Remember the scene in Save the Last Dance when Sara and Chenille were arguing with one another at the clinic? After talking about the fight Sara had with Nikki, Chenille, played by Kerry Washington, speaks of the pain Black women may feel seeing her and Derek with one another.
Chenille: Derek’s about something. He’s smart, he’s motivated, he’s for real. He’s not just going to make some babies and not take care of them or run the streets, messing up his life. He’s going to make something of himself. And here you come white so you gotta be right and you take one of the few decent men we have left after jail, drugs and drive by. That is what Nikki meant about you up in our world.
Sara: There’s only one world Chenille.
Chenille: That is what they teach you, we know different.
Sara leaves shortly after that. But the scene always stuck with me because it represented a fundamental truth. White people and Black folks live in two entirely different worlds. For us, racism is something we have to contend with every single day of our lives, if we’re paying attention. Meanwhile white folks don’t ever have to even consider racism. In fact most white people never do. So when issues of race are brought up in national and international conversation, it’s always a shock to their system.
Sunday, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle told Oprah that the Royal Family were expressing racist sentiments. Such sentiments were found in their inquiries about their baby’s potential skin color, in belittling Markle’s battle with mental health issues and refusing to come to her defense when she was being lied on and attacked daily by the press—while other members of the Royal Family were protected and shielded from such ridicule.
The idea that the Royal Family could be racist has come as a surprise—to white people. Pundits across the pond have argued that maybe the members of the Royal Family who inquired about baby Archie’s skin color were just curious—not racist. Charlene White of Loose Women suggested that there was a difference between casual racism and overt racism as if to suggest one were more benign than the other or even worst, that Black people should excuse and forgive “casual racism” because it wasn’t spewed with malicious intent.
Then yesterday, Sharon Osbourne decided to defend her friend Piers Morgan on “The Talk.” As we reported earlier, Morgan has spent years disparaging Meghan’s character on the show, “Good Morning Britain.” As we wrote earlier, his issues with her likely stem from the fact she “ghosted” him after they had a couple of drinks at the bar one night. But he took it too far when he used his platform to question the validity of her mental health issues. I don’t know what happened in the conversations he shared with his employer but after a reported complaint from Markle herself, I’m sure they asked him to apologize because Meghan Markle is far from the only person struggling with mental health issues. And denying someone’s experience in a matter this severe is dangerous to say the least.
Piers refused and he either he was asked or he decided to leave the show. The way he’s continued carrying on on Twitter, I’d assume they told him to pack up his desk.
Let’s pause for a minute here because there are several things going on.
One, Piers was truly offended Markle didn’t return his affections. He took that personally. We can attribute that to toxic masculinity. Every day we see men lose their pride and their good sense after being rejected. Still, the fact he was rejected by Markle, a biracial woman triggered Morgan’s misogynoir, the intersection of misogyny and the particular type of bias against Black women that made rejection from her sting more than it would have if she were just a another white woman.
We know it was misogynoir at work because Piers spent years bashing Markle on television. Maybe he would have done the same to a white woman but he knew he could get away with it because society is set up to mistreat Black women. It’s accepted and dismissed as “just opinion.” And again, because white people live in a world where they don’t see the ways in which racism is affecting them, they don’t have to weigh or consider the racist origins of their comments and behaviors. All of Britain was talking trash about Markle. And it was widely accepted because she is a biracial woman.
But Sharon Osbourne doesn’t believe that Morgan’s comments about Markle are racist. And she expressed such on her own platform, first on Twitter and then again—in between two Black women, Sheryl Underwood and Elaine Welteroth– on “The Talk.” She feels that her buddy Piers has a right to his opinion.
In defending him, Osbourne got loud and indignant about the fact that Piers had been labeled as a racist and feared that because she spoke out on his behalf feared that she too would be labeled one.
Sharon Osbourne: I feel even like I’m about to be put in the electric chair because I have a friend who many people think is a racist so that makes me a racist. And for me, at 68-years of age to have to turn around and say, I ain’t racist. What’s it got to do with me? How can I be racist about anybody?! How can I be racist about anybody or anything?
Sheryl Underwood: Well I…
Sharon: Well what?!
Sheryl: We’ll be right back. We have more topics so don’t go away.
Sharon: And I think we should stop this…show cuts to commercial.
