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.

What do they think of me?

slaves picking cotton

According to political conservatives, racial discrimination is said to no longer be institutional and there is no longer any need for policies that provide socioeconomic protections for blacks. Further, according to political conservatives, if any racial discrimination is happening, it is being committed by a few bigoted individuals, socialized to hold bigoted notions, believe that blacks are lazy, and inferior and that it is okay to commit racism against them.

With the press concerning the reported negative racial attitudes that some whites exhibit concerning blacks, I wonder what do they think of me.  I am a black woman.

The Donald Sterling’s and Robert Copeland’s of the United States have been undoubtedly shaped by a culture that supported racism sanctioned by U.S. government, that gave them the privilege and permission to openly denigrate blacks. Whites in the age range of 70 or older are 57% of the black population. Put another way, whites 70 years or older in the United States, total 25,417,300 as compared to ALL blacks in the United States who total 44,456,009, based on U.S. Census data as of July 1, 2012.

Whites age 70 and above engaged in race relations through the phenomenon of Jim Crow.  Jim Crow continued legally and unrestricted in this country until the 1954 Brown v. Board of Ed decision. Aimed at integrating schools in the south, Brown v. Board of Ed had broader implications in overturning Jim Crow laws in the U.S. Jim Crow officially became illegal with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. Given this statistic, more than 25 million people in the United States were taught it is okay to engage in racial discrimination during the 1920s through the mid 1960’s. I am not suggesting that whites born during America’s support and sanction of racial discrimination or even those who migrated here during that time are automatic racists. If they are, however, of the same ilk as Donald Sterling and Robert Copeland, socialized during the 1920s through the mid 1960’s, when it was legally permissible in the United States to commit racial discrimination, 25+ million is certainly not a few bigoted individuals! It is certainly not legally permissible now to discriminate against blacks absent a bona fide occupational qualification as it was then, and it is not socially acceptable now as it was then to disparage blacks.

The larger implication here then is that it is very possible that racial discrimination is not committed by just a few bigoted individuals, racial discrimination is still very much institutional, and as such, blacks need to lobby for policies that protect their socioeconomic interests against racial discrimination.

So to those of you who may be reading this and are also black, does this make you wonder what they think of you?

If not death then what will inspire blacks to abandon belief in post racial ideology? The Case of Trayvon Martin

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin jury verdict that declared George Zimmerman, not guilty for taking the life of the unarmed black teen, it is my hope that blacks are rethinking whether America is post-racial, coming to the conclusion that she is not and abandoning their embrace of this false ideology. The election of Barack Obama to the U.S. Presidency in 2008 for many blacks, young and old alike signaled a break from America’s founding blemish. If a black man could make it to the White House, surely America must have transcended race; America must be post-racial.

If so, this meant blacks had no more excuses for not succeeding. No more excuses has become the black post-racial mantra the implications of which have been detrimental for blacks in general and deadly in the case of Trayvon Martin, specifically.

Post-racialism dismisses the net effect of more than 250 years of black slavery, 100 years of state sanctioned and Jim Crow racism and the persistent, insidious current day structural racism as reasons for the status of blacks. Instead, post-racialism speculates, racism has just been a pretext blacks use to explain their group’s socioeconomic status relative to whites and other minorities. After post-racialism convinces blacks to believe that racism is not the reason for their deficits, it encourages them to believe that their resulting situation is really their own fault, the result of their irresponsibility.

Confession of post-racialism is widespread among blacks, reaching fever pitch with the election of Barack Obama as President in 2008 about which Will Smith exuded:

“The history of African Americans is such that you want to be a part of America, but we’ve been rejected so much it’s hard to take the ownership and take responsibility for ourselves and this country. It was like, at that second, at that moment, all of our excuses were gone.”

In response to a January 2009 Black Enterprise article No More Excuses, an online comment by an individual named Mary Alice read:

“Praise the Lord!!!

Now we know anything is possible (we knew all along—that is why we kept pushing day after decade after century). No more excuses. It is time for all of us to up our game. Because we can. No more excuses.”

Even President Obama embraces this narrative and frequently uses it when he addresses blacks in general and black males specifically. Using it in his commencement address at Morehouse this past May, he told these black men:

“We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices. Growing up, I made a few myself. And I have to confess, sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. …We’ve got no time for excuses … nobody is going to give you anything you haven’t earned. And whatever hardships you may experience because of your race, they pale in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured….”

And if blacks believe and openly profess these patently false things about themselves then why shouldn’t and why wouldn’t the “Zimmerman’s” of America believe and profess them too?

After all, when asked about whose fault it was that Trayvon was dead, Robert Zimmerman Jr. in his post-verdict interview with Piers Morgan proffered “…I would find… that unfortunately uh he [Trayvon] had the greater hand in his own demise which was causing by his own hand his death. That’s unfortunate but that’s the reality.” When pressed further by Morgan as to whether Robert Zimmerman Jr. believed Trayvon was responsible for his own death, he responded “Absolutely, I believe that.”

