NYC: Where Rich White Kids Play Poverty

Photo by Hugh Han on Unsplash

A friend of mine from Columbus, OH can’t afford tape for his cleats, let alone new cleats. At home, there is a surplus of duct tape. The shiny material winds immortally down the concrete pavements. It’s trafficked and cherished with more reverence than the familiars of the homeless. It is the holy grail of livelihood.
This friend was always wealthy by our standards. His household had two cars, two parents, and shiny smiles that turned out liberal thinkers who never had to worry what drugs would do to them. And he doesn’t. He does cocaine off-handedly, but he doesn’t “do-do” cocaine. Just when he’s at Bars. Just when he’s about to do something athletic. Just anytime he needs a thrill.
In the same vein, he is thrilled to be in New York, on the Lower East Side. He can’t afford to tape his cleats, but he is thrilled, because he is poor now too. This inescapable phantom lurking in the Blues — the tearstained muse of every artist, revered for her savagery and the pain and the panic she summons — is now his greatest prize.
New York, the grand equalizer of fantasies. Where the rich and white come to play at Poverty.
My friend isn’t the first I’ve come across with the bizarre observation of economic struggle as a gilded treasure.
In fact, it’s too common. The Nosferatu by the name of Gentrification assures us that it will be here eternally, feeding on the blood of the poor, sustaining itself on a bleeding wheel of oppression. It’ll cast out the weak and broken-backed many and then it’ll dance in our homes. 
I walk these same streets with people who hold more wealth in their phones than my entire family has sustained for generations. My shoes are well catered and cleaned.
I ensure that they are. I scuff them during the day, I polish them during the night. I shine my sneakers bleach white and raw with my washcloth.
I’ve been trained by my hood to watch the ground. At first, it was always an attempt at invisibility. And now, it’s to measure Power in strides.
New York is filled with such ugly feet.
So much money.
Such poor feet.
I’m surprised that I just walked past a very affluent painter in the Lower East Side. Their shoes are clunky and ugly. In my hood, Sketchers are disgusting. As condemnable as Shaq’s. Balenciaga sold the same designs to wealthy whites, and now they’re everywhere. I can’t tell if they’re well kept or horribly attended.
The fact there is now unobtainable price-tag on something I once ran from in my past thanks to a brand is infuriating to me.
In Columbus, the Poor are leveraged to companies. We’re the Amazon factory workers that lug boxes so big they set our lifespans back a decade with one lug. How else can we clean our shoes? How else can we shine our own status?
Drugs are remedies for mental instability because we can’t afford the actual medication. I’ve met anxious people on Molly and the oddest strands of natural kush mixed with something extra perky. They’re not for fun. They’re for necessity.
We’re poor for real. We’re so poor, that the concept of brushing shoulder to shoulder on Public Transport with a millionaire is inconceivable.
And yet, in New York City, they make memes about it. The advertisements here market goods and services no one traveling among common-folk should be able to dream of!
Luxury is flaunted in front of the un-luxurious. 
These shoes aren’t the only thing reminded me of this contempt.

Hip Hop Concerts are too expensive for the demographic they once embodied. I’m told Nas’ Illmatic is the best album of all time on Television by a white boy. On Twitter, a YT gatekeeps Caribbean culture. Basquiat hangs in the den of Trump Tower businesses men. A white man in a Café asks me if I’ve ever even heard of Toni Morrison. A white woman rejects me from their Marginalized writer initiatives because my Black work just isn’t literary enough, It’s not speculative enough, I mean, a Black man writing about the magic inherent in Blackness? What? I should be more like Octavia Spencer, that’s a Black who did it!
And the Vampires lurk just outside of Harlem, sniffing at my Schomburg Center. They want to raid that temple, trample on Langston’s revered grave.
Post-post Modernism is white people loathing their whiteness. They shed it like the cicada sheds its carcass. It flicks its wet wings, soaked in the blood of so many ancestors and dries them with purpose. But, what escapes is only the illusion of a post-racial entity, a chimera. A creature of parts and pieces stolen from so many other worlds that it shouldn’t be its own thing.
It is an Anathema, disgusting and unnatural.
I wish I could be hopeful.
As I write, German barista eyes the Black boy and Dominican teen — discussing nudes and sexual conquest they’ve probably have had but understand very little about — as they walk in. He threatens to throw them out, despite this being an open Café. They’re loud, arrogant and vicious. I like them, they remind me of me and my friends, when we were loud, arrogant and vicious. They’re not Lower East Side, maybe, but certainly New Yorkers. A “Proud to serve the Community” sign hangs just beside a sign discussing the effects of gentrification in New York as he speaks to them.
I want to be hopeful.
But in New York, the Whites will suck that dry, too.

