This is something I grew up hearing, and would not be exaggerating to say I've heard it maybe 1,000 times. It was what is said when someone in my suburban Detroit neighborhood meets an African-American baby, of course, after the baby and the parents have walked away. This is whiteousness with the capital W. And, I believe this attitude: the way the speaker never had to finish their sentence; the way our white imaginations were supposed to fill in the blank with something monstrous; it's this whiteous attitude that has done more damage and killed more young black and brown men than any cop baton or bullet ever will.
Focusing in on moment 3:46 in the video, we see a young black boy in a hood dancing passionately in front of cops in riot gear. Not only that, they are in an abandoned alley. The boy is skilled and fearless. He appears to be about 6 or 7, the same age as my daughter. So whiteousness might still classify him as cute. But he's not that much younger than, say, Tamir Rice or Emmett Till, who were the same age as all the young men I had the honor of teaching in New Orleans East (which I'm certain is portrayed at the 3:19 mark of the video.) He's not that much younger than Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair, who died in 1963 as an act of white supremacist terrorism. At what age do "We" decide that a young black person moves from "cute" and "adorable" to being the monster we all must fear? And why?
But the moment that arrests my heart, that I gasp every time, is at 4:22 when the young black dancing boy arrests the cops. By arrest, I mean stop. They stop, and they put their hands up, yielding to the sheer humanity and beauty of this young person. What if we stopped? Because, while we can blame the police for over-reacting, I maintain that the police are only a function of the dominant white culture's dominant whiteous attitude. We call the cops on Trayvon Martin. We call the cops on Emmett Till. What if we stopped, listened, and paid attention to what that dance is trying to tell us?
This is a young man with talent and promise and family and joys and struggles and fire and rain and wind and stillness. This is a young man who is tired of being seen as an enemy. This is a young man who is loved by God. This is a young man who was fearfully and wonderfully created. And the cops in Beyonce's video honor that. This is not anti-cop. In fact, it shows great hope to me. If the cops could show us how we are wrong, well then, we might actually see change. And Beyonce going underwater with the cop car shows us how we are all in this together. We sink, all of us, black and white, if we don't get this right.
My anglo brothers and sisters, can you honor that? Can you see the mistakes we are still making? Can you recognize that Black History Month is a cover-up for the reality that Black History Month to an African-American looks, smells, tastes, feels, and sounds a whole lot like Black Present Month, Black Present Day, Black Present Reality?
Can we stop and admire the beautiful brightly dark skin of our young black and brown boys and girls, the unique cultures of our Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native peoples? And can we continue to do that even when they become teenagers? Can we? Can we? Will we?
I dedicate this blog to all the 14, 15, 16, and 17 year old men who wrote poetry with me at Boysville Correctional Facility in Clinton, Michigan before it closed.
And this goes out to all the young black, brown, and Vietnamese men, now in their mid 20s, who taught me about the beauty of being young and non-white back in my teaching days at Fannie C. Williams when it was a middle school before Katrina. We've lost some already, and some have already been snagged in the cradle to school to prison pipeline, but I pray to God while I write this blog, that we might not lose another single one before he hits old age. Thankful that neither the floods nor a recent storage unit fire destroyed these thank you and get-well cards. I will close with their kindness, humor, beauty, strength, and humanity.
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