When they’re white, Good Liberals don’t like hearing that their anti-racism is disingenuous. They’re offended at the idea that they aren’t serious, and their anti-racism is mostly about feeling good and impressing other white people. This message from Black Lives Matter Seattle wasn’t well-received:
Bernie’s arrival in Seattle is largely significant in the context of the state of emergency Black lives are in locally as well as across America. The Seattle Police Department has been under federal consent decree for the last three years and has been continually plagued by use-of-force violations and racist scandals amongst their rank and file. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has refused to push any reform measures for police accountability, not even the numerous recommendations of his self-appointed Community Police Commission. The Seattle School District suspends Black students at a rate six times higher than their white counterparts, feeding Black children into the school-to-prison pipeline. King County has fought hard to push through a plan to build a $210 million new youth jail to imprison these children, amid intense community criticism and dissent. The Central District, a historically Black neighborhood in Seattle, has undergone rapid gentrification over the past few decades, with Black people being displaced from the only neighborhood that we could legally live in until just years ago. While white men profit off of the legalization of marijuana, our prisons are still filled with Black people who are over-incarcerated for drug offenses.
This city is filled with white progressives, which is why Bernie Sanders’ camp was obviously expecting a friendly and consenting audience for today’s campaign visit. The problem with Sanders’, and with white Seattle progressives in general, is that they are utterly and totally useless (when not outright harmful) in terms of the fight for Black lives. While we are drowning in their liberal rhetoric, we have yet to see them support Black grassroots movements or take on any measure of risk and responsibility for ending the tyranny of white supremacy in our country and in our city. This willful passivity while claiming solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement in an effort to be relevant is over. White progressive Seattle and Bernie Sanders cannot call themselves liberals while they participate in the racist system that claims Black lives. Bernie Sanders will not continue to call himself a man of the people, while ignoring the plight of Black people. Presidential candidates will not win Black votes without putting out an explicit criminal justice reform package. As was said at the Netroots action, presidential candidates should expect to be shut down and confronted every step along the way of this presidential campaign. Black people are in a state of emergency. Lines have been drawn in the sand. You are either fighting continuously and measurably to protect Black life in America, or you are a part of the white supremacist system that we will tear down in the liberation of our people.
So uppity! The grievances listed in the #BLM post are structural, the type of thing a “progressive” isn’t going to feel responsible for. They’re against all those things, too! Out loud, even. That’s why they need everyone’s votes, they’d say. The emphasis is on their lack of individual racism. Others have complained about this:
This emotional disconnect is the conclusion of living a life oblivious to the fact that their skin colour is norm and all others deviate from it. At best, white people have been taught not to mention that people of colour are ‘different’ in case it offends us. They truly believe that the experiences of their life as a result of their skin colour can and should be universalised. I just can’t engage with the bewilderment and the defensiveness as they try to grapple with the fact that not everyone experiences the world in the way that they do. They’ve never had to think about what it means, in power terms, to be white- so any time they’re vaguely reminded of this fact; they interpret it as an affront. The journey towards understanding structural racism still requires people of colour to prioritise white feelings. Their eyes glaze over in boredom or widen in indignation. Their mouths start twitching as they get defensive. Their throats open up as they try to interrupt, itching to talk over you but not really listen, because they need to let you know that you’ve got it wrong.
That’s certainly been my experience around the internet.
Because white and black people are socially segregated, white people’s anti-racism is usually evaluated by other white people. The conflict of interest is obvious. On Daily Kos, I came across an example of blatant racism receiving props for the supposed personal growth on display. Confessions of a former racist, describing his early years:
At least I hope I’m a former racist. I know that as a young boy in grade school and later in high school, I was assured by my father that the European civilization, of which the United States was a part, had achieved the highest level of all the cultures of the world. It was not difficult to prove in those days (I was born in 1923 and graduated from high school in 1940) because at the time, in spite of the depression, America and Europe appeared to be more advanced in technical matters than China, Africa, and most of South America. We celebrated the wheat that we ate, which, my father believed, made us smarter than the people who ate rice or other grains.
We spoke better English, too, at least in Kent County, Michigan. I read somewhere that Negroes spoke with a drawl because their tongues were thicker than our “white” tongues. Of course, I knew that white southerners also spoke with a drawl. I attributed that fact to their having been raised and taught to speak by Negro nannies, who implanted their own speech defects on the white children.
In fact, in my second year at college (Michigan State) I met and befriended a very tall, slender black-skinned boy from Haiti. His father or uncle was the Agriculture Minister of Haiti and the boy, Bertony Vieau, (I’m not sure of the spelling) was an Ag major. At one time he and I had a discussion about the structure of the mouths of Negroes. I insisted that they all had thick tongues that made them speak with a drawl. I was so sure of accuracy of what I’d read that I didn’t notice that I was speaking with a young black man whose native language was French and who spoke English with a French accent. Later I realized that Bert must have thought I was the stupidest person alive!