I’m too Black to not conduct myself better.

Being Black and an emerging writer resisting Trump’s America presents interesting challenges.

Being Black and an emerging writer resisting Trump’s America presents interesting challenges. You’re rising in an industry that claims to value your voice, and want to incorporate your narrative in a bid for diversity and rebellion, yet refuses to employ you.

It’s not a secret to Black writers — both radical and tame — that Editorial and Publishing is secretly thrush with covert corporate racism. You can actually count on a single hand how many writers of color at all are discovered before they’ve built their own platforms to an extent they very likely do not need the assistance of publishing houses who knock at their doors for a handout. Black Writers are seldom employed to use our nuance and navigation of our complicated lives and the translation of our bodies across the human experience — we are mitigated to a specific seat on specific staffs, many without more than one or two faces that look like ours.

Recently, many companies have made a bid for individuals to speak on POC and Marginalized Community-related politics, but rather than being a challenge to involve voices that aren’t heard, we find that unless we have a specific following behind us, we cannot even get a seat at the kiddy table, let alone an entry-level position with very little income.

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

I had the irony of sitting in the backseat of an LYFT with a woman who had the fortune of working for a Big 5 Publishing House, one I’ve recently been rejected from for whatever reason. She had very little to say about her previous place of employment that I have not heard about many similar places who pay crumbs and ashes to the POC working amongst them while glorifying the pursuits and agendas of whiter, straighter counterparts.
I didn’t propose that this reflects on the BIG 5 publishing house not employing me, because honestly? It could be that I didn’t fit their no qualifications necessary bylines on the job description, and somehow me — a supposedly radical black queer writer with strong feelings on social justice and politics — didn’t fit their search for a writer who feels strongly about “marginalized communities, politics, and social justice).

However, this conversation on experience in writers is ridiculous in itself, because in a community that voices the problem amongst media being that it doesn’t give POC representation of our narratives or stories in any format, how is it that a Writer of Color is able to have any experience?

How do you have experience when you’re not able to be employed?

Quite easily: by working for free. By allowing yourself to be taken advantage of like this is a greasy Motown recording studio, and you’re looking for sounds that can “Cross-over” without that nasty glorification of the dark-skinned talent who made this art.

Photo by Matthew Spiteri on Unsplash

Black Writers have not had the opportunity to contribute the substance that we deserve to be able to contribute in this new age of digital content. There are platforms, but it’s limited and niched. And if we audace to self-publish: we are punished fo rit by those same Publishers; called not “good enough” for literary pursuits. That’s not to say that it was any better before — that’s to say that the current environment is just a different head of the hydra.

I wish I was the only writer of color — the only BLACK Writer with this issue, but I have counted 15 peers who have hit the same roadblocks, and we have all found our defeat at the hands of a Starry-Eyed White Girl with the Mid-West with a Sylvia Plath button on her backpack and a can-do spirit she wants to impart to the “Poor Blacks” she’s read all about on her friend’s blog.
Your NYU/New School Admission Letter and Democratic Party sticker doesn’t make you better than any of us. It makes you more privileged and it makes you more palatable to the audiences that the Publisher and Editors want money from.

Photo by Andrew Vickers on Unsplash

Ergo, it makes you almost as bad as the Gentrification you’re likely contributing to.

And Yes. I do come off as angry or wrathful in this particular piece/excerpt/chapter about the issues of marginalization I encounter. Maybe, it’s because I’m angry and wrathful, Lindsey?

At one point, I had dreams of working for GQ. As a Fashion enthusiast, a menswear advocate and a lover of a good fashion blog, It thrilled me to find a magazine that fit my personality. It became the thing I marked my career trajectory with.

