A month or so ago, I made a joke on Splinter, and though it wasn’t awful, it wasn’t exactly funny, and someone I respect told me to hush. For a split second, I felt defensive, but on the heels of that I recognized that if I was feeling defensive, I probably did something that needed to be challenged, and I should trust that this person was coming from a place of kindness, and I should respect that by shutting the fuck up and thinking about why they would tell me to hush.
So I starred their comment as a way of saying, “I hear you,” and said no more.
But I did think about it, and I kept thinking about it, and this morning, I was still thinking about it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity and integrity lately: how important it is to have your own voice, and to be true to that voice. The joke I made, I think it was in relation to a politician, probably Trump. I don’t remember the first half of what I said, but it was about four words in total: “[something-something], he ain’t.”
It’s the word “ain’t”. That is not my voice. That’s never been my voice. I’m a nerdy white kid from a small town. When I think about the word “ain’t”, the first thing that comes to mind is Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman”—the words of a black woman. (Given how bastardized her words were, I wonder if she even said “ain’t”, but that’s not the point right now.)
The point is that on reflection, I feel like “ain’t” is associated with black culture, especially in the US, and by using it, I put on blackness like a hat, which I know is wrong. It smacks of privilege and it’s appropriative. I know better. But I didn’t do better, and I’m sorry. It really bothers me that, through my thoughtlessness, I let someone I respect down, and likely hurt them, too. That’s not the person I want to be. I don’t want to be just another careless white asshole, but in that moment, I was, and I have to own that.
I don’t expect this person to overlook my fuckup—I don’t think I would in their shoes; fool me once, as they say. But I want them to know (without invading their space) that I heard what they said, and I thought about what I did, and I’m really sorry. Regardless of whether they trust me again, I’ll do better in the future.