When they return from commercial, Sharon was still ready to go.
Sharon: I will ask you again Sheryl, I’ve been asking you during the break. I will ask you again. And don’t try and cry because if anybody should be crying, it should be me. This is the situation, you tell me where you have heard him say—educate me. Tell me! When you have heard him say racist things. Educate me! Tell me!
Sheryl: It is not the exact words of racism, it’s the implication and the reaction to it. To not want to address that because she is a Black woman—and to try to dismiss it or make it seem less than what it is, that’s what makes it racist. Right now, I’m talking to a woman who I believe is my friend and I don’t want anybody to here to watch this and say that we’re attacking you for being racist.
Sheryl: And for that, if I articulated it…
Sharon: I think it’s too late. I think that seed’s already sown.
Sheryl: Okay, that is why I’m saying for me, I thought I was asking a question about the perception for other people. That’s why I prefaced it with, I’ve never heard you utter anything racist.
Sharon: Oh Sheryl, please.
Sheryl: But I have felt that Piers was racist in his stance against Meghan Markle and the last time he was on this show, I said as much.
You can watch this portion of the discussion in the video below.
The aggression, the condescension in her tone, the demands to be educated by a Black woman were all entirely too much. If Sharon Osbourne wanted to convince people that she “ain’t racist” she surely didn’t do a good job of it here.
It is racist to think that Black folk will labor for you. It’s not Sheryl’s job to educate her. I’m sure as a “friend,” she might not have minded. But to be hollering with that level of entitlement is a problem. Black folks don’t owe white people an education on what racism is when we’re the victims of it. There’s been too much scholarship done that Sharon could have researched before lending her support to the likes of Piers Morgan and then being surprised when people assumed because she provided a safe haven for his comments she too was racist.
Then she tries to police and monitor Sheryl’s emotional reaction to the situation. Black folks, the victims of racism, are not allowed to cry when speaking about our shared experiences of trauma but Sharon can dab her eyes with tissue for simply being labeled a racist? The irony of a white woman telling a Black woman not to cry, when it’s white women who historically and consistently weaponize their tears is rich. Sheryl wasn’t crying, Sharon was. But if Sheryl did feel the need to cry, it would have been well within her right.
Secondly, and this is the hardest pill to swallow, white folks don’t get to decide what racism is.
As the oppressors, it’s never your place to tell a Black person–or any person of color– what is and isn’t racist. White people will never be the victims of systematic racism. Even Osbourne being labeled as a potential racist won’t have any lasting impact on her career, her livelihood or her life, in the grand scheme of things. Meanwhile, racism is a wound Black people have to treat every.single.day.
We have a right to cry about that if we want to. How dare Sharon even attempt to dictate Sheryl’s emotions about the subject, friend or not?
Osbourne is not the only person who’s denied being racist.
Prince William came forward today denying accusations of his family being racist as well. He told journalists, the royals are “very much not a racist family.”
Honestly, the suggestion is laughable. And I’d love for William to expound on that. When exactly did the royal family stop being racist? Was it after the colonization and exploitation of the nearly the entire world? Was it when their family members stopped sympathizing or actively engaging with the Nazis? What anti racist classes did the Royal Family take to ensure that the same attitudes that allowed them to oppress people of color all over the globe were erased from their psyches? They’re just so decent and so evolved that it just disappeared with the times?
I doubt it.
White people, from the Royal Family, to Sharon Osbourne, to your ignorant a$$ coworker spend so much time defending themselves against accusations of being racist that they never take the time to step back and acknowledge the ways in which their behavior might be problematic, harmful and even disparaging or degrading to people of color. That’s racism.
Anytime I hear a white person state emphatically, that they’re not racist—typically after doing some racist sh*t–I tune out. You’re not examining yourself, your mind and the structures around you which have allowed you to ignore racism entirely until it shows up on your door step.
I’ve said this before and I’ll reiterate it here. Instead of trying to be excused from the work of addressing racist ideologies and behaviors in themselves and society at large, what white people need to start investigating are the ways in which they can be better.
Veronica Wells-Puoane is the culture editor at MadameNoire.com. She is the author of “Bettah Days” and You’ll Be All Write, a question and answer journal for Black women. She is also the creator of the website NoSugarNoCreamMag.
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