“Yes, I’m Black (And I Write For EBONY). No, I Don’t Want To Talk To You About Race”

two-white-guys-and-a-black-guy

***The Champ’s latest at EBONY discusses why he’s not always interested in having race-related conversations with White people***

As soon as Mike learned I co-founded a website called VerySmartBrothas.com, work for EBONY.com, and frequently write about race and culture, his eyes lit up, and a strange look formed over his face. For Black people who do what I do and happen to find themselves at bars with conservative but “well-intentioned” White people who find out what you do and don’t interact with Black people that often, that look is unmistakable.

“Oh sh*t! A smart Black person! I can finally unleash all these thoughts about Obama, crime, Trayvon, democrats, MSNBC, “the Black community,” Don Lemon, and Al Sharpton! Let me buy him a round, and let’s talk about race!”

I obliged. We spoke about racism and the fallout from the Zimmerman verdict. Although I had to correct his “facts” a couple times, it was a good conversation. Actually, calling it a “good conversation” would be underselling it. Even while we were talking, I recognized how rare it is to have two people from opposite sides of the political spectrum sitting down, having a beer, and just sharing what’s on their minds. (An actual, completely organic Beer Summit!)

Yet, after 10 minutes or so, I took a gap in the conversation do to the “Well, it was nice meeting you.” thing people do when they want to end conversations, and started talking to other people. A couple minutes later, he came over and apologized, obviously thinking I left because he offended me in some way. I told him not to worry about it, and he walked away, still bothered.

What Mike failed to realize was that just because this was his rare opportunity to talk to a “smart” Black guy about those touchy race-related subjects doesn’t mean that smart Black guy actually wants to have the conversation right then and there.

Yes, I am very interested and invested in race, racism, and the effect bias has on our behavior and our culture. It literally fascinates me. Yes, I talk about those subjects frequently, and write about them even more frequently. And yes, I recognized the importance of Black and White people actually speaking to each other about this stuff instead of shouting at.

But, I came to that bar to drink, laugh, and talk about basketball, BBQ burger recipes, and the bartender’s ass…not George f*cking Zimmerman.

Read more at EBONY.com

When It’s Okay For White People To Say “Nigger,” “Nigga,” Or Any Other “Nigger” Derivatives

"Desean, I said you're looking much "bigger" this season, not...you know what. Nevermind."

“Desean! Relax, man. I said you’re looking much “bigger” this season, not…you know what. Nevermind.”

Between Paula Deen thinking she’s Scarlett O’Hara, Accidental Racist, Georgef*ckingZimmerman (“GFZ” for short for now on), the fact that the most talked about movie in the country has made Black people who’ve seen it so angry that they’ve started hating cauliflower just because it’s white, and Riley Cooper’s ass forgetting he has to line up every week against irrationally angry and unbelievably coordinated descendants of slaves who happen to look like this and this, I imagine this summer has been quite difficult for our lighter-skinned brethren.

Because of this, I’m here today to lend the White people of America a helping hand with one of my favorite subjects: the word “nigger.” While most understand the historical context of this word and stay the hell away from it—or don’t understand it at all but still stay the hell away from itsome still seem to be confused about why they’re not “allowed” to use it, and whether there is ever a situation where the rules regarding nigger use are relaxed.

To aid with this issue, I invited a random internet White person (“RIWP” for short) who’s still unsure about nigger use and usage to a quite an enlightening back and forth. Our conversation is below. (His statements are in italics)

RIWP: Thanks for inviting me. You definitely are a very smart Black person.

Me: Yeah, this already isn’t getting off to a great start.

RIWP: I’m sorry.

Me: I know. So, you had some questions…?

RIWP: So yeah. When is it okay for White people to say nigger?

Me: Never.

RIWP: Never?

Me: Ever.

RIWP: Not even…

Me: Nope

RIWP: How about if…

Me: Nah.

RIWP: What if…

Me: Hell no

RIWP: You’re not even letting me…

Me: F*ck you. 

RIWP: You’re not even letting me finish my ques…

Me: Re-F*ck you. 

RIWP: How can we have a conversation if you won’t even let me speak?

