How To Identify White Supremacist Sympathizers and Secret Agents Over Thanksgiving Dinner

How To Identify White Supremacist Sympathizers and Secret Agents Over Thanksgiving Dinner

While I worry about swastika tattooed and Confederate flag waving white supremacists, at least I know exactly where they stand on the question of racial equality and reconciliation. We hold irreconcilable views on the past, present and future of our nation.  We need not debate one another. We share nothing in common other than the pigment of our skin and the nation we inhabit. Though such people often do damage through violent acts of racism, they are not whom I most fear.

It is the secret agents and sympathizers of white supremacy that keep me up at night. Those who most concern me do not proclaim their sentiments so boldly. They argue for civility, even while sowing division. They defend the Constitution, even while attacking its equal protections. They give lip service to justice, even while chipping away at the rights of people of color.

It is family members, friends, acquaintances and neighbors with white supremacist sympathies that frighten me. They never use the N word, never blatantly attack people of color and never applaud the crazies – at least not in public. Yet time and again these people hint at a darker allegiance – one that supersedes any commitment to racial equity and national unity.

These people are the fifth column of white nationalism, blending into a multicultural society even while working for its demise. They are the pillars of white supremacy. They are talking heads on television, members of think tanks, politicians, business people and church leaders. They are truck drivers and teachers, airline pilots and grocery baggers. They exist in nearly every white family, business and organization, insinuating there is something deeply wrong with our country and that the problem is rooted in people of color. Ironically, when their thinly veiled racist assertions are challenged, they often accuse their challengers of reverse racism, offering themselves as the true victims of injustice.

Indeed, this propensity to claim reverse racism is one of the surest signs of their true sympathies. In pretending that any criticism of the assertions, beliefs or behaviors of white people is racist, they ignore and obscure vast and obvious disparities in power, wealth and status, implying an acceptance of systemic racism. For them, the problem in the United States does not reside in these inequities, but in those who identify them. Criticism of white people is motivated by hate, jealousy and resentment and not any legitimate complaint.

When Mr. Trump was recently asked by a black reporter if his use of nationalist language was divisive, he claimed her question was racist.  What made her question racist had nothing to do with its appropriateness and everything to do with a black woman audaciously challenging his superiority. White supremacists recognized what he was doing and applauded.  People of color found it familiar and gritted their teeth. Only white progressives debated the fairness of her question.

Make no mistake.  Only white supremacist secret agents and sympathizers claim reverse racism.  This tactic of accusing your victims of your propensities is time honored.  Plantation owners accused blacks of being lazy while sipping mint juleps on their porches. White mobs accused blacks of being violent while gathering in courtyards to lynch them. White men maligned blacks as sexually deviant while raping black women and girls under their power. When white people claim racial victimization, they make a mockery of any commitment to justice.

They know the system is rigged in their favor. They like it that way. They are committed to defending their privilege, even while arguing it doesn’t exist.  When they dispute the constitutionality of birthright citizenship, they are not defenders of originalism or advocates of legal immigration. What they defend is white dominance.  When they argue for a reinterpretation of the 14th Amendment, don’t be confused.  It was the Confederate rebellion that provoked the 14th and the KKK that most ardently opposed it.

Indeed, in highlighting and advocating for the white supremacist opposition to the 14th Amendment, Mr. Trump may have done progressives and people of color a favor.  This Thanksgiving, ask your friends and family what they think about birthright citizenship.  Those who defend it as central to the American experiment are your allies.  Those who disparage the 14th Amendment as misinterpreted or outdated have outed themselves as white supremacist secret agents and sympathizers.  You may not have the courage to challenge them, but at least you know their true colors.

If you do challenge them, ask if they realize such arguments have long been popular in Klan and white supremacy circles.  Ask if that makes them uncomfortable.  Ask how America would be better if we eliminated birthright citizenship.  Ask who should now be eligible.  Ask why now, when white people have the lowest birthrates in US history, that this is their priority. If they argue for some pure and original interpretation of the constitution, you will know them for who are.  White supremacist secret agents and sympathizers always look back fondly on the racist origins of our nation.

When you encounter nostalgia for an America of the past, understand what it represents.  Unless you are a white, there has never been a time in American history as good as it is now.  There are few blacks, gays, Latinos, women of color, Native Americans, Asians, or Muslims nostalgic for the America of old.  Such nostalgia is white privilege.  Those who speak of better days in the past – if given the opportunity – would recreate its ugliness.  They yearn for a time when minorities had no choice but to silently bear their oppression.  Only white supremacist secret agents and sympathizers want to return to any point in America’s past.

