I was sitting at a table in a late-night Chicago diner when I first discovered my negro superpowers.
At another table, sat an older white couple. They looked like regular white people who kiss their dogs in the mouth and enjoy the occasional Pat Benatar ditty. But there was something about them that gave me pause, especially when they started chatting up a black woman sitting at the counter. As they conversed out of earshot, I was overwhelmed with an increasing sense of dread.
A few seconds later, the black woman, who was sitting at the counter presumably waiting for a to-go order, turned towards the couple with a polite smile affixed on her face. My heart ached for her as she leaned in the couple’s direction.
“Don’t do it,” I whispered to no one in particular. “Please, no.”
But my pleas to third-shift Jesus went unanswered. The woman was now leaning at a 45-degree angle while her long, flowing dreadlocks reached toward the floor, partially blocking my view of the woman’s Adam’s apple. Still, I could feel her swallow something—pride, a tear or maybe her exasperation for white people. I had heard of this kind of thing, but I always believed it was an overhyped urban myth. Now, I was seeing it happen with my own eyes.
They touched her hair.
Having satisfied the curiosity of the bacon-sandwich eaters who mistook this late-night diner for a petting zoo, the woman swiveled on her barstool. She caught my eye and—for less than one second or for longer than a million lifetimes—from across the room, we exchanged a look during our moment of unspoken mutual negro telepathy that translates roughly as:
“White people be tripping.”
And then, she turned around and continued to be human.
Ashley Graham is a white lady. She probably enjoys avocado-flavored snacks, puppy smooches and Pat Benatar but all I know about her is that she is a white woman named Ashley. That is all she is to me.
And if I ever happened upon Ashely in a late-night diner, I would not dare ask Ashley to simulate a Cocker Spaniel kiss. I would not ask her to eat guacamole or perform an air guitar solo to “Love is a Battlefield.” That would be insulting.
But on Sunday, during a red carpet interview with
Aquaman Jason Momoa while covering the Oscars for an audience desperate for Ashley-relevant insight, Graham exhibited such a high level of blinding Caucasity that it forced watchers to adjust the white balance on their television (Hence, the slightly discolored video tweet below):
“I gotta get a Haka move,” Graham told Momoa. “I gotta get at least one Haka move, like come on!”
Maori Source describes the Haka as such:
The Haka is a type of traditional group dance originated by the Maori people of New Zealand. There are many different types of Hakas several of which are in the list below. Most Hakas involve vigorous movements and incorporates chants. This dance’s origins date far back in Maori history and is an important part of these people’s culture.
I know it’s hard, but instead of focusing on the white lady mimicking Momoa’s culture while asking him to shuck and jive on cue, pay attention to Khal Drago’s wife, Lisa Bonet. You can literally feel the anxiety enveloping Bonet like a racism boa constrictor, choking her as she tries to catch her breath and smile, thinking, “Denise Huxtable didn’t die for this.”
Instead of saying, “Go away, white lady,” Bonet musters up all the civility the universe has to offer, telling Ashley, “No, we’re not going to do that.” But that is not the revealing part. When the woman asks him to give her “one Haka move,” Momoa looks at Bonet like: “She’s kidding, right?”
Momoa decides to just yell and stick his tongue out, which satisfies Graham’s white request for him to perform his culture for her, while Bonet uses the “relax, relate, release” meditation skills she learned from her roommate at Hillman College to still her slapping hand.
We’ve all been Lisa Bonet.
At some point in our lives, we’ve had a white co-worker who asked you, out of the blue, to explain how Kwanzaa works or show them how to do the Electric Slide. We notice how everyone always gets a firm handshake but we get “dap” from the white guy in the chinos and boat shoes as he slips into a hood-adjacent version of AAVE. We’ve all seen political debates where “black issues” are equated with criminal justice reform instead of HBCU funding, gun violence, health care, wage inequality or financial reform.
But you know the most fucked up part of all this is?
Jason Momoa isn’t even Maori!
To be fair, he has publicly performed a Haka at the premiere of Aquaman (under the direction of his Aquaman castmate, Temuera Morrison, who is literally a Haka dance master) because the movie is heavily influenced by Maori culture. But Momoa was playing a character. White Ashley literally asked that man to perform secondhand cultural appropriation for her pleasure.
While some will dismiss it as a case of political correctness gone wild or selective outrage, let me assure the public that no one was wildly outraged by this. However, it is actually a matter of subconscious perspective. To White Lady Ashley, Jason Momoa wasn’t a man. He wasn’t even the superhero who can breathe underwater or the mythical king of the Dothraki. She reduced him to an “other.” A thing. An exotic vessel whose purpose is to provide temporary joy. If Jason Momoa had asked Ashley Graham to shake her titties for him, he would’ve been kicked out of Hollywood but it would have essentially been the same thing.
Once in a psychology class (not an English class, mind you—a course called “The Psychology of Women”), a professor asked me to explain to the class what James Baldwin meant when he said: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”
“This,” I responded without thinking. “Thinking I can telepathically summon up James Baldwin’s thoughts because our skin colors are the same.”
Again, I didn’t know I had negro superpowers then.
If I had to bet on it, I’d bet that Jason Momoa wasn’t even upset. I bet Lisa Bonet forgot this incident in 20 seconds. I bet that black lady at the diner didn’t let the follicle-curious couple ruin her night. If there is one mistaken idea in the social justice sphere, it is that America should become more tolerant.
To be a non-Ashley American is to be tolerant as fuck. If there’s one thing you can be eternally sure of, it is this:
White people be tripping.