Black Man and the Racist Elephant in the Room
In The Black Room
I consider myself an astute individual. These are the skills you pick up when your childhood neighbors are displaced descendants of white supremacists, reluctantly accepting their birthright. I don’t have a moment to be ignorant of the difference. Quick over the shoulder glances in my direction when reading the” Civil Rights Page” in our history books remind me that I am the other kid in the classroom. They are normal. I need to know what Billy is thinking and what Brittany is assuming if somebody wants to catch me on an off-day. I have plenty of off-days. There are moments I’m blindly hopeful that today is a new day where everything is different and prejudice extinct. Yet, I can’t see everything. I’m constantly wrong, and I have the emotional scars to remind me.
Enter another white friend. I thought he was going to be more of the same. Yet, I can’t see everything. I’m constantly wrong. To this day, we maintain our discovery was in a film class. This must be true because it’s the story we tell when the other is not the room. The classroom is an all-black room. The walls and the floors, at least. The type of classes with aspiring actors in it. A fake wall diagonally in the middle, a wooden door that leads to nowhere, and a few mismatched chairs. Not one chair is the same. I remember that vividly.
I always remember the smallest details before noticing the giant elephant in the room staring at me with vengeful, poisonous prejudice. I wonder why this elephant is so upset. What stain of historical pride did this creature refuse to forget? This is my biggest flaw growing up in a predominantly white society. By the time I realize what is coming for me, a giant elephant’s foot stomps me into the ground, and my parents have to scrape me up from the pavement, look me into the eyes, and say, “Boy, I told you so.” But what if I came across a person who could see what I couldn’t? What if somebody out there could recognize my blind spots and call out to me right before that foot comes down? It didn’t necessarily happen in that all-black room. In fact, there was a moment or three when my classmates read my scripts as if they were Hattie McDaniel in “Gone With The Wind” with a Sambo smile of uncertainty. A little like you’re probably doing right now in your head as you read this. No hard feelings. It’s natural. Continue.
The New Friend
With time and a few years of white-guilt coursing through his veins, this new white friend became that person who can see what I can’t. Not always. No one can see everything. We’re constantly wrong. Yet, he is cognizant of my blind spots. To my surprise, he could see the elephant in the room. You want to keep someone around who can see the elephant that sometimes I forget is there. He eventually became my roommate. We actually shared bedrooms like small children while living in two different apartments in two different cities. Maybe I’m worried this elephant can get inside any room. My new friend is my partner in white-colored crime. That is to say, he’s one of my best friends and my writing partner.
Whether only procrastination or an inclination to over-prepare, we spend most of our writing time brainstorming. This brainstorming comes in the form of social media deep dives, intellectual kitchen conversations at 2:00 AM, or always finding the right second to break the other’s limited-productive concentration with an over-the-shoulder “hey, did you hear?” In recent times, I do this the most because it’s much easier to break him out of the middle of a raid of Zul’Gurub. The few of us who refuse to admit we are nerds will have to look that one up.
My friend and I sit on different sides of the coin, not by choice but by circumstance. He is a white guy. From his blonde hair, blue-eyes, horned-rimmed glasses, and an endless amount of flannels and ironic-themed trucker hats — I suggest he might be the whitest of white guys I know. I’m a black guy. I don’t consider myself by no means the ultimate epitome of a black man in America. In fact, I can say that most decisions I made in my life give particular family members and others who look like me a moment to question my loyalty to the culture. But, I will say that based solely on appearance, I’m very much black AF. This world doesn’t give you much of an option. Therefore, on the surface level, we are complete opposites. But, only if only the world were that simple.
We Are The Same, But Different
Deep down in our scatterbrains, the neurons and cells that constitute a paranoid nerd with an impulse to treat every human conversation like the final act in Christopher Nolan film make us nearly identical. The things I like, the things he questions and the art we obsess over are pretty much the same. It is only our appearances that are different, and depending on the time of day, that is also indistinguishable. I think back to the moment in the all-black classroom and wonder what would’ve happened if we allowed ourselves satisfaction with only the other’s outward appearances. We each look across the room, see one another, and simply say, “Cool. It’s your average white guy. Great. It’s your typical black guy. End of story.” This is what I feel like our world does most of the time. We allow an unfiltered news reporter, a manic world leader, an outdated pastor, or a drunk uncle to educate us on what we need to believe about other people without doing the dirty work ourselves. It’s much easier to see someone sitting on the other side of the room and never get past first-name prejudice. It’s too late when we realize it actually leads to hundreds of years of slaughter, colonization, war, and endless oppression.
We keep our focus on what makes us entirely different. Not the simplicity of what makes us the same– two eyes, two feet, ears and all. There are so many elements that make us equivalent, but we focus on the small details that set us apart. We might have been like that initially, but time broke those walls, brick by brick. All those broken bricks were used to build a new foundation. There was little that made us different, and it became harder to see the differences.
Let’s Talk About It
Fast forward almost a decade later, and we are no longer sitting in an all-black classroom with mismatched chairs. We’re in the middle of a mostly white world with mismatched people always discovering that they’re a bigger a*shole than they remembered back in their days of genocide and slavery. That giant, vengeful racist elephant is still stomping around the room, seeking attention, crushing the ignorant in its path. Maybe the elephant originates overseas, or perhaps it’s blood-red with a few white stars painted on its a*s. Lucky for me, I now have a friend to push me out of the elephant’s way or sit across from me, speaking into a thick, silver microphone, letting me tell him he’s part of the problem.
We were far from the all-black room with the mismatched chairs, but everything outside that room was arranged the same. It is a bigger stage, and the elephant has more places to hide, to remain unseen. I’m not searching for the elephant, despite its brutal rampage in recent years. I’m not even sure the elephant is still dangerous. Yet, I can’t see everything. I’m constantly wrong, and I have the emotional scars to remind me. I’m a black man in the right world. He sees my blind spots, and I call attention to his. The formula is flawed, but it works… for now.