Adaptation of the Black Diaspora: My White Voice
"What does our rage at injustice mean if it can be silenced, erased by individual material comfort? If aware black folks gladly grate in their critical political consciousness for opportunistic personal advancement then there is no place for rage and no hope that we can ever live to see the end of white supremacy."
bell hooks, Killing Rage
“My nigga!” Yelled out Peter*. He was talking to me. We’d only just met a few minutes ago and he was Indian. My whole body tensed. I cringed at his use of the word. I was so caught off guard all I could do was mutter “you’re not allowed to say that…” Everyone laughed, someone did a “ooooh, you didn’t!” and the subject was changed. See, we were in a group, and the moment was so intensely awkward, but I didn’t want to be “that black person.” Because obviously he didn’t mean it in a malicious way, he was just kidding, right? Right? NO!! It’s actually unacceptable for him to use that word.
Did I tell him this? No. Did I educate him on the use of the word? No.
It stuck with me for a while as to why I didn’t say anything. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that this wasn’t the only time my behaviour has changed when it came to the discussion of race issues. One of the most recurring instances is the emergence of my "white people” voice. (Hands up if you’re guilty).
In the black community we’ve laughed about it, joked, and poked fun at each other about using our white people voices. The way our voices change, the pitch goes up and it’s suddenly very “proper”. I live in Australia and on the many occasions my white voice switch flips, my Australian accent gets even stronger.
To adapt is to survive. On a primal, animalistic level it is explained as nature, and it is not questioned. It is accepted as mother nature’s way of balancing herself out. This need to survive extends beyond survival of the fittest in a Darwinian sense; just think back to high school. How many kids pretended to be someone else just so they could fit in? As I'm growing up, I’m seeing that this need for approval operates on so many different levels. And one of those that I find the most disconcerting is in relation to race and colour.
I hadn’t thought much of this change in behaviour, I always thought “I just want to make sure I’m being understood”. I’m learning now, that this goes beyond that. As the black diaspora strives to survive in new environments we’ve created self-preservation mechanisms. We’ve adopted a few habits along the way, all in the name of fitting in. We find that we don’t want to cause too many ripples, even in the face of blatant racism, discrimination or unacceptable behaviour. Our behaviour strives to separate us from the iconoclastic angry black man/woman , which has been cast with a multitude of aspersions to discredit its legitimacy. We find our selves doing delicate dances to ensure we don’t offend or make people, especially white people uncomfortable with our blackness.
We’re so concerned with our personal dialogue with whitepeople (and other races too) and how it ensuresour personal success and maintains our non-threatening black persona. And for this we forego our right to speak out against injustice or disrespect.
So when I read bell hooks’ Killing Rage, I realised how important it is to express our discomforts, disagreements and rage. Of course this does not involve murderous rampages, but rather a legitimate expression of frustration and anger at what is not right. That’s the only way change can come about, if we express our disagreement with the status quo.
So thinking back to that day with Peter, I know now, that because I didn’t fully communicate my disagreement and disgust at his use of the n-word, I know he will say it again. My silence was an inadvertent act of complicity in the promotion of the use of that word. I now know that anger and disapproval in response to racism, discrimination and disrespect is legitimate. Expressing it does not make you a stereotype, rather, it is a human, emotional response to something that attacks your self-determination.
Image: Afro Bloomin' by Dazhane Leah