“I give everything I have when I write a rhyme
But that doesn’t change the fact that this culture’s not mine
But I’m gonna be me so please be who you are
This is something that’s effortless and shouldn’t be hard
I said I’m gonna be me so please be who you are
But we still owe ‘em 40 acres now we’ve stolen their 16 bars”
2013 could go down in the history book as the year of the down ass white boy. JT and his “experience” album. “Blurred Lines,” is probably the unofficial anthem of the summer, criticism and kindness alike, it’s hard to ignore Robin Thicke right now. Macklemore, Seattle born and raised- fam up there remembering him trying to get up at open mics back in the day- was arguably the white boy of the spring. Life could seemingly not be better for a down ass white boy.
Pompodores. Suits, bowties, and fitted caps. Thrift store finds. Suing Marvin Gaye’s family, and sold out tour with Jay-Z. White boys think they winning.
2013 could also be noted for the year I dive back into the world of ethnic studies, of pondering whiteness, white gaze, and what it is to be a brown girl living on the edge of privilege. Shit, I said the phrase “black/white binary” for the first time in recent memory in a facebook comment last week. Clearly, I’m back- not with a vengeance, but with something. I wouldn’t call it a hunger, or a thirst for it, but suddenly thinking about all that 2013 has brought has me crossing paths with this kind of ponderance again.
Maybe I have been waxing poetic a bit about my own place in this world, about where we really are when it comes to post-racialism, but I’ve also been thinking about the role we all have in how far we go. And some have disagreed with me. Been put off by me even, and that’s aight.
Discussions with friends, with coworkers and peers, there’s been conversation about what it means to really be an ally. Folks have shared different internet pieces and even McIntosh’s work on ‘the invisible knapsack’ - being a white ally surely ain’t easy, but people are asking for us POCs to sprinkle some knowledge.
I don’t have a good answer. So many other people do. But I usually reply: ask questions, reflect, own your role, but don’t over apologize and listen. Mostly listen.
Though those things in and of themselves aren’t enough, it’s a start. Second most important is understanding and accepting your relationship to whiteness, blackness, and the other ‘nesses’ out there. If there’s one thing my low level government job has taught me is that relationships are everything. Knowing what your relationship is to systems of oppression- how you contribute to it, or don’t is key.
Not taking on this kind of relationship counseling, I feel, is what’s most dangerous for allies. Not having “Where am I with the ‘nesses’ Check Ins” can be toxic.
JT, your boy Robin, and the Red headed wonder have all gotten passes. Hood passes. Ghetto passes. They’re white boys brown folks love. (Same could be said for Adam Levine, but what has he done this year aside from judge people on ‘The Voice’). Doesn’t matter that no tribal council was called- they’ve gotten their passes.
Whatever kind of passes you want to call them. Someone in their lives told them they were down ass white boys and these brothers have reaped the benefits of it, gaining entrance and acceptance to worlds so many other white folks are barred from.
I mean come on, JT’s relaxed hair? Boy… it must be chemical, cause we know you’ve never seen a hot comb and its too short to flat iron. Is it that Keratin shit that’s so popular right now? Probably. But we know at one point, all three of these guys were patrons of black barbershops somewhere, shit they probably have em on staff now. And aren’t barbershops the last bastion of black male identity (I’m totally, possibly making that shit up based on something I think I saw in Chris Rock’s good hair).
We all have those friends though. The friends who get told they “the black-est/latin-ist white person” someone knows/someone ever met. Someone gave them a pass. It wasn’t me. As a mixed as hell kid, I have no place giving anyone ownership to any racial group- I’ve had a hard enough time fully owning my own.
But what does that pass do? Robin’s in the spotlight for the rapeyness (yep I’m gonna make that a thing) and now the preemptive suit because his song has the same vibe as Marvin Gaye’s “Gotta Give it Up”…
You can thank passes for that. You can thank passes for people saying “I don’t see color.” For outright stealing, and borrowing without properly paying homage or tribute. Passes allow for people to not think about their own roles in systems of oppression.
Passes are two steps above “Well I have black friends” excuses. Are we secretly doing more harm when issuing those passes, to our communities because it allows white folks close to us the ability to be oblivious to their own whiteness, or how it separates them from us?
Sometimes I think so. We’ve seen it when celebs allow their passes to be excuses for appropriation. We’ve seen it when our own friends get huffy because we talk about whiteness. Please don’t get your panties in a twist (I’m mad I just said panties) when I’m merely talking about an ideology, an entity, not a specific person- it’s really not about you. Your pass is not cure all that absolves you of your whiteness, of your white guilt. Shit. The lord be a break from other people’s white guilt.
This weekend Macklemore’s latest single got that viral internet attention.
Literally titled “White Privilege,” our cold ass honkey, addresses his own pass.
Towards the end of his song, he literally hits the nail on the head.
“Now Clapton’s incredible. but no Jimmy no foundation
So here comes history and the cultural appropriation
White kids with do rags trying to practice their accents
From the suburbs to the upperclass mastering a language
But hiphop is not just memorizing words
It’s rooted in authenticity something you literally can’t learn“
Authenticity, something you literally can’t learn. Literally. Cannot. Learn. Passes do not equal a place to learn all the ins and outs, all the shortcuts, and holes in the fence. Passes are not the equivalent of knowing a gatekeeper into the hoods and experiences of black and brown folks.
I hate the word accountability sometimes. I feel like it can be used as a term to be a control freak, “I’m just holding you accountable… I’m just making sure we’re accountable…” but in his upcoming portrait in Rolling Stone, your boy Mack speaks exactly to what the number one way to be a white (or any really) ally is. Accountability. Kevin Powell posted this on his facebook today.
Next time someone asks me how to be a good white ally, I’ll say being accountable- knowing your privilege, your guilt and how it affects your brown friends. Relationship counseling doesn’t just apply to whom you’re sharing your bed with, but to what systems of oppression you might inadvertently belong by way of being the palest member of the cool kids crew.