It’s sort of beneath my dignity to have to say that I love and have loved quite a few white people, but let’s just put it out there:
Yes, some of my very best friends are white folks.
I’ve spent a great deal of time in predominately white suburbs of predominately white nations, predominately white schools and predominately white organic grocery stores.
By virtue of my minority status and choices, my life involves a lot of working, talking and loving across different types of racial lines. I’m a East-coast raised, Southern-born, multi-generational, multi-racial black woman of U.S. slave ancestry. Unsubstantiated, but persistent, rumor has it that there’s Irish on both sides of my family tree. My family (biological and chosen) includes a diverse array of beautiful people: loved ones from a variety of diasporas, a Haitian godmother, Jews whose families immigrated from Europe.
I have a lot to learn and much room for growth, but I live a relatively cosmopolitan life. I like the fact that my hapa girlfriend grew up between California and Tokyo, spent years in Africa and speaks French with a Senegalese accent. I’ve visited a dozen countries and spent a significant portion of my twenties living in Paris. In my personal life, I have made it my business to consciously learn and explore what interracial, anti-racist love looks like. My spirituality is deeply influenced by Eastern traditions and philosophies, including Buddhism and Hinduism (Advaita-Vedanta). As an anti-racist educator and a panentheistic non-dualist, I know that who we are, on an existential level, has absolutely nothing to do with the social fiction of race.
And yet, I’m also intimately familiar with the social reality of our collective fictions. While I teach my students that our ideas about race are socially constructed, I also equip them to recognize and understand the very real consequences of past and present racism.
What I know for sure is that much of what people say about matters of race and love in public contributes to white supremacy.
I say all of this, in part, as a response to highly problematic comments made by the rapper Common, who recently appeared on the Daily Show and shared his stunningly ignorant take on race. In an apparent attempt to reflect on the power of reconciliation, Common told Jon Stewart:
If we’ve been bullied, we’ve been beat down and we don’t want it anymore. We are not extending a fist and we are not saying, ‘You did us wrong.’ It’s more like, ‘Hey, I’m extending my hand in love . . . ‘Let’s forget about the past as much as we can and let’s move from where we are now . . . Me as a black man, I’m not sitting there like, ‘Hey, white people, y’all did us wrong.’ We know that existed . . . I don’t even have to keep bringing that up. It’s like being in a relationship and continuing to bring up the person’s issues. Now I’m saying, ‘Hey, I love you. Let’s move past this. Come on, baby, let’s get past this.’
There is so much wrong with this perspective that one hardly knows where to begin.
But let’s just start by acknowledging that what Common is advocating here has nothing at all to do with love.
What Common is suggesting, in fact, constitutes erasure and denial. He’s not only explicitly erasing the existence of present-day racism, he’s also implicitly denying that race relations today have anything at all to do with society and its institutional arrangements of power. In his view, “the race problem” is merely a lovers’ quarrel, a simple misunderstanding that happened a really long time ago and should be forgotten.
It didn’t take long for Black Twitter to wig-snatch the absurdity of Common’s proposed solution to healing the racial divide. You can find a deluge of damning criticism on social media neatly packaged under the hashtag #HandInLove.
Common appears to be suffering from the profoundly offensive misconception that racism:
1) is merely an interpersonal misunderstanding (and not a systematic and social reality)
2) only existed in the past (and is not an on-going feature of our society)
3) can be solved by people of color loving white folks better
As you may know, Common recently won an Oscar for co-writing the original song Glory, a paean to the Civil Rights Movement. And though he appeared in Ava Duvernay’s Selma, one wonders if he actually saw the film at all. Because I’m pretty sure that Martin Luther King extended a #HandInLove, and I’m also pretty sure that he’s dead.