When Racism Flag Waving Becomes A Petty Sport

I‘ll admit that I am exhausted with the topic of race. This is not to say that I agree that we have entered into a mythical post-racial society, but the discussion is so rife with poor judgment calls, poor assessments, and bull-horn bullying that I’ve begun to openly wonder if the language we now use to talk about this thick, convoluted societal affliction is inadequate; incapable of harnessing the minutiae, the nuanced insidiousness of the industrial race complex. Because, let’s face it, race talk has always been as much a movement as it has been big business. Careers have thrived and died on dissecting this living organism.

In recent weeks, I’ve been scolded and condescended to because I haven’t readily raised my hand to agree with some approach or overly broad statement concerning “blackness.” As a consequence my own “blackness”, my race consciousness and my commitment to challenging racism has been brought into question by other Black people, who having found me wanting, often dismiss me with, “you clearly don’t know who you are.” I refuse to be angry about this because I know where I’ve been and what I’ve done. If I let other people define me I will certainly cease to exist as myself.

But I am angry about what Ta-Nehisi Coates recently succinctly called “the parlor games” of race. With the election of President Barack Obama every pseudo-intellectual now feels qualified to tell other people how they should feel not only about themselves but about every single incident that involves people of diverse racial backgrounds. The NBC lunchroom incident is a classic example of this kind of race bullying, where the simple act of putting fried chicken and collard greens on a Black History Month menu is enough to rant and write 2,000 words about racism in corporate America. Meanwhile, real incidents of racism in the workplace are left unchallenged, perhaps because the subtlety there is too great for most racism flag wavers to comfortably etch a narrative on.

I am an advocate of calling racism out, both in its overt and nuanced forms, but I will not clog up the discussion with petty claims that do little to advance the broader issues and challenges, one of which is to get all of us–black, white, yellow, brown–away from these constant attempts to pigeonhole each other with the very scaffolding that we are trying to dismantle. That is to say, if we want to have an honest  talk about race we have to remove the language (and its emotional underpinnings), the very words and actions, that have kept it alive for so long. Therefore, when a black chef–paying homage to the Southern roots that generations of Black people have helped to create–decides to place fried chicken and collard greens on a menu during Black History Month, we need to put the cameras, pens and flags down and dig in.