Illustration by Robin Carnilius [The TRiiBE]

The People is our section for all opinions concerning Black Chicago. Chicago filmmaker and artist Natalie Frazier uses historian Robin D.G. Kelley’s House Negroes on the Loose” as inspiration for her response to the Black professional class, and their lack of awareness, action and empathy, during the pandemic.

To Whom It May Concern: 

I thought you were different— until millions of people lost their jobs in the time it took city mayors all around the country to announce shelter-in-place orders. That two-minute announcement required about 24 breaths, three somber headshakes and one sigh. In the subsequent hours, you urged poor people to diversify their portfolios and allocate non-existent funds for clumsy business ideas. 

I thought you were different — until millions of people lost their healthcare and you assaulted your followers with push-up challenges (pathetic sets of five to be exact) and turmeric and lemon recipes to fight off the virus. 

I thought you were different — until you publicly scoffed at people with kids to feed asking for more than $1,200 and asserted that a boost in credit score would be better. 

I thought you were different — until you posted prospective brunch outfits as people discovered that the bodies of relatives were ice cold and stacked in refrigerated trucks outside of hospitals like frozen groceries.

Dr. King warned us about white moderates — but I’m more afraid of you. Middlebrow Black folks. Civilized niggas. Nouveau riche without the wealth, as Robin D.G. Kelley specified. My family. My friends. My peers. Young Black people with jobs that allow you to work from home, buy a section in the club and tout an LLC. Young Black people who believe that movements aren’t necessary until Becky or Chad are promoted quicker than you. Or you’re asked to cut your locs. Young Black people so inundated with individualism and American exceptionalism that you don’t understand that xenophobia and kickbacks of eight people instead of 20 won’t save you. 

Of course I felt that your aspirations of being a Black billionaire were as useful as my baby cousin wanting to become a power ranger. And of course, I believed the wealth-building seminars and financial literacy classes were crocks of shit for people paralyzed under the weight of centuries of poverty and inequity. And no doubt I regarded your loyalty to Blackness sort of surface level, a bit too Afro wig and Angela Davis t-shirt under a poorly fitting blazer. 

But I thought you were better than this. I thought that when the time came you would rally around your poor siblings and help with rent, buy groceries and repost GoFundMe links. Instead you posted blogs on monetization during quarantine and statistics on the start of companies such as Uber during the 2008 recession. 

As you work from home tuning into an occasional D Nice Instagram quarantine party and churning out home cocktail recipes (might I add they’re all terrible), you are more aligned with the celebrities in the comments than the people delivering packages from COVID-19-infested warehouses. 

You’re more sympathetic to rich folks suffering minor symptoms of the virus than the workers handing out Popeyes chicken sandwiches in crowded drive-through lines. I fear for your capacity to sympathize — how do you not see yourself in them? 

How do you not see how a few more 30-day extensions of quarantine and you too could be delivering groceries without adequate protective gear? How are you not aware that despite access to celebrity compounds with the click of a button, they are taking COVID-19 tests for the hell of it and you’d have to have stared the virus in the face to get one? 

It is incredibly disheartening, but now I know you are currently just another obstacle to freedom. The reality is that you negroes (and I am no longer sure you are the minority as Malcolm X posited) are so entrenched in capitalist notions of success, wayward-ass dreams of fresh blue faces and lifestyles of white people cloaked in Black girl magic and Black boy joy that you don’t grasp your own silliness. 

Are your interests and the interests of the poor really that mutually exclusive? How are you blind to the conditions of most Black people, yet deify the few Black people who managed to make it out of this crowded, capitalist bucket? If I sound bitter, please believe I am. And if you feel indicted, this is a letter to you. 

How dare you decry Black folks for not having three months of rent saved when the average American doesn’t have $400 for an emergency? How dare you send me ideas on how to get “tips” via Instagram live? How dare you whisper “damn” in the face of mass unemployment and tell poor people they should’ve invested in the next breath? How dare you go out and pack that bar in the middle of a pandemic and then return home to your grandmother who requires no rent or utilities from you? How dare you act savvier, wiser, better than the rest of us and all you are is lucky?


Your Bitter Cousin Natalie

Bio: Natalie Frazier is a bartender, filmmaker, artist and Chicagoan devoted to the lifelong struggle for Black and queer liberation. You can find more of her work and thoughts on Twitter here