I’m Not Racist: The Policing of Language When Discussing Our Oppression

Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 5.16.10 AM.pngIt’s 2017 and we out here still tryna explain, racism. This week the release of “I’m Not Racist” by Joyner Lucas has caused tears, uproars, criticism and moments of reflection for the over 30 million people that have viewed it across social media and YouTube.

Within the first 3 seconds of watching the video, I stopped. Not only did the “Make America Great Again” hat make me nauseous but the visual of a Trump supporter passionately repeating the n-word just about caused me to toss my phone. I texted my friend and said she must of sent this to me by mistake. She assured me it was worth a listen and that the artist was in fact Black but using actors to say his parts.

Oh … she should have started with that… I clicked play again.

After reviewing the video, I knew I wanted to show it to my students and hear their reactions. However, I needed to first figure out my own. I appreciated the creation of this video. However, I had issues with it.

  • Black people cannot be racist. So the repetitive “I’m not racist” statement coming from “our” side drove me crazy. Despite varying views and the good ol’ reverse racism debate, it isn’t possible. We can hold prejudices but there are limitations on the structural impact of them. I don’t want us to go back and forth engaging in conversation saying “we aren’t racist” when we can’t be. Don’t let Google’s definition of it fool you. Prejudice isn’t racism’s synonym. Also, saying “I’m not racist” isn’t going to take away the fact that many are. The preface of it or placing it at the end of a statement don’t help wypipo. Check y’all selves.

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  • The “you don’t know about” section of our response would have been stronger if he not only mentioned institutionalized racism but said, “what you need to do is stop ….” and then provided examples. His rebuttal did include racial profiling, police brutality, cultural appropriation and discriminatory employment practices but I would’ve also liked him to include privatization of prisons, gentrification, wars on poverty/drugs, amongst others.
  • Hugging scene – That was it? Yeaaahhh….. The conversation is literally just beginning for some; hugging it out, probably a bit unrealistic because there isn’t a solution yet. I would have preferred a different ending but this video was of course his vision and I understand the hope at the end.

When he followed  “you don’t know” with chicken and 2Chainz – I smiled and shook my head. I knew the moment he said it, the comment sections would fill up. Not only because he referenced the stereotypical forms of food, dances and trap artists.

Lucas vented and got everyone talking.  Just like he’s done before with his songs: Half Nigga, Keep it 100, I’m Sorry and my favorite Dear America. He’s no stranger to rapping about societal issues, norms, colorism and police brutality. This time, it went viral and people couldn’t wait to respond.

Now, this video sparked conversations both in my class and across the web. Many of my students saw value in the White characters verse because he specifically talked about selling drugs and absent fathers. One student said, “Miss, I don’t like that he made it seem like it’s everyone but a lot of us don’t have our fathers, they dead, in jail or…” She started tearing up and stopped talking. However, some caught lines and saw them as clear evidence of racism. One student said, “Miss, when he said his sisters boyfriends Black, that resonated with me because White people always try to use that as an excuse. Like I know they be saying that and it don’t matter that ain’t proof”  Overall, they enjoyed Lucas’s ability to be bold and express his discomfort. Some felt unprepared to engage in discussion after one viewing and said they’d watch it more over the weekend.

I should’ve made a homework sheet.

Despite the clear dopeness that existed; authors, commenters and friends of mine kept saying it was weak. That Joyner Lucas needs to try again.

Actually Damon Young’s post in The Root stated that Lucas needs to “read a book.” Although, I did have the above issues with the video, Joyner doesn’t need to “read” anything to get it. He gets that slavery is the root of all evil. He gets that employment, education and housing are all wrapped in racism. We need to be careful about how we frame the discussions around our oppression and who we isolate when communicating disdain for how people express the Black experience with, “you ain’t say enough.”

He said a lot. His knowledge of how each side feels on this debate is in depth because he’s experienced it. He doesn’t need to have the lexicon afforded to people who’ve attended college to be able to “accurately” structure his rebuttal, nor does he need to research every term, in every book.

