Note to my white self…

You know the rule.

You can say nearly anything about your siblings, but – if anyone else says those same things – those are fighting words.

Remember this rule in your Facebook posts, observations and general conversation about black people. Your opinions on black on black crime, rap music, marriage rates, black people using the N word, teenage pregnancy, the work ethic, entitlement or a host of other alleged issues in the black community are unwelcome.  Keep them to yourself.  You are not part of their family.  You have not earned the right to critique them.  Black people are right to be suspicious and hostile when you do so.

Your insistence on your right to critique black people is an example of white privilege and not of objectivity. When it comes to black people and their behavior, you are not objective. You bring your racist assumptions, indoctrination and prejudices to any encounter with black people and culture. When it comes to the lives of black people and the issues within black culture, YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT.  Your opinions are uninformed and therefore evidence of your racism rather than any expertise.

Don’t pretend your critique of black people and culture is out of some deep concern for the black community when you largely avoid authentic interactions with black people and their culture.  When was the last time you attended an event where you were the minority?  What was the last book you read by a black author?  When have you ever had a deep conversation with a black person about their life and experience?  Be honest. Your opinions about black people are not the result of thoughtful reflection and solidarity.  They are often racially motivated, intended to diminish white culpability and blame black people for past and present social ills.

Yes, I know you read an article about some problem in the black community. I know you have statistics and statistics don’t lie.  They can, however, be manipulated.  When it comes to race, the statistics you emphasize say more about you than what those statistics conclude. Even – if by some lucky coincidence – your secondhand analysis of an issue happens to be correct, you are not in a position to effect change and are far more likely to reinforce negative opinions of black people.  Indeed, in most circumstances, you are more part of the problem than the solution.  Black people are completely capable of identifying issues within their community. They do not need your help.

Nor do they need your affirmation. Quoting a black person to corroborate your opinion does not make you less racist.  The opinions of black people vary on nearly every issue.  Choosing one black person – especially one who shares your negative critique of black culture – as your officially sanctioned black spokesperson is a classic white supremacist tactic.  If you’re really striving for objectivity, you will carefully listen to as many black voices as possible.  You will seek some consensus in their dialogue.  You will respect their most common conclusions in forming your opinion.  Even when you do all of this, your opinion is still irrelevant.

This is true of progressives as well as of conservatives.  The rule still applies.  If you are an ally or accomplice, this makes you a family friend and not part of the family.  Being supportive of black resistance and empowerment does not give you the right to critique Kanye West, Ben Carson, Larry Elder, Coleman Hughes or black people wearing MAGA hats, even when other black people do.  Even applauding their critiques is suspect.  If you need to quote black people, look for those who are critiquing white behavior. Though most white people know little about black culture and experience, every black person thoroughly understands white culture.  They must to survive.  They are experts on white behavior and culture.

I know you think it unfair that they can critique you, but you can’t critique them. Let me explain the difference again.  Power corrupts. Those in power must therefore be critiqued.  White people are still in power. Any white critique of black people is suspect in the context of these inequities in power. Such critique always tends toward victim blaming.  Whether you realize it or not, your critiques will always be tainted by your need – conscious or unconscious – to sustain your power and dominance.

Progressives critiquing the Blacks Lives Matter movement is a good example of this dynamic.  Many say they want black empowerment, but reject all forms of resistance that do not play by the very rules designed to protect white supremacy.  If you love Dr. King, but reject Black Lives Matter, you don’t know much about Dr. King.  If the societal systems and rules worked for black people, they wouldn’t be protesting.  The Black Lives Matter movement should not merely make conservative whites uncomfortable.  It should make all whites uncomfortable.  Embrace you discomfort instead of becoming a critic.

I know you’re concerned about who will hold black people and culture accountable.  Your commitment to accountability is noble.  It is simply misdirected.  You have far too much work to do in holding your white peers, your white dominated institutions and your white culture accountable for their continued oppression of people of color.  Don’t get distracted.  You can’t waste valuable energy critiquing black people.  Let them hold each other accountable.  They’ve been doing this for hundreds of years without your help.  They can handle it.

