Asterisked for The Right to Life*

Hi, I’m a black person here to prove my value as a human being for your convenience and reassurance.

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

If you see me doing anything in public that makes you slightly uncomfortable or suspicious, don’t worry! I owe you an explanation for my behaviour and activity, because I understand that you ‘would do the same to anyone’. You are absolutely not a racist, you’re just looking out for your country and its values!

If you doubt my intelligence and ability to contribute to society, fear not! This is my chance to prove how educated I am! After all, the pressure put on me to excel academically was not out of pride or interest, it was actually my only ticket to the chance to be viewed as a useful member of society!

Don’t worry, I will absolutely water down aspects of my culture and heritage to your liking. Jealous of my hair or simply view it as unprofessional, untidy or unclean? I’ll cut and straighten it for you! Fashion originating from my demographic of society is too street, too ghetto and lower-class? I’m really sorry about that! I’ll let you appropriate it and make it classy and mainstream, is that better? I’ll turn down my music and let your children use the n-word in songs. The ebonics? Silly me, such poor English was a slip of the tongue.

I know, I know, you’re probably asking yourself: why can’t more black people just be like this? I’m sorry; I honestly don’t know why the rest of them can’t just take a joke. ‘Pretty for a black girl’ is totally a compliment and touching someone’s hair is flattery! All that political correctness is really just a dampener, you can’t say anything anymore! I agree, there’s no need to be so sensitive or take things so seriously all the time.

Tell you what, you can pit me and other black people who fit your image of acceptability against the others. Ask them why they can’t be less aggressive, loud and ratchet, I want to know too! Economic success is another thing to mention. You’re right, there are so many black people who’ve made something of themselves. I agree, maybe it’ll be a wake up call for them to stop feeling sorry for themselves and pull themselves up by their bootstraps and do some good for their own communities instead of whining about racism all the time.

Thanks for the chat, I’m glad we’re on the same page. You forgot my name again? Oh, it doesn’t matter, that’s close enough and way shorter and easier to pronounce.

This is based on something I’ve been noticing for a while now. Black people feeling the need to reassure the public that they are worthy, useful, honourable people. Insisting on distancing themselves from those who’ve tarred the image and proving that some are worth a second thought.

The roots of such reasoning can be innocent, I admit. A person with racist tendencies will not wake up one day to appreciate all black culture and suddenly understand that people are intrinsically valuable and deserve the chance to be viewed without the precursor of prejudice. So helping people understand that black people can also display excellence in various fields and contribute to society in immensely rich and meaningful ways is a start. It’s along the lines of saying things like ‘we all bleed the same’ or ‘there’s only one race’: the bottom line being that we’re all human, capable of both good and bad, and deserving of equality and fairness. The problem here is that it is often misunderstood as: good black people deserve better and the rest still haven’t proven themselves yet.

Not until this child does well in school. Not until this neighbour is seen doing some virtuous act. Not until this young adult displays some sort of appreciation for classical white history. Not until this person is ‘well-spoken’ and lowers their voice. Not until this man proves that he has nothing to do with crime. Not until this woman distances herself from anything ‘welfare queen’ and ghetto. Not until he takes his hood off and swaps the trainers for dress shoes. Not until she loses the hair and the nails. Not until they graduate and earn respectable employment.

And so on, and so forth, until every possible ground for exclusion has been exhausted. The bitter irony is that even with all that, there is no guarantee that black people will unanimously be seen as having earned their right to dignity.

A man fully suited up, briefcase and coffee in hand headed towards his high-earning, prestigious place of work may well still be called a nigger while on his way there.

This piece tries to stretch the aforementioned phenomenon to the point of borderline self-hatred and the anonymous character’s acceptance of all blackness being squashed out of them as long as it means that they are safe and palatable to a white societal audience. It’s meant to hint at what it means to experience microaggressions or to bear the brunt of prejudice and unconscious bias. There’s an inkling of reference to a delusion that some people of colour who are ‘well-off’ fall into — believing that educational or economic advantage distinguishes them from the rest of minorities, which, in the eyes of a racist, is pure fantasy. It’s also meant to be satire, but I can’t be the judge of that.

Inspired by ‘Dear White People’, a painfully pandering Facebook video titled ‘Before You Call the Cops’ (with no disrespect to the author), ‘Stay Alive’ by Mustafa, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Dedicated to Shay, Eileen and Marwah.

she lives! she breathes! and some of her swimming thoughts and feelings have found themselves a home in the language of words.

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