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A white journalist thought cosplaying as a Black man was the best way to learn about racism

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

If (some) white people don’t do anything else, they are going to find a way to center themselves in something they have no business being centered in, and they are going to act like they are doing the world a huge favor by doing it. 

In the case of white saviors, they will center themselves in something and act like the Black people around them should be so grateful for their actions because, my god, do you understand how hard they are working to make things better for you people?

I want to introduce y’all to Sam Forster, a white, Canadian journalist from Montreal, Quebec. 

Last summer, Forster apparently decided he wanted to study and document how racism still persists in American society, then turn his findings into a book. He claimed to have spent the summer traveling across the U.S., documenting “how racism persists in American society.’

How did Forster do his research on this important topic, you ask?

If you think he actually spoke to Black people about their experiences, you are incorrect. 

No, our friend Sam Forster decided to do things differently. 

Tuesday, on Twitter, Forster wrote, “Last summer, I disguised myself as a Black man and traveled throughout the United States to document how racism persists in American society.

“Writing Seven Shoulders was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a journalist,” he added. 

What in the “white people cannot possibly be serious right now” is this?

That announcement went over about as well as you can expect on Twitter, with both Black people and a surprising number of white people calling Forster out on his b.s.

As I type this on Wednesday morning, the ratio on that tweet is so strong that I suspect that’s why Sam Forster has not made a peep since he sent out that message. 

There’s more, though. 

If you go to the Amazon page for the book, you will be greeted with the book overview that says, “Six decades after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, award-winning journalist Sam Forster performs a daring transformation in order to taxonomize the various types of racism that persist in modern America. Seven Shoulders is the most important book on American race relations that has ever been written.”

Never mind that this trope was already done in 1961 by white journalist John Howard Griffin, who turned his experience into a book called “Black Like Me,” which would be made into a movie of the same name three years later. 

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Black Like Me disabused the idea that minorities were acting out of paranoia,” says Gerald Early, a black scholar at Washington University and editor of “Lure and Loathing: Essays on Race, Identity, and the Ambivalence of Assimilation,” told Smithsonian Magazine. “There was this idea that black people said certain things about racism, and one rather expected them to say these things. Griffin revealed that what they were saying was true. It took someone from outside coming in to do that. And what he went through gave the book a remarkable sincerity.”

How much do you wanna bet Sam Forster is going to get a movie deal out of this?

No matter the amount of lampooning he is subjected to on social media, the fact remains that for some white people, the lived experiences of Black people aren’t enough. 

They don’t believe us when we call out racism of all types. They say we are complaining and “playing the victim.” 

The truth is, they don’t want to believe us because believing us means they might have to take action and taking action means admitting their complicity in upholding the systems of white supremacy and white privilege, and there aren’t enough white people who are really invested enough to do that. 

This so-called experiment Sam Forster did is flawed on a number of levels.

From jump, Blackness is a thing we can’t take off and put on as we feel like it. It is our very existence. It’s the way the outside world sees us. Our experiences don’t happen in a vacuum, and they can’t be filtered down to whatever it is Sam Forster saw as he cosplayed Blackness for one summer. 

Blackness is a lifetime of microaggressions, being on edge, worrying about things like being followed in the store or seeing those red lights flashing in the rearview mirror and wondering if this is the time you become a hashtag or get put on a t-shirt. 

There is no way for a white man like Sam Forster to quantify that, let alone identify with it. 

A white man cosplaying Blackness has the luxury of knowing that when his little field trip is over, he can go right back to being white and privileged as if nothing happened. 

It’s not the same for Black people. 

The Black-American experience is multifaceted, and all the parts of it move in tandem. 

Our culture is rooted in our experiences here in this country, and that is not something you can duplicate by putting dark makeup on your face and walking around like you think you are one of us. There’s nuance. There are intra-racial relations that are impacted by outside forces like racism, colorism, and things of that nature, and unless you are living this life every day, you will never be able to understand that no matter how “down” you think you are. 

What Sam Forster did is racist in and of itself, and the irony of him not realizing that is making me constipated AF.

You, as a white man, don’t get to center yourself in a struggle you have no real understanding of. You don’t get to take a field trip into Blackness and pretend to understand what’s at the root of over 400 years of lived oppression.

You can’t cosplay Blackness, pretend to have gained insight into something you will never directly understand, and then package it as you doing the “most important” anti-racist work ever while actively being a racist. 

That’s just goofy. 

The book will be on Kindle Unlimited on May 30, and morbid curiosity compels me to read it. I don’t, however, expect to be impressed.

Sam Forster is just another example of that famous Paul Mooney quote.

“Everybody wanna be a n*gga, but nobody wanna be a n*gga.”

Monique Judge is a storyteller, content creator and writer living in Los Angeles. She is a word nerd who is a fan of the Oxford comma, spends way too much time on Twitter, and has more graphic t-shirts than you. Follow her on Twitter @thejournalista or check her out at

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