Let me say this as simply as I can – verbally beating up on a black person is not a good look on you.

Instead of critiquing someone’s else’s family, examine your own.  Who in your family is still telling racist jokes?  Who is your family is sharing racist memes?  Who in your family continues to repeat racist opinions and rhetoric?  Who in your family is most likely to act out of unconscious bias?  Who in your family refuses to acknowledge white privilege and systemic racism?

If you need to be critical, start there.

 

 

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12 thoughts on “Beating Up On Black People

  1. I’m having a hard time accepting your inside/outside the family analogy. To me, that’s the same kind of strict delineation that failed miserably with segregation in the past. If we’re going to live together in a relatively seamless society, we will need to get into each other’s business to some degree, allowing our cultures to blend, decreasing the inside-ness and outside-ness of each. That means going through the hard work of arguing some things out and coming to some common terms. To me, neither the White community nor the Black community is so monolithic that it can be easily likened to the deep loyalties of a family. Our cultures can be fairly porous at times—which is a good thing. You can’t realistically, to any significant degree, expect the White community to adopt your mouth-completely-shut-Black-always-knows-better approach. White people have varying perspectives that will make their way out into the conversation. If you want to shape those perspectives, telling them they have no right to speak on the matter won’t work. Even when we are wrong, Whites will need to be graciously listened to and further questioned in order to expose the root of misunderstanding or alternative perspective. That includes trying to understand how a White person might see the Black community. I get how tedious that can be with some people, but others can be surprisingly open.

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    1. Of course, we as white people have a tough time accepting this analogy since we’ve historically been able to violate such boundaries. We love to set the terms of engagement. For example, I wonder if you hear how privileged and ugly “whites will need to be graciously listened to” sounds to people of color. I would argue it is far past time for blacks to be graciously listened to and further questioned in order to expose the roots of our misunderstanding. I recently had a person of color say, “Why would we want to integrate with our oppressors?” The assumption that people of color want to assimilate with white culture may be part of the problem.

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  2. I’m afraid I didn’t hear how privileged and ugly I sounded. By asking for grace, I thought I was acknowledging a lack of understanding on my part, not demanding an audience. And I do try to listen carefully to my Black friends and family. I didn’t think I was trying to dictate the terms of engagement—other than that it needs to be 2-way rather than 1-way. I understand that too often it has been just 1-way in the other direction. That I genuinely regret. I suppose I can be willing to swap roles for a turn, but I thought the end game was to build mutual respect. I may be confused about what your objective is for this blog. I assumed you were trying to foster trust between Blacks and Whites, but now you seem to be suggesting it’s too late for that, if integration is out of the question.

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    1. I don’t think integration is out of the question, but it was important for me to hear that integration – which I had assumed as the goal – might be less attractive than I assumed. This betrays our ingrained sense of superiority, that we are somehow being gracious to allow, support or encourage integration – the progressive flip side to segregation. As to fostering trust between black and whites, I don’t think that can be fostered as much as earned. The first step in earning that trust seems to be a deep acknowledgment of past transgressions, present injustice and bias and how deeply privilege resides in us as white people.

      Thanks for clarifying your intent, even though the sentiment sounded privileged. I do sense your genuine desire to reach across divides. I think you’ve hit on my motive for this blog and many others – the best way to earn trust is to make space for the other person the take the power. Notice I said – take – and not have. Letting someone have the power is still evidence of a disparity. Allowing them to take the power is far more frightening. They may use the power in ways we will not like. Perhaps this is the greatest demonstration of trust we can make – trusting a black person to treat us more graciously than we deserve. In most cases, this is what I’ve experienced when I’ve been willing to cease trying to control the situation.

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  3. I hope I’m not getting tedious. I’m glad we both want to reach across the division. You’re right about trust being earned rather than “fostered.” I guess I was referring to your invitation to other Whites to get on with the job of earning it.

