I think, if we’re being honest, most of us Black folks were raised, perhaps even unknowingly, to question everything White folks had to say about us. We questioned because instead of taking a listening approach when it came to Blackness, or anything about race for that matter, white folks found ways to insert their voice. Our Black parents, already tired from work, found themselves on their second job, playing fill-in-the-blank games with us, fixing everything we learned in school and on the news.
“What did the teacher talk about today,” my mother asked. “We learned everything about Thomas Jefferson and how he lived on the plantation just up the road from us. He was also the third president,” I said, feeling like an 8-year-old teacher. Then came the critical information from her, “did the teacher tell you about his Black children and the slave he was raping on that plantation?” My white teacher could no longer teach me without me taking the information back to my Black family for racial analysis.
I feel I am solely responsible for turning each member of my family into critical race theorists without their permission.
Imagine my face when I walked into my African American Studies course freshman year and saw a white man standing at the front, waiting to impart second-hand knowledge on us newly freed folks. Being a freshman in a new place with a dire need for a social life, I didn’t have time to compare my notes from his class against the notes of every accessible and reliable Black source. I left out before introductions could be made and sat in my advisor’s office until she could figure a way to put me in Dr. Johnson’s class, a Black woman who came complete with silver locs, unapologetic language about white folks, and a take-no-shit attitude. And thank God because it was with Dr. Johnson that I learned conscious Black women, must always get the final say on everything concerning race.
It was my mother who filled in any gaps left in my head by arguably racist grade schools and white grade school teachers. Then it was Kwame Ture, Sister Soulja, the letters of George Jackson, even the one to Dearest Angela (first amongst equals), Raymond Shipman, my grandmother Irene Jones, my father, Perry Jones, who never trusted white people, and my other father, Larry Wells, who stayed neutral when it was needed, but once accused our waiter of being racist when he refused to sing the Birthday song to me, although we just watched him perform a solo for a white family. In actuality, there is not enough space here to name drop, but these people make up the critical information institution I still attend today. They taught me it’s okay to never trust or accept the words of white people when they are talking about Blackness. Never.
It was with these people who loved me, some knowingly and some indirectly, that I learned to be a Black man in America, unapologetically. It was these righteous Black teachers who gave me positive cultural and group identity. It’s the one tool I keep sharpened and in my pocket. It’s what I must use to stop white people when Blackness is being discussed and they open their mouths instead of their ears, falsely believing they can be objective.