Lighting the Gas: A Chat with Chet

In an interview last week, a peer asked me, “What does the African-American experience mean to you?”

I responded, before breaking down into tears, “Accepting and processing daily trauma are the basic ingredients of the black experience.”

In a hyper-political era when Facebook has transformed into a guerilla news platform and open forum for discourse, one becomes acutely aware of their identity and its relation to the world in which it inhabits. If you are a politically active person of color attending a PWI, or regularly participate in online, political speech like myself, you have probably received this message in your inbox:
    Chet: “Hey, Darius. I saw your post about cultural appropriation and I was wondering if we could chat via direct message! I figured that it would be easier to contact you directly as opposed to engaging in public conversation and exposing myself for being an ignorant shit so here I am, asking you to participate in this discussion about how I benefit from your oppression! You said in your post that ‘Rebecca, Anne, and Margaret don’t reserve the right to poach black hair styles, urban fashion trends, and queer lingo for their pleasure and/or profit.’ This post shocked me when I first read it. In class, you seem reserved and unwilling to participate in discussion because you’re intimidated by the white, hegemonic structures at play in the classroom. After all, your black, queer, differently abled perspective will cut against the grain of those held by our predominantly white, economically privileged, socially insulated classmates! I digress. What really shocked me, though, was that you would go so far as to generalize the entire white, female community by giving these fictional characters stereotypical, ‘white’ names. It seems to completely undercut your point about equality and discrimination but perhaps my interpretation is inaccurate. My question to you is this: what if I generalized all black people to have ghetto, ratchet, trashy names like ‘LaToya’, ‘Shaqwanda’, or ‘Jemima’? Wouldn’t that have the same, discriminatory implication? IDK… The whole Black Lives Matter movement seems flawed. I mean, I get that there have been a few instances where police targeted black people but didn’t their actions warrant that response? Alton Sterling was a convicted felon and chose to pull a gun on a police officer. Can you really sit across the computer screen, the same one where I’m inundating you with information you’ve already researched, retained, processed, and responded to, and really tell me that his actions didn’t warrant such a response? Or even Tamir Rice… And, OK, I get that this is sensitive because he was a kid, one that reminded you of yourself, your cousins, and your peers but when someone pulls a gun on a police officer, whether they’re twelve years old and innocent, or 43 year-old man selling loose cigarettes for small profit, they are asking to be murdered. I’ll let you unpack that in a second but back to my initial point about appropriation. OK, so I’m pretty sure black people didn’t invent Timberlands! If Karlie Kloss wears them and Vogue calls them a fashion trend, what’s the issue? She’s a model and what do models do? You guessed it: THEY SET TRENDS! So, yeah, black people in urban, metropolitan cities like New York started wearing them and have developed an entire fashion culture around the shoes but why can’t white people invest in that? Didn’t white people invent shoes anyway? I mean, African-Americans don’t have naturally straight hair but they import hair from Malaysia, Brazil, and India to wear as ‘their hair’ (I still don’t understand weave, btw)… does that make them appropriators for literally wearing the hair of someone of a different ethnicity. I’ll let you think about that for a while. I guess this is the thing that really confuses me and pisses me off sometimes. You state your opinions, publicly, on Facebook but get upset when I challenge your point with a completely antagonistic, uninformed, innocuous question. And then all of your friends respond, rather vehemently I might add, in your defense when my question was not intended for any of those 15 ‘Shaqwanda’s’ that responded. I was expecting to engage in discourse, Darius. As a white man, I feel like there’s a lot for me to learn but perhaps African-Americans have just as much, if not more to learn. Like… slavery happened but you’ve also been given equal access to what I have. I mean you do go to Elon just like I do. IDK dude, I look forward to your response. Hopefully we can agree that arguments like these aren’t productive unless we have completely open discourse. Anger and bitterness get us nowhere”

Me: “I’m tired, Chet. Chad. Rob. Henry. Dan. Matt. Ryan. Austin. Michael. Scott. Wentworth. Phillip. Harrison” 

Chet: “There you go again, appropriating and discriminating against white people! I guess we won’t get to a place of mutual understanding if you can’t even respond to a simple question.”

IdentityDarius M