Mr. Trump and his minions understood this dynamic. They intentionally crafted their “Make America Great Again” campaign knowing full well with whom it would most resonate.  It was a call for all white supremacists – the neo-Nazi shock troops, the closeted racists and the white supremacist sympathizers to unite under one tent.  That so few Republicans fled from that tent is evidence of how deeply embedded white supremacy is in our political system. That so many white progressives still argue for non-partisanship suggests how insidious white supremacy remains.  Even those of us who oppose white supremacy are still susceptible to its allures.  After all, in a white supremacist society, white progressives still benefit.

Today is not the day for less debate, less challenge and less exposure of our racial divides.  Our country – like in the days prior to the Civil War – is divided for good reason. We face the same choice our ancestors did in 1860 and 1960. Will we be a nation committed to equality and justice for all or a nation where people of color are separate and unequal?  We cannot allow ourselves to be swayed by arguments that diminish the seriousness of this moment.

As in past battles with white supremacy, we must identify our allies and our enemies. We cannot pretend there are good people on both sides.  You are either a white person wrestling with your racism and privilege or you are not. Your goodness, in our present society, must be measured by this and this alone – are you committed to justice and equity for all. You cannot be a white supremacist secret agent or sympathizer and argue for your morality. Your heroes are not Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela. Your sympathies are with Hitler, George Wallace and David Duke. You are not a good person.

Maya Angelou famously wrote, “When someone tells you who they are, believe them.”  It is time for us to believe those who reveal by word and action that their sympathies are with white supremacy.   Whether they sit in the Oval Office or across from us as the Thanksgiving table, we can hope for their repentance, but – until that day – we must assume their intentions are for ill and not for good.  We must recognize them for who they are and oppose them in every way.

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Finding Comfort In Discomfort

Finding Comfort In Discomfort

Friends,

I will be speaking at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on Saturday, November 17th. In the morning, I will speak on “How Ella Changed My Life” and participate in a panel discussion on cross racial dialogue. In the afternoon, I will lead a workshop on “The Reasonableness of Reparations.”  There will also be a workshop on Implicit Bias.  Registration is open, but limited.

If you live in Ohio, I hope you’ll register and join the conversation.  Those interested in reading the blogs that inspired this event and the workshop can do so at “How To Tell If A White Person Is Racist With One Simple Question.”

Those interested in attending the event can register at the following link…

https://diosohio.wufoo.com/forms/finding-comfort-in-discomfort/

 

 

A Terror Filled Election

A Terror Filled Election

We’ve seen worse.

While many rightly describe the present election cycle as divisive and hate filled, the elections of 1874 and 1876 were – without question – the most violent elections in American history.  This became painfully clear to me as I recently read a biography of President Ulysses S Grant.  Ron Chernow’s portrayal of Grant made me aware of many historic realities, including how little progress we’ve actually made around racial reconciliation.

Chernow makes a strong argument for Grant as the least racist white President in American history and a true friend to people of color.  During his administration (1868-1876), blacks had more rights and hopes than they would have for the next 90 years.  Sadly, both Grant and Lincoln – Republican presidents – would abhor the Republican party of today as an anathema to all they fought for in the Civil War. In the 1870s, Republicans were the defenders of civil and voting rights for people of color.  Tragically, in 1874 and 1876, the rights of black people, newly granted by the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments were besieged and systematically stripped from black citizens.

That we’ve seen worse should bring us no comfort.  In many ways, today’s political rhetoric and maneuvering is reminiscent of the racial divisions and hatreds that fueled the violence in the 1870s. Chernow spends a chapter of his book chronicling how whites organized into groups like the Ku Klux Klan, White People’s Party, White Leaguers, Red Shirts, Knights of the White Camellia and the White Line Rifle Clubs.  These groups had one primary function – terrorize blacks in order to keep them from voting.  Chernow notes these groups successfully eliminated the black vote during those elections and laid the groundwork for 90 years of Jim Crow.

