Race, Space, and Articulated Anguish

Allow me to set the scene….

It was a spring day in Oakland, California and a black mother, diligently working on her degree was summoned to campus to tend to some collegiate business. She brought her son along with her, who was on a state-designated break at the time. She positioned him with lunch, a drink, and snack at the campus restaurant while she journeyed to her professor’s office for counseling.

The whispers were loud in the dining establishment– the women of the women’s college were visibly uncomfortable with the offspring of a black female skewering their coveted space with his presence. It is not important who or what summoned the school safety guards who came to investigate the scenario. While not physically arresting the young boy, these guards fiercely protected this white “space”  and arrested this young black body with their foreboding gazes. Gazez that robbed him of childhood naivety—-acquainting him with the reality that his body is a burden to those who eat the crops watered with his ancestral sacrifice.

He will grow up to be like the black men arrested in Starbucks, who mirror a veiled reality of what it means to be black in America. Whether at Starbucks, a book store, or an airport, the black body is simply not welcome by those who find peace in not having to look the products of their sins in the face. In reality, blacks should be unwilling or cautious of being in the presence of whites in simply recalling why exactly they are in the West in the first place. White People and non black persons of color who often act as whites in the presence of blacks, simply enjoy the pseudo exclusivity of space, with a cavalier disregard for the reasons why that space is even available. They enjoy basking in their privilege to call the police and have the law comply to their foolishness guised as reason, simply because they can.

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What’s the issue? 

But I’ll be honest with you—the previously articulated points are not what is most troubling about these recurring scenarios.

What is most disturbing is the recurring comment: Well what did they do?

The query displaces criminality onto a collective of unacknowledged victimhood. The assumption that a black person did something to deserve their mistreatment is the ideology that warms Willie Lynch in his grave.

It is also troubling to hear so many people say “well did they buy anything?”

The unpaid labor of black blood running through the veins of these black men has paid for the Starbucks franchise and then some, but even if you wish to ignore this point, those of us who have been to any white establishment at any point in our lives, can attest to the number of whites and non-black persons of colors who frequent these franchises without ever buying anything. I used to frequent Panera to write, and this middle-aged Jewish man who was there every weekend never bought anything. In fact, he always asked for a complimentary cup and drank beverages the establishment sold for three dollars, for free. He also preyed on young black women religiously, but was never arrested or even confronted because he bore the hue of hegemony. The “you must buy something rule” is a smoke screen. It is merely rhetoric that can be used as ammo to shoot down charges of discrimination. Policy or not, these doctrines, like laws, are only selectively enforced.

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Articulated Racism

These signs are consistent in establishments that have become staples in the colonized contemporary. The frequency of said signs hardly counter its violence. Signs like:

Restrooms for customers only

No shoes, no shirt, no service

We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone 

Provide an identical function to bulletproof glasses and receipt-checkers, actions solely reserved for the black community. These signs exist to be reinforced only in the event of a black customer. These signs function as insurance for the anti-black agent—an articulation that functions to excuse the premeditated harassment, assault, and death that awaits. 

Because these signs have become somewhat normalized, to the average gaze they appear antiracist. They violently ingrain appeasement into the mind of the targeted, leading many to believe that these rules function to protect and not persecute them. These signs in action and image, enable responses like the ones articulated by Starbucks victim “it is not just a race thing, its a people thing.”

The seemingly inanimate “thing” referenced, is inherently racist. This statement, an epitome of what it means to be racialized. But to take things a step further, so is patronizing these racist establishments. To patronize any of these business that articulate their racism behind the semantics of the colonized language is to sign a what Charles Mills called “the racial contract.” Charles outlines the foundation of said contract  a norming a racialized space. These signs, normalized as “reason”  by a society founded on unreasonable acts, are harbingers for a space racialized to the detriment of the black body. 

This also connects to the Chikesia Clemons case in Alabama, where a black woman was assaulted for asking a question in the Waffle house. The released footage was especially hard to watch, as it features two white men batter a young black woman–inches away from her bare breasts exposed in an arrest that should have never occurred in the first place. To those who wish to defend police action due to what the white media has depicted as belligerence on Clemons’ part, I point to the number of instances where white men have murdered multiple people. During these arrests, these murderers are never treated in the manner that this young lady was. It is pure racism that a white murderer is treated with more respect than a black person asking a question.

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Whites Only! Comply or Die

This case, like the black boy waiting for his mother in an environment inundated by white female bodies, to the young black men arrested in Starbucks, illustrate black spaces as a necessity. These are not black men or women arrested, harassed, or murdered for the articulated accusations,  but black bodies criminalized for “invading” white space. The action is inevitable as this country in itself is an apocryphal white space.

Nevertheless, while I in no way support what happened to the young man eating in a hegemonic university setting, the young men in Starbucks or Miss Clemons at The Waffle House, as long as we as a collective continue to seek sanctuary, sustenance, and entry into white space, we are their objects.

Let us not wait for the emotions that follows a blatant display of disrespect to withdraw our support or call for a boycott. Let us fight the urge to empty our pockets in these establishments that replace our faces with the white men on the dollars we give them–until our demand for respect proves incongruent to a supremacy that in America only comes in white.

May we be angry or disturbed enough not to just withdraw our support from white businesses, but angry and disturbed enough to patronize a black business–and not just on special occasions. Better yet, may we be angry or disturbed enough to work towards emerging from object to subject in establishing a black space.

Black Power ❤

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