Years ago, I was working as an HR Manager for a company with deep pockets. One of my first assignments was organizing a training event for about a hundred employees. We contracted the two-day job out to a consulting firm for more money than most of the employees attending the training would make in a year.
At the end of the training, there was a Q&A session. I sat in an auditorium listening to these adults ask questions that had been answered several times throughout the training, stand up and ask the exact same question another attendant had asked just a few minutes earlier, and demonstrate to the trainers that they had made virtually no effort to truly learn the material. By the time we all left, I felt compelled to apologize to the consultants for the behavior of the employees. I found the lead trainer, a sister, and apologized to her. She replied, “Don’t apologize. That check you got for us is apology enough.”
She and I had a hearty laugh, but I took away that she had no emotional investment in that training. The employees seeming disrespect of her time was all a part of the job for her. She never had to see them again and was well-compensated for her time. But repeating yourself over and over, even to people whose engagement may seem genuine, when the subject is your humanity, is not so easy.
This weekend, while speaking in Iowa, Democratic NJ Senator Cory Booker showed his entire light skinned ass urging Black folks to “put yourself in a white person’s position” if you want to have more “courageous empathy.” Booker rambled about how he’s had white “friends” say to him, “I don’t understand this blackface thing, can you explain it to me?” He went on to speak about how he volunteered working for a crisis hotline in college, and because he didn’t know best how to serve callers who were coming out, the “gay and lesbian” counselor at the hotline sat with him one night and answered all of his questions, tying the story into how Black people can make white people feel safe to ask their racist questions without fear of rejection.
Listen, my peoples from New Jersey, mostly Newark, clocked Cory’s bullshit for me years ago. I was never here for him. However, no one could have prepared for a Black man urging the Black people who die at the hands of white people and their caste system to empathize with white people and commend them for admitting they’re racist.
Let’s say there are white people who never learned why Blackface is racist, why the fuck would you put the responsibility for teaching them on Black people. If your grown ass, or even teen ass, doesn’t understand what’s wrong with racist caricaturing, using Black paint to overexaggerate, mock and uglify Blackness, you don’t want to understand, and the only reason I’m putting myself in your shoes is to use them to kick you in your racist ass. Further, even if you genuinely don’t understand why Blackface is racist, you know that Black people are harmed by it, and you know that it adds nothing to your life to smear Black paint or polish on your fucking face, so your understanding of why it’s wrong is unnecessary to just not do the shit.
And the real gag is, white people know more about how their racist systems operate than anyone else. They are experts on racism and whether acknowledged or not, they are perpetually enrolled in “How to Maintain White Supremacy” coursework. Every second of every day, they learn from each other how to be racist and evolve their depravity to ensure their system adapts to the times and maintains its effectiveness. They invented Blackface, so if they don’t understand it, I guess they best be going to other white people with their advanced degrees and training in all things to racist to explain how Blackface is intended to be racist.
More important though, Booker shows a fundamental miseducation and misunderstanding of how racism and privilege work. A counselor answering your questions so that you can be an adequate and worthy crisis worker to help queer students navigate the life-changing process of coming out is in no way comparable to a Black person giving their oppressor space to ask dehumanizing, disrespectful and infuriating questions. How did this man make it nearly five decades on earth thinking that the solution to white people being racist is Black people being willing to give them support and love, and appreciating their bravery for admitting they’re racist?
With white people’s ear, why didn’t Cory tell them to put themselves in our shoes? Why not issue a direction to them to imagine not only fighting to survive state-sanctioned and orchestrated violence, poverty, discrimination and humiliation daily only to have that compounded with the expectation that you set aside your rage, depression and fear of that system to make your oppressors feel less shitty about their own system? Why would Booker tell us to ignore our own home ablaze to help our neighbor with yard work? We’re dying from medical, economic, political and other manner of structural racism, and with his platform and the eyes of white people who respect him, Booker thinks he should offer the oppressor absolution rather than demanding they recompense the oppressed.
Cory Booker may as well be a white man because the fact that he’s Black means nothing for Black people. A Black man issuing Black people the challenge to do the emotional labor of fielding questions from white people about the racist system they inherited clearly has no investment in Black people. Booker is massaging the moral clitoris of his liberal white fan base with fantasies of Black people answering their racist queries with warm smiles and no judgment, and bringing them to epic climaxes with imaginings of pardoning for all the violence they visit on us daily.
If I ever his imaginary friend needed to come and collect this nigga, this is the time. So T-Bone, if you out there, come get your mans. Please. Because the day I explain anything to white people who spend days on Pinterest learning to make apple cobbler in a jar or trek through Europe to stand in the spot where Donatello scratched his ass and Copernicus ate garlic bread or read 100 yelp reviews in one sitting before deciding to eat at a new tapas spot will never come.