After reading his accounts, I have concluded that if you have a white male ancestor who lived in the South during those years, you are probably descended from a murderer. Though I had read of the reign of terror of the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1860s and early 1870s, I had not made the connection between these domestic terrorists and voting rights. This terrorism was not the acts of some fringe movement. The majority of Southern white men actively participated in the murder of black men and women during those years.

While the examples of this terror are numerous, I want to highlight the most grievous:

  • In April of 1873, in Colfax Parish, Louisiana, a majority black county, a white mob surrounded the courthouse, targeted black office holders and killed 73 black men in a single day. If you have a white ancestor from Colfax Parish, you’re likely descended from a murderer.
  • In August of 1874, six black leaders in Coushatta, Mississippi were drug from their beds by mobs of white men and murdered. If you have a white ancestor from Coushatta, you’re likely descended from a murderer.
  • In September of 1874, White Leaguers stormed the New Orleans City Hall and Louisiana Statehouse, killing more than 20 public officials and insisting a white supremacist be seated as lieutenant governor. Over several days, hundreds of blacks in New Orleans were killed and thousands fled.  The segregated schools and police force of New Orleans were disbanded.  Five thousand federal troops had to be sent to restore order. If you have a white ancestor from Louisiana, you’re likely descended from a murderer.
  • In December of 1874, the White League seized the Vicksburg, Mississippi courthouse, ran off the black Sheriff and office holders. In the course of several days, over 320 black men were killed and their bodies were allowed to rot in the streets. If you have a white ancestor from Mississippi, you’re likely descended from a murderer.

A subsequent Federal investigation would document over 2000 murders of black men and women in Mississippi and Louisiana in 1874 alone.  These efforts to terrorize blacks were so successful that in the 1875 election in Yazoo County, Mississippi, a county with a majority population of 12,000 blacks, only eight votes were cast for Republicans.  In 1876, there were only two votes.  In early 1876, John Lynch, one of the last black Mississippi congressmen, wrote, “The Democrats (the white supremacy party of the 1870s) proposed to carry every Southern State as they carried Mississippi last year – not by power of the ballot – but by an organized system of terrorism and violence.”

He was prophetic.  What succeeded in Mississippi and Louisiana spread throughout the South.  South Carolina, which had been one of the most integrated governments in the South, completely changed in racial composition in one election cycle.  On July 4, 1876, whites gathered outside Hamburg, SC – a strong black community – and demanded the black militia in that community disarm.  When they refused, they attacked the town, killing dozens and pillaging every black home.  This initiated a reign of terror than virtually ended all black voting in South Carolina for 90 years.

Why are these stories important?

Elections matter.

White racists, then and now, fear them.  They consistently do all in their power to obstruct and suppress the votes of people of color.  Democracy is not their friend.  These stories also remind us that civil and voting rights – though we may take them for granted – can easily and quickly be removed when whites decide to use their privilege and power.  Progress is not inevitable.  Our nation has and can regress.  When white people look back nostalgically to the past, when they wax poetic about the Confederacy and the Southern way of life and when they suggest they want to make America great again, don’t be confused. These are the descendants of murderers.

For these reasons, I am less and less concerned about whether the Russians colluded with the Trump administration to assist in his election. The greatest threats to democratic elections are not foreign agents, but white strategies to disenfranchise people of color. Indeed, I’ve begun to wonder if the whole Mueller investigation is a distraction intended to focus our attention and energy on the trivial while the terrible takes place.

The American election system – rather than Russia – is to blame for our present plight.  Trump energized white fear and exploited racial divides. He was assisted by an electoral system designed and controlled by white people. That is what should most concern us in 2018.

What should outrage us is Republican states purging their voting roles, invalidating thousands of registrations on technicalities and demanding Native Americans have a street address in order to vote.  What should dismay us is how racial gerrymandering has allowed many states to be overly represented by white men.  What should worry us is that predominantly white rural states will send 70 senators to Congress while predominantly minority urban states will send only 30, even though these minority states vastly outnumber the rural states in population.  White men in Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, Idaho, Wyoming and Oklahoma, as the system intended, will continue to be overly represented and empowered.

Though I do not think our present elections will descend into the violence of the 1870s, I worry that the elections of 2018 and 2020 could be as damaging to our democracy.  Whether we realize it or not, we may be voting on what kind of country we will live in for the next 100 years – one where people of color are empowered or one where the progress of the past 50 years is destroyed and people of color are disenfranchised.

It happened in 1876.  It can happen again.

Now, while you can, get out and vote.

