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Posted under: Race & Identity Opinion

Dear white people: I'm not the prototype

Blackness is not a monolith. Yet while I've done a considerable amount of personal work to get my psyche and my behavior to a point that doesn't prejudge white people or assign sweeping generalizations to every white person I meet, somehow my (version of) blackness remains the thing that many people wish other black people should aspire to be. Somehow, they think I'm their prototype for the kind of black people they'd like to be an ally for. They think alliance can be selective in struggles for justice and equality. And that's offensive.

"You speak so well!"

This tweet sums up how I feel about that. My first week of work in San Francisco had me on edge because I'd go from speaking a certain way with my black friends who were also working in the city to speaking a certain way in the office. The former never commented on my manner of speech, but always, ALWAYS there was at least one white person in the office who thought they were being complimentary when noticing my proper grammar and vocabulary. If, for some reason, these same people see me speaking the patois of my East Oakland comrades, the look of shock and disappointment is palpable. I can almost hear them thinking, "I thought you were different."

"You would never do THAT."

Working in a part of the city that was also a prime location for protests was a struggle. I had to listen to the constant complaints of people who felt that black people protesting police murders with no convictions was inconvenient. They would go on and on about  how if those people were just compliant, these incidents would never happen. Why didn't those blacks just show more respect? Then, there was the ever-looming moment when they'd lean over and whisper, "I know you'd never do that." It was a vague sentence with a very specific meaning: You don't think I'd protest (wrong), you think black compliance equates black safety (wrong), you think police officers are always just doing their job (wrong), and you assume that because I fit the requirements of your "acceptable black prototype," I'd never end up in a situation with law enforcement where my life was on the line (still wrong). This idea that certain behaviors and personality traits determine black safety is both ignorant and incorrect. When a behavioral therapist who is trying to help a patient while laying on the ground with his hands up is still shot, I'm going to assert that behavior doesn't equate safety nor does it equate regard for black life.

"But you're different..."

This is often a covert attempt at erasure. What is meant here is that I seem less like your perception of my people and more like you. This euro-centric mind frame is steeped in white supremacy and counterproductive to any kind of positive relationship, especially if you're trying to make a move to become an ally. Allies reject the notion of the black prototype or of acceptable archetypes of blackness. So, if you're running around telling all of your black "friends" how different they are, you are not being complimentary, they are not your friend, and you're not an ally. I'm not the person who is going to assuage white guilt or deconstruct black pain. I'm not your guide to the best soul food in the area or the best hot sauce to carry in your bag. I do speak well, and I am a kind human being, but those traits transcend skin color. I am not your prototype.

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