I don’t pull punches in English class. As an aggressive literature major in a competitive academic setting, I thrive off of rigorous debate and live to challenge other’s readings and interpretations of a text–which is one reason I so thoroughly enjoyed a class meeting a few weeks back. The text? Toni Morrison's’ Song of Solomon. The scene up for discussion? When Guitar reveals to Milkman that he’s a part of "The Days," an underground organization of black men that retaliated against white violence committed against blacks. There are seven "Days," one man assigned to each day of the week. When a white person commits an act of violence against a black person, whatever day of the week it fell on is deferred to the man who has that day, and he must go out and mimic the act on a random white person – or people.I gave my analysis but started with an anecdote.“My mom and I often thinkabout this very scenario," I said, "What if we went out, just us or black people in general, and killed whites as they kill us?”The class tried to go in on me.“That’s reverse racism,” a classmate said. A white classmate, mind you – I go to an overwhelmingly white college. “How is that any different than what the white people are doing?”“It’s justice,” I tried to explain. “Vigilante justice no less, but how is that any worse? There’s no ‘equal protection under the law,’ man. It doesn’t work that way for black bodies. They took it into their own hands because the justice system is against them”.“But it still isn’t justice,” another pressed, “They’re killing random people just like the white people are. They’re just copying what the white people are doing.”I kept my response rooted in the text, citing Morrison:“The character [Guitar] says explicitly that he doesn’t like doing it, and it’s hard to do it if he’s not drunk or high or both. He says that the Earth is ‘soggy with black blood’. He says here that they’re doing it to even numbers, and the randomness is to inspire fear. None of the black people know they’re going to be murdered, so they keep their killings random as to inspire the same level of fear. And mimicking the oppressor is a form of interpellation which serves to bunk the colonial project.”My professor screwed up his face.“The what?”
I dove in and explained how the colonial project is the task the colonizer has undertaken to colonize, subjugate, and oppress and the various tools by which they do it. It’s fueled by institutional racism. I had my class shook. They couldn’t believe it. I had turned what was a “reverse racism, black-on-white crime” moment and showed them the reality – that we could do what they do – take up arms, kill, slip back into the night. And I showed them that while mentioning that we, as a black community, don’t do it because we don’t want to, we don’t need to. Black prosperity, health, success, and vitality do not have to, and do not, come at the expense of an entire corpus of people we have struggling under our boots. I’d have been scared if I were white too – to be forced to confront the reality of a system of racism from this radical black male with the afro who rooted his argument so deeply in the text that nobody could argue. Wouldn’t that be scary? I heard knees knocking, especially after a white classmate said I had crushed his idea of reverse racism. He said to the class that he sees it doesn’t exist.I say all this to say that half the arguments some of our white counterparts will put up aren’t always out of a place of racism, bigotry or hatred. People are largely the products of their environments, and sometimes ignorance prevails. And no one should be blamed for that. What I’m saying is that if I were white, I would probably have fought against what I was saying too, because it's easier to believe reverse racism happens rather than face the bitter reality of the deeply rooted system of colonization, racism and oppression that white people benefit from daily—and the fact that black people can’t be racist. And that one piece of ending racism would be to give up the privileges associated with whiteness. I’m a feminist – and gender parity means giving up my male privilege. That’s a scary thought. This means that engaging in a critical conversation with white people on race and race relations, especially as it pertains to white privilege and its source, might be met with opposition that's simply born from an understandable fear. I mean, just imagine what my white classmates were feeling.We ended the class by bonding over roasting Donald Trump. It was a good day.
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