    We still have some ground to cover on what you refer to as “deep acknowledgment of past transgressions.” I’ve never felt a deep sense of solidarity with other Whites. I feel sadness over slavery and the unfairness of White privilege, but I feel like it would be insincere, patronizing even, for me to claim some kind of responsibility for it just because I have matching skin color with those who were/are responsible. My great grandparents immigrated to Wisconsin from Sweden in 1887. As far as we know there was no slavery in our family going back to the 1600’s. Coming from the rural Midwest, I’ve had limited contact with people of color, but have almost always felt positive about what exposure I did have through pop culture, sports, and some direct associations—especially later as an adult. What does it look like for me to deeply acknowledge past transgressions?

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    1. Glad you asked. You are expressing common misconceptions and rationalizations by white people when it comes to America’s racial past. I would encourage you to read my three part series on the reasonableness of reparations. linked here…https://notetomywhiteself.wordpress.com/2017/10/22/how-to-tell-if-a-white-person-is-racist-with-one-simple-question/

      After reading those three blogs, I’ll be interested in hearing your thoughts on your complicity with those past transgressions. Much of what you read there will be new to you – as it was to me only a few years ago. Back then, I would have made your argument. Now I see such arguments as another expression of my lack of knowledge about the black experience.

      Finally, since the title of the first blog may be off putting, please understand that I believe all white people are racist to some extent. The question is whether, when confronted with this reality, we double down or back away.

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  4. I read all 3 of your posts. My compliments on the number of points you cover. It’s a lot to unpack.

    I don’t reflexively reject the idea of racial reparations. I don’t see it ever being passed, and if it was, I’d be afraid it would most likely do more harm than good. I agree that I have unearned advantages just for being White and Black people have unwarranted disadvantages just for being Black. It’s appealing to come up with a simple way to even out that disparity. I do contribute personally in some of the ways you suggest in the third post. What you suggest in the second post—a race-based tax to fund a set of race-based entitlements—seems like the perfect recipe for a race war to me. Since we both agree it’s not a realistic option, I’m not sure what would be gained debating the merits.

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    1. Let me see if I understand your response. Reparations deserve consideration. Whites have unearned advantages. You personally try to address these inequities in your own life. But, since many white people don’t acknowledge this and would violently oppose it, we shouldn’t talk about it. While I would agree reparations are not presently a realistic option, neither was civil rights for blacks for nearly 100 years. I’m glad some people kept talking about it. Recently, a person of color commented that I was the only white man they’d ever heard that recognized the justice of reparations. Maybe that’s the problem.

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  5. I’ll try to talk about it, since you ask, but I confess I’m just working it out on the fly. You bring up questions and ideas well worth considering and researching further.

    My edit of your paraphrase of me: “Reparations deserve consideration [for the purpose of grappling with racial inequity]. Whites have unearned advantages. [I] personally try to address these inequities in [my] own life. But, since [we both agree it’s not likely to happen soon, I’m not sure how relevant it is to start] talk[ing] about it.”

    Any time a ruling body treats one category of people less favorably than another it is a formula for resentment and eventually hostility. I think the reparations you describe would be viewed, with some credibility, as a kind of incremental reverse slavery—once “we” worked while “you” benefited, now “you” work while “we” benefit—except the “you” whose decisions were actually at fault are long-dead White folks. Of course overt racist cruelty persisted after slavery officially ended, but not uniformly throughout White society. Today I never know precisely when or how I benefit from being White—I just know it’s a statistical probability of the broader opportunity and fewer roadblocks I enjoy. The guilt of slavery is not genetically passed on, as if it’s the Original Sin into which all Whites are simply born.

    The math of my presumed complicity with past transgressions is not as straightforward as you suggest. Slavery benefited slave owners, of course, and some amount of economic gain did flow out of that into the general economy, but the more downstream a person looks at the economics of slavery, the more it’s apparent gains evaporate. The cost of lost opportunity using forced labor rather than at-will creativity, innovation, and self-betterment is impossible to calculate. The great cost of the Civil War to end slavery is also impossible to factor in fully. The overall economy of the South was just subsisting leading up to the Civil War—slavery was no economic boon and was already on the decline.

