Woes of the Whitewashed

Woes of the Whitewashed

by Munji Nfor

Oct. 28th, 2020

“You talk white.” “You can’t be Black and emo!” “You don’t act like them.” The following comments came from the childhood of Morgan Severson. A UT Honors freshman, Severson is biracial and identifies as such. Yet throughout her life, she has received comments that seem to acknowledge and respect her white identity, while demeaning her Black identity. She responded with brilliant remarks like “can Black people not be proper?” or “I think Black people should be allowed to express themselves just as much as white people are.” Unfortunately, not everyone in our community agrees. Let’s talk about it.

In the Black community, we have an unhealthy habit of projecting our internalized racism onto one another as a means of security from potential turncoats. How we frame the “trusted” Black individual is heavily influenced by the stereotypes society perpetuates. Even though we may have reclaimed some racial weapons to diminish the power of our oppressors, what’s manifested in pride in our culture has also led to the invalidation of multifacetedness. 

As an atheist, first-generation, Cameroonian-American, cisgender woman of the upper-middle-class, much of my experience will be unlike “most” Black people in America. The way I present myself in society, personal experiences, and interests I have may differ from my brothers, sisters, and enbys. Because of this, the titles of “Oreo” and “Whitewashed” have been bestowed upon many Black children for decades, often leading to an abandonment of authentic personalities or insecurity.  Though there are indeed signs for Black people that believe they are less than and aspire to emulate white people, self-hatred is not always the case for everyone that exists outside of the orthodox image…the image that is never invincible. 

When you tell a fellow Black person that they “talk white,” you are not only passive-aggressive, you also assert the stereotype that Black people are uneducated, unintelligent, and incapable of communicating effectively. It is a double-edged sword that not only validates these prejudiced opinions but also subconsciously instills a sense of inferiority that contributes to a sense of hopelessness when it comes to education. 

When you tell a fellow Black person that you consider whitewashed that you expected their music taste to be composed of only “white” genres, you are calling the music that you associate with your Black identity as classless and simple, when it is the exact opposite. By making this statement there’s also a lack of acknowledgment of the incomparable influence Black people have had in “white” genres, popular dances, and almost every other branch of pop culture. 

When you tell a fellow Black person (that you perceive as a better version of yourself but refuse to emulate because they represent abandonment and disloyalty) that their outward appearance is concrete evidence of their desire to “join” white society, you are omitting the concepts of individualism and autonomy. Enforcing the belief that Black people exist within a monolith…

As though goth or cottage core Black people are rare creatures that have been brainwashed… or Black players on non-traditional sports teams are sellouts. 

Treating African students as though they come from a beastly continent of wilderness and poverty, or Afro-European individuals like the slaves that never left the house is deplorable. Admittedly, because we have not often seen ourselves in different spheres of influence and art does not mean we cannot be active participants. Although, allowing labels to erase your understanding of your position in many situations as a Black person is the issue. Intersectionality exists always and cannot be excluded from the conversation we all need to have. 

While we fight amongst ourselves over freedom of expression, there is an audience that watches from the sidelines, reveling in the reinforcement of their racism. It’s impossible to ignore the ones laughing along with them. Not Donald Glover, but Lil Wayne. Not SZA, but Doja Cat. Not Thurgood Marshall, but Clarence Thomas. Those that build pedestals for their trophies of white approval from colorism, texturism, featurism, and more. The difference lies not only in one side’s complete reinvention of their morals, ethics, and loyalties but the disillusionment towards the condition of their people and willingness to step on them without a second glance. It is the denial of the fact that integration is still a work in progress in many ways and the struggle is shared no matter how white you try to be. As one of my best friends once so eloquently explained: The issue is that Black people always equate “different” with “trying not to be Black.” So what are we gonna do about it?