Editor’s Note: Watch the season premiere of “United Shades of America” with W. Kamau Bell this Sunday at 10 p.m. ET on CNN.
White America seems to be embarking on what Young describes as a “whiplash-inducing White-guilt dramaturgy” by targeting everything deemed racist.
He has a theory, though, about what’s behind some of this.
More White people now realize that White Supremacy is also killing them, Young says. He believes it’s because racism put President Trump in office and Trump has ignored the pandemic playbook left behind by the Obama administration, which has put American lives at risk.
“White supremacy is why Trump is in office,” says Young, co-founder of a popular blog on race, “Very Smart Brothas,” and author of “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker,” a memoir in essays.
“White supremacy is why Trump did not heed the warnings left by the Obama administration. And White supremacy is why Covid-19 is so devastating. It impacts Black persons worse just because we’re in situations where we’re not able to socially distance,” he says.
“But it’s not just affecting us. White people are dying too. White supremacy has always mattered more than White lives do.”
Expect to hear more from Young when he appears on “United Shades of America,” the Emmy Award-winning show hosted by comedian W. Kamau Bell that returns to CNN Sunday night.
The show’s season premiere deals with White supremacy – a familiar topic for Young, who has become one of the nation’s most sought-after commentators on race. He’s been featured on National Public Radio and in Time magazine and has written columns for GQ.
Racism is a painful topic that can grind down those who write and talk about it for a living. Not so with Young. His columns are insightful and playful, and he’s not afraid to criticize Black athletes or public figures. His writings also transcend race, such as a coming-of-age column from last year entitled, “The Last Time I Got into a Fight.”
CNN asked Young five questions about being a Black man at this unique moment in history. Our interview was lightly edited for clarity.
Is this current willingness by White America to acknowledge anti-Black racism just a passing phase, or do you think it represents a shift that will endure?
It’s trendy now, today, for White people to be antiracist. It’s a status symbol, like owning a Peloton or having a Black friend who has Black friends. But what happens when we move past the gesture, and the incentive to do the rigorous work it requires is a bit cloudier, a bit messier, and the social gratification is less immediate?
Basically, does this current willingness have integrity? I hope so, but “hope” is a few thousand miles from “believe.”
What’s the difference between this country having a true racial reckoning versus a superficial racial reckoning?
A true racial reckoning includes, interrogates and eventually extinguishes all systems of oppression. That includes capitalism. That includes patriarchy. It’s not carpet cleansing. It’s carpet bombing.
If Trump is defeated in November, do you think the Republican Party will abandon White grievance or do you think there will be a Trump 2.0 down the road who will be more sophisticated and less obvious?
When you think of him as less singular and more an element on a continuum of sentient White grievance – instead of Donald Trump 1.0, he’s Woodrow Wilson 9.0 – the answer is obvious: Of course, the next version is coming. Maybe they’re already here.
What is the most difficult part of constantly explaining racism to White people?
I don’t write with the intent of explaining race and racism to White people. I write to articulate and better understand the circus in and outside of my head. I write for catharsis. I write to challenge myself. I write to entertain myself.
Even when I’m literally writing a race-related explainer, like the one on the difference between a “Karen” and a “Becky” (a Becky “weaponizes” her White privilege while convincing herself that her Whiteness doesn’t matter; a Karen “doesn’t even bother to fake it”), I’m writing to create a thing I’d like to read.
If White people leave my work with a greater understanding of race and racism, that’s great.
But their education is incidental – the rub, not the steak. And perhaps that’s the lesson. That my world revolves around me, not them.
We’ve seen a lot of videos on social media of White people becoming belligerent and even threatening when they’re asked to wear a mask in public. Why do you think some freak out when asked to wear masks?
I think White people have never had to be guests. I’m one of those people who hate the “shoes-off” house. I go to someone’s party or dinner and I’m asked to leave the shoes at the door. I get annoyed because my shoes are part of my outfit. But their house; their rules.
One of the things that’s happening in America now is that White people have never been asked to be guests. This all connects back to White supremacy and Manifest Destiny, where people feel that everything they see they have a right to. “You can’t tell me what to do – I’m a White American.” And having some pushback against that is causing some hysteria.
You watch these videos and it’s like, just put on your mask. For the five minutes you’re in Trader Joe’s getting your gluten-free lettuce wraps, just put on the mask.