    It seems to me that slavery, in fact, was a net cost to Whites as a whole, not a net benefit. Obviously it imposed a much greater cost on the slaves themselves and to those later marginalized by the racism it generated. I try to imagine if the same Africans who were forced into slavery had instead immigrated here voluntarily, adding their full set of talents and efforts to the emerging free market, eliminating the causes for the Civil War. By the time my great grandparents migrated here in 1887, the growth of the US economy might have been decades further along than it was. Even today, because of racism and the marginalization of Blacks, Whites have fewer natural opportunities to engage economically with them. That makes you and me poorer today than we would be without racism in the US. We are all poorer because of racism—just not equally so.

    I think if we as a nation ever get to the point where we adequately appreciate the scope and cost of racial inequity, a mutual trust between us would be well under way, the Black community would be equitably engaged in our economy, and the idea of paying reparations would seem superfluous.

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    1. Keith, something about our conversation is troubling. I’ve had many of these conversations over the past five years. Your responses are odd. You purport to be sympathetic to racial reconciliation and justice. You imply you haven’t done much thought about reparations. Yet the latest post repeats some of the uglier responses to the reparations argument…arguments I usually encounter from people who’ve spent lots of time on white supremacist sites. I find it hard to believe you came up with the “reverse slavery” argument independent of those voices. This is not something I encounter in people who are “just working it out on the fly.”

      If you have developed these objections on your own, please know that they represent racist rhetoric designed to diminish any of the historic injustices. Additionally, the idea that slavery was in decline and an economic non-factor is simply incorrect. Historians and economists – unless you are reading those from the 1920s when Jim Crow was being justified – would find your easy diminishment suspect and uninformed. You don’t seem like an uninformed person.

      I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and encourage you to read “The Half Has Not Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” by Edward Baptist. It is perhaps the most powerful refutation of the myths and deceptions we’ve created to obscure both the horror and benefits of slavery.

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  6. I get it. I did some follow up and need to do more. I think you’re right about slavery’s impact on what has become the US economy, at least more right than I was. I wasn’t seeing the broader picture of the times or the aftermath. It changes me.

    I’d like to offer you an explanation for my initial perspective. I’m currently just a software engineer in Minneapolis. I’m not an academic, but I do think I have a pretty good head on my shoulders and I think I have a pretty good heart. I’m not a voracious reader, but I do think and wonder a lot, which does drive me to a targeted reading of articles and chapters of books if not entire books on the certain topics. In the process of earning my BS, I enjoyed the philosophy courses of epistemology and apologetics, but I never got immersed in the field of philosophy. I do, however, still try to be deliberate about forming a coherent interpretive framework, identifying my core assumptions, testing them and changing them when warranted.

    A core assumption I really wasn’t completely aware of until now is this: Bad things lead to other bad things—not beneficial things. Since I find slavery to be abhorrent, it challenges my core assumption to accept that I and so many others could have benefited so profoundly by it. While I still think that’s a good principle to live by (bad begets bad, not good), it’s clearly not an absolute.

    As I said, I really am just working this out on the fly and I do appreciate your ability to challenge my thinking. It’s exactly why I sought out this kind of forum. I see now you’ve dropped your initial response to my last post—thank you. I’ve never knowingly pursued the views of white supremacists. I like to think my ideas are my own, but I don’t live in a vacuum and It’s entirely possible I’ve come across some of those views and, for whatever reason, they stuck with me. I would say it’s not inherently racist to doubt the assertion that slavery was an economic powerhouse with such an immense impact. When I think of slavery, what most strikes me is the horrible loss of human potential. I have a hard time expressing how hard it is for me to conceive of such loss being converted into such gain. Even harder to conceive of myself on the receiving end of that gain.

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    1. Your thoughtful and vulnerable response is encouraging. As you suggest, lots of white supremacist tropes are floating around in our culture and – unfortunately – we pick them up unconsciously. Again, I would highly recommend Baptist’s book – he is a renown economist and historian. His analysis was worldview changing for me. I think you can argue that the American dream was built on the scarred backs of enslaved people who where then systematically excluded from that dream. Thanks for this conversation. I need to move onto to other things. Hope you’ll keep reading the blog and be provoked to explore alternative explanations for your assumptions.

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