Ever since my younger brother committed to his PWI (Predominantly White Institution), I admit, I have had some concerns about the course of his developmental knowledge.
No, I am not suspect of the academic education he will obtain. I recognize that there are a lot of universities outside of HBCUs that provide excellent resources, professors, and facilities (I’ll refrain from further comment here because, well, we know what we can say as far as Howard’s facilities go). But my concern, rather, lies in his social and personal education.
I have learned a lot of critical information about myself since coming to my HBCU.
I’ve learned about the widespread effects of the Diaspora, and I’ve learned to love my kinky hair. I’ve learned to embrace and fight harder for my Black peers over anyone else because having the inequalities and disparities highlighted for me in this Black-nurturing environment has helped me recognize the fact that no one is ever going to fight harder for us than us.
And, perhaps the simplest, most basic thing I have learned is to not let your white friends say “nigga.”
In light of, Russell Schiller’s dirty laundry being aired out after his #BlackWomenAreGorgeous campaign launched and received such recognition, I feel the need to address this. Schiller’s tweets, make me feel uneasy, not because it’s the first time I’ve heard a white guy use “nigga”, but because of the context.
The sophomore, Schiller, tells the world that having grown up in a predominantly Black community, he feels most comfortable around Black people. He is, in fact, most attracted to Black women, and has shared a lifetime of experiences around Black people. Due to these experiences, Russel Schiller came up with a campaign to highlight Black women who, in his opinion, are “the standard of beauty”. Fine, I hear you.
But what makes me uneasy actually has nothing to do with Russell Schiller himself. What’s so disconcerting about this whole exposure is that not one person this young man has ever come across has effectively taught him that you don’t earn the right to say the word, whether you’ve heard it for 18 years or two.
While, of course, I’m disappointed to hear that this was once the language he used with ease, I’m more concerned with how this reflects the self-esteem and -image of the individuals he’s been closely surrounded by because, yeah, I was once that person. For a really long time, white people saying “nigga” did not earn much more than a flinch from me, if that.
Since coming to my HBCU, I have learned to love and protect myself, my identity, and my people. Wholistically. Even if that means telling old friends that I’m tired of hearing their little vanilla selves say “nigga”, and, no, just because I didn’t say something about it before I went to my Black school does not mean it was ever okay.
You do not get to reclaim the word that your ancestors once oppressed my people with. You do not have that privilege. Your white privilege does not, actually, gain you valid access to this word.
But, here, take a look Schiller’s apology that came up with a quickness after the racist accusations:
I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s totally and completely sincere. I am choosing to believe that when you highlight a true ally’s past transgressions that they will be capable of recognizing, owning, and apologizing for what they’ve once done to hurt the people they now champion for.
So, let me address this one to you, my white peers at Howard. You have entered our safe space. You have come to join us in some very critical years of personal growth, and by now I assume you might really like Black people and may even care for us in a way that you had not before–have found a different respect for us, I don’t know. But if you’re going to use your platform and privilege as a white person to help, discuss, and highlight Black people and Black issues, you have to do it sincerely and sensitively. At no point will the number of Black friends you have measure your ability to identify with the Black experience. You are white, therefore you have had no Black experiences and you cannot speak to them, but you can discuss your privilege. You can talk about the the Eric Garners and the Trayvon Martins and you can help your friends see the injustices. You can dispel perpetuated stereotypes. You can speak on a factual and moral level about the inequalities you have (now, personally, even) witnessed Black people facing, but it can go no further than that. Oh, and you can stop your white friends from saying “nigga”, too.
And to my Black peers, I say this: It’s our job teach our allies how to be allies; to tell them what we need and what’s the appropriate way for them to show their solidarity. I have never had a problem answering a question or providing a Black perspective on an issue that a white person doesn’t understand and wants to understand, and it’s important to do so, especially with the people who care about you as an individual. Tell them that their opinions are misinformed or detrimental: We will never change what we don’t address. Take pride in your people and fight for them in any way that you can.
I’d once joked–in some seriousness, of course–that I would disown my brother if he was letting his non-Black friends say “nigga”, but it’s deeper than that. I just want him to know that he doesn’t have to sit for it.