Calling All White People, Part 53: Too dark for some of ya?

TODAY’S EPISODE: Where’s the good news about race and Black people and stuff?   

It’s too dark, man. It’s too grim. Why can’t you be more positive?

Now, I don’t know how many people think this when they look at news about race and racism and Black people and Indigenous rights and all the rest, but I’m thinking it’s in the back of a lot of minds at least. I’m guessing that some people when they look at this website or BGIM’s Facebook page and see the ratio of happy, positive stories about Black success to stories about the horrors of systemic racism…well, they really want to see more shiny, happy stories.

And to those people, I say, “For crissakes have you learned nothing about yourselves and other people?”

Let’s switch topical gears for a moment: As soon as scientists said they had isolated the genome for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, people were like, “Where’s the vaccines already?” As if these kinds of things don’t take months of research and work to create, and then months more to test, plus months to manufacture—even at a supercharged pace with support of government funds (I mean, the drug development process usually takes years). But at the first sign of progress, people are like, “Where’s the magic bullet?”

It’s kind of the same way with race, especially when it comes to Black people. Because when there is a notable Black success, we white folks are really quick to make it more notable than it is. Folks like Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey making big bank? Well, Black people can all be successful and rise above systemic racism now. Barack Obama elected president? Well, we’re a “post-racial” country now—we’ve rounded the corner!

And it’s all utter bullcrap.

It’s not that there aren’t Black success stories all around us. But they are still more the exception than the rule and when they happen it is often because a ton more work went into that success than any white person would have needed to put into it. And it’s often at some kind of cost of the successful Black person’s health—mental or physical.

It is a good thing to celebrate and recognize the successes of Black people and other folks who are oppressed or marginalized. But when we put the cart before the horse by making them more prominent than they should be, that’s wrong. It paints a skewed picture. And it’s fine to paint a skewed picture if you’re an impressionist or surrealist artist; not so much if you’re a media outlet or history teacher or whatever.

And that’s why for the foreseeable future—and I mean years and years and years—the ratio is going to be mostly bad news or grim statistics. To not have that kind of ratio would be dishonest and would encourage us to celebrate victory before we’ve actually routed the enemy troops. Which is something, when it comes to many issues (and particularly racism), we white people are really way too prone to doing. We need to stop. Recognize and enjoy those positive stories, but know them for what they are: Happy moments in an otherwise pretty harsh world for Black people. Does that mean it’s all misery for Black people? Hell, no. But being Black in this country for the vast majority is a serious uphill trek and walking into the wind while doing it.

Let’s think of our own lives as average white people. A lot of our days are spent doing crap we don’t want to do to pay the bills and be respectable citizens. And so we complain a lot and point out that life ain’t easy. But most of us are not suffering constant pain or torment. Still, those happy stories we share—when we are honest with ourselves—are not the majority part of our lives. And so it is with Black people in this country, only with an extra helping or two or three of the stressors.

[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

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