“Sorry, I had a fight in the middle of your Black Panther party.”
– Forrest Gump
I had waited, impatiently, through yet another long, pretentious panel discussion on Race in America, feverishly scribbling notes on the back of my program. But now was the moment for which I had waited all night: the open mic session.
As I stood in the public comment line, I was aiming to let ’em have it with both barrels loaded, No Warning Shots Fired style. But when a young, white lady half my age waxed poetic about the evils of white supremacy with an eloquence that would have made Malcolm X blush, I just balled up my notes, shot a three pointer in the wastebasket and headed out the door.
For many people, the quintessential example of white privilege is the soccer mom who skips in front of you in the checkout line at Harris Teeter . Or having some unqualified, kid straight outta high school snatch the promotion that you knew was yours for the taking. But for activists like me, the epitome of white privilege is the ability of white folk to say things about white supremacy that would get a black person tarred and feathered for even thinking about whispering in public.
Now before you get your feathers all ruffled let me be, perfectly, clear. I believe Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner are, notoriously, underrated. Taylor Branch is one of my favorite authors on the Civil Rights Era. And, quiet as kept, on occasion, you may see me cruisin’ down the Durham Freeway singing that Adele song at the top of my lungs with all four windows rolled down.
But, I have a major problem with the appropriation of the black struggle for justice and equality by well-meaning white folk. Sorry, Sparky, but I just believe as black people we should be able to speak our collective truth without the aid of a Caucasian interpreter.
Historically, I am not the first African-American to feel this way. According to historian Lerone Bennett, Frederick Douglass had a beef with the white abolitionists of his time for attempting to reduce him to a mere lawn jockey in the anti-slavery movement. This prompted him to proclaim the immortal words “the man who suffered the wrong is the man to demand redress!”
Also, Dr. Thomas Gosset in his book “Race: The History of an Idea in America” argues that while Harriet Beach Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is heralded by many as being, partially, responsponsible for ending slavery, “the novel made it quite clear that, in spite of the Negro’s humility and religion, he is innately inferior.”
Today, we have a crop of nouveau-abolitionists like Michael Moore and Tim Wise who are often called upon to articulate the pain of black people on MSNBC and other media outlets, while our brightest African-American scholars sit on their sofas, angrily, munching pretzels and throwing back issues of Ebony magazine at their flat screens.
The world of Hip Hop is not exempt, either, as white rappers such as Eminem and Macklemore are celebrated for speaking the same truth to power that black rappers such as Chuck D and Sister Souljah were demonized for saying 25 years ago. It can even be argued that there are black kids at open-mic spots around the Triangle who could more articulately and authentically express the struggle of black folk if given half the airtime as those white rappers.
In my city, Durham, I’ve attended many rallies and meetings that had all the passion and conviction of the March on Washington and the Million Man March rolled into one with outraged folk bombastically, railing against the injustices facing black people. The only thing missing was black people.
Whether it be conversations about Confederate statues or police brutality against black men, the nerve of white liberals to place our grievances at the doors of the powers that be by proxy aggravates me to no end !
In all fairness, I really don’t believe there is any malicious intent.
Maybe, white folk are just more optimistic than black folk. Perhaps, white America is still holding on to a dream of a beloved society with freedom and justice for all that I abandoned with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
However, we must understand as Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) once said, at the end of the day white people (even the most liberal) are fighting for power but we are fighting for our survival.
The saddest part about this whole saga is the failure of white liberals to realize that white people dominating the fight against white supremacy is, in itself, white supremacy.
Paul Scott is an activist and lecturer based in Durham NC. Follow him on his website NoWarningShotsFired.com and on Twitter @NWSF