Everything Isn’t About Us: A Piercing Look at White Progressive Privilege in the Dialog About Race

This is an update to the following piece Everything Isn’t About Us  that I wrote at Broadway Carl 2.0 after Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted a Sanders’ rally in Seattle, WA, and we saw the ugly racism that hovers around his campaign.  Since I wrote the original post, the media and bloggers have analyzed the phenomena of the Bernie Bro. To be fair it is important to point out that many of the Bernie Bros are libertarian and right wing trolls, but the fact remains that the majority of the Bernie Bros are liberals, members of the far left, and progressives.  Although both Sanders and his staff have denounced the behavior of what is certainly a small number of his followers, some superdelegates currently report receiving hate emails from Sanders’ fans.

Finger pointing, however, shouldn’t just be aimed at the Sanders’ campaign and his most rabid supporters. For example, the 2008 Hillary Clinton campaign’s dog whistles created a serious problem for many who have since, after much soul searching,  come reluctantly to her side (Fracture: Obama, The Clintons, and the Racial Divide by Joy-Ann Reid).  The racism, as well as misogyny, and homophobia, within the Democratic Party isn’t nearly as entrenched as it is in the Republican Party, but the bigotry exists.  Larry Womack writes in the Huffington Post:

Senator, you are forming a mob of angry, misinformed people and then turning it on the likely Democratic nominee. That, Senator, is a dangerous and destructive game. Does your campaign honestly wonder why it has become synonymous with nasty online invective? If you mention the Bernie Bros online, fifty people fitting the profile pop up with abusive comments informing you that they don’t exist. On the eve of the Nevada caucus, one of your supporters attempted to place an obituary for Secretary Clinton in the Las Vegas Sun-Journal. Don’t you think this all might have a little something to do with your “me against the corrupt establishment” bluster?


However, racism is not new in the Democratic Party. It just takes different forms.  All we have to do is go back to Democrats fleeing the party to the GOP after LBJ signed the civil rights bills into law in 1964 and 1965.

I am very uncomfortable with the labels so many Democrats place on fellow members, although I have no issue with Democrats labeling themselves as progressive, liberal or moderate. We should welcome all comers who want to join us, but we have no business laying down a purity test for others unless it is to define and purge our party of the bigots among us. The process needs to begin now.

The original, reposted from Broadway Carl 2.0

But here is the irony, here’s the thing that all the angry Black people know, and no calmly debating White people want to admit: The entire discussion of race in America centers around the protection of White feelings.
— "I Don't Discuss Racism with White People" by John Metta.

I've been working on this post for a couple of weeks now, ever since I read John Metta's piece, which I thought was spot on. As I so often do when I'm writing, I struggled with this piece and would put it aside for a day or two. I discussed my observations with friends, both black and white, because I needed their feedback. Finally, because of events that occurred this last week, my thoughts really crystalized, and I was able to finish. My words will certainly make some angry and defensive, which isn't my purpose but is always a byproduct of a piece like this. My hope is some will have an "aha moment," a moment of clarity about our role, or if we even have one, in the Black Lives Matter movement. The fact is, folks, the movement isn't about us, our feelings, criticisms, or advice. The sooner we understand that, the sooner we can be honest participants in BLM.

My sense is that many white liberals and progressives are just so tired of all this Blackness stuff.  Sure we loved Pres. Obama, but it's time for him to move on. His whole hope-change thingy was so stressful, and he seems like he's going to do that change stuff till his last day. We need a break. We need to gear up for the next Great White Hope.

We've had enough of black folks' grievances. We are weary of all their issues. We want to go back to saying 95% of cops are good people so we can dismiss the few as rotten apples. Just get rid of a few rotten apples and all will be well. You see if the problem is just good cops versus bad cops, then we don't have to acknowledge the pervasive racism that is imbedded in America's justice system. Getting rid of some bad cops isn't on us. It's on someone else. By reducing the problem to some bad cops, it becomes manageable for someone else.

We want to share stories of good cops because of our insatiable need to be fair. We don't want anyone to think we don't appreciate police men and women. We make sure we couch our words carefully so we don't offend anyone. Although we won't say it aloud or post it on social media, we think to ourselves that had Sandra Bland gotten out of the car or put out her cigarette, she'd be alive today.  If Walter Scott hadn't run or Eric Garner had not resisted arrest, they, too, would be alive. We might post an article or two about the victims, but then we move on. Arguing with our friends about the death of Michael Brown or Freddy Gray is tedious and sometimes painful so we're not going to make an issue over these deaths.

Then that evil dentist shot Cecil the Lion, which allowed us to shift our energy and passion from Sandra Bland to Cecil. We went after that dentist like a heat-seeking missile and apparently destroyed him. Believe me, there were hundreds of tweets more about Cecil than Sandra Bland, yet we were offended when black tweeps changed their vatars to lions, especially the cowardly lion from the Wizard of Oz, and Elon James changed his Twitter name to Elion. We were crushed that Black Twitter poked fun at us and the media by creating a criminal record for Cecil, who as a juvenile stalked and killed a baby wildebeest. We didn't think that was amusing. In fact, we got down right defensive and let our critics know "we could care about more than one cause at a time."

