In a parking garage on State Street, a white man proves why America is still racist and homophobic.
UW-Madison student Eneale Pickett’s clothing line, Insert Apparel, has a concept that speaks for itself: Pickett wants white people to acknowledge the conversation about race. It’s been a living irony to witness firsthand an incident that backs up Insert's signature hoodie, which declares that "All White People Are Racist."
In late October, my friend Clarke Imani and I co-directed an Insert Apparel photoshoot on State Street. We and the other models on the shoot knew the intense backlash Eneale's designs might attract, particularly from white people.
We made our way to a parking deck stairwell on the far side of State Street. As we took photos, we were considerate of the men and women walking by. We made way for them as they said, "excuse me." One woman noticed the “All White People Are Racist” hoodie and I could tell she wanted to say something, but instead she held her tongue. She made eye contact, went on about her day, and continued to be unaffected. She reminded me a lot of what silence looks when it doesn’t recognize anything but fear. Instead, she smirked and makes her way up the stairs. She may have left questioning everything in that moment, but made no attempt to find an answer.
I struck a pose, deciding that the next time someone walked by, whiteness would not dictate my patience or my virtue. A man wearing a Chipotle t-shirt made his way towards the car deck stairwell. Two of my friends and fellow models, Kynala Philips and Zashady, were near the door. He shoved his way through them without saying ‘excuse me.’ Then he attempted to knock me over. By this time, politeness had been placed on the backburner.
I turned around and asked, “What’s your fucking problem?” He proceeded to say, “Shut the fuck up you fucking faggot.” He turned away and stormed towards the door. My friends and I followed him to his car. His turned sand said, “That fucking hoodie is the problem, you fucking spic, go back to your country.” He wrestled with his keys and I asked, “What are you going to do?” He stopped, turned and repeatedly yelled, “nothing.”
My mind boiled at this white man still standing there, just a few years a older than me but still practicing America's oldest form of racist bigotry. He finally got into his car and stormed off. He proved in less than five minutes what America, the white man in America continues to be today—homophobic and racist behind closed doors.
He knows nothing more than his anger.
I want this man to know what uncomfortable looks like for the one student of color in a lecture hall full of white students. I want him to know what uncomfortable looks like when my school declares its commitment to "freedom of speech," on condition. Does he know how easily my body can go from now to gone in seconds?
This man shifted the conversation from formal to violent, by simply engaging in his own form of power and greed. He is the violence that continues to fill our political and societal positions. He figures that my physical appearance is either dangerous or lacking, but when did the white man ever have to struggle for anything in America? Apparently the white man is the God-sent alpha, but can’t find himself in the history he created.
This incident illustrates the fact that that white male hierarchy is still very present and prevalent, still breeding a broader context of racism and homophobia. This man has a sense of power because he knows that he can escape the situation. Sure, he pulls off in his car, it’s a grand exit, but his American Dream won’t change tomorrow after he realizes what he’s done or said because in reality, that white man never has to.
So much of the discussion at UW-Madison this past week has revolved around freedom of speech. But this man's freedom of speech is far different than mine. His was meant to benefit the white man in America.
My freedom of speech is knowing, as a gay person of color, that he will not silence me—because the conversation never ends with the white man in mind. It’s not 1619 in Jamestown, Virginia. It’s not about the white man anymore. He isn’t being oppressed. He isn’t creating the conversation if he began the problem. Instead, his discomfort forces him to react with his biggest weapon, his mouth.
Insert Apparel is a vital statement of political fashion. Pickett is creating the conversation that white people refuse to have with themselves. Once a white student in my “Performing Race In America” discussion demonstrated that refusal by asking, “Why should I still feel guilty about what my ancestors did?” Because you still, hundreds of years and a poorly constructed Trump campaign later, do not recognize your white privilege.
Not surprisingly, Pickett is getting mixed feedback for his message. The reactions further illustrate how unwilling people are to have this conversation, even when they're supposed to be having this conversation. Before UW-Madison hosted a campus diversity forum last week, Pickett told me that university officials asked him not to wear the clothes he'd designed to the event. "The school called me and asked, can you not wear 'All White People Are Racist' hoodie to the diversity forum because we’re already getting a lot of heat from the football game that had our first black president of the United States in a noose, in our school’s colors,'” he said after getting that call. “I’m going to wear my hoodie to the diversity forum to prove a point.”
My freedom of speech, like Pickett’s, is a simple declaration of what should be rightfully mine.
As we concluded our photoshoot, we made the cautious choice between speaking about the man in the parking deck's behavior and holding our tongues.
Debating whether to exercise my rights as a person of color makes me question the validity of my rights, as a person of color.
We decided to visit the manager at Chipotle. We discussed the incident, the problem it poses, and what needs to be done in order to address it. We asked that action be taken and the employee be terminated on the basis of racial and homophobic statements to a customer. We also said that although the incident did not take place in a Chipotle establishment, he represents the company and what it stands for. If Chipotle is condoning this kind of behavior, its image as a culturally inclusive and aware company is a mere facade, for its own benefit.
We are still waiting for further details. As of now, Chipotle has taken no further action.