Using the “N” Word

Using the “N” Word

This past week, former White House staffer and reality TV star Omarosa Manigault claimed to have heard President Trump say the “N” word.  Indeed, she said she had heard him do so on a tape.  Political pundits suggested that, if this tape existed, it could seriously damage the President’s reputation.

Really?  With whom?

When it comes to the use of the “N” word, you can roughly divide white Americans into three distinct groups: those who regularly use the word, those who think of their abstention as a gift and those who find the word offensive and dehumanizing.  For the sake of clarity, let me briefly discuss each of these groups and their probable response to a tape of the President using the “N” word.

In 2006, a poll found 8% of white people thought the use of the “N” word justifiable.  While that small percentage may sound encouraging, the same poll also found that 46% of whites knew another white person who used the “N” word.  So either that 8% really gets around or more people are using the “N” word than polling suggests.  More damning, a 2012 poll found that 31% of all whites admitted to using the “N” word at least once in the past five years.  A recent survey found that 39% of white Americans would support a candidate who used the “N” word.  Based on these polls, about a third of the white population finds nothing objectionable about the “N” word.

Let’s face it.  For many of Trump’s staunchest supporters, his use of the “N” word would bolster, rather than damage, his reputation.  Such a tape would justify their own use of the word.  More importantly, it would validate their worldview.  Clearly, there is one group with whom the President’s popularity is nearly unanimous – white supremacists. For them, the use of the “N” word is a philosophical commitment to the dehumanization of people of color.  They use this term precisely because they believe people of color are less human.  Any thoughtful American should be deeply disturbed that the people who advocate white supremacy consider Trump an ally.  Unfortunately, many Americans are not very thoughtful.

Those who tolerate this incongruity represent the second group of white Americans.  While these people do not generally use the “N” word, they freely associate with those who do.  They excuse the behavior of those who use the “N” word as uncouth or politically incorrect rather than for what it is – the dehumanization of another person.  They are unlikely to challenge the use of the word or question the worldview of those who do.  They may feign disgust with the President using the “N” word, but they will not find it disqualifying.

Sadly, they represent a large swath of white Americans who – though they avoid the word – have probably used it in a moment of anger or passion.  Which means, under stress, they expose their true colors.  The only significant difference between them and those who use the “N” word is their vocabulary.  When it comes to worldview, they share a low opinion of people of color.  They are polite racists.  For them, not using the “N” word is a benevolence.  They could have, but they didn’t.  These are the people who complain, “If black people can say it, why can’t I?”  To which, the proper response is simply, “Why would you want to?”

This brings us to the final group of white Americans – people who have no desire to diminish the value of people of color in any way.  For these white people, the use of the “N” word is deeply offensive.  We do not use it, even when angry or impassioned, and quickly challenge those who do.  We understand that not using the “N’ word is not a noble sacrifice or act of kindness.  It is the behavior of a mature human being.  For a mature white American, the use of the “N” word disqualifies a person from any position of leadership, be it of a pizza company or our government.

Regrettably, the possibility that the President used the “N” word only confirms what we have known about his character.  We have long ago recognized his many dog whistles.  We know that terms like “ignorant, low IQ, dog, animal, sons of bitches” are simply surrogates for what the President calls people of color privately.  We know that, should the tape be revealed, many white Americans will ignore, justify or diminish its significance.  They will avoid the common response to many of Trump’s more outrageous claims, that “he is simply saying what many people think.”

Unfortunately, as in those other circumstances, they’re right.

In using the “N” word, Trump is simply saying what far too many white Americans think.

Why They Keep Coming

Why They Keep Coming

I haven’t posted since May.

I’ve been busy.

I’ve been living and working in rural communities in El Salvador. The organization I lead – CoCoDA – has spent the last twenty-five years working collaboratively with rural communities in El Salvador and Nicaragua on projects in water and sanitation, public health and education. In June, I visited these communities, meeting with their leaders and talking with their residents. It was both energizing and discouraging.

I am energized by seeing common people do extraordinary things. In one community, I worked for a day on an organic farm cooperative run by young people. Their leader, who was no more than 25 years old, has a vision of supplying all the vegetables for his community and the communities around them. In another community, I spoke with people who’ve worked for ten years to build a water system to bring clean water from a local spring to their homes. In a few months, they hope to finally have clean, accessible water. Again and again, I encountered people working together to improve the quality of life of their communities. I heard their dreams and hopes.

