crowd participation: "I've studied you": On White Fear and Pathology

note: i'm recognizing the importance of my community. this community is not a strictly defined body, but an expansive, layered, segmented mass of minds, near and far, who influence me. for the better and in negative ways. those near me inspire me to be a better human, son, and black person. i aim to be better at living, writing, and sharing, and here is where i'll live out those attempts. in doing my bit to release less terribleness into the world, wednesdays will be devoted to speaking to, with, and through my community, and thus: crowd participation. every wednesday. you're invited.

I was first introduced to the brilliant mind of Brent Welch the day after the Zimmerman verdict. I was living and working in New Orleans, in the middle of a much-needed mental health break, and more importantly, a break from Panama. The day the verdict came down, I was at work, and can clearly recall a White family from Shrevport jumping up, hugging each other, and having an impromptu dance party. They were elated. I was furious, but wasn't sure what to do with my anger. So. I smo...drank. And I danced it out. And I broke things. And I talked through my fury with friends. 

"I shouldn't be surprised, but it still hurts," I would say many times that week. 

The next day, on Facebook, I happened across the following post, which feels like it spilled from my heart. Brent beautifully encapsulated both my acute rage and my general frustration as a result of interacting with Whiteness, my feelings about the verdict as well as my thoughts on Whiteness at that particular point in time. It shook me, surprised me, the extent to which his words moved me. Judging by the response to this, he touched thousands of hearts and succinctly verbalized the anguish of many. I will be forever indebted to and appreciative of this gift to the world.

This read is neither short nor easy, but it's worth digging into. I originally to republish a short story, but I was reminded of how this spoke to me and, given the type of news that greets us daily, I'm not the only person who needs to see this. So, I've asked for permission to republish this here, originally from Brent's Facebook page. Enjoy.

"we don't want to talk about it."

I often critique the behavior of black people. Many don’t understand that I do this out of love. It is because I want us to get better, that I criticize and point out inconsistencies in our thinking, and how they hinder us. I criticize those I love. But now, I have to criticize white people, specifically white American culture. This critique does not cover every white person on the face of the planet or even in this country. It is a generalization, though what I’m pretty sure is an accurate one. First, you may ask me what qualifies me to make the forthcoming statement. Well, I’ve studied you. For 31 years, I’ve observed and studied you. I learned about you from the look in my mother’s eyes when you called my six year old sister a monkey when we were on vacation in San Antonio. I learned about you when I was stopped at SMU on more than one occasion for walking around campus at night. I learned about you when two of your young daughters came to my room in the honors dorm asking me if I had a fake gold chain and bandana to loan them for a class project they had. When my first college roommate’s dad met me and immediately asked me if I was there on scholarship, you taught me something. I learned about you when so many of you fantasized about and called for the torture and murder of Michael Vick on Facebook groups and in chat rooms and the comments sections of articles. I learned about you a few days ago when one of your old ladies in front of Neiman’s wouldn’t even let me pick up her cane. I learned about you when I dared to sit (impeccably dressed) in the Mermaid Bar at Neiman’s waiting for a friend. You guys relaxed when a white girl showed up and greeted me. And yesterday, I learned about you, in the verdict and the surrounding commentary concerning the Trayvon Martin case.

This is what you don’t want to accept: simply by virtue of having a black face and open eyes, my culture has a Master’s level understanding of race relations, the judicial process, and culture and ethnicity. Most of us have honorary doctorates, bestowed on us by American life, in “How White Folks Are.” Because this is the thing: a minority culture is always more knowledgeable about the majority culture. Why? Because we have to figure out how to live through and survive by your systems, in your institutions and industries, and among your conversations. But you do not have to understand us, because in large part, NOT understanding us does not affect you in any readily tangible way. And as proven in the case of Trayvon Martin, sometimes understanding you doesn’t even work. We can’t even defend ourselves when you follow us down a dark street with a loaded gun. We are insignificant to you.

White Americans suffer from a group pathology of paranoia. For thousands of years, you have feared the other, the different. The word xenophobia means “fear of the other/unknown” but literally translates to “fear of the other side of the mountain.” This is not to be confused with the evolutionary “fight or flight” that all humans have in response to alert and terror. It is an anthropological truth, that when you were skulking the hills and caves of the Caucasus mountains, you realized a tried and true method of survival -- kill what comes. And this is what has made you an imperialistic, conquering people, with a blood lust for security, even above truth and freedom. You have an unfounded, paralyzing, overly reactive paranoia and fear. This fear is why a peculiar slavery has happened at the hands of Caucasian descendants throughout the ages, from the Roman enslavement of brown people in biblical times, to indentured servitude, to American slavery, Jim Crow, bombings. How can you eat corn on the cob while a mangled and burned body hangs from a tree? Need I go on? It is why you take technology and ingenuity and always turn it onto weapons of mass destruction. It is why you fervently beat the drums of war, so proudly sacrificing your sons so that you can continue to over buy and over eat, a constant confirmation of having enough. It is why you gave us your Jesus to pacify and calm us, a placating promise that everything would square in the end, if we pray. And while we bow our heads and pray, you make deals in rooms that we’ve never seen, and directly and indirectly plan our subjugation, and our demise. You fear everything that would overtake you, and in our greatness, you surmise your death.

