Should Black People Speak Out Against White Racism?
Many people say that, by definition, black people can’t be racist. That race is a social construct based on the premise that white people are the superior race in order to maintain power, and therefore since black people don’t have that power, they can’t be racist.
And then there are people like Nate Hill, a black man who has been walking around Harlem in whiteface wearing a sign around his neck that reads: “White People Do Not Smell Like Wet Dog,” as part of his “White Ambassador” project. Three times a week through the month of February, Hill will put on this spectacle to show that black people can be racist too.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Hill says, “My mission is pretty clear – racial tolerance. The white stereotypes are often overlooked, and I wanted to examine that. There seems to be a double standard of how racist you’re allowed to be depending on your race.” I.e. I am a biracial man (he says he’s half white in the video below) dying to be accepted by white people.
Hill says he tried to approach the subject from the opposite point of view but he couldn’t get white people to pay attention. Now he’s attempting to use a shock tactic to, as he says, “get it to where I’m defending them, so they’ll be like, ‘aw, yeah, racism, sure.’” Let me help you out Hill, white people don’t pay attention to racism (often) because they don’t have to, and they certainly don’t need any help defending themselves against insignificant remarks such as white people smell like wet dogs.
I find it interesting that Hill goes from saying he’s half white to disassociating himself with the race by his use of the word “them,” but coonery aside, is there a need to speak out against white racism? Personally, I say no, based on the historic definition of the word. When black people speak out against racism, for the most part we’re not complaining because someone said we eat fried chicken all day or we’re welfare queens and thugs, we’re fighting against the unfair practices that result from those attitudes such as discriminatory hiring and firing practices, gentrification, and exploitation of the poor and uneducated. These are issues that won’t get resolved by walking around 125th and Lenox—a predominately black neighborhood might I add—in whiteface.
All of the prejudice attitudes black people hold about white people combined wouldn’t be enough to eliminate the status quo. White people know racism exists, we don’t have to try to make them “see” anything, especially by exposing the fact that black people make racially insensitive remarks about them too. If anything, this gives white people justification to say, “look they do it too,” they don’t need special programs, funding, affirmative action, or any other type of aid simply because they are minorities.
There is certainly a need for racial tolerance across the board, and I’m not belittling the inappropriate comments black people make about white people, but let’s not make them a victim here. A black person serving as a white ambassador has Uncle Tom written all over it, and in the case of Hill, makes us look more caricature-like than most modern day images of the black community. Let us also not forget the outrage we express when a white person puts on blackface—we can’t turn the tables and do the same in the name of racial tolerance.
Of course, we need white people on our side in some respects in our battle against the racist powers that be, but being a white ambassador is really just standing up to a problem that doesn’t really exist. If we want white people to “see” racism more clearly, we have to expose their own hidden prejudices, which truthfully we all carry inside.
Listen to what Nate Hill has to say about his project in the clip below. What do you think about his white ambassador mission? Do we need black people to speak out against white racism?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.