The Week Black Lives Started to Matter For Real is a series of essays-turned-zines, featuring a snapshot of thoughts processed by Anita Obasi — a queer Black activist, writer and community builder — in the week following the death of George Floyd. Available online for pre-order, 50% of profits will be donated to No Justice No Pride, with zines scheduled to ship 6-8 weeks after their order date. Below, read Obasi's second of six essays, The Unrelenting Caucasity — Strange Things White People Are Doing Right Now.
It's pretty bizarre to see how White America is collectively waking up. Some of them are waking up and acting like they've been awake this whole time. It's like they don't know what side of the bed to get out of. Or what part of the floor to step on. Or maybe they should put socks on first so they don't offend the floor now that they've woken up. How to move? Moving is better than not.
But also, hella insecure. What if I've been a racist this whole time and had no idea? How embarrassing. Must defend myself. I'm going to buy a book right now so I can learn everything about Black oppression and know exactly what I need to be upset about, because if I read this one book or set up a monthly donation or take this one course on diversity, there is no way I could be racist moving forward!
Maybe I should start an Amazon wishlist sponsored by White Guilt and invite all my newly woke friends to pay their friendship dues. If you want the privilege of being friends with a Black person so that you can personally connect with the current movement, Donate Here.
People I don't normally talk to are hitting me up to ask how I'm doing "during this hard time." It's been a hard time dealing with your White guilt, is where I'm at. Maybe I should turn the question back to them and check in on their being White: "Just checking in on how being White is today. I know it must be difficult that the world decided last week was when Black Lives for real Matter, and that all White people are now required to acknowledge the weight of their ancestors' atrocities. Do you need anything while that sinks in?"
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Honestly, the only thing that has changed between this Hard Time and the last time I was Black is that now, non-Black people are collectively analyzing every aspect of the now *certified,* Hard Time. If checking in is how you've decided you want to honor our Hard Time, you better be ready to keep asking how I'm doing during this Hard Time, until racism is solved. Start prepping that recurring reminder on your calendar to "Check in with Black Friends" until the day you die.
To my White friends asking if I need anything... well, I mean. I do need to get some groceries, but I guess since today I am Black you're offering to offset that chore? A foot massage would be nice too, but I never really considered it a "need" because I try to live within my means. I wholly embrace impermanence though, and believe that I have everything I need, right now.
"Start prepping that recurring reminder on your calendar to 'Check in with Black Friends' until the day you die."
So, what exactly are you asking? Are you just asking to show me how you don't know how to help? Do you want me to thank you for being a nice White person? It's not the nice part we are upset about. It's how inaction has allowed for you and I to be on unequal ground, and the fact that you are only now feeling the pressure to consciously unpack that.
I had no idea being Black right now was going to be this bountiful though. This morning I had actual United States Dollars Venmoed to me, literally because I'm Black. Should I report that on unemployment? Does that count as COVID relief? I wish I could say this is my first instance of micro-reparations, but it's not. Last year, around Juneteenth, I was Venmoed just the same, and shortly after 12 Years A Slave came out in 2013, I was at a bar with two other Black people when a White man bought us shots to eventually apologize on behalf of his race, because they're "not all like that."
How nice to be treated to free shots as a fresh university graduate, already swimming in tens of thousands of dollars of debt, due in part to the systems of oppression that shaped the way I grew up and the limited options available to me to fund a very expensive education that Black people aren't even expected to have in this country. Aw, I hope that made you feel better, White Man. I hope that made you less racist and absolved you of any wrongdoing by you or your ancestors.
Going on a run has never been more of a spectacle in my mostly White neighborhood, nestled quietly in my favorite faux woke city of Austin, Texas; if they weren't already looking before, they certainly all are now! My feeble attempts at a 2 mile run is now met with obligatory smiles from every White person I pass. Everyone who sees me go by is steadfastly intent on grabbing my attention through my sunglasses and headphones, so that I know they are unquestionably pro-Black.
...Because I deserve it! I'm running and I'm Black and everyone needs to smile at me to acknowledge that they will not be chasing me down with a rifle today, no sir! Today is my lucky day!
I was seriously debating hosting an autograph signing in my neighborhood for being Black, in response to the overwhelming shift in demeanor. If they've felt this enthusiastic about Black people the whole time, they could've at least thrown me a parade when I moved in.
