I made it a point not to let White writers (nor Black men, to be fair) ruin Beyonce’s bittersweet Lemonade album for me by actively ignoring shrill reviews or snarky commentary from those who simply don’t know how to be quiet when it’s Black girl time. Still, it was impossible not to be annoyed Glamour UK’s quickly-deleted “cheeky” post in defense of good-haired Beckys everywhere. And while we’ve long since known that Piers Morgan has employed Black outrage as a tool to bring eyes to his lackluster commentary, the fact that he even has the space to weigh in on both Lemonade and Larry Wilmore is indicative of the cloyingly clueless nature of Whiteness.
The loud, tone-deaf responses to Beyonce’s album (as well as the “Formation” controversy) and Wilmore’s “Oh, no he didn’t”-moment(s) at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, as well as the response to an incident between two young South Africans (a “racist attack” by a Black man? What a time to be a lie) have one important thing in common: the lack of ability/compulsion/requirement for White folks to understand the ways of Black ones, even when they are being paid to do so.
In other words as the homie Bomani Jones often says: It’s good to be White.
Morgan and other White writers are emboldened to do just that because they speak primarily to audiences who know about as much about Black people as they do quantum physics. Less, perhaps. This lack of cultural awareness may be somewhat understandable for those who reside in places where Black faces are few and far between, but many of these professional writers and commentators reside in places like New York City and Los Angeles, where the mysterious American Negro is hidden in plain sight—and they all have access to the internet, as well as the many missives that are fired off each day about, well, White people not knowing shit.
The story of a White Cape Town waitress being reduced to tears (White female ones, the most valuable ones on the planet) after getting a nasty note from a Black patron may not have garnered the same attention as the aforementioned pop culture moments, but it is equally infuriating. Is it right for anyone to deny a server a tip and leave them a rude comment? No. Should anyone be outraged that it happened? Absolutely not. The class privilege that Rhodes scholar Ntokozo Qwabe may have over server Ashleigh Schultz does not change the fact that he is a Black man and she is a White woman, and it certainly does not erase the painful legacy of South African Apartheid. Yet, when people like Qwabe express their anger or trauma over White racism, they are accused of being racist themselves. As if all things are somehow equal now, as if we are not to have any bitterness, pain or rage over the conditions of our birth—and, in this case, that educational or financial attainment even further strips from us the right to those emotions.
Yeah, what he did was impolite and yes, he chose a (seemingly) working-class target who just happens to be fundraising for a sick mother. Hurt people hurt people, you see, but Black folks just don’t get the space to be that human and complicated, especially when incompetent voices get to define our lives in the eyes of so many.
It is absolutely maddening to have someone lie to your face about you, to distort the truth about who you are, proclaim it to the world and shout over your attempts at correction. This is why someone like Morgan, who should be known as little more than a footnote in the long history of boorish TV journalism, is a thorn in the side of those who should be smart enough to ignore him. When we consider how commentary shapes culture, how public discourse can inform how people think and operate, it isn’t enough to say “Eh, I don’t care what these White folks say, I understand what my people are doing.”
And if we are brutally honest with ourselves, many of our own people are consistently in search of White approval wherever they can find it—the public White excoriation of someone like Larry Wilmore or Beyoncé may feel like evidence that Blackie ain’t ever gonna get it together and be good enough. You and I may know better, but skim through your Facebook feed right and I bet you can find at least one person who is looking for Mr. Charlie and Miss Ann to validate their existence.
As an editor, I routinely dismiss pitches from people who wish to document their complete and utter lack of understanding about any number of subjects. However, we don’t see that guardianship when White commentators are either tasked with or given permission to synthesize important moments in Black culture.
White folks don’t have to understand code switching, or Black rage or Black hair or Black history or Black anything, but they are allowed not merely the opportunity to speak on our lives, but to impact them via policy, and shape them via education. Hell, they’re even allowed to end them via policing.
Now that, not a politicized note on a restaurant tab, should invoke our collective outrage.