The Q&A with Neal Brennan, co-creator of "Chappelle's Show," over at Buzzfeed begins with this ominous paragraph:
In a sense, Brennan has made introducing black America to white America his life’s work. His advice for how white people should act around black people? “It’s an odd thing. You treat them like human beings.”
These two sentences are in conflict. It's certainly true that you should treat black people like human beings. The first step in that process is understanding that asking how to act "around black people" is itself an act of inhumanity.
The second step is understanding that the way to get introduced to black America is to introduce yourself to black America. This is not particularly hard. We have a month every year dedicated to this task. Some of our greatest literature, music, cinema and art hails from this experience. I have heard that there are whole neighborhoods where black people actually live.
The third step is understanding that white America does not so much need to be introduced to black America, as it needs to be introduced to itself. It pains me (seriously) to see this point made by Neal Brennan himself:
Some people question whether a white person should even be writing black characters.
NB: I think anyone can write about anything that they have knowledge of and exposure to. I think the best black screenwriter is Quentin Tarantino. Quentin may write better black characters than Spike. I mean, Sam Jackson in Pulp Fiction is fucking unbelievable. That would be Exhibit A. I actually think that’s why Spike gets mad at Quentin. Quentin happens to write unbelievably rich black characters.
So does David Simon.
NB: There’s Exhibit B. Omar is the best black TV character, one of the best TV characters of all time. I think saying a white person can’t write black characters is as racist as anything on earth. And it’s also insulting to black people. It’s like, “So, are you not human?” Because I can write about humans. A white person writing about black people is writing about humanity with a slight vernacular spin.
I am not sure who these people are who don't think white people should never write black characters. Certainly not black actors and actresses, the lionshare of whom want to compete for the largest roles possible. Probably not even black screenwriters who, like most artists, want the right to follow their imagination. More likely, there are artists who are concerned that they actually don't get to follow their imagination, and even in their native world there are white artists who are privileged over them.