Dear White Student,
I'm glad to see you taking African American and oh hell, Other People courses (third world/women/queers/class conscious) here at Yale. We welcome you into this strange world of self-reflexivity. We welcome you into historical reformation, to a legacy of revelation that necessitates revolution. We welcome you into the remarkability, yes the miracle that is our continued voices of protests in spite of systematic decimations of our memory of ourselves. Breaking it down, we welcome you into our homes that don't figure on official maps.
You'll encounter the language of our self-definition: what is blackness, who defines it, why do we need define it, what is black leadership, what is the culture of poverty, who determines that a culture of success must oppose blackness, who is the diaspora, who tells our story, and what, in fact, is our story.
Watch our attempts to convert race trauma into literary analyses to contribute to the oft unsung legacy of the Black Intellect. We are leaving trails of resistance and self-assertion for generations to come, the way those before us did. Learn how we do this for our children so they know how to fight a hidden system that we nevertheless know is as real as the gaze of that certain individual when we walk into a classroom, a lab, a library.
But dear White student, when writing that paper or two on Black identity, consider that maybe your studies of blackness are not just a function of your liberal/progressive/leftist/PC/etc capacity to understand race, but consider that your interest is also a function of a system which places our blackness under a limelight while your whiteness remains the illusive norm escaping all notice. Are we a curious, fetishistic foray into the language of race for you? Tell me, what is the function of black studies for you? Don't paternistically presume we enjoy your attention to the styles of speech, styles of dress, struggles of preservation. It does no system of injustice any use when the perpetrators place undue, feverish attention on the survivors without internally reflecting how it has come to be.
When you told me the other day that you felt so much for race struggles, you were going to write another essay on the question of blackness, this time on brothers Fanon and Garvey, I felt this tightening in my chest. How far we've come that you were so willing to emerse yourself in my reality. But I wondered why you never wrote about whiteness, about the fiction that is American identity which many in powerful channels would claim is "everybody's culture". "The great melting pot". Why is your own body never an original point of analysis? What does it mean that Abercrombie & Fitch has a code of hairstyles forbidding dreadlocks/braids? Does that YPU format seem a little more 18th century Europe and a little less Haitian cooperative, what does it mean to teach a New Haven 2nd grader to "speak proper" or teach Malaysian students how to read Shakespeare, why do you play 50 cent's 'Get Rich or Die Tryin' at your parties when you've never read ellison, soyinka, west? is it strange listening to talib kweli as you cross the street when a 13 year old Black boy is riding a bike?
Will you turn your own curious gaze onto yourself? Write the hidden narrative of constructed whiteness and tell yourself the story of how you came to be white, because as much as my blackness is its own end, that blackness you see is in part a function of your persistent gaze.
See you in class.