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Nonfiction Societal The Word 5 minute read

Driving From the Car Seat

My Dear White Sisters & Brothers,

Have you regressed to the teenage level of intellectual arrogance when you foolishly think that you know everything about everything?  I truly mean no disrespect; but some of you lately have reminded me of my 13-year-old son emphatically yelling out driving instructions to me from the back seat of my SUV, as I rush him from one activity to another.  He clearly thinks that his hours on Wii Mario Kart have made him a superior driver to my 25+ years behind an actual wheel.  It’s ridiculous, of course.

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But my son is more qualified to speak intelligently about driving than you, my White friend, are about living as a Black person.  As I like to say, I’ve been Black all my life.  These people you see marching as part of the Black Lives Matter Movement, speaking at conferences, kneeling during the National anthem are more qualified than you are to speak expertly about Black social injustice.  That guy you work with, that Black Uber driver that you had yesterday, your Black next door neighbor, the parents of the one Black kid in your daughter’s 4th grade class; while their experiences and opinions may all be different— they are all more qualified than you to speak on the Black experience because it IS their experience: every day.

The level of arrogance it takes for a person to think that their intelligence (as I can only imagine that some White people assume that they are more intelligent) is more worthy than the collective experience of an entire group of people is astonishing to me.  That hundreds of thousands of African Americans can say that they experience police brutality only to be met with the skepticism, criticism and ego-centrism of White critics is just crazy.  I liken it to thousands of women complaining of cramps or the pain of childbirth for hundreds of years — only for a male doctor to say “it’s not that bad.” Or for male doctors to hold a press conference after watching women give birth to declare that “the women should conduct themselves with more class and integrity.  The way they screamed, sweated, grunted, and flayed their legs about was animalistic and indicative of a lack of preparation on the part of the women.  Were we to be in the position of giving birth, we would pay respect to the medical staff and to the sanctity of the environment by focusing on the breathing exercises and keeping calm and quiet.”

So, when I hear a White supermodel like Kate Upton, or Fox correspondent Megyn Kelly, or random White friends resolutely editorialize recently on Black social issues I just want to scream, “How in the fuck would you know? How in the fuck could you know?”  A White person can’t imagine what a Black person’s experience in America is like, anymore that a man can imagine labor.  That some will continue sit from a point of complete ignorance and still comment is absolutely insulting and infuriating.

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When my son was in the 5th grade, one of the most popular kids in the class (who was also a known bully) called my son the “N” word.  He also yelled in front of half the 5th grade class that Ni%#ers were terrible to live around and stupid.  This incident was big news in our small town which likes to view itself as liberal.

Some of my friends came back and told me that there were several circles of opinions about how  I should handle the situation and what they “would have done.”  Some openly voiced that I didn’t handle things correctly.  I wanted to ask them how they had handled situations when their child was the “only” in a situation.  Would they even have the courage to put their child in that situation?  If their child had the opportunity to live in a safer neighborhood and to get a superior education, would they place their child in a school that was 99% Black or 99% Asian?  This single incident, which was the only thing that they were commenting on, was a tiny part of my experience– a single snapshot– of my life as a Black mom with a Black child in their idyllic town; but they felt as if they knew better than me how I should handle it and how I should feel about it.  In fact, they weren’t even qualified to have a seat at the table to discuss it.

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Studies show that 60% of White people don’t even have a Black friend.  For many, your knowledge of Black people does not extend beyond Martin Luther King and Drake.  Even the top obstetric male surgeon can’t intimately speak on what it is to carry a baby.  Even he, after many years of study, would be exhibiting extreme arrogance and lack of respect for his patients if he didn’t listen to them and honor their experiences.  They, the mothers themselves, are the experts.  We, Black people, the ones living day-after-day, are the experts on the Black experience: and all of the emotions, reactions, andthoughts that come with it.  We own that.  You must, at least, give us that.  And then—listen.

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Do you really think you understand and can speak to the Black experience more than we can?

 

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