How To Rent-A-Negro
Posted Mar 22 2009
But in all seriousness, this would have been more powerful in a shorter format. I found ayo's website, as well as the similar site blackpeopleloveus.com to be hilarious. Without hitting you over the head, the point was made. Unfortunately the idea didn’t translate well in this nearly 200 page tome.
Using humor to address racism is useful, when done correctly, but this book had the feel of a joke that goes on too long. At first, I found myself chuckling as ayo addresses typical incidents such as White people touching Black people’s hair, gentrification (rent an entire Black neighborhood!), assumptions about all Black people knowing each other, and the countless asinine comments and questions that people of color have to contend with. She’s a witty writer and includes some funny pictures, but after a few dozen pages I found myself waiting for more. OK, we get it. White people are ignorant and Black people just need to be patient with these poor, clueless souls.
So, what was I looking for? For starters, a more sophisticated analysis of the points that she was trying to make. Yeah, people should be able to read through the lines and she does spark discussion, but while she seeks to fight stereotypes, I was distracted by the fact that she was playing into them. As a person of color I can relate to just about everything she mentions and have my bouts of anger and frustration yet I found this book to oversimplify things. Ayo makes it sound as if all White people are completely ignorant to African Americans and all African Americans are somehow suffering geniuses and inherent experts on race and racism. Her tone towards White people is condescending as she implores Black folks to “assist them on their paths of learning about race and racism.” I think it’s apparent that the majority of White Americans are comfortable with White privilege, both at individual and institutional levels. However, they are hardly cartoon characters incapable of critical thought. I’m not trying to let anyone off the hook, but her one-dimensional generalizations of White people are intellectually dishonest.
As with ayo, I don’t believe that it’s the inherent job of ethnic minorities to educate the White masses. But even if it was, merely being a person of color doesn’t make one an expert on race or racism. We’ve all experienced some form of racism so we can talk about experiences. But beyond discussing its impact on our personal lives not all of us have the knowledge of history, economics, or countless other factors that shape racism to contextualize it. Furthermore, racism and responses to racism are shaped by gender, class and other components of our identity that people may not consider. By presenting African Americans and people of color as experts on race who have the innate ability to teach Whites about race and racism does a disservice to people of color. To put it bluntly, if someone buys into this school of thought, people of color have no work to do, including self reflection and ignorance about other people. Some of the barbs thrown at White people hit me as I’ve said some of the same ignorant statements. Some of the most ignorant statements that have ever been said to me have come from other people of color. I’ve lost track of how many African Americans have told me that all Asians look alike, or Mexicans who’ve told me that Asians can’t drive, Asians who think that Black folks are born criminals….I could go on all day. Again, I'm not giving White folks a pass, but people of color have some work to do as well.
So, while in discussion with Gloria about this book, she said that the book was written a few years ago so maybe ayo was younger and in an angry phase. I’m still angry about racism so I can relate to that, but I like to think that I’ve looked at racism in a more sophisticated way as I’ve gotten older. With that in mind, I spent sometime on ayo’s site, including reading her handout on fighting racism. Things were a bit more layered and I appreciate her work around the environment, but amongst her advice for people of color was to “train our white friends” and “remember that they have a lot of learning to do.” Different year, same theme I suppose. In all fairness, I watched and read some interviews with ayo, during which she addressed some of the issues that I raised above. Unfortunately it didn't come out in the book. If you’re angry and Black or a White person drowning in White guilt, ayo’s got you covered. If you’re looking for something with more nuance, you might want to keep looking