I started Black History Month on a high note believing that black people would spend the next 28 days celebrating and rejoicing in all things black. Indeed, black people are magnificent, and I was looking forward to seeing Black Excellence on full display on my social media feed. Yet, what I envisioned and what is actually taking place are two different things. I watched black people celebrate Liam Neeson, a white man who spoke about harming a “black bastard” because a black man had raped his friend. I watched black people defend Gucci and their minstrel show sweater with even one of the richest black athletes in the world, Floyd Mayweather, rejecting the call to #BoycottGucci and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a shopping spree picking up Gucci items and other brands. (You know, because nothing says let me take a stand against racism like giving white people your money.) I watched black people support J. Lo performing a Motown tribute at the Grammys, which made about as much sense as Donald Trump bringing the greens to the cookout. I have watched a black NFL player sip drinks and toast with his white partner, joyfully asking for the birth of more “light skin babies.” Every day that I have woken up in February, I feel I must be in the Matrix. Surely, black people are not this lost. This cannot be my reality. I must have taken the blue pill. This is all fake, an illusion. This is some alternate universe where black people co-sign white bullshit. Has “Black Mirror” made an episode out of this yet?
And just when I think I cannot be stunned anymore, presidential hopeful Cory Booker had the audacity to say, “Put yourself in a white person’s position that might have questions,” when asked about blackface. The issue of blackface has plagued this nation and was recently brought into the headlines with Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (and other prominent politicians) donning blackface in his medical school days. (You know, because nothing says I am on my way to exemplifying health equity and fighting against medical mistrust like a future doctor adding a little black shoe polish to their face.)
Did a black man really ask black people to put ourselves into the shoes of a white person? Are you kidding me, Cory? What shoes? Shoes of privilege? Shoes of cognitive dissonance? Shoes of denying racism exist? Shoes of “just get over it?” Shoes of Make America Great Again? I don’t need to step into the shoes of White America. White America needs to step into the shoes (and by that I mean try to understand on some level) Black America and the atrocities that have been inflicted on a people who simply wanted the right to be. Let me be clear, white people send me messages every single day. They ask me questions, and if they are asked in a manner of wanting to truly learn, I will dialogue with them. I am not a person who tries to shut people out. I believe in bringing people in, and if someone has a question, I will have the conversation or point them to resources to answer their question. (Google is a beautiful friend.) Having said that, I am never going to put myself in a white person’s shoes.
This is the problem with Cory Booker and many black politicians. Cory wants to win so desperately that he is trying to appeal to everyone yet is speaking to no one. Black politicians are trying to figure out how they can be “black enough” to satisfy black people without being “too black” that white people are uncomfortable. If you are not ready to make White America uncomfortable, this isn’t the job for you. Donald Trump and his loyal followers have shown you they do not care about your level of comfort in America, so much so that the slogan they don on hats and T-shirts lets you know their goal is to make America a place where white people are superior, and men who look like Cory are shining their shoes and fetching their water. I cannot stand in good conscience with someone who is trying to toe the line so much that you disregard some foundational and fundamental truths of being black in America. How dare you, as a black man, tell me to put myself in a white person’s shoes!
If you were going to do anything, have the courage to ask white people to try to understand on any level how it must feel for your skin to be your sentence. They will never truly understand but can start on the road to acknowledging, empathizing and correcting past and present injustices. What Cory Booker has failed to acknowledge is that every day when a black person wakes up in America, they have placed themselves in a white person’s shoes. Every day we wonder: Is our hair acceptable? Are we being too loud? Will white people perceive our tone as too aggressive? Is our skin too dark that we will be perceived as a threat? Can we drive in this neighborhood? Do I look like I am stealing in this store? Is my clothing the proper attire? Should I wear my Malcolm X shirt to work on casual Fridays? If I bring the food I love to work for lunch, will the smell of it offend white people? The list is endless of how we have placed ourselves in a white person’s shoes but you challenge us.
How dare you!
Kendrick Lamar summed up what I believe about Cory Booker in his hit song “DNA”:
“Problem is, all that sucker shit inside your DNA
Daddy prolly snitched, heritage inside your DNA
Backbone don’t exist, born outside a jellyfish, I gauge”
I challenge Cory Booker to Take A Stand! Be hot or be cold, pick one, but do not be lukewarm when it comes to speaking truth to power! Do not challenge us — have the courage to challenge white people to try to understand on some level how it is to be black in America. Stop being afraid, and even if you are afraid, that is fine, speak the truth afraid! Even if your knees are knocking and your voice is quivering, have the courage take a stand! And that, Cory, has nothing to do with The Oval, but everything to do with your character as a black man. •
Hannah L. Drake is an author, poet and spoken word artist. Follow her at writesomeshit.com and on Twitter at hannahdrake628.