Black Face, White Tongue


November 27, 2015 by DKC

This is not about my experience growing up as a young black kid in North Philly who went to predominantly white schools in Northeast Philadelphia. In this environment I was accused of “talking white” by white or black kids who thought I should fit within a stereotype. No, this is a little more painful. I am speaking of the period after high school, into college, graduate school, seminary, corporate America and broader American Evangelicalism. The prospect of having a black face with a white tongue is something that you learn to live with because you have to. The reality of existing in white space carries the burden of holding back roaring anger at the world that exists in order to exist in privileged space. Speaking two different languages—my coffee must have cream. The white tongue seeks to provide a balanced answer, not necessarily a just or prophetic answer. Generally, this struggle does not exist for my white counterparts. There is no real struggle to flourish under powerful black men or women, thus the duality that I described is germane to the experience of marginalized minorities.

The pressure is not stated, but simply understood. One of my only outlets within mixed space is blogging and even still I feel that I need to hold back in order to avoid being the “angry black man”. I love my white friends, colleagues and co-workers, but there is always something below the surface gasping for air, begging to be stated. Did you read that? Yes, that’s me reassuring my brethren from Europe that I don’t hate them. I avoid political conversations because the free flowing tongue of white Evangelical can sting. It has stung before and I know it can sting again. I also avoid many of these conversations because many times the emotional cost is just too great. I avoid these conversations because I’m tired of false equivalents and anecdotal stories about one divergent experience out of millions that seek to prove that my claims are the product of myth.  The duality of being black and having to make adjustments to exist within majority culture is another day at the office.  I’ve also found that within recent conversations about racial reconciliation there is unstated pressure to give opinions that are general and opaque, “All Lives Matter” or “Its sin, not skin.” While these are true they do not speak of injustice and oppression at the hands of majority culture. I’ve learned to disappear—sort of shrink into a corner of reality so no one will notice my 6’3” dark linear frame and ask my opinion.

In 1952, Frantz Fanon wrote his pivotal book, “Black Skin, White Mask” which details the burden of blackness and the pressures of existence under colonial dominance;

I slip into corners, my long antenna encountering the various axioms on the surface of things: The Negro’s clothes smell of Negro; the Negro has white teeth; the Negro has big feet; the Negro has a broad chest. I slip into corners; I keep silent; all I want is to be anonymous, to be forgotten. Look, I’ll agree to everything, on condition I go unnoticed![1]

To be black in a white world carries the extra burden of helping others to stay calm. I will not rape, murder, steal and more recently some would ask that I not ‘protest’. I’ll go a step further in hopes of conveying my humanity—I will make mistakes, but please do not apply my mistakes to the rest of people of color.  These are some of the professional and social struggles I carry with me. The struggle does not wash away my experience as a black man—it is a beautiful experience full of redemption. My lived experience integrates what is called the “White Gaze” which is a judgmental way of viewing a person of color through a racist lens.  This gaze can stop you in your tracks if you let it, but the words of the Lord to Ezekiel come to mind as his calling was spelled out, “I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people.” (Ezekiel 3:9)  Like Fanon, there is the internal existential argument about escaping or as he puts it, “denegrification”[2]. I cannot remove blackness and neither do I want to, but the responsibility of blackness includes inviting others into this black world to hear about this experience.

[1] Fanon, F. (1952). Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press. p.96

[2] Ibid., 91

3 thoughts on “Black Face, White Tongue

  1. MacJoyful says:

    Reblogged this on Macjoyful's Minimal Musings and commented:
    Somehow we must truly love others completely blind to external indicators of race, creed, origin. The very underpinnings of our nation demands it. Begging for the attention of our scatter-brained nation. Now.

  2. Lin Crowe says:

    Kyle, Thanks for this honest and transparent expression of your genuine feelings. Your comments remind me very much of that American classic, “The Souls of Black Folk”, by W.E.B. DuBois, written over a century ago in 1903. Famous for its prophetic line, “The problem of the 20th Century is the problem of the color line”, it is much more than a historical, or economic, or political description of a black man’s experience in majority-white America. It is a revelation from the heart- exposing the pain of living what he called a “double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others. . . . One ever feels his twoness, – an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.. . . . He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.” Unfortunately for DuBois, as talented and successful as he was (PhD from Harvard, one of the NAACP’s founders, etc.) his search for a solution to America’s racial dilemma left him disillusioned and he died in Ghana in 1963, a self-exhile from the very country that he sought to heal. May God give you greater success in ministry and influential leadership as you help us to navigate through our tragic history.

    • Kyle says:

      Wow..Thank you Lin. This was a gift. I read ‘The Soul of Black Folk’ years ago but forgot about Dubois’ struggle and expression. I think the struggle is real and it just becomes too much at times but it is necessary. Thank you for commenting.

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