Me: I’m letting you speak. Just not letting you finish.

RIWP: You know what I mean!

Me: I guess you make a good point. Speak away.

RIWP: Thank you. So, like I was trying to say, what if…

Me: Did I say f*ck you already? LOL. Just playin. Go ahead.

RIWP: So, what if you’re dating a Black woman, and you’re at her house for Thanksgiving, and her drunk uncle calls you his “nigga,” actually asks “Are you my nigga?” and pauses to wait for a response? 

Me: It’s a trap. The only Black people who do stuff like this at family gatherings are fresh out, so he’s likely waiting for justification to rape you. 

RIWP: That doesn’t make any sense.

Me: It doesn’t have to. 

RIWP: Ok. So, what if I’m at a club and my favorite Mobb Deep song comes on. Am I allowed to repeat the lyrics?

Me: Look. It’s not uncommon for Black-owned nightclubs and bars to be in debt. And, if it’s 2013 and Mobb Deep is playing, it’s usually a sign the owner said “F*ck it. I’m going to lose this place in a month anyway, so I might as well play shit I like.”

Anyway, since he’s probably losing the place, he probably stopped paying the bills months ago. Why does this matter? Well, when the music abruptly stops because of electric bill nonpayment, you don’t want to be the White guy who happened to be screaming “Kill dat nigga!!!” when everything gets silent. 

So, no. But, it’s for your own good. 

RIWP: So, let me get this right. Only Black people can say “nigga” and no one can ever say “nigger?” There are no other circumstances where it’s okay for a non-Black person to do it.

Me: Well, there was a window from 1999 to 2004 when Puerto Ricans from the Bronx and Dominicans from Harlem were “allowed” to say it. But, we only let them do that because we still felt bad about Big Pun. Plus, they’re Black anyway, even if they don’t want to admit it. The only difference between them and us is that the guys steering their slave ships were drunk.

Aside from that though, no. Well, lemme rephrase that. You can say it. Shit, you can say anything. But, if you do, don’t be surprised if someone with the last name “Vick” puts a bounty on you. And, by “someone with the last name Vick puts a bounty on you” I mean “Michael Vick’s little brother randomly shows up outside of your home.”

RIWP: Wait, he’s broke isn’t he. How will I know he’s there to beat me up? What if he just needs me to co-sign on a couch set?

Me: Good question.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

My Truth About The Night Of The Zimmerman Verdict

Trayvon-Martin-supporters-make-threats-ahead-of-verdict-in-Zimmerman-trial

Those who know me and/or have been long-time fans of VSB know I am a textbook introvert. A prominent characteristic of this introversion is the possession of both a need to be clearly understood when communicating and an equally present fear of being misunderstood. My preference for writing instead of speaking stems from this. Basically, I love to write because it allows me a better opportunity to articulate exactly what’s going on in my head than speaking does.

As I’ve gained experience, I’ve gotten better at getting what’s in my head outside of it. It’s very rare now to have a thought I’m compelled to express and not have the words to express it. Even rarer to not have the words and be unsure I’d even use them if I did.

When attempting to process my feelings about what happened the night of the Zimmerman verdict, both occurred.

The night the verdict was announced, I had plans to attend a friend’s birthday party. This friend lives six blocks away. Since my girl and I planned to drink, we decided to walk instead of drive, and I received word that Zimmerman was found not guilty right when we were about to head out the door.

I still remember the weightlessness—a combination of outrage, sadness, and shock—I experienced when first hearing the news. I also remember how scrolling through my Twitter timeline and reading hundreds of tweets from people experiencing the same thing exacerbated these feelings.

When writing about that night, I made sure to articulate these feelings as passionately and contextually as I could. But, I intentionally left out something that colored my night just as vividly. The decision to omit was partially influenced by the fact that I couldn’t quite articulate it yet. And, even if I was able to, I wasn’t willing to go there. Especially not at that time.

I’m still not sure if I should share this. And, I’m still not sure if I will articulate what I’m about to say the best way I can. But, I don’t know. I just feel like I need to now.

