Ready-made Distortions: Matthew Chapman, #ADOS, and the Fear of a Fair Hearing

The #ADOS critique of Kamala Harris receives a treatment not unlike that of ultra-processed foods. And in much the same way that a microwaveable dinner is meant to minimize the consumer’s culinary labor, the prepackaged description of #ADOS’s position on Harris’s background seems crafted solely to discourage a reader from devoting any time and mental effort to researching and taking seriously what the #ADOS political project actually sets out to do. The most recent example of these freezer section-style ‘analyses’ of #ADOS comes courtesy of Matthew Chapman, a reporter at Raw Story who yesterday tweeted, “FYI, to all my white followers who may or may not know what I’m talking about: ADOS (American Descendants of Slaves [sic]) is a movement that basically seeks to exclude the ‘wrong’ Black people from civil rights spaces—ie anyone who can’t trace their lineage directly to a Southern plantation.”

What inspired Chapman to achieve new heights of numbskullery with that total mischaracterization of #ADOS was—in his words—their “posting anti-Harris content questioning her ethnicity and heritage,” and the group’s “nonsense claims…that [she] ‘isn’t Black'”. This activated something of the helicopter mom in Chapman, who evidently feared that his white followers might be rendered dumbstruck when confronted with a particular group of black people making the argument that descriptors such as ‘Black’ or ‘African-American’ have become woefully insufficient in their ability to meaningfully capture their specific, centuries-long experience of targeted exclusion in the United States. “While black activists are used to this,” Chapman informs us, “a lot of white voters might have never seen it before and not know how to respond to it.” And so he sought—as so many before him have also sought—to tube feed his white readers a stunningly reductive and deliberately misleading rendering of #ADOS.

Perhaps what Chapman really feared, though, was not the possibility that his white followers wouldn’t join him in denouncing #ADOS, but that those white people might actually begin considering what it would mean to belong to a group for whom the ability to partake in the bounty of opportunities throughout America’s history had been chattel slaveried and Jim Crowed out of their lineage by reason of their ancestors’ Blackness. That these white people might begin to consider Blackness not as a skin color that occasions identical discrimination in America, but as the heritable mechanism of that total exclusion, a thing that is suffered by one specific community of black people and that is naturally circumvented entirely by all others who arrive from elsewhere. Maybe the fear was that if they gave ADOS a fair hearing they might begin considering the injustice of the bagginess of a term like ‘Black’ in 2020. How while Blackness is nowadays conceived as a shared burden among melanated individuals, it is in fact ADOS alone who know and live the full cost of Blackness in America; how it is still being absorbed into their bloodstream even now, centuries since its vicious invention, because Blackness in America was indeed designed to have that delayed, transmissible property, like a slow-release capsule of crushing disadvantage.

Maybe, above all, these white followers might consider how unspeakably offensive it would be to ADOS to watch someone such as Harris—someone who ascended to high office while shamelessly inhabiting the profundity of a centuries-long struggle that was never hers to claim—publicly repudiate the idea of ever doing a single thing to benefit that particular community. Maybe white people wouldn’t wonder why ADOS label her a squatter in their community; maybe then it’s like way less that ADOS is quote-unquote purity umpiring and more that they’re just pointing out the fucking obscenity of someone who is happy to cash in on the accolades and distinctions that attend barrier-breaking Blackness while being equally content to ensure that the real and enduring consequences of Blackness in America persist without interruption among the great assemblage of those whose ancestors’ experience in this country is apparently just a mere political expedient.

Ask yourself: how would you respond? Tell me you would not be enraged. Take a second and posit yourself and your parents and your kids in that place of utter neglect and indignity, and seriously ask yourself: how else could you possibly respond when you are being told to shut up and celebrate a(nother!) useless substitute for what seems your family’s permanent brokenness?