My Skin Is Not A Flag For Your Cause


Pop Rorschach quiz: What do you see here? A symbol? An 'Authentic Black Person'? A fragile, helpless victim? A puppet? A mystical Person of Color? Or just... a person?

I won't get deep into the details of this chapter of my life right now, but suffice it to say that once upon a time, I balled up my fists 'in solidarity' with certain narratives about 'Blackness' which I now find to be toxic, naïve, and, frankly, insulting. Take a few minutes to listen to this song from that era of my life, two decades ago:

Now listen to this one from the same chapter of my past:

Anything sound familiar? I've heard and mulled over these kinds of perspectives over and over and over for half of my life now.

And although I still have some sympathy for where they come from, I am now strongly opposed to essentialist, victimhood framings of 'The Black Experience' (e.g. Black Lives Matter) and racialized militancy. Through my own experiences/growth, interacting with countless people from a wide variety of backgrounds & vantage points, reading (actual books, essays, & research, not Social Media tabloids) and learning/thinking critically about these issues, I've concluded that monoracialism (constantly emphasizing a narrow, essentialist conception of race as an all-consuming reality) itself is extremely toxic and counterproductive to moving away from discrimination toward greater harmony in a globalized, networked world full of people with myriad cultural frameworks, ways of life, and values systems.

For one thing, in my experience, the level of rage & dogmatism that accompanies racialist thinking almost always far outweighs the level of critical thinking & open-mindedness — posing 'diversity' as a bludgeon to beat disagreement with rather than an invitation for people to speak openly & honestly. But beyond that, it has a tendency to flatten 'The Black Experience' into a political slogan which completely diminishes the complexity, richness, and ideological heterogeneity of the actual people who identify as black (to be politically weaponized by 'representatives' and 'allies' who've spent little or no time at all actually interacting with the mythic victims that they claim to speak for).

Half of my family identifies as 'black' or 'African-American', and they sure as hell don't all agree about what that means on a deeper level, nor are they all walking around wearing BLM shirts and running out into the streets to join 'the Revolution'. Part of the reason for this is that they are politically heterogeneous. Another is that they're too busy living their complicated lives, taking care of their loved ones, and making a living. You know, being human?

“Poverty! Violence! Incarceration! Racism!” Yeah, we need to confront these issues, but...

Who the fuck has the capacity to drop their responsibilities at the turn of a dime to adhere to the latest Hashtag Commandment? You wanna talk about 'Privilege'? How about you wipe your own ass before you start talking about other people's shit. And if you're going to step over or trample the countless other priorities and values systems in the world, at least have the decency to acknowledge that they exist rather than instantly shame anyone who doesn't adhere to the pop social justice flavor of the season (to be instantly forgotten when the next trendy hashtag campaign hits).

You may disagree or be offended by my perspective, and that's okay, but there are complex, difficult conversations that need to be had about these topics beyond the yelling, shaming, and insular self-righteousness.

I believe that true diversity and democracy must be able to accommodate and engage with a wide variety of viewpoints, however unpopular they may be. I see very little of this happening in society today.

Maybe you see Revolution on the horizon, and yeah, I'm sure there will be some good outcomes of what's happening right now (when isn't this true though?). But I see way too much divisive noise and utter ignorance of the complex reality of people's lives on the ground beyond Social Media World. In this atmosphere, there is very little room for voices and experiences like mine to be heard without knee-jerk hostility — guess I'm just not 'marginalized' enough to qualify as worth listening to.

I don't have all of 'The Answers', but I do have a lot of difficult questions which I believe deserve careful consideration rather than instantaneous reaction. I'm also fairly certain that I'm wrong to varying degrees about many aspects of these issues and am open to alternative perspectives which may change my mind. How about you?

Anyway, there is too much more to contextualize and unpack for my brain capacity right now, so I will just end with some closing remarks:

My skin tone does not define who I am, what I think, and how I build relationships/community.

Other people with brown skin do not speak for me. I have my own voice.

I am not a victim waiting to be saved. I am an agent living with my particular circumstances, choices, and challenges.

I am not a symbol for your cause. I am a human, being.

'Black people' are not a hive-minded monolith.

'Black people' are human, and therefore ideologically diverse.

Slogans are great marketing gimmicks and propaganda techniques but capture very little of the human experience.

The loudest people in the room are rarely the wisest.

If you pay attention beyond the shouting, you'll notice that many other people are trying to talk who have valid, important things to say.

Instead of letting trendy hashtags, meme popcorn, and sensational headlines dictate your actions and views, consider learning about other perspectives qualitatively and making up your mind critically.

There's a fine line between solidarity and groupthink.

Dogmatic tribalism is a dead end in a globalized world.