Why I will no longer use my unpaid labor to discuss race in America with white people

It seems whenever I’m on social media talking with other Black people about issues facing our community, there is always a gaggle of white people surveilling those interactions. I rarely engage them when they interject, address me without my consent, or demand answers to questions that The Google could remedy in moments. Undoubtedly, when I refuse to engage them, they ask: “Are you saying you won’t talk to me about race because I’m white?”

Yes, sometimes I am saying that.

Sometimes, it is also because I — as an autonomous human person — am not required to interact with anyone in any form if I so choose. This is another concept they cannot seem to grasp.

But, this question — which is intentionally obtuse and uncritical — is usually meant to paint me as some bigoted miscreant incapable of real dialogue or unwilling to listen to valuable critique. It also doesn’t get at the fact that most white people are uniquely unqualified to discuss the conditions facing non-white people in the United States.

The reasons why are not too complicated to understand.

According to Washington Post, roughly seventy-five percent of white people in the United States have zero non-white friends. A Harvard-Harris Poll showed that 57% of Americans had an unfavorable view of Black Lives Matter while 70% believe “Black-on-Black crime” was a bigger issue than police brutality. And, multiple measures of social science surveys show that millennials are just as racist as their parents and grandparents.

These findings suggest that most white people are purely unequipped to enter into discussions about race. Not only that, the likelihood that they hold hostile feelings toward Black people is more likely than not.

Conversely, Black people in the United States are often forced to engage with concepts like racism, white supremacy, oppression, power, and misogynoir. Whether we are aware of or comfortable with the academic terms and definitions themselves, Black people usually understand these underlying processes and systems because they are a matter of our survival. Non-Black people, especially white people, do not share these experiences. And, they are not conditioned or socialized into race and racial ideologies in the same ways that Black people in the United States have been for the past five centuries.

This is why I do not voluntarily enter into conversations about race, white supremacy, or their many manifestations with non-Black, specifically white-presenting, people in my free time. The amount of emotional and physical labor it takes to teach Racism 101 to every white person who believes that individual Black people personally not liking them or cutting them in line or pulling their hair in Kindergarten is not the same as systemic and institutional racism is not something I am willing to do.

Let me give an actual example.

A few months ago, a random Twitter thread I wrote about Bruno Mars’ appropriation of Black music, specifically Funk music, went viral. People from around the internet of all races, genders, and ethnicities came after me to try and check me for what they saw as a narrow-minded belief that Black people owned all rights to Funk sounds. Rather than engage with my deeper argumentation — that Black Funk artists are rarely recognized in the same ways or to the same degree as Mars and that his presence in the industry detracts from the Funk genre, many instead focused on their personal love for Mars’ music (which I have never criticized) or their belief that he truly loves Funk which gives him a right to steal its signature sounds.

I refuse to debate this issue with anyone, especially white people.

This was meant to be a conversation between Black people about culture, appropriation, and the ways capitalism rewards those who commodify our intellectual labor.

Yet, I continue to face the afterlife of these tweets, often in the form of white people convinced that their burning desire to attend Mars’s concerts warrants deeper probes and investigation of my stance on the singer’s musical choices. The hoping-to-be-clever responses and questions I receive always land somewhere around:

“Maybe he has just always admired Funk,” or

“He always gives credit. You clearly don’t understand how music works,” or

“But, if the Time gave him a pass, why can’t you?” or

“But, he’s so cute. Why do you hate him so much?” or

“I like his music and I think he is very talented. I don’t understand the problem.”

Shallow questions of this sort have literally nothing to do with my underlying critiques of Mars’s complicity in an anti-Black music industry that extracts Black sounds without ever showing up in any real way for Black talent. These quips completely ignore my central argument that non-Black people (like Mars) benefit from an overall investment in anti-Blackness and a consumer-based desire to hear Black music from non-Black people. And, frankly, I just don’t have the time nor desire to do the work of explaining those processes to people who are not paying me.

It isn’t lost on me that — as a Black queer woman — I am not only asked to provide these lessons and trainings to white people for free, I am expected to do so out of obligation. In an effort to make me a “mule uh de world,” these sometimes complete strangers literally berate me for explanations.

So, my answer is no.

I’m not interested in explaining deeply rooted theoretical frameworks (that I get paid to teach in classrooms) to random white people on the Internet. I am also not interested in talking to anyone’s white girlfriend or friend-ally. My middle name is not Brittanica and I am not here at the leisure of white people.

Sometimes, I just want to enjoy my baked beans and potato salad without your basic ass questions. At other times, I’d like to chat on the Internet without you lighting up my mentions with drivel.

If white people want to learn how to be better, there are resources for that. Beautiful and brilliant Black women like Leslie Mac and Marissa Jenae Johnson created Safety Pin Box to help white people help themselves while putting the profit from that work back into the pockets of Black people. Reparations, y’all.

But, honestly. Leave me the fuck alone.

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Jenn M. Jackson

Jenn M. Jackson, PhD is a co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Water Cooler Convos. She is a native of Oakland, CA. Jenn is a radical Black feminist scholar who believes none of us are free until all of us are free.

1 Response

  1. theblackrascal says:

    This article warrants a civil discussion. Goal: keep the conversation alive! Vitriol is a conversation killer. Ignorance (not knowing) is our worst enemy; arrogance is its best friend. What are your thoughts on the article?