Season two of Master of None was recently released on Netflix, and it seems Aziz Ansari might be dethroning Kendrick Lamar for Woke Boy Extraordinaire™. While his show doesn’t shy away from talking about race and brings the minority experience to light, I can’t think about it without shuddering. In season one, protagonist Dev grumbles to his black friend that “People don’t get fired up about racist Asian or Indian stuff. I feel like you only risk starting a brouhaha if you say something bad about gay or black people.” I wonder if Ansari thought he was saying something revolutionary, taking black Americans to task for the racial binary we didn’t create. Little does he know that by lashing out at us for being hypervisible, he is continuing a legacy of anti-blackness.
In this context, hypervisibility can be defined as the disproportionate amount of attention black Americans receive concerning the topic of race. Anytime someone braces the subject our names will be in their mouths, as though we set the standard for racial abuse. Naturally, other minorities have protested against this, and they’re right to do so. After all, unless you’re white you’ll undoubtedly suffer in a white supremacist society. Unfortunately, their attempts to shift the conversation are often steeped in anti-blackness, and instead of uplifting themselves they only degrade us further.
One thing must be made abundantly clear about hypervisibility: it isn’t a privilege. Our status as popular conversation pieces isn’t because our blackness is inherently more fascinating or worthy of discussion. Rather we’ve been (involuntarily) constructed as the antithesis of whiteness, so anytime white Americans spare a microsecond to think about race they turn to us by instinct.
It’s tradition to use blackness as a litmus test, a way to compare the goodness, purity, and superiority of white people to “the other.” The entire concept of whiteness is dependent on blackness, and whites are hard pressed to figure themselves against any other backdrop. Although white Americans degrade all racial minorities in a bid for dominance, the white imagination latches onto blackness because it’s perceived to be the complete opposite of itself.
The notion of black people hogging the spotlight is even more prevalent when it comes to activism. Some non-black people of color view the success of various black-centric movements not as inspiration but an excuse to voice their own racism. I’ve witnessed several non-white folks complain about Black History Month, asking like clockwork on February first why other minorities don’t have their own month-long celebrations. The answer is they do, but the aim of this grievance usually isn’t to find ways to honor one’s background. Instead, it’s used as a gotcha to prove black people have a non-existent advantage.
One only has to recall M.I.A.’s lamenting that Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar didn’t say Muslim Lives Matter, Syrian Lives Matter etc. and that you’re only “allowed to talk about Black Lives Matter in America.” Or when activist Jose Antonio Vargas griped about Chris Rock speaking only of black people during the era of #OscarsSoWhite. Of course, it’s one thing to ask for support when it comes to helping other people of color mobilize. However, demanding the labor of black Americans while simultaneously refusing to get your hands dirty is not an option.
I acknowledge that a racial binary exists within our country, one that fixates on black people so much that other races get buried in the discussion. It’s admirable that minorities are trying to remedy this problem by better framing the discussion, and we all stand to benefit from the dismantlement of black vs. white. But to place this burden at the feet of black people alone and to blame us for it is vile. This is why solidarity cannot exist.