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Early last June, I committed an atrocity. My crime: Offending a white woman by clicking “like” on a Facebook post that the woman apparently found unfunny.
The post in question was an article from a satirical news site, posted right after then-presidential candidate Joe Biden told popular African-American radio host Charlemagne tha God “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black.” (Biden would later apologize.)
“Liking” the satirical post was enough to rattle the sensibilities of the woman, whose father was guilty of sharing it. The woman and I had never met. We weren’t connected on social media. I was known to her only as someone who “liked” her father’s Facebook post. Yet days later, I received a personal message from her:
“Hello Althea, I am the daughter of (name redacted). I want to introduce myself to you, and follow up on a recent post that you liked from my father from the Babylon Bee called ’Ancestry.com Revokes Genealogies of African Americans Who Don't Support Biden.’“
(Come on. That’s funny.)
“My husband is African American, and I do not support the satirical headline that my father is promoting. I believe he probably promoted the post as a funny joke to him, but the rhetoric is disrespectful to me. These exact posts that may seem lighthearted in nature, are the fodder for racial prejudices that have led to the wrongful treatment of African Americans.
“I respectfully ask you to reconsider the content that you have chosen to engage in and support. Our social media platforms are more powerful than ever before, and I believe that as people can express themselves freely, we all need to be willing to engage in dialogue how our engagement can be harming other individuals.
“I sincerely request that you use your platform to amplify messages that are positive and uplifting to all skin colors. When we know better, we do better."
Oh, for crying out loud.
In these times of racial upheaval I’ve observed a stark contrast in our inspirations for combating societal prejudice. Black and brown Americans have a purpose for fighting racism born of their experiences. White people, though, are largely motivated not by experience, but by how racism makes them feel.
The woman who scolded me is not the only one who doesn’t always know what to do with those feelings. Around the same time I received my reprimand, writer Kira Davis, a Black woman, took to Twitter about an interaction had by her husband, a Black man.
“A white lady approached my husband at the store the other day,” she tweeted, “[and] stared at him until he felt moved to ask her if they knew each other. She said, ‘I just wanted to say I'm sorry [and] then gave a little speech about him feeling welcome in our community.”
I don’t pretend to hold the key to solving our nation’s complex struggle with racial inequality. Still, I’ll offer one piece of advice, quoting that of Ms. Davis, regarding her husband’s interaction: “White people, please don’t do this.”
Wokeness is not a cure for our pervasive obsession with racial differences. It’s a symptom of it. Empty platitudes won’t save the world. It’s time we understood that.
Althea Cole is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org