The Dangling Conversation

Nicholas Kristof characterized it as “white delusion” in his New York Times column.  He spoke of the view of white America about black America.

This complacency among us white Americans has been a historical constant. Even in the last decade, almost two-thirds of white Americans have said that blacks are treated fairly by the police, and four out of five whites have said that black children have the same chance as white kids of getting a good education. In short, the history of white Americans’ attitudes toward race has always been one of self-deception.

The balance of his column fails to support his thesis (saved you a click), essentially coming down to his preference for his delusion over other people’s delusion. But since Hillary Clinton says we need to have a conversation, alternatively called discussion, dialogue, pick whatever trendy word suits your fancy, in lieu of identifying specific problems and addressing them, it struck me as a good time to talk.

At ATL Redline, Elie Mystal went on a rant about the fact that a presidential candidate polled zero (as in zilch, zip, nada, none) support among black voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania. And the mainstream media (read, the white media) couldn’t be bothered to make note of it.

Is anybody going to care about that?

Part of the privilege of being white in America is that you can bounce through your life without giving a rat’s ass about how your actions affect anybody else. You have the luxury to vote for an avowed bigot because you think he will protect gun rights. You have the privilege of disliking “political correctness” because the politically incorrect statements are never directed at you. You can be selfish because your human rights don’t rest on the whims of your former oppressors.

It must be nice. It must be nice to care only about what a candidate will do for you, and not have to worry about what he’ll do to you.

He’s right that this is news, this is a story, this is something that matters. President of the United States is president of all the people, not just the ones who are melanin-challenged. That he has failed to garner any support in certain communities certainly says that he has failed to engage with the concerns of those communities. Or to be blunt, he’s not their president. No matter whether you otherwise like him, this is a terrible and unacceptable thing.

And if we’re to have a “serious” conversation, or even just give the slightest bit of concern for our fellow Americans who don’t share our skin color, then this support gap is and should be a matter of concern.

But that said, Elie chose the path of attack for this failure rather than argue for why this zero support does, and should, matter.  Trump was wrong. The media was wrong. White America was wrong. So, Elie and I had a conversation.* It was on the twitters, so bear in mind that it was limited by the format. Yet, Elie raised some very interesting points.

I began with a pretty obvious truism, for which Cristian Farias immediately called me out.

The majority wins the election, no matter how the minority feels about it.

But Elie got it, and replied, “I’m asking why the white majority is comfortable completely ignoring the African-American community.” Hyperbole aside, the answer is no different for any community, that we vote self-interest and concern ourselves with things that directly touch our lives. If the minority wants the majority to be concerned with its issues, is it more effective to tell the majority how bad they are? So I asked:

Are they building consensus or driving too many people away? The minority needs consensus more than majority.

While recognizing this dilemma, Elie felt I failed to appreciate it. This is where Elie tried his best to explain to me what I didn’t get.

We sure is sorry bout botherin whites with our concerns. We tries our best to make it so you folks want to hep us.


I reject the premise that winning over white people is the job of the African-American community.


Winning over whites is, perhaps, the job *I’ve* signed up for. But black ppl are not here to beg for their respect

There are some very real issues embodied in these twits. I can well appreciate Elie’s principled stand, that the evil of racism should not require the victim to appease the perpetrator. My problem is that standing on principle, while there are people dying in the streets, isn’t effective. I distinguish the impact of black guys getting beaten or killed by cops from having their sensibilities offended by historical artifacts or microaggressions. In my view, stopping the killing is the first order of business. We can argue about the significance of calling America the “land of opportunity” later.

But Elie’s characterization struck me as missing the mark. Is the problem that white America wants black America to “beg”? Some, sure, but not most. There are the SJWs, who self-flagellate on Instagram, but don’t give up their seats at Oberlin to a marginalized person at daddy’s expense. There is a huge gap between asking the minority to “beg” for recognition of their concerns by the majority, and making demands to reinvent the world to put minority interests above the majority. Yet, this is how Elie saw it.

I also don’t know what he means by “respect,” a broad and vague word that covers an awful lot. Granted, it was on the twitters, which is a particularly poor format for anything more thoughtful, but there’s a huge difference between fighting to end police killings of young black men and demanding that critical race theory be a required college course.

Even though we had a conversation, truncated though it may have been, Elie and I didn’t solve the nation’s race problem. I learned from him. But if the solution is that white America put aside its concerns and instead put the concerns, all of them, of black America first, it’s not going to happen. We’re all people, and as such, we all have our own troubles and concerns. Nobody wants their troubles ignored. We all have that in common, which brings us back to the initial, obvious truism.

*Since Elie and I are friends, I presumed to be able to have this conversation with him without any hard feelings or negative consequences. After all, if two old friends can’t talk, who can? In other circumstances, I, because I enjoy white privilege (or, as I prefer to characterize it, don’t suffer black detriment), don’t get a say in the matter. The definition of that conversation is African Americans talk at a white guy, who sits there and listens, never uttering a word through his privileged mouth. Not much of a dialogue, but them’s the rules.

17 thoughts on “The Dangling Conversation

    1. SHG Post author

      Elie looks cool without a dashiki too.


      Yeah, you probably thought I was going to use that pic of Elie naked, but I’m saving that one.

      1. Jim Tyre

        Best not save it for too long. There is that revenge porn bill in your other post today, who knows if it will become law.

  1. Richard G. Kopf


    I’m a white guy.

