In Langston Hughes’ poem, “Warning,” he writes:
Sweet and docile,
Meek, humble, and kind:
Beware the day
They change their mind!
In the cotton fields,
Beware the hour
It uproots trees!
Is there room for black people who don’t care about non-black people? Is there room for black people who don’t empathize with non-black issues? Is there room for black people who don’t have the space for non-black tragedy?
Hughes reminds us that regardless of if we are sweet and docile, meek, humble, or kind, white people always change their minds. So it’s imperative for all black people to remain vigilant around white people and whiteness. After 300+ years of documenting the violence and destruction white people have caused, is it any wonder that there are black people who don’t have the energy or space to humanize white people and non-black people?
There’s always room for coons, though. There’s always room for those who are pro-Black liberation but don’t want to harm or kill non-Black people in order to solidify safety and an end to antiblackness. There’s always room for the “I don’t like white people but I don’t want to hurt them” group of black people. There’s always room for the “We don’t have to mock non-black people’s pain for the sake of Black lives mattering” crowd.
But is there humanity and space offered to niggas who dead ass don’t care about anyone non-Black? Seemingly, there’s a theorizing around coonery but a dismissal of those black folks who have grown conscious of white supremacist violence, and also have disengaged from humanizing whiteness and non-blackness.
Does not caring about non-Black people make us heartless and violent? Or does it indicate that we’ve adapted to antiblack violence and know who our oppressor is and the lack of humanity offered to our own black bodies? Black people should be allowed the space to cut themselves off emotionally from tragedy that is hierarchically categorized above their lived experiences.
Is this complicated as fuck? Is it uncomfortable as fuck? Yeah.
I say that as a nigga who hates white people but also feels bad sometimes, who can’t help but to be humanize people standing in my face. I feel like I’m dehumanizing myself by disliking white people so much. But I know in my heart and in my politicization that we must hold space for the Black people who don’t play by the rules or psychological warfare of white supremacy. The slaves who never grew scar tissue to the wounds of antiblackness enough to blind them to the reality that whiteness and white people are not to be played with or felt for.
If we can hold space for the niggas who tap dance for survival, hold space for those who choose not to even come to the auditorium and play the game. There’s little to no room to be fucked up towards the people that benefit from our pain, yet alone to disengage from providing emotional labor or empathy towards them.
If you talk about hating white people at a #BlackLivesMatter rally, you will get more dirty looks than the nigga preaching about the myth of black-on-black crime. If you talked about the Paris terrorist attacks and expressed not having the energy to give to a tragedy that is was already being memorialized and monetized, you will get dragged. When Kim Kardashian was robbed, and mad black folks didn’t care or show remorse, it quickly became about a personal attack on a mother like we weren’t just hash tagging Korryn Gaines yesterday.
I’m here for the black folks that can balance out empathy for all levels of violence and who it happens to. I’m also here for black folks that can’t do that for anyone non-black in a world that tells us to offer our own personal access to humanity and safety for the sake of everyone else’s. It’s about black people not offering labor to non-black tragedy that is always more protected than our lives are. This isn’t inherently about condoning violence, but about actually allowing the space to work through the difficulty of reserving your energy and empathy for blackness, even at the cost of not offering that to everyone non-black — the same people who benefit from our death and destruction.
Ashleigh Shackelford is a queer, nonbinary Black fat femme writer, artist and cultural producer. Ashleigh is a contributing writer at Wear Your Voice Magazine and For Harriet. Read more at BlackFatFemme.com.