There is a prevalent notion among the black middle and working classes that a black American has to be twice as good and work twice as hard as a white person to succeed in the world. There’s a corresponding pressure on black Americans to be hard-working, well-scrubbed, polite, and quiet. There’s an unspoken belief that our lives should be lived to combat harmful stereotypes. Despite long ago having rejected the notion of “twice as hard” as being both an impossible standard, and buying into white supremacy, I am a product of the black middle classes and not immune to these pressures. There’s a voice in the back of my head that wants me to keep my mouth shut, stay polite, and refrain from troubling the waters. But when a seventeen-year-old wearing a hoodie in the rain can be stalked, harassed, and gunned down on the street for minding his own business in his father’s neighborhood, the notion of “twice as hard” seems especially laughable.
Three times, in as many months, random white people on the internet have implied or directly stated that I am a white person, despite a picture of me being black with black people features and black people coloring being readily available in all three cases. And in all three cases, these white people felt the need to lecture me about the black experience. As if I’m unaware of it. As if there is ever a day that goes by that I am not reminded that I am a black person by society.
A well-known Science Fiction/Fantasy author who attended Choate Hall using family inheritance money decided to lecture a product of Los Angeles public schools on the evils of classism. See, he’d been expelled from Choate, and I’d gone to a fancy liberal arts school (on scholarship), so clearly he was the working class hero and I the ivory tower bourgeois, despite the fact that I’d spent most of my adult career working for shit pay at an underfunded youth mental facility, and he made enough from writing to not need a day job. He ignored my arguments that there was a disturbing fetishistic aspect to Miley Cyrus’ decision to use all black dancers in her MTV Awards performance and an unhealthy cultural appropriation at work there that tied into a legacy of black bodies being used as objects of titillation and amusement, to pronounce that I was only interested in policing self-expression and was a middle class moralist. Even though at no point did I argue for censorship, or attempt to shame anyone, or call the actual dancing unseemly. Hell, I love the fuck of out of Big Freedia. It’d be weirdly prudish of me to object to Cyrus’ tepid twerking while bumping "Na Who Mad." I merely wanted to discuss the unfortunate semiotics of adopting aspects of black culture and using black bodies as a background with which to announce your burgeoning sexuality. He then argued that white people like me are always interested in speaking for black people. And I said that the only black person I can speak for is myself.
When I objected to someone who made an analogy that compared a white person sharing an article making fun of “whiteness” written by a white person to blackface, I was called a bleeding heart liberal. When I said that whether or not making fun of “whiteness” is distasteful, it doesn't have the history and cultural baggage that blackface has, the analogy-maker said that like all liberals I’m more concerned about black people I don’t know than my own people. When I said who my own people were, he accused me of trying to saddle him with white guilt. Because pointing out that two different experiences of stereotyping are not equivalent because of the obvious inherent differences between members of a group making fun of themselves and another group being the object of derision of the dominant power structure is somehow an attempt to blame this guy personally for all historical oppression ever.
And then there was the chatterbox unpleasantness.
I’m not going to recount what happened in the chatterbox, but it left me feeling angry, alienated, and othered. This isn't something I recall feeling at everything2 in thirteen years here. I’m aware that through much of Western culture whiteness is the default, but naively this isn't something that I thought applied to e2 until a chatterbox containing several vocal people of color was dismissed out-of-hand as “so very white.”
So what now?
In the last case, I asked for, and accepted an apology. It helped, but it certainly wasn't a panacaea. I’m not leaving everything2. I don’t see the purpose in flouncing. But it’s a different place to me now. I feel less comfortable being myself here. I feel more guarded. Whether this discomfort is a temporary thing, or predicates a growing distance between me and e2 remains to be seen.