I don’t know what Jessica Krug has seen.
On Thursday, the historian and professor at George Washington University revealed in a Medium post that she had been spending years masquerading as an Afro-Latinx woman. She built a career on this identity, one that was not hers, one to which she had no claim. It’s maddening to see another white woman hopping in and out of Blackness, wearing our identity as if the diaspora were Comic-Con. Yet the continuous cash-cropping or the picking apart of Blackness for one’s own benefit isn’t what enrages me most about Krug, her predecessor Rachel Dolezal, or any other white person who woke up and decided they wanted to be a Black person—most likely a light-skinned one—that day.
It’s the blatant disregard for the trauma inextricably linked with being Black.
In an old bio, Krug allegedly described herself as “an unrepentant and unreformed child of the hood.” She dedicated an award-winning book to “those who will never be cloaked in the protective veil of innocence woven from five centuries of theft and dismemberment” though she was born under that shroud herself. And in order to construct her facade, she chose a presentation of Blackness that is often more palatable to white people. She crafted herself as a light-skinned, “exotic” or “foreign” Black woman from the hood. In her confession, Krug mentions that her desire to be someone else is rooted in abuse and trauma she experienced when she was a teenager. This, she says, is what led her to cause such harm.
I’ve long wondered why anyone—white, Black, or otherwise—would want to be so intimately acquainted with the violence of poverty, of going without, by choice. Krug’s decision, when linked with her position within academia, feels particularly insidious. She laid claim to racism she never experienced and used trauma unknown to her to take opportunities from Black women who got where they are in spite of the systemic barriers. Krug’s actions prevented those women from educating the next generation of Black students. (GWU’s history department demanded Krug’s resignation on Friday, noting in their statement that “history is concerned with truth-telling about the past.”) She built relationships on this lie. But I, respectfully, won’t measure anyone else’s trauma.
I don’t know what she’s seen.
I do, however, know what I have experienced as a real Black person from a real Black family that, in some way or another, is exemplary of a multitude of the human costs of racism. I have loved ones who have been hemmed up on bullshit charges and who couldn’t escape them. I have loved ones who have suffered from addiction to crack cocaine and who fought the anti-Black stigma associated with it. I have loved ones who still do. Poverty has left me with a deep-seated fear of never having enough. I’m not sure if the nightmares of waking up to roaches crawling up my walls, across my sheets and over my kitchen counters will ever stop—and I haven’t lived in my childhood home in over a decade. Whether or not I’ll ever make enough money to free myself from the fear of being poor again is yet to be seen. Since I am a Black American, I probably never will.
My Blackness isn’t optional. As proud as I am to be Black, I didn’t choose it and I didn’t get to craft my experience as if it were a Pinterest board. I can’t wake up one day the way Krug did and decide to phase back into whiteness, into a construct that affords those within it, at bare minimum, a viable chance at survival.
It doesn’t matter what I’ve seen.
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