Once again, City Guide's Lauretta Charlton and Julian Kimble tackle the most controversial headlines about race that made the news. This month, they address the notion of white male privilege, Questlove's Vulture essays and Ta-Nehisi Coates' strong case& for reparations (for which they are joined by a special guest.)
[Earlier this month, Time published an essay written by Princeton University student Tal Fortgang, who did his very best to explain his refusal to apologize for his white male privilege. Anyone else hear that? It's the sound of swinging and missing.]
Lauretta: So, I really wanted to send Tal Fortgang an email but decided that it would be irresponsible of me as I have nothing nice to say.In fact I have very mean things to say to "Mr. I Will Never Apologize for My White Privilege."
Julian:I'm glad you didn't, because it would've been a waste of time and effort. There's really no reaching people this oblivious. Speaking of wastes of time, his entire essay was a waste of time.It was a hit dog hollering for no reason.
Lauretta:I wanted to be like, "I'm glad your family enjoys their new home in America, but we been here. So. Yes, bitch, check your fucking privilege."
Julian: Was he asked to step up and troll the world by defending his white male privilege which, apparently unbeknownst to him, was his birthright? Also, I used to get riled up in high school when people would compare slavery to the Holocaust. Now I just let it pass.
Lauretta: DANGER ZONE! We aren't supposed to talk about that stuff, but do tell. Do go on.
Julian: Better yet, I remember someone of Irish descent saying they felt little sympathy for blacks because of what the Irish went through in Europe. I'm not here to claim any Lifetime Struggle Achievement Awards for who had the longer struggle, but, at the end of the day, we're talking about something that went on for centuries compared to something that did not.&
Lauretta: Yeah. It's just not worth comparing.
Julian: Look, both are horrible and I abhor them, but if you try to play the "Well, you know, my ancestors didn't have it easy..." card, I just tune you out. It's not worth comparing because there isn't a comparison.
Lauretta: Yes. This guy is so completely naive about how the world works. It's scary to think that he truly believes his argument isn't completely flawed.
Julian: That's what happens, though. People can't even see the error in their thinking. I'm sure he's 100 percent confident he dropped legitimate knowledge in that essay. I can see him figuratively dropping the mic and walking away from the stage.
Lauretta: Right, but he wants to major in history!
Julian:Oh, the irony. Sounds like he's already majoring in life with the blinders on, with a minor in bullshit. His essay was quite literally the answer to the question no one asked. Which, in turn, answered so many questions about him as a person.
Lauretta: I wonder if he knows about the systems in place that provide him with benefits that minorities and women simply do not enjoy.
Julian: Clearly not.
Lauretta: But why not?
Julian: Because we all started with a level playing field, of course. If we just work hard, then everyone can achieve the same things.
Yes, you have a right to be proud of your heritage, but don't conflate that notion with reverse racism or deny the fact that you have benefited from a system built on racist values. Yes, America was built on racist values and sexist values. Even though we have made strides, we still have serious problems.
Julian: I'd just ask him to observe the way people respond to him in public, as opposed to how they respond to his black friends. If he has any.
Lauretta: Ha. I doubt it. OK, final word on this: Yes, you have a right to be proud of your heritage, but don't conflate that notion with reverse racism or deny the fact that you have benefited from a system built on racist values. Yes, America was built on racist values and sexist values. Even though we have made strides, we still have serious problems. If you can't see that, I would argue you're out of touch with what it means to really be an American.
Julian: Not everyone needs to go Gambit and throw the kinetic energy-charged race card on everything, but denying the existence of institutional racism when it's so blatantly obvious just makes you sound silly.
Lauretta: The beauty of being American, to me, is recognizing our flaws and figuring out how to fix them. We have the tools. But they are currently in the wrong hands.
Lauretta: Anyway, Tal, go fuck yourself.
Julian: Way to flex your defensive white male guilt,because that, ladies and gents, is the American way. Now, since we're discussing opinion pieces, what are your thoughts on Questlove's Vulture essays?
Lauretta: Ugh. I do not like his essays.I think he is out of his depth. I think he signed up for something he didn't realize was actually going to require serious study and research. I read them and thought to myself, "does that sentence even make sense? Is he trying to hide the fact that he doesn't know what he's talking about?" His language is so overly, unnecessarily complicated. I honestly felt like I was reading an essay by an overconfident college student.
Julian: I read the essays—and this is hard for me to say because we're from the same place and the first concert I ever went to was a Roots concert—but I largely disagreed with what he said. Then, at the same time, I think it's probably consistent with who he is: a dude in his 40s. I was, however, waiting for him to get into "where hip-hop went wrong" territory, all because of the "What They Do" video.
