I used to hate white people. Not in a deranged John Muhammad way, but like an old black guy who remembers getting rocks thrown at him for trying to vote. More of a simmering resentment than a homicidal loathing.
Back when I was a kid it was the exact opposite. Despite growing up in a low-income, predominately black neighborhood in North Philadelphia that law enforcement avoided like it had the t-Virus, I couldn’t help but love white people, because they were all I saw on TV.
White people with superpowers, white people explaining the benefits of Crest toothpaste, white people saving the world. How could you not love them? It wasn’t until I became old enough to process the rantings of my longtime barber that my worldview began to change.
He started cutting my hair when I was 12 years old. Whenever I went there he’d be having passionate discussions with the patrons about the plight of black people in America.
When I was able to understand the conversations about gentrification and slavery, getting my haircut became an afterthought. It was like hearing about the world for the first time. I never engaged in these intense discussions with my family, who were all loyal Democrats, though none of them harbored any delusions about the existence of institutional racism.
My head was swimming with new information, and I desperately sought more. I shied away from my favorite TV programs in favor of literature like the Autobiography of Malcolm X.
I could feel my anger grow as I read about how Malcolm’s teachers distorted history and called him a nigger. I found myself identifying with his early separatist doctrine born from an obsession with Elijah Muhammad. The Tuskegee experiments, the Willie Lynch letter, COINTELPRO, Chris Rock’s weave documentary, all painted a picture of a country that existed purely to destroy people that looked like me.
Fortunately, similar to Malcolm X, my views grew nuanced the more I read and the more house parties I attended. The first blowjob I ever had was from a white girl (my penis constantly urged me to overcome prejudice). However, I still was interested in black politics. So I accompanied my barber to meetings of activists, primarily my dad’s age, discussing ways to fix our communities and clean up rap music.
I enjoyed spending time with the barber. He became like an eccentric uncle to me. So I didn’t hesitate when he suggested I tag along to see a lecture. This happened in 2010. The talk was being given by a guy calling himself the “Irritated Genie.” If that handle sounds familiar, it’s because he was in the news for a bit. Turns out the Irritated Genie, real name Ayo Kimathi, was an employee of the Department of Homeland Security.
The controversy came from the fact that he preached about ethnically cleansing white people, while collecting a government salary. So needless to say, I was in for an interesting evening. The lecture took place inside of a church in need of some renovations. There were about 50 people inside. By my estimation practically everybody was 40 or older.
The lone exception was this really cute girl around my age that I recognized from my weekend excursions into the city to binge drink and chase commitment-less sex with my friends. We both exchanged relieved smiles, happy to finally see a person not collecting social security. I noticed a guy walking around with an old school camcorder and I reflexively shied away, my revolutionary paranoia still firmly intact.
Everybody quieted down and took to their metallic seats when the Irritated Genie arrived, wearing a dashiki to express his overwhelming blackness. I braced myself for a lecture about the importance of kids pulling their pants up.
Instead, he had a projector load up an offensive caricature of a Jewish man. From thereon out he referred to Jews as “small hats,” a slur I hadn’t heard until that night. I believe “hooked nosed devils” also appeared in his lexicon.
Stunned, I looked around expecting a mass walkout, but instead observed laughter and nods of encouragement from pretty much everyone except myself and the girl.
This guy was hardcore, the type that spelled America as “Amerikkka” to emphasize how the country was run by white supremacists. He explained how the Jews hated blacks and used their mastery of mainstream media and the banks to make our lives miserable.
He praised Hitler, which made me want to point out that the Nazis also weren’t too fond of blacks either. Instead I stayed quiet, worried the place would either be raided by the FBI or I’d get murdered for being an Uncle Tom if I pointed out the plethora of flaws in his arguments.
The evidence he provided for this secret war between the blacks and the Jews included a frame by frame breakdown of The Color Purple, and how it was full of subliminal messages meant to destroy the black community. Plus it was directed by Steven Spielberg, an evil small hat.
He did a similar analysis of T-Pain’s admittedly minstrelesque cartoon on Adult Swim called “Freaknik,” pointing out that the show had Jewish writers. He concluded that the only way for black people to be free was to start committing mass murder against whites and Jews. He advised that we not even associate with them until the war came.
This prompted the girl to finally speak up. She talked about the white and Jewish friends that she’d made throughout her life, and how none of them were conspiring to oppress her race. Fortunately, the audience did not stone her to death as I feared; instead she was bombarded with condescension from everyone, including her parents, who’d forced her to attend. She was close to tears by the end of it.
I felt like I was on a hidden camera show. There was no way so many fully formed adults believed this nonsense. Did they really think another holocaust would usher in some kind of black utopia? It would have been funny if it wasn’t so terrifying.
When the lecture was mercifully over, I let my barber know the Irritated Genie wasn’t my cup of tea. He seemed understanding, oddly enough because he thought Kimathi had an ulterior motive. Needless to say my barber wasn’t surprised when the DHS scandal broke. I was just glad I hadn’t been thrown in Gitmo.
As I watched news coverage of the Charleston shooter a few weeks ago, I thought of that night. Hatred is cyclical. Whites hating blacks for reasons they barely understand, blacks hating whites in retaliation.
Fortunately I don’t think anyone in that room with the Genie would have carried out a mass murder. But you never really know a person until you see them on the news in a bullet-proof vest, being escorted by police.
My views on race have changed a lot over the last five years. It’s funny. I once got into a heated Facebook discussion with my ex-girlfriend’s roommate about lace front wigs and how they were encouraging black women to be ashamed of their ethnicity.
I wrote a status update about lace fronts being an awful waste of money, and causing black women to hate their appearance. She insisted that it was just a stylistic choice and had nothing to do with self loathing. I said she was brainwashed; she said I was an asshole.
While it’s no secret that blacks have long been taught to hate their appearance, I realize now how obnoxious I must have sounded. Dismissing somebody’s whole point of view by implying they’re incapable of critical thought is horribly condescending.
I’ve mellowed out a lot since then. Last year, when Raven Symone insisted that she didn’t want to be labeled as “black,” I wasn’t the least bit outraged. I understood.
I think I empathized with Raven because I’ve entered into a bit of a post-racial lull. I remembered an anthropology lesson I got as a kid about why people’s skin tone was the way it was. It got me questioning the whole idea of racial identity. Our skin tone is nothing more than a byproduct of evolution. The skin of our ancestors merely adapting to the ultra violet radiation in the climate they found themselves in. Complexion and personality are completely unrelated.
My relationship with white people is no longer strained. My business partner, who is one of my best friends on Earth, is very much white. He often gets more offended about racism than I do.
He told me a story once about when he worked at a bagel shop and a customer casually referred to a black guy that had just left as a nigger. He told me he cursed the customer out and demanded that he leave. He was so angry about it he wanted to choke the dude. For some reason the Chris Rock bit “Black People vs. Niggaz” popped into my head and I had to fight the urge to laugh. But I smiled and applauded his efforts to defend the black race. That’s pretty much how most of those interactions go. It’s just awkward when you’re less offended than somebody else, especially a white person.
My anger towards people that hold tight to bigotry has changed to pity. I feel bad that they’re missing out on so much beauty in their lives because of a deeply irrational belief. We’re just frightened, sentient organisms living on a giant spinning rock, desperately seeking a purpose to our existence other than procreation and death.
I haven’t spoken to my barber or the girl in a long time now. All this technology hasn’t really helped me stay in touch with people. Perhaps I’ll reach out, just to see how they’re doing in these strange but familiar times.
Sadot White is a writer, musician, and co-founder of Thrift Soul LLC. He loves waffles.
Image by Jim Cooke