To my White progressive sisters who read my blog sometimes: We’ve had some space and time to think.
Tina Fey’s sheetcake bit. We need to talk.
I didn’t write this right away because you were very raw at the time of my Twitter and Facebook posts pointing out that Tina Fey’s crack about theoretical White supremacists in Central Park feeling threatened by the sight of “six foot four black men” was harmful in light of what actually had happened to an actual black man at the hands of actual White supremacists in Charlottesville not a week before.
The assumption behind Fey’s joke was that a mob of White supremacists (“chinless wonders,” she called them) would quake at the very sight of black men.
The assumption behind Fey’s joke is so embedded in the White imagination that of course it was funny. Black men are threatening. White men are scared of Black men.
The engine of Tina Fey’s joke is the assumption that Black people are threatening to White people. The engine of Tina Fey’s joke is the very same engine that killed Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, and Terence Crutcher, (Oscar Grant. Trayvon Martin. Do I need to go on?) and nearly killed Deandre Harris. This assumption of threat is the same engine that allowed their murderers and attackers to escape justice.
The avalanche of responses to my post asserting that “It was just a joke” annoyed me because just for a minute think of who you sound like when you say “It was just a joke.”
In my annoyance I then did a mean thing that wasn’t cool. I wrote on my Facebook something along the lines of I’m astonished at how many White women are defending Tina Fey right now. It was up for a short time and then I took it down because I didn’t want to attack my friends. People think Tina Fey is funny. What do I care?
Well, I care.
With love, my White sisters, did you notice the negative reactions to Tina Fey’s jokes from people of color in online articles, essays, and on our social media feeds? They aren’t talking about you personally, even if you thought Tina Fey was hilarious and speaking right to your feelings about what’s happening in our country right now. Even if you insist it’s satire, and want to define that word for me, and explain that what she was doing was making fun of herself (even as she was making a Sally Hemmings rape joke at the end).
Maybe now that you’re not so raw in your own feelings, you can listen to what Black people said about how her bit made them feel. Just listen.
With love, sisters, you were really quick to defend Tina Fey, a successful comedian with a platform she squandered. You were so mad at me for calling her part of the problem.
What if we defended children of color in our education systems with that much ferocity? What if we got that mad, collectively, when racial and economic disparities put people of color in our own communities at risk?
Oh, the places we could go if we got as defensive over the safety of people of color as we do over our own notions of ourselves as good people.
Last but not least, White sisters, if you’ve stuck with me this long, I have something personal to say. Many of you told me that the reason I was too harsh with Tina Fey is because I teach Black students. Of course I am going to be hyper sensitive about racism. I’m immersed in “the community.”
This was enough to shut me up about it for almost a month.
But not quite a month.
First of all, most of my students are White. I haven’t taught at schools where most of my students are of color in a long time. This is a strange thing to have to explain.
Also, please think, if you have stuck with me thus far, brave one, what you have implied by suggesting that the only reason why I care so much about Black people is because I know so many of them personally.
The engine that drives racist harm, my beautiful, effective-when-you-want-to-be White sisters, dwells in the idea that the people being harmed are not us. That we are not connected as fellow human beings. That we are not one. That somehow we can live our lives and eat cake and be good people while others die.
You know the truth and it isn’t remotely funny: No, we can’t.