Why Won’t We Care (When We Want You To)?

Stephon Clark was killed in his backyard. His crime was holding a cellphone while being black. The cops made up some story about a crow bar, but there was video and it was a lie. Elie Mystal was rightly enraged, and wrongly lashed out.

If I tell you that Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old African-American male, was shot to death in his own backyard by the police, white people will immediately start making their peace with his execution. They’ll immediate start trying to justify the killing. Even “good” white people who know that I’m about to tell you another story of unvarnished police brutality will start imagining what combination of actions the VICTIM took that “caused” the cops to shoot him dead in his own yard.

Is that really what the “good” white people will start imagining? Well before Elie was hot on being hot, there were “good” white people trying to stop cops from killing unarmed, innocent people. We were trying to prevent the cops from killing anyone who didn’t need to die from being killed. Black, white, brown, green, they all deserved to survive. 

Back then, Elie was busy making jokes about Biglaw bonus seasons while we were fighting to save lives. And black lives in particular, since there was an inordinate perception on the part of cops to see black men as more violent, more criminalish, more of a threat, and therefore to shoot too soon. Us “good” white people were trying to change that. Hey, Elie, how did Harvard Law School do in the U.S. News ranking this year?

I have no doubt that Elie was deeply affected by these killings and was outraged. I have no doubt that Elie was getting all snarky writing about nonsense because that’s what he was paid to do, having won the ATL Idol contest after deciding that Biglaw wasn’t for him and his double Harvard education shouldn’t force him to put his law degree to good use.

But to come back and claim that he, but not “good” white people, gives a damn about cops killing black guys is a lie. Even more than that, however, is that while some of us “good” white guys were on top of this well before he found his inner black outrage, I tried hard to stop him from going off on collateral issues, petty issues, while cops were still gunning down innocent people, innocent black guys. Elie told me I was wrong.

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.

And

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

And

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

For that brief and shining moment, America, black, white and otherwise, saw people being killed and was outraged by it. Tamir Rice. Eric Garner. Philando Castile, Sandra Bland. Laquan McDonald. The list goes on, and continues going on, even though nobody notices anymore. Is it because “good” white people are still such racists that they can’t see what Elie sees?

But in the court of white public opinion, the burden is always on the victim, the unarmed young black person, to PROVE to white people that he didn’t deserve to die… an effort made all the more challenging BECAUSE HE’S DEAD. White reporters do not view their jobs as advocating for the victims of the police, so most of them will dutifully parrot the arguments and lies of the police. And so it’ll fall to some few non-white reporters and columnists to do the work of convincing white people that another unarmed black person didn’t deserve to be executed by the state without due process of laws.

There are always some people who will presume the cops were in the right, and there will always be some people, white people, who will presume the dead black guy had it coming, did something to deserve it. There are plenty of stupid, malevolent white guys. There are plenty of stupid, malevolent black guys too, though it’s unwoke to say so.

But we had a real chance to do something about cops killing innocent black people, and rather than go off on tangents like Halloween costumes at Yale? But why focus on things like people getting murdered when you can spew outrage over microaggressions? Why build consensus when you can curse white people for not being black enough?

Anyone who is serious about dealing with a problem, especially one as horrible as the needless death of human beings, does what he can to persuade others to join the cause, to see the problem, to help end the the tragedy. They don’t turn it into a contest about whose job it is to convince others to agree with them.

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

But you’re happy to try to shame white people for their failure to do so, as if that’s the way you’re going to get people to see the world through your eyes? No, it’s not the job of blacks to “win over” whites, but you do everything you can to drive them away, and then curse them for not being there for you.

I don’t think this problem is intractable. There are LOTS of things we could do to let cops know that the killing of unarmed civilians was no longer acceptable in this country.

But… I’m black, so my opinions really don’t matter in this country. The white majority has decided that a certain amount of state-sponsored terrorism against the black community is okay, and this is the way things are going to be until the white majority changes its mind. Hell, the white majority doesn’t even always rate this as an issue.

There were LOTS of things we were doing before you decided to be the Angry Black Man at a website that went from sexy judges and bench slaps to insipid social justice whining, but you had nothing to say about it then. Now, you want to complain about the white majority not giving a damn, after you told them to go fuck themselves if they didn’t make you the center of their universe?

Too much time and effort has been put into saving lives from the police. All lives, but especially black lives, matter. Even to some of us “good” white people. I know this because I was dealing with this when you were still snarking your butt off to be the next ATL Hottie Master.

If you’re seriously outraged that white people don’t care enough about black problems, and not just writing Angry Black Man stories to sell advertising, then focus on the big problems, and stop driving away the people who were on this before you woke up.

14 comments on “Why Won’t We Care (When We Want You To)?

