While The Wife Person and I were sitting on our front stoop yesterday evening, a middle-aged White man on a scooter rode past, noticed me on the steps, stopped in the street, and screamed "Governor! It's called a governor!"
"Oh, ok. Thanks!"
And then he rode away on his scooter.
Clearly perplexed by this exchange, The Wife Person shot a "Wtf was that about?" look at me. I explained that I'd seen that guy in the gym an hour or so earlier, and we struck up a conversation about cars, and he was trying to think of the name of the device placed in some cars to limit their top speed, but was stumped. A speed governor is the name of that device.
She shook her head and laughed.
"You have the weirdest life."
"Because you're super duper racist. But the more racist you get, the more White people love you. You could publish something called 'White People Need To Fuck Off' tomorrow and White people will read it and come up to you like 'Thank you for telling me to fuck off, Damon! I'm not quite sure how exactly to fuck off, though, so can you give me some directions?'
This has been a bit of a recurring joke with us. Over the past couple years, as the number of people who read, share, and cite my work has continued to grow, I get approached with increasing frequency by White people who just want to tell me they're fans. Sometimes, they just want to talk. Yesterday, it happened three times. Twice while working at a coffee shop that afternoon, and once while walking the Feminist Octopus around the neighborhood that evening. Now, three times in one day is extremely rare. Most weeks, it might happen two or three times total. But even that is jarring, especially when juxtapositioned with the fact that I'm only like three years removed from still occasionally getting the "Oh…that's cute, I guess" face from people when they learned I had a blog.
And while The Wife Person was joking about me becoming more racist (well, half joking, because #whitepeoplemustbestopped), I doubt it's a coincidence that the more intentionally racial my writing has become become, the more I've been recognized and lauded by random White people, who've offered me jobs, coffee, lunch, liquor, fellowships, smiles, hugs, and once even a recurring playdate with my daughter and their kids.
Now, I don't particularly dislike this type of attention, as it exists in concert with a literal increase of value. Having people read your shit, enjoy your shit, and offer you shit in appreciation is better than no one reading it. I will take the trade off of being known and having opportunities and losing anonymity a thousand times out of a thousand over remaining anonymous, opportunity-less, and hitting the East Liberty Trader Joe's at lunch once a week to gorge on free samples and save money. Also, to be fair, these interactions are always pleasant and I do appreciate them. But I can't deny the surreality of writing "Fuck White People" on Monday and then getting run up on by a dozen smiling and jolly White people on Tuesday, like I'm about to get initiated into the Gluten-Free Crips.
"Why" I find myself asking myself "aren't they more offended by what I'm saying?"
Even as I ask this question, I recognize its inherent strain of self-defeating and self-doubting self-deprecation. I know that my work attempts to address the concept of Whiteness — and how it was created to hierarchize, subjugate, and plunder — instead of individual White people. (Unless they deserve it, of course.) And I know that there are White people who genuinely appreciate the type of trenchant race-related commentary and comedy I attempt to create, and aren't so sensitive to any focus on race and White people that regards Whiteness in an unflattering light that they immediately dismiss it (or me) as racist. Thinking "Why aren't these White people more offended by me?" is essentially the same as me assuming my work isn't nuanced enough to be appreciated.
Still, I can't help but wonder sometimes if I exist as some sort of perpetual absolution machine, where they insert quarters and compliments and receive penance by retweeting my pieces. Or maybe perhaps I've been chosen by them to be That Nigga Who Explains Race Shit To White People because my insights maybe aren't as incisive as I believe them to be. Maybe the sword I believe I wield is just a serving spoon.
The Wife Person thinks I might be overthinking this. And while she's amused by it, she believes I'm approached and liked because I'm just approachable and likable and people just appreciate the quality of my work. And I believe her, mostly. Because I'm a nice-ass nigga. But then I go to a neighborhood coffee shop to write a piece about the absurdity of writing the shit I write about and having White people adore it (and me). And I'm interrupted mid-piece — literally while writing this paragraph — by a White man who notices the "I Love Bougie Black Girls" pin on my shirt, thinks its the best thing he's ever seen, and asks where he can get one. I tell him, but since I have dozens of them, I just give him the one I'm wearing. He yelps "Oh my God! Thank you!" and offers me some money for it. I tell him I'm good. He insists, reaches into his pocket, and excitedly places two dollars at the table I'm sitting at. "It's the least I can do" he says, and leaves soon after.
10 minutes later, its still sitting there. Not because I haven't had a chance to pick it up. But because it, well, it kinda, sorta feels like blood money, and I'm not sure if I want to touch it.