“We Know Them, They Don’t Know Us”: Commentary About Being Black in White Spaces (The Redo)

This is the redo. Because the original article “disappeared.” Do I know exactly how? No. Do I think it had something to do with white woman who I called an “old bitter racist witch” after she claimed King’s Dominion discriminated against her plus size daughter in favor of “people who need to go back to their country”? Yes. Screw her and screw any system that censors before review. Anyway, the article (no edits) beow:

I recently sat down to watch the three-part Netflix documentary They’ve Gotta Have Us directed by Simon Frederick. The movie opened my eyes to the struggle and survival of black people in the film industry and put dialogue to the modern artistic film renaissance. Please watch this documentary! If not simply for the support of this brother putting in work, then watch to see the amazing and surreal stories of black actors and producers like Harry Belafonte, Diahann Carroll, David Oyelowo, John Singleton, Laurence Fishburne, and so many others.

What really struck a chord in me was a statement made by Kasi Lemmons. She is the writer of the beloved movie Eve’s Bayou, director of Harriet, and a pioneer for black women in the film industry. In the documentary she says:

“We know them.
They don’t know us.”

Kasi was talking about white folks; specifically in regards to why movies featuring black characters made by white directors are filled with stereotypical and often inaccurate accounts of black American life. The more I started to think about this thing, black people navigating white space and white people being so wrong about black people, the more it made sense sense y’all! We know them! But they don’t know us.

We know how to talk around them, what to wear, how to act, and we run the gamut on how to make white people feel comfortable around us. Everything from employment opportunities to parties, we are experts on how to turn off and assimilate. Why is that? Because notoriously, white people have controlled the outcome of situations involving the well being of brown people. In order to survive, learned well before black folks even had rights to argue the mistreatment, we had to understand and adapt to how white people operated in order to avoid being the recipient of white wrath.

However, they don’t make such adjustments for us. White people won’t put up decorations for black history month (except teachers at inner-city schools,) but will gladly pinch you for not wearing green on St. Patrick’s day. They don’t panic before interviews afraid that their natural hair will be under scrutiny nor do they fear wearing cultural symbolism around black folks so as not to be negatively judged. They damn sure don’t code switch to avoid sounding threatening and won’t bat an eye about pointing out what offends them. If anything, they will appropriate our culture with no shame and make you feel bad for bringing up race in conversations.

In my own experience, white people (and not all but the ones who already know-whats-up don’t need me to clarify this) feel comfortable wherever they are, even in primary black spaces. There may be confusion about the social norms in those spaces or even an embarrassment about being an outsider, but they feel relatively safe. They can go to a soul food restaurant and eat without concern but I check the walls for confederate flags before seating down in a honky-tonk joint. There aren’t any “no whites allowed” spaces that white people have to avoid but black people know which cities in the south not to step foot in. White people don’t fear a gun rally where thousands of white people waving guns interferes with getting to work that day. But black people know that those guns are renowned for shooting first and getting away with it later.

And my personal pet peeve: White people who show up to a reggae concert or Afro-beat house party, where the lyrics vehemently protest their own supremacist behaviors yet dance to it as if the music is just some hippy songs to get high to.

It can be infuriating and frustrating for black people to have to constantly defend ourselves, justify our actions, and explain our culture to people. Not because we are avoiding engaging in dialogue about who we are and what makes us unique. But because the intent behind the questions are rarely to understand the individual or even the culture. It often feels like an interrogation or a tactic to provide an explanation to give comfort to the white person asking. Why do I have to explain myself to or comfort you?

I’ve never questioned why ya’ll like mayonnaise so damn much; don’t ask me if all black people like fried chicken.

I often remind myself the desegregation just happened in 1954 starting with Brown v. Board of Education. That’s only 66 years ago. That’s not our great x4 grandparents. That’s our mom and dad’s. That means that the same racism that preferred white and black people not eat in the restaurants with them or go to the same schools as them currently runs companies, makes laws, and raised the next generation of MAGA hat wearers.

Because of that, black people don’t have the privilege of being color-blind. We have to notice when we are the only black person in a room and we can’t naively assume a white persons racist behavior is just ignorance. PS: Claiming you don’t see color is fucking stupid. See my color, culture, and heritage and respect it! Not ignore it!

YET ….

The current generation is bucking the system with such force, it’s a beautiful sight! We wear our hair natural and sue when folks discriminate. We speak AAV comfortably despite scrutiny, we create safe spaces, and educate our fellow man. Heck, we post daily black history facts in our company chats all February long. We wear our culture proudly and sing loudly along to 90’s RnB like it’s a Sunday morning hymn.

Here’s a quote by Sun Tzu (I hope he wasn’t a racist)

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Here’s one by the main man himself …

“I tire so of hearing people say, Let things take their course. Tomorrow is another day. I do not need my freedom when I’m dead. I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.”
– Langston Hughes

Be encouraged, black folks. We will continue to thrive because we fight righteously. Be proud, hold your head up, feel no shame. You are your ancestor’s wildest dream. Never forget that!

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