    The conversation, debate, discussion or however you describe it in your post mystifies me. I honestly don’t understand the complaint about the complacency of ordinary white people. I would like to know what a non-complacent but ordinary white guy should think or do.

    I trust it comes as no surprise that most people regardless of their race or ethnicity live their lives mostly concerned about themselves and the travails they suffer. They give little attention to the travails of other people ’cause they are mostly focused on themselves. To the extent they think about others, that thought is limited mostly to their tribe. This narrow focus seems perfectly understandable to me. Self-interest is a basic artifact of human behavior and evolution.

    What am I missing?

    All the best.


    1. SHG Post author

      Beats me, Judge. And for a white guy, I probably care more than most, yet I obviously don’t see it.

  2. Angie NK

    When many people talk about white privilege they often ignore that a good number of their complaints don’t work on half the white population.
    “You have the privilege of disliking “political correctness” because the politically incorrect statements are never directed at you. You can be selfish because your human rights don’t rest on the whims of your former oppressors.”
    Many politically incorrect statements are directed at white women and white women’s human rights did once rest on the whims of our oppressors.

    Yes, we should care about how candidates are polling among black, white, and hispanic voters. Black people may only make up about 13% of the population (probably less than 13% of voters), but that’s not insignificant. In an election like this one, that small chunk could easily sway the vote. But polls this far away from the actual election mean nothing. So, ultimately, we shouldn’t care about recent poll numbers at all.

  3. Nick L. EMT-P

    “Part of the privilege of being white in America is that you can bounce through your life without giving a rat’s ass about how your actions affect anybody else…”

    “…because the politically incorrect statements are never directed at you.”

    Some have said this is why we’re dealing with Trump.

    Anyways, I’ve got Sowell’s “Black Rednecks and White Liberals” and Jason Riley’s “Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make it Harder for Blacks to Succeed” up next on my reading list. I don’t know much about Riley and have been watching some old school Sowell on YouTube lately. I’ll bookmark Elie’s site and take a look.

    Thank you.

    P.S. 3And like a midget at a urinal, I’m sure all this will keep me on my toes.

    1. SHG Post author

      This is happening around us rather quickly. I don’t know how informative last week’s books will be.

  4. Erik H.

    For me and most folks, the generic term “respect,” as applied to whole populations of strangers, is a negative right; if I respect someone it means I’ll refrain from treating them poorly. Notably, this is easy to make universal: we can easily disagree and respect each other at the same time. Respect is my default for anyone I don’t know–and I demand it from others as well. I respect you although I haven’t met you.

    For other folks, in particular people discussing minority race issues, “respect” is a positive right. For them, asking for “respect” creates specific obligations which you must perform–often you must agree with them, or at least refrain from disagreement. There’s a level of deference and consideration implied; it’s more like how I treat my grandmother. I don’t give this out often, and I don’t demand it from anyone. Notably this doesn’t really work in a universal sense, since it’s not possible for everyone to be deferential to everyone else.

    1. SHG Post author

      An interesting approach. But be careful. I’m fairly confident you haven’t been elected to speak for “most folks.” Speaking for yourself is enough, and usually not necessary to announce since who else would you speak for? Well, except for “most folks.”

    2. Patrick Maupin

      The dictionary:

      respect, n. — a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

      Erik H.:

      Respect is my default for anyone I don’t know–and I demand it from others as well.

      Patrick Maupin:

      Fuck you, you blithering idiot.

      Oh, by the way, how’s that demand working out for you?

  5. Bruce Coulson

    A collision between principles (Elie) vs. pragmatism (SHG). And since both are right, there really isn’t an answer. No, minorities shouldn’t have to worry about how someone in the majority (a police officer, a politician, a bureaucrat) might react to them on the basis of their being a minority. (Principle) But the reality is that not worrying about this can land you in a lot of trouble. (Pragmatism)

    The battle for equality has been a long, bitter, and often bloody struggle, and it’s never going to be won completely; no ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment. All people of good will can do is fight the battles of their generation, and hope to leave the world slightly better for the next.

    1. SHG Post author

      Principle isn’t quite that simple. That you don’t realize that by now means I’ve failed you. I’m sorry.

  6. John Barleycorn

    Damn! And here I was almost certain it was going take the voice of a black man to be able to finally finish stitching the witty whip, that is sooner or later destined to shame  David Brooks back into suburban humility and banish him into early retirement or an NPR weekend edition slot FOREVER.

    Oh well!

    I am bummed that Elie missed his Zero Day opportunity to help out all white people who think they think like white should think about black people here, while at the same time solidifying his credibility amongst members of the black community who talk to pollsters but never the Census Bureau.

    But don’t you worry Elie I still have faith in you.
    In the meantime, I guess I am going to have to put the finishing touches on my Brooks porn script. It is set in a suburban-mall eyeglass emporium. It’s gonna be juicy and the dream sequences are going get the nation all hot and bothered.

    I got the the optometrist, Shanaynay, already signed. Just waiting to find me the perfect white fapper boy to play Brooks’ part at the next pay to play circle jerk conventional in Peoria.

    P.S. Do you and Elie exclusively use that newspaper you and he read everyday to make the fort at your sleep over parties or do you use back issues of Jet and old William Buckley posters too?

    1. SHG Post author

      I feel a little bad about using Elie as my “black friend” example. It’s a sucky position to be in, as if he’s the spokesmodel for a race. But then again, not bad enough not to write this post. Then again, I would be friends with Elie even if he was white.

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