Lauretta: I'm going to be a little bit of an ass and say that he needs to read George Orwell's Politics and the English Language. Since basically what he is doing is talking about identity politics and language. As it relates to hip-hop.
For him to write about this as though there's no black art being created, as though "black cool" is dead, as though we no longer care about mining the depths of the African-American experience—it just seems out of touch.
Julian: *Dead* at "a little bit of an ass."
Lauretta: Anyway, my point is, I can't stand his writing. But, I'll shut up about that and we can now move on to his "argument" that hip-hop is ruining black culture. GTFO of here with that!!!!! I'm seriously so upset. I know he's self-aware and smart and an all around fun guy. But, guess what, being black isn't about hip-hop.
Julian: Why are we confining African-American culture to hop-hop though? It existed prior to the early '70s.
Lauretta: It can't fail my experience as a black woman because my experience as a black woman can't be reduced to hip-hop.
Julian: Right, I consider myself to be a walking hip-hop conversation to some extent, but that's like a very small fraction of who and what I am.
Lauretta: I love hip-hop, don't get me wrong, but for someone—anyone—to claim that a genre of music can tarnish my identity, they are sorely mistaken.
Julian: And I'm pretty confident he feels the same way about himself.
Lauretta: It's absurd to me that someone would think such a thing.
Julian: Here's the other thing: I don't think it's in a place where it can tarnish anything.
Lauretta: How so?
Julian: I can literally arm myself with the type of music that I want to hear now. I can hide in a figurative foxhole and listen to nothing but the shit I'm into these days. Part of his argument is that hip-hop is failing because it isn't as good as it was back in the day (the classic old guy argument), and I don't think that's completely true. I believe there's a lot more variety than there was, say, 20 years ago.
Julian: Also, he points to record sales being down, but they're down across the board because of what? The Internet.
Lauretta: He's like, the art is gone! No more art. It's all money and Bugatti's. But I'm like, no, friend, "art" just isn't getting booked on Fallon.
Julian: LMAO. Hold up, I'll come back to that. I'm gonna stand up for him and say that I do agree with his argument about art and Jay-Z. (Watch me get dissed like Drake for this.) The point he makes about the art references on Jay's Magna Carta Holy Branded Content album are valid. Jay-Z, at nearly 45, is not relatable to his average fan.
Lauretta: Sure. I agree with that, but at least he's not fronting like Questlove. Jay-Z is green. He's not black, he's not white—he's money, and he's not trying to hide that. That's how I see it, anyway.
Julian: People who can't identify Tom Ford or Tom Ford's clothing know all of the words to "Tom Ford" because they want to be part of that same club that excludes people just like them. Yes, he's like "Look, I came from nothing, became what I am and I'm cool with that." No apologies, and no fake deep bullshit. If the Barney's shit didn't show you Jay is all about a dollar, you really aren't paying attention. I'm not mad at him for that, either.
Lauretta: If you're going to look for a real "cool" artist to relate to, you have to go out and engage in a community. Those communities exist. I don't think Questlove is a part of them. For him to write about this as though there's no black art being created, as though "black cool" is dead, as though we no longer care about mining the depths of the African-American experience—it just seems out of touch. You can't measure these things by record sales.
Julian: With Quest, it's like he forgot that hip-hop being "everywhere" (which, apparently, will result in it eventually being nowhere, let him tell it) has allowed him to get that steady Tonight Show paycheck.
Lauretta: Preach. Also, get out of here with this Spooky material bullshit. Speak plainly. No one thinks you're sitting at home reading Being and Time, Questlove. One of my biggest pet peeves is people not using simple, direct language to get their point across. I feel like he is hiding behind quotes from Einstein and Bradford and Ice Cube.
It's like he forgot that hip-hop being "everywhere" (which, apparently, will result in it eventually being nowhere, let him tell it) has allowed him to get that steady Tonight Show paycheck.
Julian: That's another conversation. Here's another thing: "coolness," per se, within the African-American community is not limited to hip-hop artists. If you ask some people, a good example of blackness and cool intersecting is our commander-in-chief.
Lauretta: If you want to ask me where blackness and cool intersect, I would say here, The Dark Room Collective. Questlove's essays could have been stronger, but I think it was noble of him to try to take this project on. Like, seriously, one of your "essays" is actually a Q+A? Doesn't feel like he thought this through.
Julian: I am glad he answered questions, though. Just for clarity, but I see what you're saying.
Lauretta: He's not an expert on black culture and race. You know who is an expert?
Julian: The God himself.
