovery, or at least leads to finding the parties responsible, and by no means is that a bad thing. More troubling is the lack of that kind of attention leveled on the missing African Americans. After all, we make up a a third of all missing persons cases in the United States, while being only 12 percent of the population.
The stories Find Our Missing features don’t make for less compelling television — can you imagine the uproar America would be in if the media caught wind of a kidnapped, disabled, white five year old? — and they don’t lack substance or quality. Why isn’t Ann Curry talking about Hassani or Pamela? Are we still seen as such an Other in this country that the heartstrings that tug at Elizabeth Smart’s name won’t also tug for Hassani Campbell? Or is it that kidnapping and mysterious disappearances simply aren’t seen as crimes that happens to Black people? Gang, drug, sexual, and domestic violence are ‘our’ crimes, and the media struggles to break away from that mold when giving coverage to stories of the missing.
It’s almost as if they’re confused when a comfortable, middle class black woman goes missing with no hints of the average ‘Black crime’ elements involved. (The common perception that there are ‘no black serial killers’ certainly helps explain the difference in the amount of national coverage Anthony Sowell received in comparison to other recent serial killers like Dennis Rader in yet another case involving several missing Black women in the Cleveland area.)
When it comes to shows profiling crimes and criminals, you’re more likely to see a person of color starring on Lock Up than you are on Dateline, and that’s one of the reasons I’ll be watching Find Our Missing every week. If given a platform and the exposure it deserves, I firmly believe that the program can help solve some of the cases it features.
Even if the cases aren’t solved, at least they’ll get people thinking and remembering that there aren’t just the white women disappearing in Aruba to worry about.