But you want to know what really pissed us off?  When Black Lives Matter interrupted Bernie Sanders at Netroots Nation and then Seattle. We were baffled. Bernie is on y'all's side we said. We knew black folks must be ignorant about Sanders's history as a civil rights activist. As a matter of fact, we told black folks that once they educated themselves about Bernie, they would support him. Why we even assured black folks that if they supported him, he would help them "rise out of the ghetto." Only sometimes we were confused and said the "hood." But black folks weren't having it--this nonsense from us. The most loyal, politically astute demographic within the Democratic Party knew all about Bernie. They knew he had no position on racial injustice; in fact, he had been tone deaf on the issue. They had heard him repeatedly call Pres. Obama a spineless coward and urge Democrats to primary the President of the United States in 2012. They knew his responses to the killings of their black brothers and sisters were tepid at best. They knew he had declared racism over with the election of Barack Obama. He even said he was happy for black voters, who finally got themselves a president.

We were shocked, I tell you, shocked when Black Lives Matter activist interrupted Sanders in Seattle of all places. Seattle, that bastion of liberalism and progressivism, has a police department that was investigated and castigated by the DOJ for its racist tactics. Seattle has a school system where 15 % of black and Native American students have been suspended at least once compared to 3% of white students. A Black child in elementary school is 5 times more likely to be suspended than a white child. 

Sanders wanted to talk about Social Security and Medicare to his predominantly white crowd. However, for some inexplicable reason we just couldn't fathom, Seattle resident Marissa Johnson disrupted Bernie's speech to talk about racism in her city, a liberal Mecca where racism is rampant within its institutions and allowed to flourish because whites folks ignore it. So again we brought all of our self-righteous indignation to bare and denounced the protestors instead of looking at our own culpability or responsibility. We shouted for the cops to taser and arrest them. We told them they would lose our support. In other words, we would no longer tweet or post on Facebook our support for "you people." We again reminded them that Bernie had marched with Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years ago. The very same MLK Jr. who wrote from his Birmingham jail cell:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.

Just replace "moderate" with liberal or progressive.

We wrote blog posts and articles praising ourselves for being colorblind while telling black folks when and how
they should protest. We warned them that they were hurting their cause, a cause that surely should be our cause
too. We assured them that racism would disappear when Sanders ushers in his economic utopia. We urged them to behave and be quiet until we told them it was their turn to speak. We acted like the activists were cutting in a junior high cafeteria line, not fighting for their very lives, much less justice.

We are frustrated that black folks don't understand we need to get those bankers who so grievously offended us in jail before we can deal with a justice system that has been destroying black lives for hundreds of years. We need for you black folks to understand that we are all for civil disobedience, just not in our territory. We honor MLK Jr, Thoreau, and Gandhi. In fact, we revere MLK Jr so much, we bestow his courage onto just about any white risk-taker, even if the risks pale beside the ones King took.

We can't understand why Bernie's activism 50 years ago shouldn't excuse his inactivity for the last 50 years. Sure he, like every other Liberal in congress, has voted for civil rights laws while paying lip service to unspeakable injustices suffered by black folks. We don't understand why you black folks don't feel a sense of indebtedness and gratitude toward Bernie although both he and we have forgotten MLK Jr.'s admonition about "the urgency of now."

As a friend told me once, "We black folks are the experts on white machinations. We've seen it all before. You think we haven't heard ‘wait your turn,’ or ‘you'll hurt your cause’  before? We've heard and seen it all. Liberals think a position paper should mean something to us. They think appointing a black woman as press secretary means something to us. You think we are fooled by a black shield. What we know is this. We weren't invited to be on his staff. Hell, we weren't even invited to his table. We see whites feed off each other's privilege, which is the status quo. We see white progressives as part of and supportive of the status quo."

Suddenly we white folks are concerned about the manners of the black activists as we sit at our computers or with phone or tablet in hand offering criticism, which, of course, is for their own good. White bloggers and pundits, along with most of us social media types, have weighed in with our critiques of the behavior of Black Lives Matter activists. Some of us go so far as to search out quotes by black bloggers and pundits critical of BLM, even though we never cared before about their opinions.

I'll offer my advice, for what it's worth. White folks, don't get your feelings hurt because all you ever see are videos or articles about bad cops committing horrific acts. Don't say 95% of cops are good guys and gals. BLM isn't about good vs bad cops, in my opinion. The movement is trying to change a corrupt and incestuous justice system that hires, harbors, and protects racists at the cost of black lives. A system that we white folks may not have actively put into place or nurtured, but we've helped it thrive by our apathy and inaction. And it's not just the justice system either. Racism thrives in educational and banking and housing institutions along with every other part of American society.

Settle down. Calm down. Black Lives Matter isn't about your feelings or my feelings. So what if Black Twitter poked fun at us for our Cecil love. Save your indignation for the institutions that oppress minorities. We have no right to criticize the BLM activists when we enable the very institutions that oppress them. So what if they rudely disrupted Bernie Sanders. If he can't handle that, he has no business running for President. And whatever you do, don't tell black folks you won't support their cause if they don't do such and such. You know why? Because we are not supporting their cause. We are watching from the sidelines.

And please remember that we have the privilege of being normal: walking down a street, driving a car, and going shopping without being harassed or worse. Our kids are likely to graduate from school without a mark on their record. We can live any place we can afford; in fact, a lot us don't even know what red lining means. We don't have to teach our children how to avoid getting shot by a government agent. It's highly unlikely our 15 and 16 year olds will be thrown into and left in a prison like Rikers for years without charges ever being filed. White privilege is getting to be normal. My guess is that's what black folks would like, too--just to have the privilege of normalcy.

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