I had dreams of also working for Marvel, and writing for the X-Men gave me hopes of sharing something with my father who gave me my first comic despite losing him to a mutation of his own genes. I had many other aspirations of becoming an editor — or becoming a content creator — or a novelist. So many things, but each and every industry has found its way to slam its doors closed at Black writers!

Photo by Julian Howard on Unsplash

And the few journals and magazines catering specifically to Black writers, or writers of color, are so congested with writers fighting for their voices to be heard, that it’s a mound of talented individuals clawing at each other to get to the top.

This is not the fault of Black Writers trying to be heard in a world that has silenced us since the Harlem Renaissance: this is the fault of the major companies and corporations who do not want to admit their inherent biases enough to realize that their Diversity initiatives have turned Black writers and creators into TOKENS.

I invite you to prove me wrong: search any of the Big 5 Companies — hell, search any editorial staff that isn’t Blavity or LATINX. Count how many Black Writers are on staff. Expand your search. Count how many Writers of Color are on their board.

Now, look at all “diverse” stories they’ve published. Will you notice a consistent trend among what’s being published?
Will you notice that the diversity initiatives by these companies are heavily white washed or place a glorifying eye onto whiteness in a way that makes them seem “troubled, but by golly — they don’t know any better!”

The particular Blackness depicted in all of these stories and narratives are structured counter-culturally against the issues and culture of poverty and class. You will never find a story of ghetto, slum or hood lifestyles, or even symmetrical comparisons — because the elitism being pushed forward heavily leans to drowning specific kinds of blackness and uplifting the more “tolerable” versions of it by the fault of the publications.

Refer to my Motown metaphor, you will notice a recurring theme in the performance.

“Four young people smiling while talking near a staircase outside a building” by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

Diversity is just the newest incarnation of the Mainstream Cross-Over culture of the 1960s — it’s not that original. It’s saying we can only be accepted by an artform when our art matches a certain tone. It’s saying we can’t all make it, so only the ones that they can accept will do it.

It’s troubling, and unless these companies are willing to confront this directly, they are hypocrites.

And there is very little as disgusting asa liberal hypocrite.

Luka Sabbat, We Need to Talk…

Dear Luka Sabbat,

I am speaking directly to you.

No word limit.

No hashtags.

Luka Sabbat, you have had quite a career despite your age. You are the child of greatness and you walk circles of fashion and prestige that I have never dreamed of being able to even touch growing up in hovels where trauma and poverty was the only thing guaranteed to me. Yet, I still rooted for you, because you’re black, and because I know no matter the walk of life, we all have troubles.

Until, you opened the ashtray you call a mouth to talk down to the hatefully proclaimed “SJWs” and activists. Because, you’re so beyond all of these things that you can criticize them – that you can poke holes in their logic because you float on a plane of ascended philosophy where scrutiny is hobby of the low and uncultured.

You, my brother, with blood not too many generations free of the shackles of the same victimization these people you criticize face everyday they stand up for something, have the audacity to sit there with your pencil thin mustache and SCRUTINIZE the people you mock for scrutiny?

I’m not going to call you stupid.

Stupid people don’t get as far as you do – not without wealthy connections and family’s legacy to stand on top of; Stupid people don’t contribute immensely to philanthropic pursuits – unless they’re going to brag about it later for clout. Stupid people leap to defend abusers and present problematic antics as a hallmark of true vision; Stupid people speak without knowing what they want to say; stupid people are meek; stupid people are hypocrites; stupid people, foolish people, who seem to make it the furthest and get the highest platforms in their pointy leather boots (likely sewn by people who can’t even afford to feel how uncomfortable they are) don’t listen when people let them know WHY they do something: they just brag about how they’re going to make a video, eventually, explaining how THEY think, and how THEY feel, and how IMPORTANT they think they are.

Of course, because NOT EVERYONE IS A VICTIM.

img_5284

Luka Sabbat, you are not stupid. You are an idiot. A dilettante. An amateur in thought, theory and execution who got ahold of his parent’s soapbox and thought himself a Cicero! But, honey, Cicero was executed and he changed nothing, because he lacked Understanding. Luka, like him, you will fix nothing the way you are, and the way you think, and the way you carry yourself with utter repugnance. (By the time Cicero was discovered as “influential” his civilization was already dead).

