The Kind of #Columbusing I Don't Mind

Zwarte Piet and Saint Peter Arrive in Grou (Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

There's been a lot of discussion about "columbusing" or effectively the art of people (read: white people) claiming to discover shit that has already been common knowledge to others. Like braids. And jazz. And well, the world. You know, like how America got "founded" when there were people already here. It's that imperialist bullshiggedy.

But there is a type of #columbusing I'm okay with. Follow me.

I'm always interested in the point of discovery. Be clear, I don't fully expect any of it to stick, but I think its fascinating when certain ethnic groups (and by certain ethnic groups, I mean white people) realize that, man, there really are some racists fucks in the world.

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This happened recently to a co-worker of mine.

Let me explain.

I was sitting in my office, dicking off the day via YouTube and probably reading VSB comments and listening to some random assortment of the Sylvers, Third Eye Blind, and Massive Attack. My co-worker, an affable mid-40s ish white woman who is easily one of my favorite co-workers in the history of ever comes into my office and asks if I'm busy. This happens all the time as we trade Dance Mom/Dance Dad stories or talk about some random going on in pop culture. I'm the resident "urban-pseudo-youth" in the office so I keep everybody up to date on the lastest on iPhones, pop music, and fashion trends.

Anyway, this time she comes in and closes the door. Normally she's all smiles and happiness as if a loan just got approved - you know white - but she had a concerned look on her face. She closed my door and began pacing. The conversation went something like this:

CoW: Can I talk to you about something that might be work appropriate? You're the only person I feel a need to talk to about this but I'm so distraught right now.

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Me: Sure, have a seat. (Mind you, I've also become the "inappropriate conversation about race" guy in the office for at least three people whenever they have questions. I never shy away from these conversations.)

CoW: So, I was watching this news report last night and they were talking about the World Cup and racism and showed pictures of people in blackface and dressed up like monkeys with bananas, or yelling racists chants and threats towards the African and Black players. And I was so upset and in so much disbelief!! How could people do that? Like have you ever heard of anything so crazy?

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(Sidenote: I'm truly amazed at how naive and oblivious many people are to the types of active racists there are running the streets of America and the World. In some ways, I'm a bit envious of those people who have managed to exist in a world where that was non-existent. I also feel sad that they've clearly never left their homes or watched the news.)

Me: Oh, yeah. I saw that report. A lot of German's apparently were doing this. Which sucks for me because I tend to pull for Germany unless the US is playing. Those people are ridiculous though. Terrible.

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CoW: I mean, but can you believe it????????

Me: Yes…this isn't the first or last time this will happen. It happens all the time. There are always stories about some crazy white people going out of their way to be as racist as possible. It happens, it feels like, multiple times a year where it gets reported. I hate to say it, but this isn't as much of a big deal to me as it is to you. I hate it, but I'm also kind of desensitized to it.

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CoW: Desensitized? It happens a lot???

Me: While I was a grad student, somebody hung a noose in front of the Black Student Union. At least three times a year, there is some college in hot water because some students stage a "gangster party" or some such non-sense where everybody dresses "Black" and mocks the hell ot of every Black person who has ever lived. I'm saying, it sucks, and it used to piss me off to want to do something. But what I've learned is that you can not underestimate crazy or oblivious, but especially crazy oblivious people. I assume it will get better eventually. I mean things are better than they used to be. But I'm glad it offended you. Now hopefully you won't forget what you saw.

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CoW: How do you mean?

Me: Well, speaking frankly, you have the privilege (g'yah I hate this word, but I did use it) of returning to the world you live in where this type of stuff isn't common place. You have the luxury to put it out of your mind. It hasn't been there for this long, it would be easy to remove. Maybe not on purpose, but just by virtue of passing days and the normalcy of the life you know and live. Meanwhile, I'm hyper-sensitive to race because it encompasses so much of my life, surroundings, friends, and actions. While you never knew it could be like this, I always expect it to be like that. There's a middle ground somewhere. Point is, I'm asking you to just remember that it isn't some isolated incident and its more of a mentality. So just, don't forget that you saw that and how it made you feel. If more white people felt that way, I think race relations would begin to change. And to be fair, a lot of Black people need to be willing to listen when you all say stuff like this and not groan or judge you for having that a-ha moment. It requires work for all of us. I'm just saying…don't forget how you felt.

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CoW: I'm not sure I ever will. I was just so offended and felt so helpless. I'm glad I could talk to you about that though. I'm not sure who else I could talk to about it in a real way.

(And the lightheartedness returns.)

Me: You need more Black friends.

CoW: We keep inviting you to our events at our home and you never come!

Me: It's a Black thing, you wouldn't understand.

Now, it would have been easy to dismiss her "oh my goodness, bad things happen to Black people" but because this is a person I respect, I let her cook. And that helped us have a real conversation about it. Will it change anything? Probably not. But hey, one more person aware creates a better world than the status quo, no?

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Though, I  had to check my WTF face due to the difficulty of believing that she'd never seen or heard of anything like that before. I'm like, you do know slavery was a real thing right? But hey, you can't win 'em all.

Thanks, Obama.

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About the author

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.