At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, today, pour forth a stream, a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and the crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.
Frederick Douglass, What to the Slave is the 4th of July?
Am I like the ultimate buzzkill or what? I get on my own nerves sometimes. I appreciate those of you read and listen to what must seem like a never-ending “fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke.” I probably sound like a lunatic to some, a bigot to others, a pain in the ass to most. That’s ok. I can be all those things on any given day.
But this issue of race? It’s real to me. I wake up thinking about it. And even if I didn’t, I couldn’t get a foot on the floor without somehow being reminded of it. Those who have known me since my Davidson College days are not surprised that I’m like this. Well, maybe surprised that I’m still like this. Those who have known me even longer, since Rocky Mount Senior High, Fannie Gorham or even O.R. Pope Elementary, are perhaps surprised that I ever got this way.
But let me say this: I didn’t become the way I am until I really understood why I am the way I am. Many things shape us. How, where, when and by whom you’re raised are key determinants of whom you become. So is race. Indeed, race is an even bigger determinant because you don’t control that.
Black or White, you can overcome your upbringing; you can’t ‘overcome’ your race. If you’re Black, you are burdened with collectively conscious stereotypes and assigned assumptions. If you’re White, you’re burdened by privilege (and yeah, if you care about what’s right, privilege can be a burden). You’re born with these things, you live with them, you die with — and sometimes because of — them. Race shapes us all in ways we cannot control but can choose to understand.
Remember what Morpheus said in The Matrix? “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”
At Davidson, I took the red pill. I’ve been navigating the rabbit hole ever since.