Not Everyone is a Victim, Luka? And that’s why SJWs are wrong? And that’s what’s so heinous about our generation?

Erase your self-righteousness like you erase the allegations against your bros.

No, Luka. Not everyone is a victim, but most people have been victimized, and that’s why insensitive assholes who hype the foolish things you say, and Kanye said, and Trump perpetuates painted SJWs in such a brand.

No activist whom I have ever met has ever stopped at the internet. That’s because the internet is a tool to SHARE information, to experience new thoughts and then to test them in real life – dummy. But hey, you did only one semester of College before you realized anything you could get there your family already had, ain’t that right Mr. Fallback? Your co-star, Yara Shahidi, knows how formidable the internet is in inspiring people to make lasting decisions and choose to dedicate themselves to these issues and — so many rail against, abuse her, trash her as a SJW. I’m sure she feels your sympathies. A great woman, that Yara, and she will inspire many, through the internet, most likely.

Being an activist isn’t counter-culture anymore because you say so? Because you’re SOOOO counter culture? You peel my tuition off flings and hook-ups. What’s really good, my nigga?

img_5292

I see right through what you were doing here. Implying our struggles are done with because it’s not like how it “used to be”. And the “old days were better”. Bro, allusions are the tools of real artists, not the playthings of socialites. Keep it real, or keep it in your Balenciagas.

By the way, you’re out here criticizing the “fake” activists, as if they’re the ones who criticized you and your idols. It’s the real activists who be pounding the pavements who are on your ass, and the ass of your friends who do these terrible shit.

Yet, you persist on making it about how people are mean to you for speaking your mind. That it’s this PC culture and other Alt-Right buzzwords. That everyone is just so sensitive: WAH, WHY CANT I BE FRIENDS WITH A RAPIST?

WAH, WHY CAN’T KANYE WEST DISRESPECT AN ENTIRE GROUP OF MARGINALIZED PEOPLE?

WAH, WHY IS IT WHEN I SAY THINGS PEOPLE DISAGREE WITH THEY DON’T LIKE ME ANYMORE? IT’S LIKE PEOPLE DON’T WANT TO AGREE WITH ME BECAUSE THEY DISAGREE WITH ME!

(Bitch, you’re a little baby).

You complain about people being politically correct, and that it’s toxic and harmful to your humanity, when in reality, you’re just angry that no one wants to play in your playpen because you’re mean, and a bully, and no one wants to listen about how you saved those poor unfortunate black(er) people because you’re okay with sexual abuse and racial misconduct — NIGGA!

Grow up, Luka.

Be about more than your image you want people to care about.

Be about more than the echo chamber you squat and shit in and actually realize people are saying these things for other reasons than clout — unlike you.

Be about actually realizing where you stand in this culture and how your actions contradict your intentions.

Then, maybe the criticism you will mean nothing to you, because you know where you stand in the moral swing of things.

 

Steven Underwood

Bachelor’s of Arts in English

 

 

More of Luka’s poignant observations:

 

Review: TACKMA

A review of the boutique

Location: 844 N High St, Columbus, OH 43215

By Steven Underwood

I didn’t even know I was walking into a clothing store, if I’m being honest.

My friend, Matty, invited me out to an opening of some sort my last day in Columbus and I decided: why not, my brain is decaying in this house and I can blow a quarter C-note on an Uber.

Walking into the place, the first thing you notice is a pool table and a DJ booth. Today’s Hip-hop only, and it didn’t feel close to ashamed about it. I didn’t come to play: I gravitated to the clothes and began to pick through it. Hoodies, hats and trench-coats. Most of the clothes never dropping beneath a hundred dollars a pop. The most affordable objects in the entire room were the hats. Lucky for them, I was fake-balling for the day, so I didn’t turn around and leave.

But, I wasn’t going to blow more than a hundred there. I decided it was best to just bide my time, go to their online store and keep it simple. So, I blew 95 dollars on two hats because the material was like rubbing my hand across a suede jacket. I was judged by Matty, and I felt like I should be judged, but I’m a victim to the aesthetic.

Supporting Columbus business is also the goal of the day, really. I could’ve went across the street to the faux-bohemian boutique and blew a hundred dollars — hell, I was probably going to spent a hundred dollars online in a week anyway. The different? There were a lot of black faces in the store; the clothes were nice; and I have a hairline that’s evaporating like American patriotism in a post-Trump presidency: hats are vital. 

