Disclaimer: This isn’t really a thinkpiece. And it’s not totally objective, either, as I am writing this from the perspective of a Black mom who is completely and totally exhausted by the bullshit racism and the microaggressions that are constantly shoved down our Black throats day after day.
By now, I am positive you at least have minimal knowledge of the H&M Monkey Sweatshirt. I saw some people raging against it, and others who said they didn’t see what the big deal was about it. Even though I thought it was completely offensive and absolutely disgusting, this article isn’t about my personal opinion of a sweatshirt. This article is about how I think Black people should most effectively deal with ignorant and constant tone-deafness.
There are so many constructive ways to deal with racism.
I, for one, believe very strongly that there is power in how we choose to spend our money, so I tend to cease supporting the offending entity by spending my money elsewhere. I can’t necessarily say I stopped watching football, but I didn’t attend a single game (the Redskins play in my neighborhood and I walk to games) or buy any NFL apparel this past season. I stopped ordering Papa John’s pizza even though they are the only pizza store that delivers to my house. I don’t buy Dove soap anymore. I even stopped eating at one of my favorite diners because I overheard a conversation between the owner and a patron that pissed me off. I work too hard for my money to give it to people who openly don’t give a shit about me, even when I’m inconvenienced because of it.
Boycotting is a viable and very constructive protest option. However, I’m starting to realize more and more that dealing with racism constructively isn’t the answer.
Know what the answer is, tho? IMMEDIATELY CHECKING TF OUTTA THESE WHITE ASS PEOPLE AND THEIR DUMB ASS MICROAGGRESSIONS.
The following is a true story.
My son attends a private school in Virginia. Loosely translated, the school is full of the (VERY) rich, White elite in what is historically one of the most racist states in this country. Because this is where my child attends school, I watched the Presidential race very, very closely; I knew what a Fo’Fif win could possibly mean for my child. The race brought out the dregs of society… the people who assemble in secret, the ones who hide their faces behind dumb ass masks and believe that the color of their skin somehow makes them entitled to a better life than everyone who does not look like them.
The day after Fo’Fif won the election, I scheduled a meeting with the dean of students at my kid’s school. (I attended the school myself, and my kid, now 15, has been there since 4th grade, so I know how things work up there.) I walked into the meeting, sat at the table, and said very slowly:
“I wanted to come in today to tell you that I think there should be a conversation with your student body about the presidential election and the social changes that will take place with the changing of the administration.”
He looked at me blankly. So I continued:
“This has been a racially charged election to say the least. My Black son is a racial and socioeconomic minority here, and I want to ensure that his school remains a safe environment for him to learn and grow and thrive.”
He still looked confused. So I said:
“I don’t want to have to come here and act ugly, but I will. Please make sure that nothing is said to my son that would cause me to come up here in his defense. I am not intimidated by skin color or tax bracket. There is no fight too big for me when it comes to my kid.”
I wanted to be appropriate, but I was two shakes away from saying that I would come up there and set (CLAP) it (CLAP) the (CLAP) fuck (CLAP) off (CLAP) if somebody’s rich White ass kid did anything to make my son feel marginalized or uncomfortable in ANY way.
I think he finally understood, because two days later, Michael came home and told me about an assembly that was held to address the election and the feelings associated with the “winning” candidate.
Why am I telling you this?
I understand how this thing works, and the Monkey sweatshirt is just another example of how “people” carefully wrap their insults in pretty packages and present them to the world under the guise of “That’s racist? Oh! We didn’t know!”
BULLSHIT. They do know. They know when they’re doing it, and they giggle in their little groups because they think we are too dumb to realize they are doing it. I decided to take a proactive stance with my son’s school. I wanted them to know that I knew and that I was watching closely. I chose to be proactive because I knew my reactive would be ugly.
The most effective way to deal with these microaggressions is to check them. Immediately and with fervor. This ain’t the 1960s. We don’t have to step off of sidewalks or order our food at a window around back or sit in the back of the bus and WE DON’T HAVE TO ACCEPT THEIR SHIT. When you hear someone being racist, or you see racist comments, or when a company tries to convince you that a Black kid wearing a sweatshirt that says “Coolest monkey in the jungle” isn’t offensive (even though it’s offensive AS HELL), use your voice. Loud and resounding. Summon the strength of your ancestors, dammit. Summon Harriet’s indignance and Frederick’s orative skills and Nat’s rebellion and CHECK THEM.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying, “That’s racist and inappropriate.” There is also nothing wrong with “TF ARE YOU TALKING TO?!” (except that may result in fisticuffs, so make sure you can throw hands before taking this route should it become necessary). We don’t have to accept this, y’all. We don’t. We can’t agree on how or where to spend our money, but we CAN agree with the fact that we deserve to be respected. When you encounter racism, CHECK IT. Use your voice. Go to HR. Find a manager. Write letters. Share shit on social media and tag people and locations. Rage loudly and with fervor. Read people for filth. Don’t be intimidated by them. Ever. How you spend your money matters, and my prayer is that Black folk realize the power of their dollar and spend their money mindfully, but in the meantime, speak the hell UP.
Until we hold them accountable, they will continue to feign ignorance. And because they feign ignorance, they can pass sweatshirts calling Black children monkeys and blackface and casual racial slurs off as “accidents.” And issue statements like “oops… sorry if that offended you… it wasn’t supposed to.” Every time it happens, call it out. This is how you deal with it. Check it loudly… and dare them to do it again.
Sure, we can boycott. We can picket. We can lock arms and sing about overcoming. We can be intentional about how we vote. We can go high when they go low.We can also cuss them the hell out when they sneak diss. We gotta stop allowing this “oh! That’s racist? We didn’t know!” bullshit by letting them know that we know and we refuse to deal with it anymore. Malcolm didn’t die for our complacency, y’all. Cube ain’t write raps for us to sit idly by while we are made the butt of a tasteless joke on a sweatshirt. If it’s not right, rage against it. We don’t all have money. We don’t all have platforms. But we all have voices. Use yours accordingly.