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.