So, you taught us to fear ourselves. This is where the pathology festers and infects. You taught us to fear our “disgusting” wide noses, our “cartoonish” full lips, our kinky “filthy, matted” hair, our “dirty,” skin. You made us see dirt instead of opal, to feel naps instead of wool. You convinced us of our savagery instead of our kingship, all behind a barrel filled with gunpowder that the Chinese originally intended for alchemy and fireworks. But you had other plans for it. I dare not call you evil, because I would have to believe in evil. But you do share a pathology, a psychological underdevelopment that has literally created our present world. A refusal to understand that slavery was, as comedian Louis CK points out, only 2 grandmas ago. And life didn’t suddenly become great when the Emancipation ink dried. Do you think it is just a coincidence that you have controlled THE WORLD? India, Africa, southern Asia, the Tropics. Your ancestors killed millions, plundered, and raped for that, and you unknowingly enjoy the privilege today and then balk that we notice that you enjoy the privilege.

And since you taught us this fear by force, we have internalized it with force. The streets of Chicago are filled with boys who fear other boys. They hate them as perfectly as you have hated us. Our entertainers degrade and ignore women who don’t at least look white and persuade our youth that their African features are ugly, all to a catchy melody. So our brown and black children learn of their lack of worth the same way they learn their ABCs, musically…from rappers and singers who are owned by white people. And they do what you have taught them to do. Kill. Emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically. They kill. But your fear wont let you see that you had anything to do with it as long as you didn’t pull the trigger. You see, fear stunts intellectual growth. Fear sets cavernous and erroneous pathways in the brain that are rarely reset. Your brain has become your Caucasus mountain. And you fear and kill anything that may be on the other side of that ridge or cortex. You fear thinking. Thinking that maybe your seemingly innocuous daily actions are hurting another person or group. Your staring, your frowning, your following, your comments, your prejudgments, your profiling, your jailing, your sentencing. And then after Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict, black, self-proclaimed provocateurs and white apologists wondered aloud “Why’s everybody so emotional? Blacks kill blacks everyday.” Because this story hits a highly reactive core. It invokes a spiritual memory that blacks folks have of being beaten, lynched, hanged, spat on. It’s a reminder that you can do anything you want in this country to a black, even one of our kids who just went to the store for some candy and tea. It’s easy to be provocative and controversial when your son isn’t laying in the ground.

But here is the crux. All groups have pathologies. The difference is that one person’s decision in your group’s pathology can negatively impact my entire group. A verdict, a tax code, a court precedent. Where one word from one of you can influence global markets, it takes millions of us to physically boycott to see a similar result. That cant be said the other way around. Therefore, it is not for you to fix it. You wont fix it. We have to do it. And for you, we have to repeat the sad but true refrain, that “sometimes change comes one funeral at a time.” Hopefully your kids, who grew up with people who look like me, will outthink you. Will grow and develop where clearly you have not. And then they can begin working on their end. But we won’t wait for that. I hope we don’t. It is now our time to act.

Brent Welch is a people watcher from Dallas, Texas who enjoys travel, eating delicious food, and science. He tends to write things down sometimes. More of his work can be found on Spanky Lee. Tweet Brent @SpankyLeeWriter. Like his Facebook page here.

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  1. BRAVO! *applauds passionately*

    The Zimmerman verdict shook me to my core and was the beginning of a fundamental change in the way I see the world. This injustice led me to question everything I thought I knew and revealed how little I actually did know.

    It was a bold proclamation of how hated we are and how little has changed. Although Trayvon's murder was senseless and unnecessary, it was not in vain. It opened the eyes of many black people, and I pray we never become complacent about demanding change again.

    Unfortunately, we probably will. But not I. I know I'm not alone in that.

  2. Thanks for the introduction Alex, I'd never heard of Brent and this piece spoke to my heart.

  3. Thank you for introducing me to this post, and for all of your own writing. It is deeply appreciated. I am a white woman and I want things to be better. I am listening.


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