  1. Skink

    Usually, when someone tells me to go fuck myself, that’s exactly what I do. The conversation, whatever it might have been, is over. It’s over forever. I gotta believe it’s that way for most everyone, or at least those that continue to think. There is no point continued engagement with one who only screeches. If you want to have a discussion, one in which you are trying to convince another to see your side or accept your position, it won’t work if you begin any sentence with something like, “hey asshole. . . .” That hardly needs saying, right? Right?

    1. SHG Post author

      The question I posed to Elie long ago is whether it’s substantively more useful to use his soapbox to help the majority see the harms suffered by the minority than be angry that their world isn’t focused on his concerns. His response was that it’s not his job. Rather than shrug and walk away, I’m still here doing the same thing because it needs to be done. But having him call me an asshole for doing it isn’t helping.

      1. Skink

        And I’m glad you have the wherewithal to continue. But is he the type of audience to engage? His mind won’t change because he screeches.

        I have a big belief in tilting at windmills because someone might notice and join in. I did here. But this guy’s windmill doesn’t seem to be catching any wind.

        1. SHG Post author

          Elie’s a friend, despite his being a mean bully. Much as I haven’t persuaded him thus far, I have faith that he’ll eventually come around.

  2. PseudonymousKid

    Dear Papa,

    It’s infuriating that people keep dying like this despite anyone’s efforts thus far. That makes polemics easy. The enemy is doing this to us, of course. That’s why nothing has changed. You say you’ve been fighting the fight, but what do you have to show for it besides more bodies?

    Mystal’s rage is wasted. I don’t know what courts of white folk he’s visiting to get his impression that all of us are blaming Tamir Rice or Castile or Garner, et al. for their own murders. I’m complicit in something I didn’t do again. This time for being white. Last time, I was a rapist for being a man. Damnit. I can’t stop oppressing people. Any advice?

    Best,
    PK

    1. SHG Post author

      That’s the problem with being the oppressor. Everybody hates you for it, no matter what you did or didn’t do.

  3. Matthew S Wideman

    People like Elie often forget we live in a democracy and that other people not like you will have to be persuaded in order to achieve your political goals. It’s easy and cool to have rallies and wear cool t-shirts. But, what legislation do you propose? Strengthening the 4th Amendment protections in one’s individual state? End the drug war?

    This is the same circular conversation I had with some black lives matter advocates outiside of a sushi restaurant. I say, “I am white and I want to understand what you want to do”. Which gets a retort, “you are white you couldn’t possibly understand”. I say, “what are your positions”? They say, “To end neo white slavery and end white privilege”. I then walk away.

    1. SHG Post author

      When the minority tells the majority in a democracy (or a republic, so as to avoid the pedantry) that they don’t get to speak, they don’t get to complain afterward that we’re not doing as they demand. They can be as angry about it as they want, but that’s not going to get everybody on the same page.

  4. B. McLeod

    This angry racist thing is just Elie’s shtick. If there are multiple ways to see a problem, as perhaps a police culture problem, a legal standards problem, an equipment/training problem, or a race problem, Elie will always write the race story, in which the central focus is on whether Elie and his kids can somehow possibly feel safe under their yoke of oppression. It has made him essentially a parody, such that when an unarmed black person is killed by police, you can project what Elie’s entire post will consist of, without actually needing to read it. It fits poorly with the reality that people of many ethnicities have experienced this problem, in both red states and blue states, and with officers themselves of various ethnicities. But it isn’t about reality. It’s about Elie and his kids and how they feel (or how Elie projects that they feel – the kids may cringe whenever they see his columns).

    1. SHG Post author

      There may be a performance art aspect to the outrage (it is, after all, ATL), but that doesn’t mean Elie’s concerns aren’t sincere and legitimate. No sane black father doesn’t give his children “the talk.”

      And perhaps the rhetorical hyperbole serves to get people to take notice. But if they do, will they change their minds?

  5. John Barleycorn

    Speaking of cool tricks and integrity , is that RICO “indictment-thingy” that Elie mentioned gonna hold up, or what!?

    Because something tells me the “terrorist-thingy” ain’t got no legs or they would have certainly used that one for the first time on Blue, via Scaredy-Cat-Cop-Mohamed in Minneapolis who wacked that white woman, no?

    P.S. And just because neither you or Elie watched enough Thimble Theater in your day doesn’t mean that Brutus and Whimpy’s characters shouldn’t have been more developed.

    So the next time you start patting yourself on the back, you better have a photo of you peddling SJ Zine subscriptions at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon near you wearing a cool lapel button of Olive Oyl in Popeye’s arms.

  6. AE

    white people will immediately start making their peace with his execution. They’ll immediate start trying to justify the killing.

    I guess he never looked up to see the Balko signal burning against the clouds.

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