"Thots & Thoughts" is a column in which musings on dating, sex, race, religion, and politics all come together—from a bird's-eye view.
It happened when Michael Jackson died. It happened shortly after Whitney Houston’s death. It happened to Prince after he died suddenly. It has since happened to Muhammad Ali. I fear it will be a fate met one day by the likes of Beyoncé, Steph Curry, Rihanna, and LeBron James.
“It” is when white media exalts fallen Black public figures for “transcending race” in an attempt to honor them.
When you saw #Ali you didn't see color you didn't see religion you saw a gentle man who was a strong fighter,a Champion you could believe in— Chris Myers (@The_ChrisMyers) June 4, 2016
“It” will never not be disingenuous. It will always be another superficial attempt to address racism. It will always be a glib statement earning the rightful eyeroll of Black people everywhere.
One problem with the notion of “transcending race” is that it immediately connotes that being Black is some sort of barrier. Why does one need to transcend who they are? This turn of phrase is meant as a compliment, but it is anything but. It is a well-meaning—but no less dishonest—way of describing Black men and women who have accomplished so much in the face of adversity.
Why does one need to “transcend” their Blackness for mainstream a.k.a. white consumption? When I hear well-meaning white folks write or utter this phrase, I can’t help but chuckle at how self-absorbed they’re being. Instead, they should say ,“I got over my own biases” and embraced X Black celebrity.
Be real, beloved, and spare us the bullshit.
All of the aforementioned Black celebrities were unapologetically Black. Moreover, none of them ever escaped the systemically unfair battle against any living, breathing, and especially thriving Black person.
To say they “transcended race” is to downplay racism—and remember, there are levels—and lay claim to a dead Black body.
Michael Jackson was the world’s greatest pop star, but that was a Black man making music rooted in various Black art forms. Prince was a brilliant musician who created genre-crossing art—which traced directly to Black music. Whitney Houston “did” pop, but that was a Black ass woman from Newark. Muhammad Ali actively used his stature as the world’s most celebrated boxer to speak against the institutionalized racism and white supremacy that plagued Black people in America and beyond.
Did non-Black people celebrate them? Sure. Did some white people understand their points of view? Indeed. But that’s not transcending race; it’s non-Black people finally daring to see Black people, Black artists, and Black athletes.
Whoopty damn doo for those who dared to bypass bigotry, but this isn’t about them.
Black people who managed to reach success in a society actively conspiring against them are worthy of praise, and not on the basis of “transcending” who they were. They were born Black, lived Black, and died Black. Respect that, because when you that say they were "beyond" their very core, you’re only reminding living Black people how little you still think of us.