Not once did anyone say, “My greatest hope is to someday live in the United States.”

I am also discouraged. In many instances, these people asked me about what was happening in the United States.  Why did our President consider their country a “shithole?” Why were we separating children from their parents at our border? They worried about their depiction as lazy, or greedy, or criminal. I assured them that the opinions and actions of the Trump administration did not represent those of many US citizens.

I worry that I lied to them.

I’ve returned to a nation where many are more scandalized by Sarah Huckabee Sanders being asked to leave a restaurant than by children being separated from their parents. To a nation where poor Central Americans fleeing from violence are depicted as an infestation, accused of being rapists and killers. To a nation willing to pay Central American immigrants and temporary workers substandard wages for dangerous or tedious work while at the same time deriding them as a drain on the economy. To a nation that has consistently destabilized Central American governments and exploited Central American economies, creating the very conditions that provoke migration across our borders. To a nation where most people understand very little about the causes of migration.

Where I have been, everyone understands why people leave their homes and risk life and liberty to come to the United States.  It isn’t what we’ve been told.

They Are Desperate

When I talk with North Americans, I often ask, “How bad would it have to be in the United States for you to consider taking your family and illegally migrating to another country, knowing you could face death or imprisonment?” This is the situation with many of those who migrate to the United States from Mexico and Central America. Climate change has destroyed their farms. Drug cartels have targeted their children. Violence has terrorized their neighborhoods.

They do not leave happily. No one easily chooses to leave their birthplace, to abandon their home, family and friends unless the situation is dire. Though parents are derided as irresponsible for bringing their children on that perilous journey north, for many it may be the most responsible action.  What parent wouldn’t move the earth (or their location on it) to protect their children? For this reason alone, walls will always fail.  Until we help address the situations in their home countries, they will keep coming.

They Are Invited

While many Mexicans and Central Americans illegally immigrate, most do not do so haphazardly. They are invited by family and friends who have been told by US employers that, once they arrive, they will be employed. They don’t come to “take away our jobs.” They come to take jobs we won’t do.  Just as the demand of US citizens for drugs has destabilized their countries, it is the demand for employees that takes advantage of this destabilization. These people would much rather work in their home countries, but the temptation of making in one year what they can make in ten at home is alluring.

If the United States was really serious about ending illegal immigration, we could end it tomorrow.  All Congress would need to do is pass a law separating the children from the employers who hire illegal immigrants. Unfortunately, we have created a system that rewards the employers and punishes their victims.  It is this huge hypocrisy that drives immigration policy in the United States. Think about the last time you heard of an employer being arrested and convicted of exploiting illegal immigrants.

They Are Homesick

The final misconception about illegal immigration is that they come here hoping to become US citizens. Nearly all of them know that illegal immigration actually makes that goal less attainable. They come here to work and not to live. Most are sending money home to support family.  Many are using that money to build homes or start businesses at home. The goal is not to stay permanently in a country that exploits and abuses you. It is to earn enough money to make living in your home country possible.

This is the final hypocrisy of our present system. We need these workers. They are willing to work for the wages we offer.  However, instead of making it possible for them to temporarily work here, we’ve created a system that makes their presence and work illegal.  Why?  Because the easiest people to exploit are those without any legal standing or power.

They Are Victims of Political and Economic Exploitation

I am appalled by the rhetoric of the Trump Administration on illegal immigration. It is based on intentional lies. They know all the facts listed above. The reason they are targeting illegal immigrants is not to solve a problem. They do so to inflame racist and xenophobic tendencies in their voting base, to distract them from the unjust economic and tax policy that actually threaten their livelihood.

Unfortunately, many US citizens would rather believe the “fake news” spewed by this administration about migration and immigration than seriously think about the causes of this problem. Where is the outrage from Trump’s base when the Mar-A-Lago resort requests work visas for 61 foreign cooks and servers?  These are supposedly visas for “workers unavailable in the United States.”  Are none of his base willing to work these jobs?  The problem in Mar-A-Lago and across our country is not that there aren’t workers available.  It is that there aren’t enough US workers willing to fill those jobs.  Trump the businessman knows this.  Trump the president lies about it.

