If I Come Back, I’m Coming Back White

Last year, I attended the National Conference on Health Disparities in Philadelphia. While I have many memories, connections, and opportunities, one of the most remarkable came while I was standing outside of the Down Town Club waiting for the shuttle back to the hotel. This “relatively young” black man jubilantly exited the building (after partaking in the open bar I assume). As I turned to see what was going on, he yelled out, “When I die, if I get to come back, I am coming back white.” We all laughed. Granted, I didn’t know this guy and I can be pretty reserved in the company of strangers; so, I played along. I add, “Me too!” We all laughed as he elaborated why he felt as if he could benefit from white privilege and how this would be his “ticket” to not having to be on the “receiving end of health disparities.”

I thought for a second. Then, I changed my mind. I quickly asserted, “Okay, no. If I come back, I want to be black, maybe so light I could switch between white and black; but I definitely want to be black.” I went even further to provide a frame of reference. “Remember the Imitation of Life? That’s what I would want to do.”

You see, I believe race is a powerful tool that has been used to shape and frame our society. If I didn’t have to worry about my race, I could play both sides. On the one hand, I could be a fierce advocate for promoting equality of opportunity, while calling for justice and fairness in the distribution of resources and services based on my own personal group identity. On the other hand, I would use my “race-pass” to forge opportunities and access for myself and others. You see, I don’t mind the struggle. Power comes from the struggle and journey.

I love my black people. We were enslaved in this country for hundreds of years; then, we were freed without any reparations. As a people, we have endured the horrors of slavery, a sort of second class citizenship status, hangings, lynching, harassment, racism, and discrimination. Although our identity as a people has been destroyed through colonial influences and attempts to erase and erode our heritage, we are a brave and bold people and I for one appreciate that legacy.