Lauretta: Ta-Nehisi Coates is the G.O.A.T. He writes brilliantly about black culture and race. One of my favorite of many quotes from his piece is this: "In fact, white flight was a triumph of social engineering, orchestrated by the shared racist presumptions of America’s public and private sectors." This idea that racism, like slavery, is institutionalized in America, there's no escaping it. When you're white, you enjoy certain benefits that blacks do not. This was especially true in Chicago during the era of white flight, but I still think it's true today. He makes an excellent case for reparations, but how the fuck will it work? I want my monies!
Julian: Chicago is really the best place he could've used to help start the conversation. Or construct the argument.
Lauretta: Interestingly enough, he could have also used the south, but he didn't.
Julian: He mentions it, and the movement of people from places like Mississippi to Chicago in search of some type of equality which they ultimately do not find.
When you're white, you enjoy certain benefits that blacks do not. This was especially true in Chicago during the era of White Flight, but I still think it's true today.
Lauretta: Bingo. I loved that transition. Like, here we are, a real American family, trying to engage, trying to take part in the American dream only to find that the racism in the North is perhaps more insidious than the racism in the South in that it's sanctioned by the government.
Jack: So maybe I should explain why I was invited/invited myself to join this discussion (because I ain't black and I'm also the third wheel, as it were). As I explained to Lauretta, I'm the great-grandson of a slave owner, he's actually my name sake. So I'm probably as close as anyone in the country, generationally speaking, to slave-owning ancestors. So I'm the one who should be paying reparations, right? Like, me alone?
Julian: To Jack's point: 1. Wow. 2. The last question you raised is exactly where it gets murky.
Lauretta: Jack, Julian and I will happily take your money. Just kidding, Julian wouldn't. LOL, I don't mean to be flip, gentlemen. Yes, this is a murky issue.
Jack: Well, I started it.
Lauretta: Ha! Thank you for joining us, Jack. I don't want to turn this into an interrogation, however, I do feel you have a very interesting perspective on this issue.
Jack: Thanks for having me.
Julian: The things is, I don't fault you, Jack. I fault the people keeping the wall up. "The Man," so to speak. So it doesn't have to come out of your pockets (I'll take a beer, though) specifically, but the distribution begins with acknowledgement from the top.
Lauretta: Often white people say, "Why should I pay? I didn't own slaves, I'm not responsible." I think we are all responsible to some degree. But, Jack, do you think one should feel more responsibility if they actually know their family owned slaves? (Also, I agree with Julian.)
Jack: No. For one, that would be an accounting nightmare. Like, there are mixed race people who have both slaves and slave owners in their ancestry. Do they pay themselves reparations? And secondly, as Coates so thoroughly documents, it's not just slavery that's created this system. Slavery was the foundation, but there's a whole list of ways the system has been rigged in favor of white people. Part of the reason I wanted to join this conversation is because I think it's useful for someone to say, "I'm totally conscious of the way I've benefited from being white." It's seems like it's easy for white folk to say "Yeah, racism sucks, but I earned this. I earned what I have."
There are mixed race people who have both slaves and slave owners in their ancestry. Do they pay themselves reparations? And secondly, as Coates so thoroughly documents, it's not just slavery that's created this system. Slavery was the foundation, but there's a whole list of ways the system has been rigged in favor of white people.
Julian: Like the Defender of White Privilege from the Time article.
Lauretta: Uh oh. That guy....
Julian: He could stand to learn a lot from reading this. But, Jack's right, it is useful for someone to step up and acknowledge that they have benefited from being white. That's like the beginning of the entire process of reparations. Too many people are trigger-happy with the "But I didn't do it" response. To that, I say that I wasn't born a slave, but I'm still dealing with the impact and influence of slavery in the 21st century.
Lauretta: Word. OK, so we all agree that this is a process. Step one, acknowledging that you've benefited from institutionalized racism. You know what we haven't talked about? Why people are vehemently against HR 40? Even though it's not calling for direct financial compensation, I think people are afraid of it because it will lead to more knowledge about just how rigged the system is. It seems harmless to establish a committee that simply studies this stuff, but even that scares the shit out of people. Why is that?
Julian: People don't want to accept the truth, per the usual.
Jack: Well, there's this idea that, at least in an official capacity, shit has been hunky dory since 1863, or at least since the mid-'60s. Like, "Oh, I though we fixed that? Why can't y'all just get over it?" I'm here to tell you, I'm just three generations removed from slave owners.
Lauretta: You know some people are saying affirmative action was a form of reparations. Shoot me.
Julian: I'm glad we've arrived at affirmative action. I like how Coates mentioned that people asked Obama if his daughters were deserving of affirmative action or, better yet, more deserving than, say, two poor white children. To which Obama, of course, answered no.
