I've been struggling to formulate a rational response - rather than an angry, frustrated "Not again!" - to an op-ed published in the New York Times on Christmas Eve. It was titled 'Dear White America'. Here's an excerpt.
You may have never used the N-word in your life, you may hate the K.K.K., but that does not mean that you don’t harbor racism and benefit from racism. After all, you are part of a system that allows you to walk into stores where you are not followed, where you get to go for a bank loan and your skin does not count against you, where you don’t need to engage in “the talk” that black people and people of color must tell their children when they are confronted by white police officers.
As you reap comfort from being white, we suffer for being black and people of color. But your comfort is linked to our pain and suffering. Just as my comfort in being male is linked to the suffering of women, which makes me sexist, so, too, you are racist. That is the gift that I want you to accept, to embrace. It is a form of knowledge that is taboo. Imagine the impact that the acceptance of this gift might have on you and the world.
Take another deep breath. I know that there are those who will write to me in the comment section with boiling anger, sarcasm, disbelief, denial. There are those who will say, “Yancy is just an angry black man.” There are others who will say, “Why isn’t Yancy telling black people to be honest about the violence in their own black neighborhoods?” Or, “How can Yancy say that all white people are racists?” If you are saying these things, then you’ve already failed to listen. I come with a gift. You’re already rejecting the gift that I have to offer. This letter is about you. Don’t change the conversation. I assure you that so many black people suffering from poverty and joblessness, which is linked to high levels of crime, are painfully aware of the existential toll that they have had to face because they are black and, as Baldwin adds, “for no other reason.”
Some of your white brothers and sisters have made this leap. The legal scholar Stephanie M. Wildman, has written, “I simply believe that no matter how hard I work at not being racist, I still am. Because part of racism is systemic, I benefit from the privilege that I am struggling to see.” And the journalism professor Robert Jensen: “I like to think I have changed, even though I routinely trip over the lingering effects of that internalized racism and the institutional racism around me. Every time I walk into a store at the same time as a black man and the security guard follows him and leaves me alone to shop, I am benefiting from white privilege.”
. . .
Perhaps the language of this letter will encourage a split — not a split between black and white, but a fissure in your understanding, a space for loving a Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Aiyana Jones, Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald and others. I’m suggesting a form of love that enables you to see the role that you play (even despite your anti-racist actions) in a system that continues to value black lives on the cheap.
There's much more at the link.
I don't have space or time to write a fully detailed rebuttal to this op-ed, but I'd like to hit a few high points.
To start, this entire 'letter' is filled with a Marxist understanding of society - 'race' substituting for 'class', but nevertheless it's fundamentally Marxist. It's a false delineation of the 'fault lines' in society, and it suffers accordingly. I've commented many times that to judge anyone on the basis of their group identity, rather than their individual conduct, is nonsensical. There are good and bad Blacks, Whites or Asians; Australians, Americans or Germans; English-speakers, French-speakers or Russian-speakers; Christians, Hindus or Muslims; and so on. The group cannot predict the behavior, or define the worth, of the individual. A Muslim can be a US Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant (as one is, of my online acquaintance), or save the life (repeatedly) of a Christian worker for the endangered in society (as one did for me); or he can be a terrorist and a suicide bomber. His religion has little or nothing to do with his individual 'goodness' or 'badness'. The same applies to race. The color of one's skin doesn't determine - or even indicate - whether one's a good or a bad person.
Next, I'd argue that the negative responses of whites to blacks that the author identifies aren't so much based on the color of the black person's skin as they are on the experience of how far too many black people behave. I worked as a prison chaplain in State and Federal institutions for more than a few years. I'm here to tell you, the proportion of black people behind bars (relative to their race as a constituent of American society) is ludicrously high, compared to every other race in this country. I utterly refuse to believe that they're in prison solely because of the color of their skin. They're there because they broke the law. We can argue whether those laws are justifiable or not. We can argue whether the criminal justice system judges blacks more harshly than whites, and allocates longer sentences to the former than to the latter. Those debates are worth having, and I think there's a lot of truth to the questions raised about those issues. Nevertheless, the simple fact remains that in general, one doesn't end up in prison unless one has done something to deserve it.
The cruel, brutal fact of the matter, confirmed by impartial sources such as the FBI's crime statistics, the Bureau of Justice Statistics and others, is that the average black person is statistically several times more likely to commit crimes than the average person of any other race or ethnic group in the USA. It's not racist to say that. It's simple, measurable, empirically verifiable fact, and impartial US government statistics confirm it irrefutably. As a result, the average white person is more suspicious of the average black person, and the average security guard in a store will be more suspicious of a black shopper than a white one. They're not doing it because of racial discrimination, but because of criminal statistics and their experience of what those mean in reality. If the author of this letter and others like him want to see a change in white attitudes towards blacks, I respectfully suggest that the criminal reality I've just highlighted will have to change, and demonstrate sustained, ongoing improvement, before such attitudes will change.
Another problem is that the grievances of many black people have become institutionalized reverse racism, rather than a genuine attempt to address the issues. A well-known example is President Obama's intervention in the case of Professor Henry Gates. The President didn't bother to confirm the actual facts of the matter - he came out with a knee-jerk response citing the "long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately". Many people - including myself - were angered by this 'rush to judgment' without waiting to confirm the evidence of what actually took place.
We're seeing it again in the current 'Black Lives Matter' protests. I agree that there are cases of police shootings that are at best legally dubious, and at worst amount to nothing less than murder under color of law. I agree that those police responsible for such crimes should be tried and punished to the fullest extent of the law. However, what we have today is a 'rush to judgment' where every time a black person is shot by a white policeman, it's automatically assumed that racism was at least a factor in, if not the primary reason for the shooting. This is absolute nonsense, and the 'Black Lives Matter' movement discredits itself every time it does this. Furthermore, I argue that all lives matter, not just black lives. Any time anyone is shot by police, I want the same care, diligence and attention taken in the investigation. To say that the shootings of black people require more careful investigation than those of members of other races or ethnic groups is racist in itself.
Finally, I want to express real sympathy for the author. I understand his frustrations in a way that relatively few white people can or do. I come from a country (South Africa) where to be black was to be oppressed from birth, in a way that few black people in the USA can understand from experience. I've written about it several times before (try this article for a start), and I did my best to work against it. I was (and am) proud and honored to have played a small part in the destruction of the evil that was apartheid. Nevertheless, facts trump feelings. If we're to address the realities of racial friction in the USA (or anywhere else), we need to start with facts and remain firmly rooted in and grounded on reality, not perceptions or interpretations of that reality.
If white people have to take off their rose-colored spectacles to see reality, so, too, black people have to take off their racially charged spectacles and acknowledge that much of what they perceive as racism is, in fact, nothing more than an entirely logical, rational reaction by others to the actual behavior of many members of their race. (For the most recent example, see the closing of a Louisville, KY shopping mall last weekend following a disturbance provoked by well over a thousand people. The media described them simply as 'youths', but photographs and video footage showed very clearly that they were all of one race. Guess which race that was? And guess what reaction their behavior engendered among members of other races who were present at the time?)
If such reactions by whites to blacks were truly caused by racism, they'd be extended to every other racial group as well . . . yet they're not. There's a reason for that. Look for that reason in reality rather than resentment. That's where you'll find it.