My issue (besides the pricing) was the lack of diversity in the boutique. There were hoodies and jackets, jacket and hoodies. Joggers, joggers and more joggers. All of them had essentially the same style, and none of it had any style that felt like it was…me.

In all, the place was great, though. I would’ve bought a hoodie and a jacket if I could stand. But, I’m a starving college student and Trump is my president. I’m hoarding my rubees for a McChicken on a snowy day (and I don’t even like McDonalds)

I give it four out of five stars that do not exist because they’re social constructs.

 

 

We the People in a Less Perfect Union

Sometimes, it’s better to look at the world through poetry until it starts to make a lick of sense.

***

On Monday, he wasn’t our president, and we celebrated the legacy of a man with as many faults as he had virtues. The skies held their breath, and a world of bright blue became bleak and cried. We remembered how we love the rain, but this was different.

Together, We investigated the landscape of the world. We judged the people of the time: for treating people like cattle, for their shameful attitudes, for their racism. We couldn’t see how these people, relatives, and friends to many of us, couldn’t see what was going on in front of them. That same day, we ignored many obvious clues that history was licking its fingertips and turning a few pages backward in its book just for emphasis.

On Tuesday, We pressed our thumbs to small digital boxes and opened Twitter. We discussed “Dr. King’s Dream,” and judged the black community according to it. Are we honoring him when we kneel during a pledge of allegiance? Is calling a white person racist acting in his image? Dr. King’s progeny got into the tabloids and said Dr. King would’ve liked Donald Trump. Our world cracked at the seams.

On Wednesday, We steeled ourselves for the worse, and found that our best metals were but rust: we would lose Barrack Obama. The skies remained gray, but the winds whipped with a sheering coldness. Tempers were high, and we fought each other. We lashed out, without really knowing what we were lashing out f. Anger for anger’s sake, a test of those chains we swore would remain. Both to unite us, and to shackle our ambitions.

On Thursday, We maintained the song of Monday. Dr. King’s progeny’s comments sang again. I stare blankly at the screen for a moment. This is someone who knew him best, isn’t it? I re-read a line by Fredrick Douglas, and I make us remember.
“Power concedes nothing without a Demand…It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows or with both. “
I take to this new world of zeroes and ones, and I make a declarative. “If we are to believe MLK would’ve supported Trump, then maybe MLK isn’t the person we should look up to?”
Few comment. Many have a feeling. The words hang in the air.
On Friday, the sky wept upon his head. Orange flushes down his face and drips onto the American soil beneath his feet. The brown in the soil becomes stained in chemical lies. We shake our hands and test these chains. We meditate on what others have decided for us. We ask ourselves how people could be so ignorant. We judge the people for many things: for their racism, for their bigotry, for their sexism, for their phobias.
History hasn’t turned her page.
The page becomes wet and the ink runs down the page. Our name runs with it. These symbols hold no more meaning.
On Saturday, we ask ourselves if we can be united when these important things have no more meaning.

I Should’ve Talked Black

First Published Here at Bananago Street:

An analysis on racial discourse in America.

By Steven Underwood

As a kindergartner, I came clamoring home to share with my mother a stark belief: I did not like white people. In my adolescent ignorance, I had forgotten my best friend Dylan, who was not only white, but shared my love of imagined worlds of magical wonder, which I still cling to, and true compassion, which has since brittled with age. My mom took the time to remind me of Dylan, to which I replied: “I don’t like white people, but I like him.” I’ve always felt that this was my first direct confrontation with race. Earlier, just shy of ten years old, I had been called a “Nigger” for the first time in my life. I, essentially, had been beaten with a weapon forged against me to prosper.

Of course, I had experienced racial micro-aggressions in my life. That one time, when I was six, when my mom had been arrested by the police because they said she “looked” like she had stolen her Purple Ford Taurus. This other time, when I was seven, when a boy’s father snatched one of my white classmates away from me on the playground in South Jersey and muttered about nappy hair under his breath. I was expected to be the most coordinated in basketball, the fastest in football, but the dumbest in my Reading and Math classes. Or, when my mother cradled me in her arms for the first time, and decided to change my name from the ethnically unique Alante to the more Eurocentric Steven.