Oddly, while I disagree with denigration of Mexicans and Central Americans by the Trump administration, I do agree with their assertion that the system is broken and must be repaired.  Unfortunately, complicated systems are always designed to benefit someone.  In this case, our system is not designed to benefit poor Mexicans and Central Americans.  It is designed to benefit US employers and companies. Until we acknowledge and address the true source of illegal immigration, walls will accomplish nothing.  They will keep coming.

P.S. Once a year, I take a group of North Americans on an eight day visit to Central America to meet its people and understand its culture and challenges.  If you’d be interested in traveling with me in 2019, please contact me at jim@cocoda.org.

When People Of Color Disagree

When People Of Color Disagree

Over the past few months, two black men – Cornel West and Ta-Nehisi Coates – have been clashing on the internet.  West has been critical of the neo-liberal slant of Coates’ writing and taken him to task for not focusing more attention on the intersectionality of race and class.  Coates, for his part, has tried to stay above the fray, but supporters of both West and Coates have battled it out on Facebook pages, blogs and comment sections.  Seeing these two respected men of color pitted against each other has been painful for me, a white man who has found both of their writings insightful and enlightening.

As a person committed to listening carefully to marginalized voices, it is disconcerting when those voices aren’t unified or, even more bewildering, when they are in conflict.  As a person seeking direction from these figures in the fight for racial equality and justice, what does one do when the direction is contradictory?  How does one act when there are several groups of people of color in your city with different perspectives on what people of color should do and what white people should do to help?  How do you proceed when two people of color tell you that being an “ally” requires very different responses?

This, of course, isn’t a new dilemma.  In the 1960s, many white people struggled to sort out the differences in direction between Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  While today they are seen as complimentary figures in the fight for civil rights, in that day, they were often critical of each’s other strategies.  This division was often used by whites as evidence that the concerns of people of color could be ignored.  If they couldn’t agree on what they wanted, how could whites be expected to respond?

That was, of course, racist subterfuge designed to deflect and distract the discussion from what nearly every person of color agreed on – the prevalence and persistence of systems of racial inequity and injustice throughout American society.  While West, Coates, Malcolm and King may disagree on strategy or on how to incorporate white allies, they are strongly unified in their condemnation of systemic racism.  Those whites committed to listening to this societal critique will find plenty – personally and societally – to address without getting lost in the weeds of strategic differences.

One of the ironies of abandoning negative and monolithic stereotypes about people of color is also discovering that they are not monolithic in their sentiments concerning white people.  For some, white people are helplessly enmeshed in their personal racism and white privilege and generally do more harm than good when they attempt to help.  For others, white people – as the chief architects and perpetrators of racism – must play an active part as allies and accomplices in its dismantlement.  And, depending on the situation and the white person, the opinion of a person of color on which strategy is preferable can understandably shift.

I’ve struggled with this issue personally over the past couple of months.  In February, I developed and led a three hour workshop entitled “Paying Our Reparations” for a local church.  The workshop, based on a series of blogs I’d written, was designed to defend the reasonableness of reparations by educating white people on the long history of enslavement, economic disparity and racial discrimination in the United States.  After exposing the ignorance of most white people concerning the depth of racial injustice in America, the workshop concludes by encouraging white people to commit to personal acts of repair – “reparation.”

In creating this workshop, I took careful note of the oft repeated admonition that people of color should not be responsible for educating white people about racism and white privilege.  That can be exhausting for people of color, especially when they must repeatedly deal with white fragility, micro-aggressions and even blatant racist resistance.  This is especially true when the topic is reparations.  When people of color advocate for reparations, many white people reject their arguments out of hand, impugning their motives with charges of laziness, greed or resentment.  When a white person makes these same arguments, white people can’t ignore them as easily.

However, in promoting the workshop, I’ve also encountered people of color who’ve take some offense at the audacity of an old white man pontificating on race.  They’ve argued that either a person of color should lead or co-facilitate the workshop with me, that the workshop smacks of white appropriation and privilege.  What right do I have to speak on their behalf about the injustices they’ve endured?  Since I am committed to listening carefully to people of color, I take this critique seriously.  I can understand their suspicion of my motives.  Indeed, being suspicious of white men seems a very appropriate strategy for people of color in our culture.

In sorting through these divergent voices, I am aware that when people of color know me personally, they seem to trust my motives and support the workshop.  When people of color do not know me, they tend to distrust the project.  This would suggest a rather simple solution to the question of which voices of color we respect – all of them.  I don’t get to choose between West and Coates or King or Malcolm.  As a white person, I need to listen to them all.

