White people are not afraid to ask for more. Also, in direct correlation, white people are not afraid to take if what is asked for is not sufficient. They ask for more time, more money, more land, more food. I waited in line for Chipotle on a rather sunny Thursday afternoon, and saw a woman so daring in her asking — asking for more mild, more peppers, for a taste of chorizo. So inclined to ask for more she single-handedly held up the line to do so. She was exercising her right not just as a human, but as an American white woman. And rightfully so. This is the American apple pie-esque fortitude one can only hope for. I, meager self, stood in line and asked “Why do I not ask for more?” And if that request is not met, why do I cower into my cubicle desk like the hamster in the wheel? Why do I not demand even the littlest of things?
This idea of the fear of “the ask,” this harkens back to a time when asking for more hog, or more time alone with your partner on the other plantation, was a whooping, a beating, a punishment, a hanging. What is it about them―white people―that makes them impervious to failure? It is indoctrinated in them from youth. History has given them the authority. They can look in school books and texts that show explicitly how, without fail, in every single possible instance known to man, they have taken without asking ― at times, after initially being denied ― and see “no” not as a finality, but as a mere speed bump to a resounding “yes”.
It is a sad thing when the history of a people can be reduced to their consistent approach to accepting less than they are owed ― as settling for what is leftover ― when what has been laid out has been deemed sufficient enough by the powers that be, better known as the “oppressor.” More often than not, the oppressor is wealthy and white, and the oppressed are poor minorities. In this modern day caste system called “democracy” there are indeed winners and losers, givers and takers; the land in which this nation was built upon was taken, taken and stolen from the hands and grips of an indigenous people already claiming the grounds as there own. “Taking” is historically a white privilege, it lives as early on as the spice trade, through the Transatlanic slave trade, to present-day fashion shows with theft and appropriation on full display.
What stops me from asking for “more?” What makes me add “please” to the end of my “mores?” I am constantly in rooms with men ― white men ― who don’t cower, who do not just say “more” but require it, silently; men who stand firm in their moreness — “more” is their birthright. Questioning their “more” may lead to a profound “why not” followed by a gang of applause from the Steve Bannon/Sean Spicer type. Privilege, in essence, is ending police brutality with a Pepsi can. In my own life, I have to ask myself what keeps me from asking for more — more money, more cheese on a burrito bowl, more time. The “more” can be extended to “better” — better schools, better food options, better jobs. This can be compounded to “bigger” — bigger home, bigger stake in the American dream, bigger paycheck. More times than not, taking what America says is for the taking is a service only allotted to a select few. This idea of upward mobility, that is redeemable and supposedly mine as well, this fantasy of the “American Dream” which feels more like a relic of the “Leave It To Beaver” days than an actual call-to-action for those looking for a way out of squalor, feels more myth than tangible reality.
My mother gave me lessons, but no tools . My mother meant well, my mother is amazing, strong, hard-working; she is a beautiful mind, spirit and soul who worked the night shift at Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx to give her children this American dream so often spoken about by radical leftists and right winged idea-pushers, all clinging to this fairy tale where we are all saved by bootstraps and hard work. But my mother was a single mother, with a veteran for a husband who suffered from his own PTSD from Vietnam. This is another way the American dream gives back to those who serve its conquests ― mental health disorders, a poor social security structure for ailing veterans who come home, hospital bills, and lack of proper treatment at times. My mother raised three Black boys during the Reagan era, in the midst of the crack epidemic in the Bronx (still one of the poorest urban areas in the country). There will be the lot who ask “why so many children” spouting whatever catchy phrase Rush Limbaugh spews, always tied with a ribbon of racism at its fringes; to them I say, would you ask if she were not Black?
My mother gave us lessons: “be a leader, not a follower,” “follow your dreams,” “shoot for the stars.” In theory, these sayings are powerful and can give those born disadvantaged (“Black” should be able to get you the blue disabled parking pass for life) the strength and will to overcome the challenges and setbacks that arise when one is born into a structure meant to keep a certain segment of the population disillusioned and disenfranchised. However, without the tools, without the learnings and know-how for integrating the rhetoric of “you can do it” into your life, without knowing how to properly convert tutelage to manifestation, without having someone show you how to fish, a fishing rod is just a stick to be admired.
I once found myself in a room with others I would consider to be my equals. Salary and pay aside, we were all creatives, all writers. Some with different titles than others, but all writers nonetheless. Sitting in this space, in this room with cubicles, and windows and doors, various water options, an almost-finished recording studio for a very important Hip-Hop legend and lyricist, in a space with comfy sofa seats, I was asked about my social media following. How had I built such a massive body of followers? And I casually humbled myself to utter the word, “luck.” Not hard work, a masterful pen, a working knowledge of culture and countless hours learning the ins and outs of communication and social media communities. No, I said “luck” to this room of white faces, because it is easier to downplay my accomplishments than acknowledge the work needed to get to where I am. No one likes an “uppity nigger,” you are taught early and often; you are taught to refrain from boasting and braggadocio behavior, the same behavior Hollywood stars are praised for ( think of any action-filled blockbuster with a white lead), the same behavior the likes of Lebron James and Cam Newton are ridiculed for. The fear of more ― of asking for, rather demanding, more; the expectation that you receive more because you are deserving of more, is a trait not inherently Black. It is not something that is taught or groomed early on.
But all habits, all practices take just that… practice. The next time I am in the room, seated at the table, I will speak my more-ness into all the corners, all the spaces, all the mouths and lines in the walls, to the backs of heads, to the eyes and ears of those willing to listen, or those too scared to acknowledge the power that ownership of truth represents. That is a privilege, a privilege all my own.