By Shalewa Sharpe
I look at my phone. A message alert from my (white, female) friend. I look at what she sends me and I think, “Yikes.”
Attached is a video clip of Katy Perry trying to explain to Black Lives Matter activist Deray that she’s “woke” now. Or she’s working on being woke. She’s striving for woke. Wokeness on the Horizon. Woke on the Water.
Katy Perry acknowledging her mistakes regarding cultural appropriation, this is extremely respectable of her pic.twitter.com/RkvIhEnXxX
— ㅤ (@touchnick) June 11, 2017
Another message from my friend: “Why is she even doing this?”
And there’s the knot in the pit of my stomach. It’s the knot that appears when I think, “Oh no, it’s another Pop-Up Teach Me Shop.”
It’s just a slight feeling of dread when it looks like you’re going to have to explain The Struggle to another curious white person. It can happen so abruptly – say, you and a friend are sharing an Uber and talking about music and suddenly your buddy says, “Hey, I was reading about Tinashe and she said her career isn’t great because of her being light-skinned – is that an actual issue in the Black community?” and now you’re trying to figure out how to hold a nuanced conversation about colorism in the 11 minutes before you reach your destination. How in depth should I get? Can I dismiss the question with a well-placed redbone joke or are we now talking paper bag tests? Why is this driver moving so slow?
I know the official Carefree Black Girl response is, “We’re tired of explaining everything to you! Do the work! Use your Googles!” But sometimes you’re willing to engage even though you’re not mentally dressed for the occasion. That is how I ended up in the break room of my job, defining the term “house n*gga” to my coworker while I made the morning coffee and unloaded the dishwasher.
Sometimes the irony hurts.
So my blood ran a little cold when I saw my friend’s message. Okay, what to do? Do I need to run through Katy Perry’s long past of problematic music videos? Can I pretend I didn’t get this because I was on the train or asleep in the middle of a workday? Oh lord, does she have her read receipts on?
Another message from my friend: “This doesn’t feel authentic enough from Perry – she had a video with cornrows and watermelon!” Remember this?
I breathe a sigh of relief. My white friend gets it – this conversation should be a breeze. Now I can respond to my white woke girl with, “ooooh, CHILE…”
Shalewa Sharpe tells jokes. She developed her sly yet goofy style in Atlanta, where she was raised. Currently in Brooklyn, New York, she has joked on the extremely popular “Night Train with Wyatt Cenac” show and the influential weekly Comedy Night at The Knitting Factory. She has joked on “You’re The Expert,” a public radio game show featured on Boston’s WBUR. She has joked at festivals, too – at RiotLA (Los Angeles), the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival (Brooklyn), Comedy Exposition (Chicago) and Red Clay Comedy Festival (Atlanta). She co-produces and hosts a number of shows, including “Thug Passion Presents,” a lively table read and celebration of classic Black movies. In May 2016, her debut album, “Stay Eating Cookies,” was released on Rotknee Presents Records; it can be found on iTunes & Amazon and heard on Spotify, Pandora, and Sirius XM radio. She tells jokes on Twitter (@silkyjumbo) and posts self portraits of varying success on Instagram (@silkyjumbo).