Why Martin O’Malley is missing the point

Why Martin O’Malley is missing the point

A few days ago, Democratic Presidential candidate Martin O’Malley tried to respond well to the questions of a crowd of Black Lives Matter demonstrators. The keyword here is tried, but perhaps I am still being too generous.

This is what O’Malley said:

“Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter.”

Here are three reasons why this was a disastrous move.

  • He generalized the issue of injustice.

 

O’Malley was spot on until he said that White lives matter. While it is true that White lives matter and that all lives matter, it is also beside the point.

It is obvious that White lives matter; what is more difficult to believe in our country is that Black lives matter—hence the need for a campaign to remind ourselves and everyone else that we do matter and that our suffering cannot be thrown cavalierly into the catchall bucket of social wrongs.

The point of Black Lives Matter is that Black people specifically suffer disproportionate violence at the hands of the criminal justice system and receive disproportionately lower wages as compared to Whites in similar professions. By saying that “all lives matter,” O’Malley ignored the specific suffering of Blacks.

  • He promoted a color-blind lie.

 

By saying that “all lives matter,” O’Malley exposed his allegiance to the false doctrine of color-blindness. By saying that “all lives matter,” O’Malley implied that he would ignore the issue of race if he took office. Black lives, for O’Malley, fall under the great levelling umbrella of “all lives,” where they will rest hidden from view and, therefore, make no progress.

Color-blindness is the belief that race no longer matters in our country. It is the enemy of the Black Lives Matter campaign, whose very name calls out Blackness as its central concern. Color-blindness such as O’Malley’s is subtle and insidious; it tries to take the Black out of Black Lives Matter—sucking out its blood and soul—and hide racial injustice with false inclusivity.

  • He didn’t listen.

 

When O’Malley said, “all lives matter,” he showed that he was not listening to what the demonstrators were saying. Again, their point was that Black Lives Matter specifically; and O’Malley missed it.

O’Malley was busy trying to be a candidate for all races. But in doing so, he tacitly made himself a candidate not for Black people. Democracy is supposed to be rule of the demos, the common people, but the ideal is useless if representatives do not hear what the people are saying.

A title, a microphone, and a platform make our leaders feel entitled to speak. But they ought to act less entitled to speak and more privileged to listen.

Thoughts for the Day

Let’s suppose O’Malley stopped at “Yes, Black lives matter. Yes, I will support the cause of Black people,” and didn’t say anything else. What would have happened? Would he have lost the vote of color-blind White Americans? What if he said, “Yes, I’ll work to end systemic injustice because I am a candidate for Black people.”

What would have happened?

Why White People is Making Picket Fences Peel Nationwide

You may have heard that MTV is launching a new show called White People. You also may have heard that, because of this, the entire country is inflamed about the issue of race and racism.

The trailer for White People (available on YouTube) has been slammed as “racist” and “white guilt-tripping” on major news networks, has received an overwhelming majority of thumbs-down votes on YouTube, and has garnered over 9,700 impassioned comments in just two days.

So what is this show? It is a documentary in which journalist Jose Antonio Vargas explores what it means to be White in America “with the goal of starting some real and honest conversations in a thoughtful, judgment-free environment.”

Why does this offend so many people? Two big reasons.

First reason: mainstream Americans like to believe we’re all color-blind.

“What is this ‘race’ thing? Why do we need to talk about it? Aren’t we like, so done with this obsolete 19th-Century concept? What does the color of my skin have to do with anything?

The most glaring problem with White People is that it contradicts one of mainstream America’s most cherished dogmas: the dogma of color-blindness. This is the belief that race no longer affects American lives, that people who act on racial prejudices are a sad and pitiable few, and, in an optimistic mindset, that any “racial” disadvantage can be overcome with self-confidence and doggedness of spirit.

White People sends the opposite message: race matters. This infuriates White America in the same way that a staunchly agnostic TV show might incite the indignation of fanatical theists. It asks the forbidden questions, it utters the forbidden words, and it destroys the one condition that is most fundamental to racial power: silence.

Second reason: it threatens privilege.

This right to be silent on racial issues is one aspect of White privilege that White people clutch with—excuse the pun—white knuckles. This is because silence protects privilege from the difficult conversations that force it to be vulnerable. MTV’s new show White People is intimidating precisely because it subjects those privileged people to the same terrifying vulnerability that the racially underprivileged face every day. The conversation is a great equalizer in that way.

Why am I excited for this show?

What makes this show so sickening for White America is the same thing that makes it a boon for social progress. White People promises to make White people feel “uncomfortable.” For any kind of progress, some degree of unrest is an obvious prerequisite. But what I really love about this show, at least the sense I get from the trailer, is that it promises to help White people process these feelings—not just leave them to wallow in White guilt, which would be counterproductive.

In an ideal world, people would still have privilege. But they would see it, and they would use it for the common good.

What does it really mean to be young and White in America? I’m going to tune in to MTV later this month to find out.

Color-Blindness Hurts

Color-Blindness Hurts

What exactly happened to Tahera Ahmad on that United Airlines flight?

According to news reports, a flight atteimagesK8O95V7Jndant denied Ahmad an unopened can of diet soda.  “Big deal,” you might think. “It’s probably just some obscure airline regulation about canned drinks, right?”

Unfortunately, no.  This is about race.

In Ahmad’s words, “This isn’t about me and a soda can.  It’s about systemic injustice that is perpetuated throughout our community.”

Specifically, it’s about the way that our system can overlook or even justify the most horrific prejudices.  It’s about how nobody stood up for Ahmad when another passenger told her to “f… off” because she “knew that [she] would use [the unopened can] as a weapon.”  And most importantly, it’s about the myth of color-blindness, a doctrine that is still actively being spread today.  This doctrine states that color doesn’t matter anymore, that minorities have won the battle for equal treatment, and that they no longer have any reason to think they are oppressed.

But what happened on this airline reminds us that color does matter.

And more than that, Ahmad reminds us that it’s not just non-white color that sends the system into defensive-oppressive mode.  It’s the colors of minority religions and cultures, too.  It’s about islamophobia propagated by irresponsible and unreflective media run by the privileged.  Not only do people’s visible differences still affect them.  They affect them every day—and it hurts.

Tahera Ahmad was in tears.

She wrote on her Facebook that she was “in tears of humiliation.”  She had hope that some fellow passenger would stand up and defend her, but all she received were profanities and the shaking of heads.

United Airlines is an institution like any other corporation.  Its top priority is self-preservation.  After this blunder by one of its flight attendants, the airline swiftly “redeemed” itself by terminating her employment.  While this is surely a gesture of its disapproval of religious prejudice, it still serves to sweep the issue under the rug.

The more the Civil Rights movement sinks into the background of our minds as an event in “history,” the more the doctrine of color-blindness sinks into our minds like a poison.  The ideology of color-blindness doesn’t make us immune to racism.

Ironically, color-blindness makes us blind to the real importance of color in our everyday lives.

In 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the commencement address at Oberlin College.  He said to them, “Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability, it comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work…without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation” (King, 1968).

I agree with Dr. King.  Every day that we spend waiting for justice is another day that injustice has triumphed.  What should you do?

Follow the example of Dr. King.  Lead peaceful collective protest of United.

And tell everyone you know.