Let’s get this right out of the way: I don’t have a problem with Eboni K. Williams not wanting to date a bus driver.
The “Real Housewives of New York” star’s insistence that she’d only date a bus driver if he owns the vehicle during her one-on-one interview with Iyanla Vanzant caught a lot of undeserved flack on social media ― unsurprising considering her response is the equivalent of throwing a Molotov cocktail on Black Twitter.
Understandably, a woman in her tax bracket has established a lifestyle that she’d want her partner to compliment, not hamstring: Someone with, say, a mid-five-figure income might not be able to keep up with the lifestyle of someone with a mid-six-figure income, leaving the latter to pull the weight and likely fomenting animosity in the process. In a patriarchy that still demands that men outearn their women partners, this is especially an issue if the man is the lower earner.
Also, successful Black women of the zeitgeist are often expected to lower their partnership expectations for Black men, who are often intimidated by them yet are expected to take the lead in relationships with them. This could also lead to animosity on both sides... because, again, the patriarchy.
The backlash Williams, an attorney, received for expressing her personal dating proclivities is another of countless examples of men channeling their insecurities into ad hominem attacks on the internet. So she was justified in using her platform to respond to it.
I do, however, have a problem with how she chose to do so.
Williams released a video Tuesday, essentially doubling down on her position. In doing so, Williams suggested that owning a bus reflects more aspiration than someone who’d simply drive someone else’s bus. In addition, she drew a direct line between a bus driver and a person who made Cs and Ds in school.
“Could it be that Black America has been sold a narrative of average, regular, and typical being good enough for us?” Williams said in Tuesday’s video. “Hmm, well, see, that’s called ‘white supremacy.’ In this case, it takes the form of conditioning Black Americans to happily accept being a permanent American underclass.”
Above all else, there’s a sad irony in Williams using white supremacy as the reason Black people “happily accept” the “mediocrity” of working-class careers, considering that mindset serves as the linchpin of white supremacy. It’s the quotidian message of Williams’ former colleagues at Fox News: If only Black folks got off their collective asses, they could have everything their hearts desire. It’s the Bill Cosby “pound cake” argument all over again.
Williams rightly acknowledges that Black people are capable of great things despite systemic racism, and she’s made it a point to drive that home in her response to the controversy her initial statement created. But if she simply said, “Hey, I want to see Black people create more power through ownership and partnering with a bus driver is just not for me,” I wouldn’t be writing this.
In her reduction of the working class, she fails to acknowledge that, even when Black people are thriving, we aren’t really ahead of our white counterparts.
The wealth gap between Blacks and whites remains persistent. The policies that stoke multigenerational poverty keeping us in food deserts and impacting our physical, mental and emotional health, are institutional. The gun homicide rates in Black communities are higher than in white neighborhoods of the same socioeconomic status. The anecdotal successes of upwardly mobile Black Americans do not negate the systemic realities we endure daily.
This is not an acceptance of being the “permanent American underclass.” It’s us working harder to keep up in a 5,000-meter run with bad knees and a bullet in the hip.
The roots of Williams and Vanzant’s original discussion are based on the fact that Black women are lapping Black men in formal education and, by proxy, earning power. But, this wasn’t the case with our parents and grandparents’ generation, so now both sides are working to reconcile this newer reality… often poorly and on social media.
My Black parents were raised poor and managed to earn a Master of Science in Nursing, an MBA and a Juris Doctor between the two of them. They raised me middle class in Detroit, stressed the importance of education, and positioned me so that attending college was an inevitability.
As a former educator of Black youth who realizes that most Black Americans weren’t raised with my opportunities and influences, I’ve seen firsthand that the issue is far more complex than Black men sitting at home, PlayStation controller in one hand, lit joint in the other, completely apathetic about having a better life.
There’s also irony in Williams employing white supremacy in her argument while demonstrating unabashed elitism: Intentions aside, she essentially suggests that bus drivers and other service workers who are the gears of our society are losers. I’ll bet folding money that if Williams’ toilet starts backing up, her luxury whip is rendered immobile in the middle of nowhere, or if she just doesn’t feel like cooking on a given weeknight, her first phone call will be to “mediocrity.”
Even if you aspire to something different for yourself, your child or your partner, service workers should receive more grace and understanding than most because they encounter people like Williams daily who look down on them and treat them accordingly.
(Also, has anyone stopped to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, the bus driver enjoys their job? In a world full of suicidal bankers and Am Law 100 attorneys, there’s nothing mediocre about doing what you love and making a living that satisfies you.)
This seemingly interminable internecine battle between Black men and women regarding expectations in dating and partnerships was tired decades ago and is often framed around unreasonable expectations. (Eg. Women are expected to stay fit, but men can proudly rock the bird chest/dad gut combo; women can insist on a high-earning husband, but it’s sexist to insist that a wife keep house.)
These conversations are rarely had in good faith. Instead, they are often defined by bitterness, finger-pointing, absence of compassion and failure to recognize that Black folks of both sexes are still combating a system that begets the problems we have with each other. White supremacy is the first enemy... not each other.
Williams shouldn’t be condemned for defending herself from internet trolls. But I don’t know how any self-respecting Black person could consider a working-class profession that was used to raise Black families “mediocre.” Coming from someone who espouses a pro-Black platform, it was the anti-Blackest thing I’ve heard from a Black person in some time.