It was a bullet in the heart that killed Trayvon Martin, discharged from a gun in the hand of George Zimmerman, yet, post-racialism blames Trayvon Martin for his own death. America is not post-racial and this lie is robbing blacks of their lives and their liberty. Without these, there can be no happiness. That’s the reality.

Stop and Frisk vs. Voting Rights Act: The Importance of Contextual Discourse

ArticleHeader-VotingRightsQuestion:  What do you get when you discuss a racial discrimination issue in a racial context?

Answer:  You get a policy that makes the racial discrimination illegal.

Question:  What do you get when you discuss a racial discrimination issue in a non-racial context?

Answer:  You get the invalidation of a policy that makes the racial discrimination illegal.

The above characterizes the difference between the outcomes of the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk and The Voting Rights Act.  Essentially, the difference between the two outcomes is what I call contextual discourse.  Contextual discourse is simply the way we talk about issues and the way they are framed.

The likes of Ben Jealous of the NAACP, Council Member Jumaame Williams and private citizens who were discriminatorily profiled based on race, called for an end to NYPD’s Stop and Frisk policy, highlighting its racial discriminatory and illegal nature.  In short, they addressed a racial discrimination issue in a race based context and there is a good chance that the repeal of Stop and Frisk will survive Mayor Bloomberg’s veto and blacks and Hispanics will not be subject to racial discrimination in this way.

The Voting Rights Act met with a different fate.  There is increased public sentiment that social and structural barriers are no longer impediments to opportunities and outcomes for blacks.  The norms of post-racialism lead society to believe that race no longer defines opportunities and outcomes.  Discussing the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act as an issue for all Americans, and not one specifically linked to race, perpetuates the discourse that social and structural barriers are no longer obstacles and perpetuates the post racial norm.

In short, the right to vote for blacks, a racial discrimination issue, was addressed in a non racial context.  The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key section of the Act that protected against racial discrimination.  There is a good chance that in light of this ruling, blacks and other minorities will be subject to racial discrimination in their ability to exercise their right to vote.








President Obama’s Response on Voting Rights Act Fuels Belief that Race Doesn’t Matter

ObamaThe Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in a 5-4 vote ruled that parts of the Voting Rights Act are no longer valid. Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, stated the rationale for the repeal is that the country has changed for the better. The conditions over the past 50 years that required certain states, mainly in South, to “pre-clear” no longer portray voting challenges in those regions. Moreover, Chief Justice Roberts stated the formula for pre-clearing these states and districts is not logical in relation to the much improved changes in voting rights for the minorities in these regions. The Court’s ruling is linked to the norms of post-racialism.  There is increased public sentiment that race is no longer a defining feature in opportunities and outcomes for minorities generally and blacks specifically.  Section 4, the formula utilized by the federal government to decide which states and counties are required to submit to oversight, was struck down as unconstitutional.  In essence, because there is no formula in place in Section 4, Section 5 of the Act which deals with pre-clearance cannot be enforced.

Whether we are racial minorities or not the SCOTUS’ ruling should not come as a surprise in light of increased public opinion that things have gotten better, as indicated in the Court’s ruling.  If we are racial minorities, however, we should be concerned. What interests me is President Obama’s discourse on the ruling.  By not talking about the SCOTUS’ ruling in terms of race, but as an issue for all Americans, President Obama also is perpetuating the post-racial norm that led Chief Justice Roberts to get to the point that we are post-racial to begin with.  In sentiment, the President’s response to the Court’s ruling is still advancing a post racial narrative.

When President Obama lays out the issue for Congress to create a new formula, he needs to couch the issue of voting rights discrimination in language and a sentiment that reflects the problem. Every American is not having a challenge with equal access to the right to vote it is mainly racial minorities.

President Obama’s proactivity on race based policies in the face of evident racial disparities tends to be timid. He advocates instead for policies that benefit every American. The opportunity for President Obama to take a stand on racial discrimination is presenting itself. This could be a defining moment in his legacy as the nation’s first black president to shape sweeping policy reform for racial justice. Hopefully, he will not shy away from the opportunity.



Does the “N” word ever mean anything good?

NwordSticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.  I remember this rhyme from my childhood.  I don’t know its origins, but as a black child born during the mid-1960s, I wonder if it was used to shield marginalized people from the taunts and stings of racism.  Nice as it sounds, the Book of Wisdom, Proverbs, has something very different to say about the impact of words.  Proverbs 15:4 says “A deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”

The “N” word is contemptuous, signifies black inferiority and rejection and was inflicted upon blacks.  It seems that some non blacks didn’t get the memo on this. It seems also that some blacks, nowadays have reclaimed and embraced the “N” word, dropping the ‘er’ and adding an ‘a.’  Doing this, somehow, changes its meaning from one of utmost disrespect to one of utmost regard?  “Brother” reclaimed as “Brotha” and “Sister” reclaimed as “Sistah” are still terms of endearment.  To this end, dropping the ‘er’ from the “N” word and replacing it with an ‘a’ does not change its meaning.

The “N” word, no matter who utters it, no matter the reasons one utters it, is still synonymous with contempt and disrespect!