What makes The White Album so effective, conversely, is that Jafa seems to have found a balance—between easily digestible race art and a lyrical stance that not only makes white audiences work harder, but also implicates them in maintaining white supremacy. He does this, in part, by splicing in flagrantly funny and heartbreaking moments in which black entertainers and everyday people laugh at and prepare for whiteness, showing how they have found a way out of no way, despite white supremacy’s best efforts—not only to survive, but to make what Jafa has described as “culture in free fall.”
In one cell-phone confessional video, a black man addresses white viewers: “You maaad. You big maaad.” He chuckles, then says: “I’m happpy. Leave me alone.” In another clip, Erykah Badu is seen in the studio freestyling a silly rap that powerfully alludes to the black body’s fierce instrumentality and astonishing ability to find music in mayhem. In perhaps The White Album’s most searing scene—and one that recalls the odious sequence in Love wherein a black father performs a police search of his young son to show him “what the police do to you”—we see a brother teasing his younger sibling. In both of these scenes, the boys are confused; the taunting is so incessant that they begin to cry. White audiences might share the boys’ confusion, finding the elder black mens’ behavior unnecessary. But their actions in the hard-to-watch footage can be seen as sober scrimmages—practice makes perfect!—against white supremacy, born out of protection and paranoia; tough love that is more harmful than helpful. It’s a prelude to the coming nightmare: they are showing the boys that often, black actions are met with white consequences; that whiteness will try to take everything from them but the burden; that what will inevitably happen is race-based criminalization and dehumanizing humiliation that, as citizens, they will face and take at work, at home, on the street, online, or at university, all in order to ensure a pyrrhic survival.
“In some ways, I guess I try to avoid declarations in the piece,” Jafa explains of The White Album. “You want to put things in relationship to each other—not so much force people to come to certain conclusions, but get people the evidence.…I’m trying to make a more complex embodiment of my relationship to these things, as opposed to just saying something that’s true or false about whiteness. I’m not interested in true or false, I’m interested in: this is how I’m feeling in relationship to it.” Though, he adds, society’s “positions around whiteness are ultimately unsustainable.”