Those people of color who know me represent one set of accountability partners.  They are in the best position to judge my motives and suggest appropriate responses.  I need to listen to them when they tell me to speak out, educating and challenging my white peers.  However, those people of color who do not know me are also accountability partners.  They remind me of the necessity of continually and humbly reexamining my actions and motives.  Taking offense at their challenge reveals more about my unconscious white entitlement than their suspicions.  As a white man, I am not accustomed to having my right to speak challenged.

Listening to those who question my sincerity is as important as listening to those who trust my authenticity. They remind me of my position and participation in a culture that too easily pushes them aside, marginalizes their voices and asks them to take a back seat on the bus.  To some extent, whether I am actually doing this with my workshop is irrelevant.  They remind me that everything in our society – including a workshop on reparations – has that potential.  To think myself immune to this propensity is the height of white arrogance.

In the days ahead, I’ll be looking for a person of color to co-facilitate with me.  That will need to be a strong and brave person of color with a willingness to weather the tender sensitivities of uneducated and unwoke white people.  Hearing the story of racial injustice from a person of color in conjunction with the story of white responsibility from old white man will be uncomfortable for white audiences, but discomfort is something white people need to learn to tolerate.  Until that day, I will also continue to do what people of color have told me to do, challenge my white peers on racism and white privilege.

I do not have the right to speak on behalf of people of color.

I do have the responsibility of speaking to my white peers.

In our present culture, that can sometimes be a difficult line to walk.

The Oldest Trick In The Racist Book

The Oldest Trick In The Racist Book

On Tuesday, the US House of Representatives voted to end an Obama-era action designed to address racial discrimination in the auto sales industry.  This Consumer Financial Protection Bureau guideline was designed to address and rectify the fact that people of color – even those with superior credit – pay an average of $2,500 more to purchase the same car as a white person.  An NPR interview with the architect of this dismantlement – Texas Republican Representative Jeb Hensarling – is such a classic example of racist subterfuge that I thought it worthy of careful analysis.  I’m posting the entire conversation in italics with my commentary interspersed.

DEBBIE GOLDSTEIN: They sent in white and nonwhite paired testers to the same auto dealership and found nonwhite borrowers ended up paying on average $2,500 more than a white borrower over the life of their car loan. And, of course, a car is a really vital tool for most families. It’s how you get to work. So it’s something that you really need, but that you might be paying for more just because of the color of your skin and the arrangement you got for your financing.

– You can read the entire National Fair Housing Alliance report here.

GREENE: Now, Congressman Jeb Hensarling, the Texas Republican who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, saw this study but was not convinced.

JEB HENSARLING: Yeah. I looked at those findings. Did you know that was based on a universe of two people? So this is, at best, junk science. But also, the Bureau’s rule predated this study. So the rule was not even based upon the faulty study. And so it is frankly unfair, it is unjust and it never should have happened in the first place.

– First, the study is not junk science and passed peer review.  The two people referenced were the black and white people sent into each dealership, who each sought to purchase the same vehicle with very different results.  This is a not a flaw in the study, but the proper methodology.  In addition, Hensarling quickly turns the study on its head and suggests the study – rather than the racial discrimination it exposes – is unjust.  According to Hensarling, it is the auto dealerships that are being mistreated and must be protected.

GREENE: So you dispute the notion that discrimination exists in the lending process?

HENSARLING: No. I didn’t say that.

– Of course, not.  That would be ridiculous since Hensarling knows this study is one of hundreds that demonstrate racial bias in nearly every aspect of our society.

GREENE: OK?

– Great question.

HENSARLING: I said it’s very serious, and it needs to be proven.

– So Hensarling acknowledges the existence of racial discrimination and its seriousness, but asserts it needs to be proven.  If you find this response completely incomprehensible, you’re not alone.  The interviewer obviously can’t make heads or tails of it either.

GREENE: But let me just – I do want to mention that there was a Vanderbilt University study, as well, from 2006 that suggested there was discrimination in this process. But I mean, you clearly don’t – you’ve not seen enough evidence yet to convince you that this is a problem.

– No, he already said a problem exists and it is serious.  This has nothing to do with science or evidence.  He is disinterested in changing a system with clear racial bias.

