op-ed: feel the fire – letter to my white roommates

April 6, 2016

We are not the same. We season our squash with paprika, use hemp rose body wash and forget to take our laundry out of the dryer. Indeed, we are humans, who want to cuddle on Saturday night and remember how it all felt tomorrow, we laugh wildly with our friends and pay rent like sophisticated adults. Perhaps, I can understand why, when blackness is so close to you, when we use the same toilet paper and rage at cold shower water, that you will feel eager to do what your privilege begs of you: to forget that we live different lives even if we live together.

By Fire Angelou, AFROPUNK Contributor *

When I first moved in, it was a hasty circumstance. I was not considering my emotional survival more than I was considering my physical survival. I thought about cold winters more than white privilege. However, through living in this space, my definition of whiteness has expanded. My roommates include a range of whiteness from the metal rock guru to the soul-filled white man who sings Motown in the shower. They are unique individuals, yet most of the time their presence impacts me the same.

When I am in the kitchen, cooking eggs on a Tuesday morning, and feel the insatiable desire to rock some gangsta rap or twerk to the sound of drums — this strange, immediate fear grips me. It is this fear of making blackness a stereotypical caricature that can be consumed. It reverberates through my body and attempts to silence my blackness. I think of the time my roommate greeted me with “yo” after hearing me speak to my close friends and how I don’t want to filter my spiritual ritual of dancing, speaking or cooking through the approval of white people. If I am here, I am here: a black woman in the full ritual of herself. My black body is not here to consider your feelings. It is here to dance.

I am in spaces with them when a black body is murdered by police and protests are organized in the city. We respond differently. When the majority of them hear the news of a black dead body, they briefly sympathize, but it does not seem to change the course of their day. When I hear the news of a black dead body, I do not merely sympathize. I am grieving.

It transforms my day. Perhaps, I am no longer laughing over dinner or smiling at strangers in the street. It is this pain that charges my political spirit and does not allow me to fall into the capitalistic vortex of work, eat and sleep. It is not enough to just be human when you must fight for your humanity.

There is another beautiful black woman that lives here. She hugs me deeply in the morning and reminds me of my survival. Her sun-filled room, decorated with evergreen plants and ornate christmas lights, has served as a sanctuary. It is a gathering place for black celebration and for maintaining our culture. Since the space is dominated by white people we had to create an alternative venue where we can laugh from the pits of our wombs, freely speak our language and serve as each others therapeutic refuge. We created an unapologetic black space that does not ask if we can play Kendrick Lamar on vinyl and twerk, but it demands that we do. It is how we save ourselves.

White privilege is getting a black woman for a roommate and saying “I never thought about your race when you moved in” while I spent a week in my room burning sage and praying to Oshun. It is championing “diversity” while creating unintentional white spaces. It is choosing to talk casually about white supremacy without any action to eradicate it. As a black woman, I am and have always been at war in this nation and I don’t trust anyone that isn’t fighting for my life — even if they live with me.

Illustration via The Bold Italic

* Fire Angelou is a truth-teller who flips fear into strength. She celebrates blackness, uses the personal as political and ain’t got time for enablers of white surpremacy. She enjoys drumming, twerking and making black people smile. Follow her daily slaying @fireangelou or visit her blog at www.fireangelou.com