It is useful for someone to step up and acknowledge that they have benefited from being white. That's like the beginning of the entire process of reparations. Too many people are trigger-happy with the "But I didn't do it" response. To that, I say that I wasn't born a slave, but I'm still dealing with the impact and influence of slavery in the 21st century.
Jack: Which, for political reasons, he has to do.
Julian: As Coates points out, people don't even seem to understand how ridiculous of a comparison that is.
Jack: That's such a loaded comparison.
Julian: Then he brings up the Bush girls who, unlike the Obama girls, come from generations of wealth, prestige and privilege.
Jack: Being white is a form of affirmative action.
Julian: *Bangs Gavel*
Julian: Here's another knowledge dart for people who think that everything has been sweet since the '60s: "Sharkey’s research shows that black families making $100,000 typically live in the kinds of neighborhoods inhabited by white families making $30,000." It's unbelievable, yet totally believable.
Lauretta: And another: "Liberals today mostly view racism not as an active, distinct evil but as a relative of white poverty and inequality. They ignore the long tradition of this country actively punishing black success—and the elevation of that punishment, in the mid-20th century, to federal policy."
Jack: Well, my grandfather inherited a minuscule amount from his father's (the slave owner) estate. He (my grandfather) was also a very hard-working and thrifty person. But he attended an all-white college in the '20s, and was employed by all white firms in the '30s. He wasn't competing with black people for spots in college or for jobs. And then he saved money to put my father through school who, in turn, did it for me, and boom, here I am.
Lauretta: I'm so happy you're here, Jack! I wonder why it is taking so long for us to have these conversations, though. Why aren't we talking about them as a nation? Why are we still trying to figure out how to talk about this stuff? It's not that complicated. I think the issue is, if your child isn't being hurt by institutionalized racism, it's hard to really give a shit. There's a lack of empathy, a lack of concern, and a lack of shared responsibility. It's the breakdown of the social contract.
Jack: It's hard for people to hold two semi-competing thoughts in their heads: I am hard-working and smart. I am also a beneficiary of a system that has been and still is rigged in my favor.
Lauretta: Perhaps in a similar vein I often find myself asking "Why am I not doing more?" I find myself upset about how the cards were stacked against me and other African-Americans. But then it's like, I walk out of my house and hang with all my liberal friends and just act as though none of this real stuff affects me. And it does, in a very direct way, regularly.
Julian: You'll get called the "Angry Black Woman" for pointing out the truth. You start saying things that make people uncomfortable and they label you as "militant" or a problem. History has taught us that this is how you will be dealt with.
Lauretta: Yep. But I am angry, to be clear. I'm angry that black men are being thrown in prisons, for one thing.
Jack: It's strange. I kind of cringe when I hear stuff like, "Just having these conversations is part of the process," and then here I am just having these types of conversations, and not, you know, doing anything.
Well, there's this idea that, at least in an official capacity, shit has been hunky dory since 1863, or at least since the mid-'60s. Like, "Oh, I though we fixed that? Why can't y'all just get over it?" Which, I'm here to tell you, I'm just two generations removed from slave owners.
Julian: That's understandable, because convenience crusaders do love to get fake mad about things for a brief moment, then go back to their regularly scheduled lives. I'm definitely not preaching or levitating due to superhuman powers of elitism, because I don't think people really know what to do or where to start.
Lauretta: Knowledge dart number 3,000 from Coates: "America was built on the preferential treatment of white people—395 years of it. Vaguely endorsing a cuddly, feel-good diversity does very little to redress this." In other words, talking about it isn't enough. (But it's something...)
Julian: Amen to that. Diversity is a word people throw around to make themselves feel comfortable.
Lauretta: Well, I'm going to go stick my head in an oven until HR 40 is passed.
Jack: Please don't do that! But seriously, there is something to be said for leading our lives in truthful ways and chipping away at the problem (so says the white dude).
Julian: Lol, but that's true.
Lauretta: Man, Jack, you give us angry black folk hope. Wish there were more of ya. Anyway, anything else you want to say about Coates' essay, y'all?
Jack: Yes. It should be taught in middle schools everywhere.
Lauretta: And pass HR 40, America!
Jack: Or just talk about it on the House floor.
Julian: I got about halfway through Coates' essay and found myself yelling out loud, "That's what the fuck I've been saying!" He said everything that frustrated black folks and non-oblivious folks of other races have been saying for a while now. Easily one of the year's best long reads. A legitimate "You the real MVP" moment.
Lauretta: And with that, I think we'll close it out. Thanks again for joining us, Jack.
Jack: Thanks, guys.