The very first sentence announces that he’s looking for validation. This person is very old (more on that below), and he’s using these examples to show how far we’ve come, that we see the error of old-fashioned racist ideas. Black people are disputing that these ideas are old fashioned. There’s a Tumblr called Shit white people say to black & brown folks in PDX. This is from the first page:
My coworkers were talking about a gay couple who would like to have a surrogate and egg donor so they can have a child. One of the men in the couple spoke lightly around how he would prefer his child to have a certain appearance, and have blue eyes. He has made many of these kinds of statements before, but quickly follows up about how he just wants a child either way.
The other coworker, a former model, with a blond and blue eyed complexion, has offered her eggs and states that of course if they find a surrogate they would want to use her eggs, everyone wants a blond and blue eyed child because that is the superior look, no one likes anyone brown eyed or tan. She actually said superior, and said so without a second thought.
I was sitting there, of latin american heritage and saw the gay male coworker look over to me, as if almost to quickly do damage control over the extremely ignorant comment the girl had just made. She stated these things as they were just facts. Without emotion, I left the room. I don’t know how to bring any of this up to my management because everyone here is white, and no one understands how extremely ignorant and racist they are.
Notice the social dynamics. The white people “innocently” bullied two members of marginalized groups into silence. They understood immediately that speaking up would threaten their job security. I feel bad for this woman’s family:
I’m a black woman married to a hispanic man and we have a mixed daughter. A white co-worker sees her picture on my desk and says my daughter has hair similar to her daughters hair who is also bi-racial. She said “I’m glad my daughter took after me with her hair being more on the white side instead the black side” ( while making a snarled up face as she said “black side”) she said this as normal conversation, no guilt at all. I can’t believe these racist people.
The woman must feel like she can’t be racist if she has a mixed daughter, even though she’s raising the daughter to hate herself. The “former racist” on Daily Kos continues:
Even though I would advocate equal treatment of blacks and whites I still had a certain prejudice. Someone once asked me if I would marry a Negro woman. I responded that I would not because they looked ugly to me. It was not until I saw some beautiful Negro girls that I realized that they were not “ugly.” At least some of them were beautiful. Of course my idea of beauty at the time was the European woman, with thin lips, an oval face, and a rather pointed nose. Even with a black skin such a woman would have a beautiful face.
Most American Negroes are descended from slaves who were purchased or kidnapped from Western Africa. People from that area tend to have the thick lips and the flattened noses that are characteristics of many American Negroes. On one of our trips, my wife and I were eating in a restaurant in Washington, DC. Two girls waited on us. Their skin was coal black and they had features like Europeans (thin lips, etc.). We talked with them. I noticed that English was not their native language. It was Amharic. They had recently come from Ethiopia.
I think the first time I realized that Negro girls could be attractive was when I was watching a show, probably on television. In the show three of the performers were young black girls. They looked cute to me if not actually beautiful. Their motions and their song were rather sassy, like those of teen-age white girls. I can’t remember anything else about the show and I don’t remember how old I was when I saw it.
For what it’s worth, that’s my confession. I’d like to claim that I remember some traumatic experience that dispelled all of my mistaken racial attitudes. As I think about my life I remember certain things that happened, something that I said, something that someone said to me. There are no specific things that happened that caused me to have a drastic change of mind. I don’t know how I got over being a racist. I just grew out of it.
He wants to fuck “young black girls” and exotic women with European features, so black people must be alright. “There are no specific things that happened that caused [him] to have a drastic change of mind,” because he wasn’t challenged on his racism and he hasn’t gotten over it. The sexual desires he’s expressing used to be easier to gratify, when you could have yourself a “fancy maid” quadroon with European features to rape when the wife wasn’t around. He’s not a racist, because he’s a creepy old man. Makes sense.
It’s not only that his own racism has been stable over time, it’s that his racism is still the same racism our ancestors dealt with. Because of 23andMe, I know that my Y chromosome is from Europe despite having a black father, so my own existence results from a white guy having similar sexual tastes. If you wouldn’t dress up as a plantation owner for Halloween (hopefully), why would you talk like one?
The first commenter tries to put it delicately:
I wouldn’t spend as much time on ‘attractiveness.’ I think there are many more important things than that. Thank you for your honesty. Ridding ourselves of racism is a life-long effort, and if you look hard enough you will undoubtedly find the next lesson.
The second commenter liked the line “Later I realized that Bert must have thought I was the stupidest person alive!” I’m sure Bert felt a lot of things all at once, none of them pleasant.
haha! Well, you go on to say that you were still at college when you began to think about race differently. Perhaps it was meeting Bert that begun it.
Thanks for the post. I’m not too bothered by the seeming fixation on attractive girls. You’re ninety-fricking-something!
I’d love to know more about your days at the Naval Research Laboratory.
All is forgiven. Bert was just a prop in the guy’s quest for self-actualization, creepiness is charming in old men, and can we change the topic to how great the Navy is? Can we make America great again? I emphasize that Daily Kos is a site for Democrats, not Republicans. It’s the kind of place you’d find Bernie Sanders supporters.