SHIAVON’S JAWN: You can’t be racist to white people


Robbie Pierce

Photo Illustration

Shiavon Chatman, Opinion editor

A jawn. Pronounced jôn. Noun. A person, place, thing, or event that doesn’t need a specific name. An indescribable, but memorable entity.

I’m Shiavon and this is Shiavon’s Jawn. (If these two words don’t rhyme, then you’re saying my name wrong.)

This past summer I visited some family in upstate New York for my mom’s college graduation.

We went to a karaoke bar. We sang. We drank. We danced.  Aunt Johnnetta reached her social meter for the night and started cursing. Mom sang way too many ballads. And Mema (my grandma, duh) was a tipsy, precious mess. 

So basically, it was a normal night for us.

Aunt Pam, who always has way more energy and intensity than the rest of us, outsang Carrie Underwood in her own rendition of “Before He Cheats.”

She changed the lyrics from “white trash version of Shania karaoke” to “trashy ass version,” to accommodate the white people in the room. She didn’t want them saying the n-word, so she didn’t say white trash.

I can’t relate, but OK.

As we left, an unkempt white man said the phrase “I had to fight a bunch of niggas,” as he was talking to his friend. My mom’s fiance overheard and asked him to repeat it. He didn’t and he apologized.

The next day we had a discussion about the use of the n-word versus the use of “white trash.”

The back and forth on whether the two terms were close to each other or just as offensive was interesting.

I am here to shake the table.

White trash is not a slur. Period.

It might be offensive. But the term was created by classist white people who thought they were better than the white people who didn’t own any land. It doesn’t hold the same weight as the n-word.

That word was never meant to disenfranchise white people. It was created for white people by white people. It doesn’t have anything to do with race — it’s meant to be demeaning in terms of class.

There has never been a successfully established movement that has disenfranchised white people or dismantled white supremacy. It requires a sense of power and resources (like the FBI infiltrating the Black Panther Party and assassinating leader and rainbow coalitionist Fred Hampton). This is why you can’t be racist to white people. The same cannot be said for Black people.

“White trash” might make white people uncomfortable, but that doesn’t make it racist. You can’t be racist toward white people. Prejudiced as hell, of course. Racist, no, definitely not. I don’t make the rules.

Actually, white people did. Race was nonexistent before white people used race as a sorting scale of importance and determined humanness. 

Black people, particularly in America, cannot be racist because they have never had the power to oppress or disenfranchise another group of people.

Growing up my dad didn’t read me fairytales before bed.

Instead, he told me horror stories like the tyranny rule of former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani’s war on Black people. Giuliani and several others moved thousands of homeless people and drug-addicted residents of New York City to upstate New York in the mid-nineties to further the process of gentrification.

Upstate New York has not recovered to this day.

This is an example, a very recent one, of the power and longevity white people have in order to make racism possible.

My issue with my aunt’s reasoning behind changing the lyrics of the song was because she felt the need to make sure the white people in the room were comfortable when that same respect was not granted to her. Or any of us.

In the song, Underwood is using the word to describe another white woman she feels has no class. It wasn’t meant to be racial.

Like the guy in the bar. Either the n-word is in his everyday lexicon or he chose to say it loud enough to make the Black people he saw uncomfortable. He just wasn’t expecting the Black people he saw to actually say something.

The n-word has the magnitude and the weight of a blazing bullet. It holds years of slavery and oppression. There is no word that could have the equivalent power to uphold oppression toward white people because white people have never been oppressed.

In almost every culture and language, there is a derogatory, racist term for Black people. This is not true for any other group of people.

Black people can’t just exist. We’re the worst overthinkers.

As a black woman, when I speak my mind, I’m wondering if what I said came off too aggressively. The older I get, the less I care, but the thought still stays in my mind. Instead of being able to fully enjoy a night out with my family, I’m on guard.

I’m hyper-aware of my surroundings and the nearest exits. Being in a room full of white people I don’t know makes me feel vulnerable. Anything from prolonged eye contact to a song lyric could set someone off.

This is an issue and a discussion a white family would never have to have because their privilege protects them like a forcefield.

This is my weekly column where I’ll keep you updated on my straight-to-DVD life, my hip-hop snob opinions, being uncomfortable in this political climate and being a black woman in predominantly white spaces.