It was approximately 75 degrees and clear enough to see multiple stars. And, as I mentioned earlier, my friend lived six blocks away. Six blocks in Pittsburgh is a 10 minute walk. Driving to this party should not have even been an option.

It was an option, though, because we live in a neighborhood where the threat of violent crime is always present. I wouldn’t exactly call it crime-ridden. I grew up in a legitimately dangerous neighborhood, and this doesn’t seem to be anywhere close to that. But, there have been some robberies, and it’s not uncommon to hear police sirens and occasional gunshots at night. In June, a house across the street from us was hit with bullets from a drive by shooting.

Ironically, on a night when my anger towards and suspicion of the criminal justice system, the government, and America in general—all “White” institutions—reached an all-time high, my most immediate thoughts and actions where governed by a suspicion of some of the Black people in my neighborhood. Not the “good” Black people, mind you, but Black people nonetheless.

That night was a perfect example of the mental gymnastics I put myself through when thinking about race, crime, and my own personal safety. I am fully aware of the traditionally adversarial relationship between Black people (Black men in particular) and the criminal justice system. I’ve read hundreds of articles, studies, and books about it. I’ve listened to numerous personal stories involving racist cops, judges, magistrates, lawyers, congressmen, and mayors. I’ve watched and attempted to deconstruct everything from Crash to Do the Right Thing (and I’ll get around to Fruitvale Station some time in the next couple of weeks). I’ve also been the victim of racial profiling on numerous occasions. (The latest occasion ended up costing me over $500 in tow and court fees.)

Yet, most of my anger towards and suspicions of “the system”—as well as White people in power—seem to exist on theoretical level. It’s almost as if I feel this way because I know I’m supposed to. It’s the way well-read and historically-aware Black people—Black men especially—are supposed to feel, but I think it more than I feel it.

In reality, when the sun goes down—the time of the day when people usually put more of a guard up—I’m much more cautious of and concerned about Black people. Black strangers, rather. And, by “Black strangers” I mean “sketchy-looking young Black males who I don’t know.” Women, men my age or older, and young Black males who don’t look and act “sketchy” don’t even register.

I’ve been annoyed by White strangers. Suspicious, even. But not suspicious to the point that it starts to register as legitimate caution. At least not the same type of caution that would make you consider turning an easy, 10 minute walk into a two minute drive.

I didn’t always feel this way. Despite being affected by violent crime in more ways than I care to list, those experiences never really caused me to experience any fear. As a kid, I was much more uncomfortable catching the bus at night while alone in the White suburb my middle school was in than catching one in my own neighborhood. Even the night of the verdict, I wouldn’t have even considered driving if I was by myself.

The shift in my perspective has coincided with me reaching an age where I’m responsible for the safety of others. Basically, I have a girlfriend now. And, having a girlfriend (or a wife, or a child, or an elderly relative) means I don’t have the luxury of allowing how I’m supposed to feel about the macro to override the reality of the micro. Mind you, they’re both important to me. But, my concerns about the criminal justice system’s inherent racial inequality, racial profiling, and even racism resonate with me on the same level that, I don’t know, heart disease does. I know it’s a huge problem that affects us disproportionately and I know it can very well even kill me and people close to me. But, on my personal hierarchy of things needing my immediate concern and attention, it just doesn’t rate very high.

We eventually decided to walk, and we talked about the verdict each second of the 10 minute trip. But, as heated conversation as that conversation got, it never entered the same immediate, visceral space for me that “I need to stay alert for n*ggas” did.

I am not speaking for all Black men, nor am I attempting to minimize what many other Black people have experienced and currently feel. I’m not aiming to start one of those “Black kids get shot every day. Why do we only care when they’re shot by White people?” conversations, and I’m also aware that much of the Black crime most of us have been touched by is a direct result of conditions created by this same system.

I’m just finally sharing what all was in my head that night, not just what would make for the most passionate and eloquent takedown of the Zimmerman verdict. I don’t feel good about this. But, I don’t think I’m supposed to.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Race-Related Takeaways From The George Zimmerman Verdict

gty_reaction_zimmerman_verdict_protests05_ss_times_sq_thg_130715_ssh

This will likely be the last time I write about this trial. Actually, let me rephrase that. At this moment, I do not envision myself writing about this again. Between Sunday’s post and today, I don’t have anything else to say. But, my feelings may change.

1. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if the races where reversed and Zimmerman was a Black guy who followed, shot, and killed an unarmed White kid in a residential neighborhood, he (Zimmerman) would be in prison today. There is also no doubt that the racial make-up of the jurors made them more likely to give the benefit of the doubt to Zimmerman—someone who looks more like them than Trayvon Martin did.

Does this alone make them—and anyone else who’s more likely to give the benefit of the doubt to someone who looks more like them—racist? I honestly do not think so. At least not consciously. But, while thinking this, I’m reminded of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Fear of a Black President where he states that racism tends to be “…broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others” and I wonder if racism as it’s defined here is more natural than we want to believe. Race-based hate is definitely learned and, if not stemmed, cultivated. From what I understand, though, being more sympathetic towards people who look like you—and more suspicious of people who don’t—is more inherent. I could be wrong (I often am) but I don’t think this is an American thing as much as it’s just a human thing.

Considering all historical context—institutional racism, the existence of White privilege  etc—I think that White Americans have to consciously and doggedly work at not being racist. Basically, racism is the default. And, because of this, I don’t consider White racists—well, White racists who don’t consciously attempt or wish ill will on Black people—to automatically be bad people. Just negligently lazy. And, sometimes that negligent laziness leads to people like George Zimmerman walking free.

2. For White Americans who’ve appeared to have made the attempt to not harbor any race-based prejudices, I applaude their efforts and I’m very happy to see that, but I am still very skeptical. Extremely skeptical. Even after reading dozens of passionate pieces penned by Whites heartbroken over the Zimmerman verdict and seeing tens of thousands rallying for Trayvon, I’m still not completely convinced of their buy-in and support, and I’m not sure if anything can be done about that.

Honestly, this sentiment surprises me. I’ve grown up around White people. I’ve had White teammates in high school and college, and I’ve made some close White friends. My favorite teacher was White, as well as my favorite coach. I consider myself to be legitimately open-minded and painstakingly pragmatic. And, I do not find myself consciously uncomfortable or suspicious around them. But, when asking myself if I’m truly, 100% sold when one claims and/or even shows to be “down for the cause” (whatever that means), I have to say no. Even while I believe them on an intellectual level, I don’t feel it emotionally. This is bothersome. It’s especially bothersome when knowing that if a White person I knew and respected said what I just said about Black people, I’d be highly disappointed and perhaps even saddened.

3. Going on a somewhat related (and much lighter) tangent, there is a very small and very vocal population of Black men and women who date “out” and make sure to disparage Black men and women as unworthy in comparison to Whites. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in one of their living rooms right now.

(Question: For those types of Black people, do they not realize that if they have children, they’re still very likely to have a child that’s a member of the hated gender? I mean, what does a woman who’s sworn enemies with Black men do when the son she has with her White husband turns out to be darker-skinned than she is?)

4. I’ve seen the reaction to the Zimmerman verdict compared to the reaction to the O.J. verdict numerous times, including in the comments to the last post. Before continuing, I have to admit it wasn’t until five or six years ago that I realized a considerable number of Black people were actually happy about O.J. getting off. At the time of the verdict, I remember people (my parents especially) being more shocked that someone so apparently guilty was found not guilty than anything else.

Anyway, I don’t know if they realize they’re doing this, but people making that comparison in an effort to twist the knife are actually admitting they believe Zimmerman should have gone to prison. They’re basically saying “Ok, you got to celebrate your guilty-as-hell celebrity defendant who was found innocent, and now we have ours.”

But, it was never really about Zimmerman being “innocent,” was it?

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Why I’ll Never Stop Saying “Nigga”

n-word

It’s one of our most valued and treasured yearly traditions.

A famous White person is caught saying nigger or one of its various derivatives. White person is immediately (and rightly) criticized. The criticism starts many sub-conversations, including one about whether it’s ever okay for White people to say that word, and if saying that word automatically means that a White person happens to be racist.

