It is the unfair and uneasy burden of the minority; to explain the bad behavior of some members of our communities, to the majority and apologize for their actions. You see it when there’s a terrorist attack and Muslims have to condemn other Muslims or when there’s a police shooting and Black folks are forced to condemn Black on Black crime. When a member of a minority community fucks up, we all step up and say “Hey, that won’t us, but sorry about that shit anyway.”
And then, the white people white peopled and up and elected Donald Trump. And of course there are those who wear their safety pins and post up in the Facebook groups and say, “Hey, we’re not racists!” but just like it ain’t that simple with us, it ain’t that simple for them.
Fact is, you can wear a pin or claim to be an ally all day, but the real key to overcoming racial biases is understanding that you have them and, through discomfort with yourself, developing empathy.
So that’s where we come in. It’s our job to make white people uncomfortable in order to help them evolve to empathy. Here’s a few simple ways you can start today with the white people in your life.
Refuse any and all of their nicknames
One day, a few years ago, your mother went through a long and painful labor to give birth to you (she probably told you about it). Upon your arrival on this planet, she looked deep into your eyes and said, “This is my sweet baby, I’m naming him LaTronicus.” That’s right, your mother pushed and pushed and pushed and out you popped, a LaTronicus.
And LaTronicus you were until you got into Big State U (Shuttlesworth, c/o ’98) and you moved into the suite with Taylor, Chip, and Tad who decided that your mother was wrong and it was time to call you “Nick” because it was easier for them. Now, you’re Nick at work, you’re Nick at Starbucks and you’re Nick just about anywhere you need to make white people comfortable with your name.
Stop that shit. Your momma named you LaTronicus, they better call you LaTronicus. So when they try to shorten, truncate, abridge, or remix your name, it’s time to assert yourself for your moms. You are no longer who they say you are.
When they ask if they can call you something “easier” remind them that your ancestors weren’t free to call themselves what they wanted and that you still carry the burden of the slave master every time you sign your last name.
Give elaborate daps and other greetings
Especially if you’re wearing a suit and especially if you’re the only Black people in the room and especially if you leave everyone one else out that isn’t Black.
Jone on one another in public
Roastin’, snappin’, the dozens, clownin’, whatever you want to call it. It’s a uniquely Black experience that we keep in house. Tony momma so fat her blood type is Ragu? The back of Quan neck look like a pack of dirty franks? Alonzo daddy the DJ at Red Lobster? Pointing out one another’s shortcomings is a Black pastime that we often suppress in public spaces out of fear that they’ll see us having our fun or being a little too extra.
If we want to make white people uncomfortable, we’re gonna have to stop apologizing for having fun. Our laughter, our joy, and our humor are all integral pieces of our history and nobody should make you feel weird for saying Derrick momma so skinny she does push-ups under the door.
When Bob from Accounting decides he wants to get in on the action remind him that it’s called “the dozens” because, during slavery, the slaves that were old or disabled or sick were sold in bunches or dozens and those working in the fields would pass the time telling jokes and insulting each other because it was the only way the master would let them laugh while working.
Bring chitlins to the company potluck
Office potlucks suck. It’s one big game of “who made that and what is it” with an assortment of salads, dips, and casseroles (white people love casseroles, man) without an ounce of soul to be found. And if you’re Black, it’s even more harrowing because you got too many culinary guardrails and cultural roadblocks to worry about.
Can’t bring chicken. I mean, you could, but you can’t. Can’t bring a fruit salad because watermelon. So you play it safe and bring some spaghetti and shrug like that’s what you’d really be eating at home.
Fuck that, make it weird. Bring chitlins.
Even if you don’t eat chitlins (because no one under 65 does), bring them shits anyway and marvel at the Anthony Bourdain wannabees that decide they want to try them (“It’s like tripe!”). You feel like they’re getting too comfy with that? Next time get some pickled pig’s feet or some boiled neckbones and vinegar. It’ll be like your personal episode of Fear Factor.
And when Suzanne from Legal asks if you’re gonna bring another one of your interesting dishes next time tell her that you’re serving them what the slaves made from the master’s scraps and that, much like your performance at the gig, you come from a people that are used to making something out of nothing.
Make up Black history facts
Because who’s gonna stop you from taking Fred Sanford Day off to celebrate the first Black man to ride a motorcycle across the English Channel. Or why not take moment of silence to remember fallen USC running back, Ricky Baker? And we should all be able to celebrate the feast of Percy Miller, the patron saint of transcending limitations.
Besides, it’s not like all the shit you learned in school was true either.
Recite and quote Hip-Hop lyrics in meetings
One of the worst things about working in Corporate America is useless business jargon. How many times have you been sitting in a meeting and heard some shit like this;
“We’ve got to find some synergistic ways to be disruptive and develop some strategic frameworks to take this project from soup to nuts and drive the bus and land the plane with solid KPIs, we’ll talk about everything else offline.”
I feel like Hip-Hop lyrics are just as appropriate and a helluva lot more useful in corporate settings. I mean, why not explain how serious a project is by saying, “Stakes is high” or that the scope of work impacts “Me and you, your momma and your cousin too”? Sometimes you just gotta dispense with the pleasantries and keep it real.
Honestly, Hip Hop lyrics give us a form of simplified language that, while others may admire it, they don’t immediately understand it. It’s just like the Blues in that there are the words that are said, but then there are the words that are heard so white people can like black things and still know nothing about Black people.
Tell the truth
Man, listen. Assimilation is an act of mutual dishonesty with the minority perpetrating the lie of complicity and the majority guilty of the lie of acceptance. Or, more simply stated, Black folks front like everything’s cool, white people go along with it because it’s comfortable for them and ain’t neither side really doing the other any favors. Or, even more simply stated (to quote the Fugees), “Man everybody wear the mask but how long will it last?”
That said, the final and most important act of uncomfortable behavior that we need to embrace is to remove the mask and tell folks what’s really good. It’s time to stop fronting on our own feelings to placate the emotional needs of others.
Do you know how much high blood pressure, PTSD, depression, and God only knows what else we’ve been subjecting ourselves to over the generations trying to keep up the lie that everything’s gonna be alright and “overcoming” when we should be out here demanding empathy and being treated as true equals in society? We’re literally killing ourselves by denying ourselves who we are. We have forsaken our own comfort for the comfort of others and it’s just gotta stop.
That stopping starts with our collective ability to tell the truth as a means of opening the doors of empathy.
Black folks, these intentional acts of making white people uncomfortable aren’t rooted in malice or vengeance. In times like these, that’s the last thing we need. The goal isn’t to confront active racists or to make some kind of magical negro strides to convince folks that we’re something that were not. No, the goal is to target those who might be complicit with racism by being, unapologetically, who we already are and letting them know that we’re fine being just that.
Our generation must use discomfort as an avenue to empathy in the same way that the Civil Rights generations used shame.