HENSARLING: Well, what I believe is that it is actionable. But if you look at the internal documents of the Bureau, they knew their evidence was shaky, and they were trying to press the envelope and they hurt consumers by doing so.

– So now Hensarling is protecting both consumers and auto dealerships from these nasty guidelines intended to protect the civil rights of people of color.  He is the champion of the people, if you define the people as white people.

GREENE: Hurt consumers.

– I’m not certain if this is a question or an expression of her shock at the absurdity of this argument.

GREENE: Yeah. One of the Republican arguments here is that this guidance from the Obama administration made lenders afraid to offer discounts to anyone, regardless of race. And I asked Debbie Goldstein about that.

GOLDSTEIN: It’s not clear they are offering discounts to people of color. It seems like they’re offering discounts in a biased way to white borrowers. And I think here government policy should be aimed at rooting out discrimination, first and foremost.

GREENE: What do you tell a member of Congress who has voted or is voting to scrap these rules, and they say they clearly are not effective in terms of reducing this discrimination, they’re an extra burden on lenders so let’s scrap these and find a better way to enforce the law that’s already there?

– I would tell a Republican member of Congress that they obviously have no interest in remedying this situation.  Does anyone really believe the Republicans are upset because these guidelines were not sufficiently and effectively reducing discrimination?  Is anyone really holding their breath while they craft a better set of guidelines?  If so, take a big breath.   Hensarling is about to finish his racist subterfuge with the oldest trick in the racist book.

GOLDSTEIN: I think that the message that Congress is sending when they overturn the guidance is that they don’t think discrimination is a problem and that the auto lending industry should be permitted to do what it wants.

GREENE: Republican Congressman Jeb Hensarling said that’s not the message at all. He says he takes charges of discrimination very seriously but that what he sees as government overreach is not the answer.

HENSARLING: Where you have a specific dealer, a specific auto dealer engaged in reprehensible, racist, illegal, unlawful conduct, that needs to be brought to the attention of the proper authorities. But don’t just willy-nilly make the accusation against an entire industry. That’s outrageous.

– Oh, I think we all know what is outrageous.  It is outrageous that in 2018 a white politician is still using one of the oldest tricks in the racist book – imply any evidence of racism is an individual aberration and not a systemic problem.  This subterfuge has been used by generations of racists arguing for inaction in the face of blatant and pervasive systemic racism.  What Hensarling says in defense of automobile dealers echoes a long litany of reprehensible and racist rhetoric.

In the 1850s, they said of slave owners, “Where you have a specific slave owner engaged in reprehensible, illegal, unlawful conduct, that needs to be brought to the attention of the proper authorities.  But don’t just willy-nilly make the accusation against an entire class of gentleman farmers.”  Subtext: Most slave owners are wonderful Americans.”

In the 1890s, they said of the KKK, “Where you have a specific KKK member engaged in reprehensible, illegal, unlawful conduct, that needs to be brought to the attention of the proper authorities.  But don’t just willy-nilly make the accusation against an entire organization.”  Subtext: Belonging to the KKK is perfectly fine.

In the 1920s, they said of lynching, “Where you have a specific lynch mob leader engaged in reprehensible, illegal, unlawful conduct, that needs to be brought to the attention of the proper authorities.  But don’t just willy-nilly make the accusation against an entire community.”  Subtext: Ignoring, attending and applauding a lynching is defensible.

In the 1950s, they said of Jim Crow “Where you have a specific white person engaged in reprehensible, racist, illegal, unlawful conduct, that needs to be brought to the attention of the proper authorities.  But don’t just willy-nilly make the accusation against an entire society.”  Subtext: We have no intention of addressing systemic racism even when we know it is problematic, serious and proven.

Oddly, as an alleged champion of individual responsibility, Mr. Hensarling doesn’t call for charges against the eight individual auto dealerships exposed by the study as behaving in reprehensible, racist, illegal, unlawful conduct in their selling of cars.  Of course, in this, Mr. Hensarling is in good company.  Not only are racist politicians like himself unwilling to address systemic racism, they aren’t even interested in eliminating the “rare” instances of reprehensible, racist, illegal, unlawful conduct they acknowledge.

One piece of evidence is clear.  Mr. Hensarling and his Republican allies are working to sustain the systemic privileges of white power and entitlement, protecting the right of white people to purchase cars at a $2,500 discount.

In 2018, that truly is outrageous.