February 18, 2016

Dear White People: Exactly What Are We So Afraid Of?

white people

Dear White People: I’m one of you, and I just don’t understand you some times. I understand you less and less lately.  When I heard of outcry over Beyoncé’s halftime performance, I was confused.  Did I  miss a titillating wardrobe malfunction due to some broadcast delay?  Had I been so preoccupied by Queen Bey’s big blond (AKA White) hair I missed something uber-Black going on behind her?

Indeed I had. I’d missed the thing most threatening and offensive to us Whites, apparently: strong Black women dressed like Black Panthers standing in an “X” (as in Malcolm) with their fists in the air.  And despite having worked in Oakland and met Panthers myself, I just thought I was witnessing a masterful performance by strong Black women, with maybe a nod to Ms. Janet ’s Rhythm Nation.

Dear White People: really? We’re this selfish and blind?  We find this offensive when we’ve been killing Black boys in the streets for little-to-no reason, letting their murderers go free and poisoning an entire city’s water supply (and that’s just what we’ve done for Black folks lately)?  How can we possibly compare the Panthers to the Klan?  Do none of us read?  The Panthers have nothing like the track record of violence, rape, torture and murder that we do against Black people, Klan or otherwise.  The Panthers rose up to protect their community from police brutality, feed kids breakfast and provide healthcare.  They rose up because we weren’t protecting, feeding or caring for them as we do ourselves.  And we’re doing an arguably worse job today.

Also, White People: really? We’re this hypocritical? We find Beyoncé’s performance bigoted when we’ve covered ourselves in Confederate flags on stage, on trucks, on homes, and on government buildings?  We think that’s OK because it’s an expression of regional or historical pride?  Oh please.  Are we not listening to African Americans at all? Or do we just not care what they say?

Dear White People: we must be some world class a-holes to think Black people are imagining things or “using” situations for “political” reasons. What does that even mean? Of course they’re politically motivated – just like us.  They want to be treated with dignity, fairness, and respect through public policy – just like us.  They want college, jobs, promotions, housing and safe streets – just like us.  So why do we dismiss, minimize and outright ignore Black folks when they tell us things aren’t right or fair?  We must think they’re all (a) delusional, (b) liars, or (c) lazy and incapable of providing for themselves (like we do), which is why they’re resorting to complaints and manipulation. Really?  Have none of us met a Black person before?  Oh my White brothers and sisters, our bigotry is showing and we’re proving the need for Superbowl Panthers and #BlackLivesMatter.

My fellow White People: we must also be some world class weaklings to be unable to tolerate strong Black women inspiring and uplifting their community – through dance on a football field.  My ancestors tolerated long dangerous journeys, famine, locusts, frozen crops, too many babies, sweatshops and a Civil War concentration camp.  They would laugh in our wimpy faces.

Dear White People: exactly what are we so afraid of? Our hypersensitivity, blindness, deafness, and a-holeness betray our nervous fear. Is it that we can no longer avoid “the race issue” and it shows up even during our beloved SuperBowl?  Is it that it’s coming from Beyoncé – an undeniably talented female who’s rich, mainstream and a Presidential Inauguration performer – not some gangsta rapper we can easily dismiss?  Is it that looking at, much less talking about, Whiteness or race exposes our delicate sense of guilt or shame?

Or are we afraid of retribution? We often think other people are like us: trustworthy people often think others are trustworthy; liars and cheaters think everyone lies and cheats.  Do we fear, deep down, that once people of African descent gain more than a modicum of power, they will do unto us as we did unto them for centuries?  Oh my White brothers and sisters, our bigotry is showing through our troubled conscience.

Dear White People: centuries of racism and White privilege have made us entitled and fragile. Really.  Our biggest fear is saying the wrong thing, or seeing hints of Black pride during a football game.   Black folks’ biggest fear is the annihilation of their community, which is happening now.   We fear what might be. They fear what is — and has been for hundreds of years.   And yet we are the ones who are hypersensitive and fragile.

My White People:  It’s time to grow up and grow a pair.  Our people’s past is not our individual, personal faults.  But our present attitude, inaction, willful ignorance and fragility are our fault – and our responsibility. Don’t we value responsibility and integrity?  Then hypocrisy, blaming and willfully ignoring the evidence in front of us don’t belong.  Don’t we love freedom and strength?  Well, we are neither free nor capable of leadership as long as we’re this afraid.  Of Beyoncé.

Dear White People: It’s time to face our fears and heal our White fragility.  It’s time for us to put a stop to racism.  It’s time for us to shut up more  – to listen, learn, and follow.  I’ve been a White ally for decades, but I still have a lot to learn about racism and my own history.  I for one am going to #getinformation.

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