My own personal literary and cultural god once said that racism “keeps you explaining.” Years ago, Toni Morrison went on to say that the “very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work.” And since I met that god and came across this saying I’ve been wondering why in the world Black people—myself included, in moments of weakness—keep explaining things to white people. It’s a miracle we get anything else done, all the explaining they need!
I’ve read thousands of beautiful articles written by Black people and people of color, and many books, watched several feature films and documentaries and so now I’ve seen enough in my 32 years to know that the truth is out there. If white people don’t understand racism at this point in time, should we really keep trying to explain it—and all its varying functions—to them? Should our most talented writers and filmmakers and activists and artists and social media stars still be asked to break down the various reasons why we’re still very, very pissed off? Why we were angry—unlike so many of them—long before Trump, and intend to be long after he’s gone? No, they should not. And so in the interest of never explaining things to white people ever (because, literally—where has it gotten us? If we’re still using Malcolm X and Martin King and James Baldwin quotes to help make most of our points, it’s clear they weren’t listening then, and don’t intend to listen now), here’s a helpful to-don’t list for my fellow Black people who may be tempted to use any of the following phrases in 2018 and beyond.
1. Well, the thing about white privilege is…
Beloveds, they know how it works, they’re not confused, they just don’t really care. And don’t try to soften any of the privilege conversation blows by bringing up your own privilege either. They don’t care about the nuances of privilege and how Black people and other oppressed groups can wield it as well. They want you to think they care because… well, who cares why?
2. As a white woman, Rebecca, you have to understand that…
No, she doesn’t. And history tells us that she won’t. She voted for Hillary, how could she possibly be racist or anti-Black? She loved Obama, she looooves Auntie Maxine (it’s not appropriation if she calls her “Auntie” right, because she wants to make sure that you know that she’s totally aware of appropriation and her own privilege and…) she loved the hell out of Get Out and also had a really insightful conversation about it with her Black husband. They’ve always talked openly about race so again, how can she possibly be…?
Also she loves Insecure.
3. There’s a great article out by…
They’re not reading the articles, y’all. I can safely say that white people are officially not reading, understanding or working with their own problematic and defensive reactions to “the articles.” And okay, fine maybe they are reading them, but only to text you about how they read it, and how much it hit them, how it really opened their eyes and also do you have any other recommendations? Black people, if you have to tell them what articles to read, you’re already doing too much work. Besides there are no new articles, remember? Remember Baldwin and Morrison and Bambara and Spillers and Gates and Appiah and Fanon and Dove and everyone already said all this, so there is actually nothing new under the sun/no new articles anyone needs to understand racism?
4. No, you can’t even sing the word because the history…
Ta-Nehisi Coates embarrassed us all when he became the 12,740th Black person to politely and eloquently explain why white people can’t even sing the words nigger or nigga. Good news, though. It’s over for that. We’re not explaining this anymore because they don’t really need it explained. They just want to find new and dumbass ways to ask if it’s okay for them to say it because, well… white people really, really want to say the word. In fact, I believe the young white woman Coates explained this to went straight home, put on her favorite rap album (she loves rap, guys) and said the word 450 times in 12 minutes.
5. Excuse me.
This’ll be a tough one for those of us who were raised with some manners, but, sorry, we don’t use this phrase anymore, unless we bump into a white person and decide to start rapping the entire first verse of A$AP Rocky’s song of the same name. I know, I know. Your mama raised you better than that. Unfortunately, we’ve gotta take our reparations where we can, so we’re just not saying “excuse me,” to white people anymore. Relatedly, we’re also not moving out of the way when they walk towards us on the street.
6. I forgive you.
The fuck we do.
Forgiving whites is so 2017 (and literally every year before that). We’re going to try a new approach in 2018 called, “We don’t have time to forgive you because we’re busy doing our work and dreaming up a Blackness of the future that is too preoccupied with itself to worry about how white people will sleep at night without our forgiveness.” (Related banished phrases include, “Thanks for the honest dialogue,” “I appreciate you for acknowledging your privilege,” “I know you didn’t mean to sound racist,” and “First, I want to thank the Academy.”)
Shannon M. Houston is a Staff Writer on Hulu’s upcoming series The Looming Tower and Amazon’s Homecoming. She is the former TV Editor of Paste Magazine, and her work has appeared in Salon, Indiewire’s Shadow and Act, and Heart&Soul. She currently has more babies than you. You can follow her on Twitter.