In an unnecessary justification of my childhood assailant, I’d say the boy—that boy– was using words he hadn’t completely understood, as children do. He merely knew that this word was designed with malice, that he could hurt me using it. He’d been taught that he had the privilege to hurt others with this weapon, a belief that was reinforced by my teachers, all of whom were white, because when I neglected to properly defend myself, or my culture, with words or actions he was not chastised or reprimanded. Rather than taking up the duty to correct him, this boy would assume that he could always get away with certain hate speech because something in this world made it okay.

I reflect on this day, with the new adult ignorance I have acquired by a decade of wandering aimlessly through life pretending I know what I am doing, and realize that my mother had taken the opportunity to establish my bigotry as inherently wrong and something that should be punished. She took my words and used them against me to show how my hatred and bigotry could effect not just me in the long run, but those I love. She taught me to be ashamed of my prejudices.

My teacher, however, was trusted by parents and administrators to cater to help raise a child and did not ever do the same. Though this event may seem something so minor that an infraction is not necessary, we must understand that the systems of oppression within the country are in the subconscious, the things that we experience, and beliefs that are reinforced by context and action—or lack thereof. Early on, my teacher was offered a chance to discuss race but fled it and failed both of us.

Throughout those subsequent months, spanning a dozen more collied moon phases, my mother had realized I was developing into a black man. She took the time to set me aside and made it clear to me what that meant. Yes, she disclosed I would have to find my own meaning of blackness (which, I chose to define as passion for who I am and respect for those who sacrificed and built for me to be here today), but there was the customary topics of fears, concerns, and troubles that one of a similar background as mine might expect with this: Steven, in a situation with the police your life comes first, and what’s right comes second; Steven, not all of them have your best interest at heart and will pursue you with despite; and Steven, you will always have to try twice as hard to have half of what they have.

I did not believe her. I always remembered Dylan and the impact he had on my life and that I had equally been bullied by black kids as well as white. In my young life, I had experienced the troubles of blackness in this country and knew very well that there was something strange occurring. It was this same instinctual sense that told the children who was the parental favorite, though mom and dad often said they love you all equally. But, more importantly than the white friends I’ve gained in my classes, I had reasonable doubt to my mother’s feelings regarding race in this country.

My mother’s name is Tamara Fluellen. Even now, almost a whole foot smaller than me, she feels taller than me—roughly five feet of honey skin and beautiful weave taller than me. She was the only black person in Willingboro High School in Willingboro, New Jersey and therefore often faced ridicule by her white classmates– as the other. In one particular event, she told me of the day her male classmates attempted to attack her after school. There was a mob of them, but none of them faced punishment for attacking her. Tamara Fluellen had been a victim of a hate crime and had seen the hideousness of anti-blackness in this country. Someone who experienced this kind of hate, could not possibly speak without bias. Someone who was victim to this kind of pain, could not possible understand the good in others when lost in the cold and dark.

Unfortunately, at every possible turn, my mother was proven right. I recall my father once saying every time my mom was infallibly right about something she said as a moral, a heifer lost its spots. I am still worried about the amount of cows in this country who must be absolutely albino.

Blackness is not as celebrated in this country as it should be, at least not unless it is whitewashed and bastardized. Often, it is Cinderella trapped in the cellar. It is she who maintains the beauty and glory of a household built by her ancestry but doesn’t reap any of the benefits. It survives but does not live. It eats but is not nourished. I often find that I cannot talk about my blackness and how I enjoy or love it without someone chiming in that their whiteness is somehow in contrast or conflict with it. That my pride in who I am and my heritage is an attack on their culture.

In my late teens, I’d already learned that black culture was one of the most vital things in America. It is literally American culture, as American as baseball and the apple pie the slaves cooked. To be American, you are required to enjoy something that has either been influenced by or was directly associated with black culture. Music, art, fashion, all of it had its root in African-American influence but are not ever required to value it or its impact or even favor its people. You can always be white and wear cornrows and box braids, listen to rap music, wear African tribal prints or wear black face, but the same cannot be said for actual black people—who originated this culture. We witness an imbalance in privilege so severe that the privilege makes the other edgy and unique when worn in bastardization and appropriation. Yet, this is still often disregarded as myth. “We are all human, and human culture cannot be appropriated.” Or essentially “Cultural appropriation isn’t real.”