What if all the White people "checking in" get offended that Black people aren't picking up their phones to be checked in on? Would they then go back to complacency because their attempt at social micro-reparation was not received? Man, I hope not. Again, White people — this is not about you.
If your Black friend isn't answering, they probably aren't trying to deny your gracious efforts to check in. They are probably just overwhelmed by their phone blowing up from all these people wanting to celebrate BLM Spirit Week.
Now that I've relocated to a totally new city with a totally new pool of potential suitors, I've started swiping left and right again on these tired dating apps in an attempt to find meaningful connections in a distanced world. Once again, I've found myself totally caught off guard by the caucasity saturating these platforms. But I should've expected this; the Whites always be doin' somethin' wild.
As it relates to dating apps though, I was surprised to see that now there is a new social rule — I guess — where all White people add "BLM" to their bios... for who? Black people? Or is it like a badge of honor for when you match with another White person? "I've been swiping left almost automatically on all the Black people, as is statistically proven about dating apps, but now that I've matched with a fellow non-Black, I would like them to know that I'm WOKE."
My rule of thumb in these novel instances of insanity is to swipe left and hope I don't get carpal tunnel on their way out. Because if BLM only matters now, that means you have a lot more learning to do about said Black Lives, and I did not opt into this virtual game to end up an exoticized teacher. Hard pass, thank you!
I could literally write a book on just these handful of instances alone, but alas, here is but an essay. I should emphasize that not all White people are all of these things; but you are not independent of the collective when discussing a centuries long issue of civil rights. How do you make those declaring they don't tolerate racism understand they are just as much a part of the problem as the radical racists who boldly proclaim their hate? That's a tough one. Honestly, at times I feel like I'd prefer the latter, because they're at least fully cognizant of their role in the larger picture. The courage it takes to be real with yourself and dismantle your individual participation in a larger current is what makes micro changes macro.
"While you are learning about the gravity of the situation, we are learning how to deal with you internalizing the gravity of the situation."
So, if I have pointed you out for sending me money, don't be ashamed, I will never turn down your money, sweetie. Just know that this is a tiny drop in the bucket in support of repairing centuries of injustice, when we need to be attacking the system, together. I still love you and love that you gave me money.
And you over there, sending me videos of the National Guard marching around downtown, I appreciate you keeping me in the loop, and honestly I didn't even realize how triggering that was going to be, but it is, so maybe keep it to yourself or ask to share before sending.
Look at us, learning together!
And that is a fun plot twist; we are also learning as you learn. While you are learning about the gravity of the situation, we are learning how to deal with you internalizing the gravity of the situation. How am I supposed to react to everyone asking me how I am all of a sudden, now that Black Lives officially Matter? A mass message? "TO ALL MY FRIENDS: I AM STILL FEELING VERY OKAY ABOUT BEING BLACK. THANKS FOR ASKING."
If we want to make a change, we need to think about sustainability, not just finding a bandaid for racism. We are in the midst of a messy breakup with institutions that do not serve us, and we need to anticipate being in it for the long haul, not a Semester at Sea. There's no checklist for ending racism. It will not disappear with one text, during this uprising in White Rage, and most likely not for the rest of your life. Education is important. Amplifying Black voices is important. But don't expect to "check in" with your Black friends so you can get a free lesson on "what you can do to help." Your sudden thirst for understanding from The Source does not mean I have to make room in my busy Black schedule for a new tutoring internship.
Also, not all Black people are African American history majors! We don't know the exact date and time for every lynching that's ever happened in America and how that has influenced your desire to only go to bars where White People are White peopling. All we know is our lived experiences and the stories that have been passed down to us.
It is very difficult to translate the everyday nuances of racism that our systems have normalized. It's hard to accurately paint a picture for those who have never lived that experience. Recounting a racist incident that happened to me is not the same as living through that incident. As much as we would love to teach our White friends all the things, we are also learning and connecting this history to our current traumas, acknowledging the acts of oppression we've been conditioned to let slide, and on top of that, figuring out how to effectively communicate every aspect of our multi-layered Black identity with people who are only now insisting on understanding.
The Week Black Lives Started To Matter For Real by Anita Obasi is now available for pre-order online.