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.
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.
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.