Often, when I say “Black Live Matter,” someone must always chime in with “All Lives Matter” and completely derail an entire conversation that could have been productive. When I enter settings that are designed to embrace black beauty in contrast to white beauty standards propagated for almost 500 years, someone must step in and say “White girls do it better.” They see these attempts for “pro-blackness” and see “anti-whiteness” because privilege dictates that anything that isn’t the normative is an attack—much like how pro-white was always supported by white supremacy.

At a distance, I can still sense the awkward shift of my peers in their skins when a discussion on the topic is started and to that I recall my teacher, in her seat, refusing to acknowledge the child who attacked me in class or those men who attacked my mother, all of who went justified in their bigotry. Worst, I recall my own attempts to undermine my mother’s experiences merely because I felt that her pain blinded her to some assumed truth of the world.

This stigma that pain devalues the argument of oppressed bodies needs to die. We must acknowledge that there is a system of privileges—simple things like knowing your life is valued, that justice is absolutely guaranteed, that you will appear non-threatening enough to avoid death, your opinion is always necessary and that anywhere you go you will be free of racial prosecution or othered– set up in this country and anyone who is a victim of it is not a credible advocate for change is harmful to growth. We judge that because they cannot be entirely logical in a situation that they are wrong. As if logical arguments have led to a safer, more pleasant world.

Some of the most valid changes in history have been established not on logic but on emotion. Slavery, in some lights, was in fact the most logical method of exploitation to develop America into a superpower in just under 200 years. However, the most sensible argument provided against it was based on emotion. “These people may look different, but they are human and they experience pain. Abusing them, and harming them, in these ways are wrong both religiously and philosophically”. So, why is it that we feel that we can disregard the pain of black bodies as a reasonable argument to openly acknowledge racial privilege and systems of oppression in this country especially in a discussion on social and societal reform based on race?

Members of the black community have a lot of things to say about this. In the safety of homes, churches, and barbershops—safe zones– we’ve accumulated a number of arguments regarding why we are disbelieved. One theory is that at the end of the day we still seem different on some base-level. So we’ve had those niches of African-Americans who changed themselves to appear more white appealing—non-black spouses for mixed raced children, shunning “black” music, art and culture to appeal to whiter worlds– but they still aren’t believed. Some suggest it has something to do with respectability politics. They think maybe, if they look credible that they will be believed. They peacock in their suits, ties, and clean shaven haircuts cleaned of black curls and naps. They aren’t believed either. Some look to logos for their arguments, and dig deep into calm, calculated answers with strong evidence. They definitely aren’t believed and are in fact often shunned as “preachy”.

An impasse has developed along with an answer: because white privilege in itself describes a system of privileges that is experienced on a micro and macro-level it becomes harder to empathize. When another person has to come up with convoluted analogies about how blackness is experienced in this country and how whiteness benefits, it only further justifies the existence of that said thing.

When someone says it hurt like a wound, you are able to sympathize to an experience of pain you’ve have earlier in your life. When someone says they were hurt by the death of a loved one, everyone understands this profound sense of loss. When someone experiences heartbreak, it is one of the easiest intangible emotions to recall mentally. On the other hand, when I say that I was hurt by being called a Nigger, a Coon, a Thug, or how cultural appropriation affects me emotionally and spiritually, I am forced to paint a picture to justify my emotions and forcefully invoke empathy. I am then also forced to access my credibility on this, and then I am challenged logically. I have to work twice as hard to access a basic human empathy that says believe that I am in pain, and know that you have the ability to end it with just your actions.

A discussion is necessary for many of these stigmas and problems to be adjusted. Systematic Oppression and White Privilege were all built and subsequently woven into the state of imperialized countries with the understanding that it is subconscious and silent yet still obvious. I can’t help but think about what would have happened if my teacher had told that childhood enemy of mine that using those words were wrong and how it would have affected him. In many ways, it justified my blossoming perspective of blackness in this country. There might actually be more cows with spots in this world, if people were willing to discuss race openly—and respectfully to those who are at risk—and consider the idea that maybe they are at an unfair advantage.