This sub-conversation spawns another sub-conversation—basically, a criticism to the criticism—where Black people’s use of the word is put under the microscope, with popular rap receiving a lion’s share of the blame. “As long as we continue to incorporate it so freely,” says the sub-sub-conversation, “we can’t really be all that surprised when White people think it’s okay to say.”

I even made a contribution to this tradition last year, spending 700 or so words over at The Root attempting to deconstruct the meaning behind our collective angst over the world’s most beautiful woman’s “niggas in Paris” tweet.

Ultimately, the tradition concludes with the same implied resolution. If we want non-Black people to stop saying nigger and nigga, it would help if we stopped saying it ourselves.

It’s an argument that makes sense on both an emotional and intellectual level. It was a word used to degrade and dehumanize, and regardless of how convincingly we’ve “taken it back,” the history remains. The nigga we use is only two generations away from this nigger. Yet, despite the history attached to it and the context surrounding it, I can’t bring myself to remove it from my vocabulary.

Why? Well, I love words. I love the way they sound. I love the way they look. I love learning what they mean. I love how different pronunciations—a stressed vowel sound or a pronounced vocal inflection—can give the same word multiple meanings. I love their rhythm. I love their personality. I love their etymology. And, most importantly, I love the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of them at my disposal when trying to get what’s in my head outside of it. Included in that hundreds of thousands are nigger, nigga, cunt, f*ck, f*ggot, bitch and every other word where the word alone is enough to offend, and I love and respect language too much to permanently cut any of it out.

Interestingly enough, my knowledge of and affinity for words could be an argument for not using some of them. Since there are hundreds of thousands of them—and since I seem to be very aware of this fact—why use one I know will offend when another will suffice?

That’s the thing. Knowing exactly what words mean and exactly how you want to use them means that, in some instances, another word won’t suffice. Sure, “man,” “dog,” “cat,” “dude,” “my man,” and even “ninja” exist and work, sometimes. Most times, even. But, there are other times when only nigga can accurately convey the feeling or thought I want expressed. And, in those instances, nigga is used.

This knowledge also comes with the realization that certain words probably shouldn’t be used unless you’re completely aware of the audience. Nigga is one of those words. Not only will I not use it around “mixed” company, I won’t even use it around Black people I’m not familiar with. This isn’t self-censoring as much as it’s just being considerate. (Who said niggas didn’t have feelings?) 

Ironically, I don’t even say nigga that much. Aside from when I’m joking with my girl or my friends or repeating lyrics from a song, I rarely say it aloud. Same goes for pretty much every other word on the “do not say” list. If nigga was a condiment, it would be Dijon mustard.

This conversation actually reminds of an experience I had during the first couple months of my teaching career. I started in the middle of the school year as a replacement for a 9th grade English teacher who was on extended sick leave. And, since I was the new guy, I had to be hard. (The “Welcome to the Jungle” beginning of Lean on Me was definitely a great teaching tool.) This hardness included me throwing kids out of class for saying nigga. For the first few weeks I was there, any time that word was said aloud in my classroom, I sent the kid to the dean’s office. Sometimes I’d just write “said nigga” on the referral slip.

I (obviously) didn’t have an issue with the word itself. I did it just to ingrain the concept of acceptable classroom behavior in them. Some of them used nigga so much that they didn’t even realize they were saying it.

After a month or so, I started to see some changes. You’d see kids literally catching themselves in mid-sentence, or letting it slip and immediately blurting out “my bad, Mr. Young” right afterwards. Point made, I started to soften.

A few months later, a couple of them were at an AAU basketball practice I was helping my man run. After practice ended, we all played together for about an hour. Although we (and coaches) were grown men, some of these kids were pretty good, so the games were pretty intense. During one of the games, one of the kids didn’t call out a screen, and his teammate—who happened to be one of the kids in my classroom—went over to him and said “Come on, man. You can’t let that nigga hit me like that. Call out the screen!”

After the game, he walked over to me and apologized. Apparently, he knew that I saw him correct his teammate.

“My bad, Mr. Young.”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s cool.”

“I thought you didn’t like that word.”

“I don’t have a problem with it. Just wanted you to know when it was inappropriate.”

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)