This past Thursday, Harvard’s Black Men’s Forum brought radio personality Charlamagne tha God to campus for “Black Privilege: A Discussion and Book Signing”. Charlamagne is well known as the host of the popular hip-hop-based radio show The Breakfast Club. He’s also well known for his track record of transphobia, homophobia, and disgusting treatment of black women. I brought reciepts: he’s slutshamed Amber Rose, compared Caitlyn Jenner to Rachel Dolezal, and explicitly erased black women’s monumental contribution to black liberation. His friendship with Tomi Lahren, the controversial ex-Blaze reporter who’s well known for her racism, is particularly criticized. Charlamagne claims to speak for the black community, but in reality he represents a violent exclusion of the majority of the black community: black queer people, black women, black trans people, black nonbinary people. BMF thought it was a good idea to invite him to campus and purchase 150 copies of his recent book.
I’ve been proud to defend the black community in this column. I love this community with all my heart. But time and time again, I am excluded from it because I do not fit into a narrowly defined, hypermasculine, heteronormative, cisgender definition of Blackness. A wide swathe of the black community continually makes it clear that I, and people like me, do not belong.
I don’t like being called biracial.
People are confused when I tell them that I’m black. They point to my mother and say “Isn’t this white woman your mother, as much as that black man is your father?” I respond, “She is. And yet, I am black, and I am not white.”
Ask anyone who the most important philosopher of the past 500 years is, and nine times out of 10 they’ll respond with Immanuel Kant, the 18th-century German philosopher credited as the father of modern metaphysics and ethics. He dabbled in anthropology too. In one of his lesser-known papers, he concludes matter-of-factly that “humanity is at its greatest perfection in the race of the whites. The yellow Indians do have a meagre talent. The Negroes are far below them”. Multiple courses in and outside of the Harvard philosophy department engage directly with Kant’s writings. Few mention that he was a racist.
I recently took a course of classical and medieval political thought. One of the authors we studied was St. Thomas Aquinas, a giant of the Catholic Church. While reading through his masterpiece “On Law, Morality, and Politics”, we touched on a passage that explained how homosexuality was abhorrent to God’s eternal law. After examining how the passage revealed the importance of nature to medieval political thought, we moved on. The foundation of centuries of violent homophobia was no more than an interesting case study.
On June 12, 1967, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Loving family in a case that had taken years to resolve. Richard Loving, a white man, and his wife Mildred, a black woman, had been in exile from their home state of Virginia after being arrested and imprisoned under the state’s law against miscegenation (interracial marriage). On that day, “love won” and the Lovings walked away a lawfully wedded couple.
On June 12, 1993, 26 years later to the day, my parents, Jill and Paul Whittaker, walked out of St. Jude’s Church a lawfully wedded couple. My mother was born and raised outside of Washington D.C., to an Italian father and Irish-German mother. My father was born in Jamaica, the descendant of former slaves. They love each other very much.
Halfway through my freshman year, a good friend took me to a sorority punch event. It was my first foray into the Greek life scene, and I was nervous. This was a space I knew wasn’t always welcoming to black bodies or queer love. But once there I fell right into it, singing at the top of my lungs, dancing with friends and strangers. My fears seemed unfounded. And then “Gold Digger” came on.
Any black person who’s ever been to a college party knows what happened next. My friend and I were dancing with a larger group―all white, and all strangers. Jamie Foxx sang the hook, Kanye jumped in, and two white men, bigger than me, older than me, and louder than me, looked me in the eye and yelled out “She ain’t messin’ with no broke NIGGAS.”