Lil boy shoulda picked up Angela Davis and Kimberle Crenshaw so he could be articulate, huh?

As I’ve begun to build my “wokeness” it has been an isolating experience. Not only because I am accessing materials that my family and friends aren’t but also because my burgeoning wokeness is a blend of rachetness and intellectualism.

Saying, “he needs to read,” sounds elitist to me. To recognize that someone has yet to read up on internalized racism and institutionalized racism without providing the conduit for that to occur is solely speaking of the problem. We are at war with a system which holds our history captive. I know I know….Lucas could have Googled “systematic racism” okaaaaayy and then what?

Googling is a skill. If nobody around you has ever read The New Jim Crow you will not know to Google Michelle Alexander. As a matter of fact, you wouldn’t even know what The New Jim Crow means if you cannot recall from grade school that there was an old one. So when we talk about, “What the hood knows?” oh, they know people keep getting snatched up off the street by police on small charges not being able to make bail. Oh – sooo we call it the Prison Industrial Complex – okay- glad it has a name. The hood knows of it regardless. Secondly, who’s teaching our students to sift through and use Google scholars? Are we making the assumption that Lucas learned this through the education he received?

I wonder how often people have asked their students how they use their phones. What applications they’ve downloaded, asked them to review their Google search history, checked to see if they’d added all email accounts to their cellphone or see if they are using iCal or notes.

I have.

Out of the 34 students that I checked, 9 of them had their school email on their cell phone, their notes were empty, iCal blank, zero news apps, YouTube was used to only search music, selfies for the gram & snapchat videos take up storage and thats with 75% of them having iPhones. If we are going to make the argument that Lucas needs to do his research, we must first examine and provide solutions for the skill of researching being absent or not consistently present at all schools.

Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 5.16.30 AM.pngI’m concerned that all these woke people only co-sign “respectable” wokeness. Take my girl Cardi B! She is unapologetically herself. However, comments under her videos regarding Libya and Feminism mirror the same ones spoken under Lucas’s ….”I wish she’d learn English.” “Why she talk like that?” “Damn, can she even read?” Huh? The president of the entire United States out here sounding like a 4 year old who lost his blanket and you questioning us?

Before Joyner Lucas released his “I’m Not Racist” video Sheronda Brown at Blavity understood my point of view. In the article Elitism Sucks: Black Intellectualism Should Embrace Those Who have Lower Levels of Education she makes tons of points that hit home, there’s two quotes that encompass my feelings of the separation between this video and people’s response to it:

“Those of us who were fortunate enough to have access to higher education often look down upon or feel disconnected from those who have lower levels of education in conversations around social justice, oppression, and Black liberation—and much of this divide has to do with differences in the respective vocabulary that we use to describe what the world under white supremacy looks like to us.”

US vs Them. That’s where yall at?

Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 5.16.39 AM.pngBrown’s article truly put into perspective for me the difficulty in accessing information which pertains to racism or the effects of it. You cannot search for what you aren’t aware of. Simply typing in, “racism” will not get you critical race theory, intersectionality, stereotype threat, Black Feminist Thought or oppositional gaze.

Look, he could have had a stronger rebuttal to the arguments, I get it. However, it is one thing to say could’ve did better and another to say, you saying it all wrong because you haven’t read these materials, saw this video or did your research. His research is grounded in his experience.  Is his experience invalidated because of access to materials in higher education? That’s insulting as fuck.

Let the man talk his shit, criticize it and be sure to do the same for yourself when you begin to police how oppression is discussed.

My issues with the “he’s ignorant/he’s uneducated” “he needs to read a book” statements are multi-layered and they come with a challenge from Brown’s piece:

“I challenge us all to see the inherent value in how Black folks of all socioeconomic classes and education levels conceptualize and cope with the anti-Blackness that we all experience.”

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