The Luxury of Feigning Ignorance

As child, I wished I were white—but only sometimes. I’d wish for blue eyes, straight hair, and blonde bangs so I could be “pretty.” I already knew I was smart enough to be white; I just didn’t look the part.

I no longer wish to be white, but I wonder, “What must it be like to wake up white everyday?”

This morning, I tried it out—being white that is.

I swing my feet out of bed and touch my toes to the frigid floor. A basic beige, they match the color of the air-conditioned tile. I shuffle into the bathroom, brush my teeth groggily, and flip the bangs I desired as a child so I can spit into the sink where a stream of running water meets porcelain and slides down the drain. Being white ain’t all that different. So far.

I dress for work, leave the house, and wait for the streetcar under the New Orleans sun. I seem to be pinkening.

That’s new.

I retreat into the shade of an ancient oak. The streetcar arrives; I board and sit at the front. The driver doesn’t recognize me in my newfound pale-skinned form, but he chats with me anyway. I smile politely and force myself to engage.

I notice my feeling of relief when he, a Black man, doesn’t carry on the conversation.

I pull out my phone and scroll through my Facebook feed: cute kitty videos, Brangelina’s break up, yet another Black person dead at the hands of the police. Maybe murder, maybe not. I hesitate.

If I were in my Black body, the last headline would sting behind my eyes, as the depths of my orbital sockets well up with unshed tears. I would feel it from the tightening in my throat down into my viscera as I imagine that this time, it was me.

Lying on the ground in a puddle of my own blood.

It could always be someone I know.

I snap out of it. Today, I am white and a Black person is 3 times more likely than I am to be shot and killed by the cops. Today, I can scroll past and know I won’t be the next dead person with a hashtagged name; this race-based stress doesn’t have much to do with me. I consider sharing the article, but it doesn’t feel like my place. I click the kittens. They’re scared of a Roomba vacuum cleaner and it’s just so cute. I giggle to myself, my brief foray into Blackness forgotten. I keep scrolling and see models donning colorful faux dreadlocks in pictures from Marc Jacobs’s runway show and wonder, “Could I pull off such an edgy hairstyle?”

I scroll on. One of my Black friends has posted a status: “White people upset when a Black man takes a knee, but unaffected when a Black man takes a bullet.”

I’m not sure what to do with that.

I get off at my stop and walk down the street to my favorite local coffee shop. I remember that Fall has arrived. I can finally get a pumpkin spice latte. With each sip, I start to feel a little more sure in my pallid appearance. I haven’t yet read about Brangelina’s breakup and click the link as I ride the elevator up to my office in University Hall. I realize I haven’t felt this devastated since…

This morning, when all I wanted to do was to call in Black.

I am still Black in bed, knowing that 852 people, and counting, have been killed by the police in 2016; knowing that at least 214 of them were Black and we only make up 13% of the population; knowing that my people are protesting for their lives in the streets of Charlotte; knowing that I cannot just scroll by; knowing that I, a Black woman, could be next; knowing that I do not have the luxury of feigning ignorance.

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