What I Want White People To Know About Being Black

I want white people to imagine what it’s like to feel suspicious for doing mundane things. Like walking.

Some days, I don’t want to be black.

It is a statement on our culture that some people—black and otherwise—will read that to mean that some days I want to be white. I don’t.

It is not the physical black that sometimes I don’t want to be; I love my darkness, the spiral of my kink, the Africa framing my face, the way I write, and the way I hug elders—and that I call them elders. I love how I pluck music from where other people do not feel it. I love my immovable. This is not the black I sometimes don’t want to be.

The black I don’t want to be some days is the black I have to think about in addition to laughing and buying pretzels and praying when I wake up in the morning. My black is not effortless, despite the substantial grace I’m proud to have acquired in living it.  And even though I’ve been fortunate enough to be successful in areas most people—black, white, and otherwise—never step foot into, I don’t have the option of not thinking about my black the way a white person doesn’t have to think about their white until someone who isn’t white says, Try to remember that I am considered the opposite of you.

So, when there is a Ferguson or a Fruitvale Station or hurricaned New Orleans, I have to think ferociously and tragically about my black. This part is easy to explain to non-black people.

What is harder to explain is the small Ferguson of my every day, when there are not bullets, but oblivions and suspicions, the assumption of inferiority that breeds surprise at achievement.

This is why my black becomes a thing to manage rather than a carefree state of indifference: I am painfully aware that if I—doctor/professor/producer/poet—can be reduced solely to my black at a traffic stop; or by a cashier examining my $50 bill five seconds longer than the white person’s in line before me; or by the strange drunken white woman using me as a litmus test of her street cred by twerking at me in front of her white friends; or in a police officer’s gun-drawn “hands up” demand as I simply walk in the suburbs to my fancy TV job documenting race relations in America, then black people far more disenfranchised than I am have monumentally more challenges in their daily black.

Every day, my black is equal parts kinship, disgust, and fatigue. I want white people to appreciate the daily abrasion of dignity it takes to be black in a culture to which we are considered an addition, not the way of it itself.

Being white is to be a whale in the ocean, never thinking about water.

Being black is scuba diving—some days the oxygen tank is heavier than others.

What I want is the luxury of being in the world without having to constantly think about the world that doesn’t see me as normal, as average, as universal.

I want my television to not be the river Styx that another black mother crosses into my heart when she cries over her murdered son.

I want people who are not black to look at me—black in my dark and nappy and music and granite—and see exactly what they are: present in a world that they travel in without thinking of it as travel.

I want white people to think about what it’s like to be black and hear “white-knuckle terror” or “red faced” or “brown nosing” as things that presume white as the standard.

I want white people to imagine what it’s like to feel suspicious for doing mundane things. Like walking.

What it’s like to wonder when you will have to tell your sons that America will see them as distractingly different, and sometimes as dangerous, no matter what they do.

Wonder, please, how you will set the table for when you tell your daughter how angry people will see her.

Imagine that you know that your children’s skin will be seen as an action.

Suppose you had to question whether or not your failures had only to do with your skin color.

And ask these questions of each other. Talk amongst yourselves about race. Be willing to understand that a diver might not have time to explain to a whale what drowning is like.

And ask yourself why it has never occurred to you to say: Some days, I don’t want to be white.

Dr. Donny Jackson is a clinical psychologist, television showrunner, and poet living in Los Angeles. 

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