What’s so embarrassing for me (an old white man) about watching an old white presidential candidate say—almost indignantly—“Well… all lives matter,” is that I remember very well acting that naive myself. And I wasn’t old. At age 20, I was dating a black woman, and I tried to establish my bona fides with her father by telling him that I too had experienced prejudice. Because I had long hair.
Forty-plus years later, that scene is a laughably pathetic fable. And yet—after a curt “You chose that,” this man let me sleep under his roof and continue to date his daughter. Even blacks I’ve insulted are willing to extend white privilege to me. How did I earn that?
Put more positively: How can I earn that?
It’s easy—but also pathetic—to argue that my racism was innocent and unintentional because I grew up in lily-white Maine. It was as pernicious as overt in-your-face prejudice. Why? Because it’s emblematic of the institutional disadvantages that condemn some smart and talented people to underachievement—by a simple denial of opportunity.
Because not everyone is a go-getter, some people get left behind. That naive young man of 40+ years ago also needed an explanation of busing. The theory in a nutshell: familiarity breeds indifference. There were (and still are) plenty of places in this country where public indifference would be a welcome relief.
Of course it’s more than just that. So many white advantages are not only institutional… they don’t even register to the people who enjoy them. Ice Cube described learning that sad fact in a Rolling Stone article about the group NWA. Busing took him daily to a white-area school where: “You could just see everything’s better, from books to classrooms to facilities to teachers.”
In a scene that still blows me away, Warren Beatty’s Bulworth asks Halle Berry’s young revolutionary, “Why do you think there are no more black leaders?”
She tells him, “Some people think it’s because they all got killed.” But then she goes on with a detailed explanation of the cultural and economic ways that blacks are kept down.
Later in the movie, Don Cheadle gives Beatty a further lecture on the educational and employment opportunities that are denied to young blacks.
So let’s get back to the real question that Black Lives Matter is addressing: why does the day’s news so often argue that black lives do not matter? And what will it take to change that daily-mounting casualty rate, when even Progressives fail to recognize the institutional racism that exists under their noses?
Bernie Sanders yielded his microphone to BLM people who walked up onstage and gave him little choice. That got the attention of a lot of people, much of it unfavorable. But Sanders has changed his approach. He hired blacks for important positions in his campaign and now includes rhetoric about racial inequality in his pitch.
So the confrontational tactics of Black Lives Matter actually worked. I didn’t like that scene the first time I viewed it. But meaningful change is almost guaranteed to feel uncomfortable.
I now think that it should. Consider what horrific events, and sustained effort, were needed to trigger the ongoing-but-still-not-certain downfall of the Confederate flag. I like the BLM confrontational discomfort WAY better. Social change always comes too slowly, as traditions are dragged kicking and screaming into the future. So you must push.
I am still red-faced when I recall my attempt at “I’m-like-you” forty-odd years ago, and that’s a good thing. Because I’m still white and I still enjoy ordinary privileges that I take for granted. I’m for racial progress, but that’s not enough. I should be standing up for others with money, with words, and with actions.
I do some of that.
You have to keep pushing for change long after you believe that it should have happened by now. Hilary Clinton understands this, and it shows in her awkward-but-sane response to a BLM confrontation. Believe that people can be persuaded to do the right thing. Then pass and enforce laws.
To put in Reaganesque terms: “Trust, but verify.”
Integration is logical even from a strictly capitalist standpoint! For any group in this country, be it racial or gender-based: if they are better educated, they will get better jobs that pay more, and they’ll spread that money around the community. (Not to mention pay more taxes.) They’ll contribute more to society.
Of course, they’ll become part of society too, and that’s where the old white men start to get worried. It’s okay. In our democracy, even shitheads get representation. Trump is doing an excellent job of painting the GOP into a corner with Latinos, and even more recently, with Asians.
He’s now gone to the trouble of preparing a position paper on immigration. But it’s really his usual load of jingoism, and at this point in the campaign, so successful that others are trying to imitate it. With very little success.
The white-men-as-victims movement reached even the 2015 Hugo awards—Science Fiction’s fan-based set of honors. An alliance of conservative SF writers seized upon the partly true complaint that a small circle of activists decided the award nominations. They used it to stack the nominations themselves by organizing a ballot-tipping majority.
So far so good, and nothing illegal. But the stacking became associated with the view that too many non-whites and non-men were getting nominations, and thus awards. Forget talent. SF luminaries as big as Game of Thrones source author George R.R. Martin complained that the awards had been ruined.
But diversity fought back, by cheating everyone. Most of the Hugos this year went to the writer named “No Award.” Is that good? I find it scary that I think so, because the reasoning reminds me of the capsule argument for Vietnam: “We had to destroy it to save it.”
That silly young man 40+ years ago would ask his black girlfriend what blacks thought about this or about that. I don’t know how she put up with it. Let’s imagine for a moment someone asking me why white people think something, or do something.
What? I’m just me, and so is everyone else. And yet, the assumption that any minority is a homogenous block survives. We continue to use language, for example the loaded word “illegals,” that comes straight out of a wartime propaganda playbook. And yet–we are are a country of immigrants!
I’m disappointed that Trump’s moniker “The Republican Id” seems to have passed from use. Maybe it needs to become “The American Id.” His supporters are neither all, nor only, Republicans. But he accurately represents a scary percentage of voters in this country.
Let’s not end on a nasty note. A dream candidacy came into focus last week, and I want to share with you Larry Wilmore’s approach to it. Take it away, Deez Nuts!
Political Survivor #16.
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