Poor Trevor. He’s been getting his ass handed to him from all directions after writing his essay for the New York Times. “Let’s Not Be Divided. Divided People Are Easier To Rule”, says Trevor Noah. As a black woman in America, my very first question is, “Who you talkin’ to”? Of course, this is not really a question. It’s a warning that you are getting dangerously close to a barrier that should be very clear to you. In case it isn’t, “Who you talkin’ to?” is an opportunity for you to back up and approach a different way. But he didn’t. Trevor continued writing.
Trevor meant well and I see exactly where he’s coming from. I’m reading his book “Born a Crime” and it’s fantastic. He says in his essay, and his book, that nuance is the thing that helped him survive. It was the ability to be neither black nor white that literally saved his life while growing up in South Africa. In America, he explained, we are extremely polarized. It’s black or white. That’s it. In the middle is where Trevor says we will find truth and victory. In the middle is where we must all meet.
“Boy, bye!” is the response from a lot of my melanated brothers and sisters. They ain’t buyin what Trevor’s selling. Part of the reason is due to the phrasing in the title of his essay which sets the tone for the entire piece. As I mentioned, I immediately wanted to know who he was talking to when he said ‘let us not be divided’. For sensitive souls, who have every right to be, this sounds accusatory. It sounds as if he’s implying black people are equal contributors to the division in this country. The essay suggests the oppressed have the power to meet in a middle that has been set by the oppressor. Trevor was born, classified in medical records, and treated by everyone around him like someone in the middle so it’s easy for him to say ‘come to the middle, there’s victory here’! Trevor never had to move to the middle, he was already there.
Those who disagree with Trevor (and others who think like him) don’t want to move, and I agree. Moving suggests that where we currently stand is a problem. Why do we have to continue accommodating a system that clearly devalues the labels it has purposely assigned to us. Black, negro, minority, white, and majority are not middle descriptors. Lives and labels matter. We are not lower or lesser despite these labels and, like Trevor, there’s nowhere for us to go. What middle?
So, once again, who is he talkin’ to?
Finally, I disagree that divided people are easier to rule—and I disagree in a meteoric way. The idea that division is a problem just lulls us into a deeper sleep. Division is not the problem, and there is no way to solve a problem where it isn’t. I just said, I don’t have to move because I am not the problem. Well, white people don’t have to move either because they are exactly where black people are. White people are not better, supreme, or above black people in any way whatsoever. Nothing that white people accumulate makes them better. Nothing that white people get rid of or project makes them better. Nothing about white people gives them value and worth above anyone else in this world.
Every single being who identifies as a white person is fully aware of the reality that he or she is what he or she calls a black person. The same applies to black people. We are those we call white people.
As a very quick example, look at your sense of touch. The value of the touch sensation does not change based on which continent you were born, how much money you have, or how spiritual you are. Labels of black and white have no impact on how you are formed in the womb. Black and white as points of value are not the mystery ingredients that get thrown in as your spinal column and neurons are growing in this wholly organic process of development. They’re woo ideas in our heads that we give substance to. You have to be here before black and white so that should tell you how dependent those inorganic labels are on our belief in them. It's important that we get this. Yes, we still treat each other like shit, and we'll probably continue to be shitty, but if we can start at the shared perspective that no human holds more value than another, we see that the division we debate, fight, and die over is is not the problem.
From this undivided, shared perspective, the problem is our inability to see what the problem is. From this place on the ground, and out of our heads where we are clearly not divided, we see that we cannot see what the problem is because we are blinded by the very thing that has convinced us of this imaginary hierarchy of humanity. We are blinded by sight. What we think we know is the veil over what requires no knowledge at all. It’s the painfully obvious that we refuse to look at. And we will never see the problem while pretending to have our eyes closed.
And the solution to that problem…just look. How do we look. Question what we are absolutely sure of. That’s it. It's from this undivided obviousness that we can look at the justice system, housing, the financial and job markets, schools, our relationship with foreign countries and other areas that we've effed up, believing in this idea of value and worth according to skin color, and find undivided solutions that align with reality.