“What You Don’t Know About Black People Can Harm Us” Erika Alexander Explains Why David Schwimmer’s Comments Hit Black People So Hard
We covered the back and forth between “Living Single” star Ericka Alexander and “Friends” star David Schwimmer. And while they hashed a couple of things out on Twitter, after David’s last statement, Alexander still had more to say. And she did so in a recent essay for Zora. Alexander claimed that despite claiming to be particularly “woke” Schwimmer was oblivious to his privilege as a White man.
Check out the excerpts from her essay below.
Our digital encounter exposed two realities; one rooted in perceived stature, and the other in implicit value. Living Single had a Black cast of six, young New Yorkers living in the same complex facing life and love together. But we were on a so-called “Black show,” and that designation is the beginning of marginalization. So David didn’t have to pay attention to our show, and frankly, why would he? If you’re king of the hill why pay attention to, well, us. But believe me, you couldn’t miss Friends. It was everywhere.
Their unique recipe of heat, excitement, attractive talent, an iconic haircut, a poppin’ theme song, and hard work, had created a phenomenon. It was unstoppable. It didn’t matter that a similar show, Living Single, existed with the same ingredients, including an iconic haircut. But our being marketed to a mostly Black audience signaled to brands that we were less than and would never command a higher evaluation. But that’s not just show biz, that’s America.
In America, Black people consistently innovate and create original content and unique trends. Hell, we disrupted European dominance and began a path to a world class American culture the minute we stepped off the slave ships, but rarely do we get props or fair payment for it. See, on a deeper level, ignorance — unconscious or otherwise — explains how systematic, racist structures lead to the erasure of Black history and set precedent. Add water, marinate, and fry and that’s what made our small Twitter debate explode.
Racism isn’t always about what you know, usually it’s about what you don’t know or what you don’t want somebody else to know. And what you don’t know about Black people can harm all of us. White ignorance is the rich fertilizer that nurtures a false supremacy.
If Black people and our accomplishments are continually not seen, then it’s easier to ghettoize us, to marginalize us, to shoot us. Then it’s easier to maintain (and teach the world,) the fiction that we don’t exist as full participants in the American dream, that we could never be equal to or better than.
That’s how a seemingly innocent comment from David Schwimmer reverberated in my community. Scratching the wound of a historic crime, it unleashed a posse of digital warriors, voicing their frustration against a rigged system that so marginalizes and under-represents us that it keeps us forever out of the cultural mainstream.
You can read Alexander’s full essay over at Zora.