One of the criticisms that is often leveled at me is that I talk about race too often. I suppose that could possibly be true but as I grow older, I wonder how can we not talk about race? To live in the United States is to live in a racialized world where the color of your skin often determines the quality of your life…with white skin coming in at the top of the privilege ladder.
To be White in America is to have the freedom to ignore race. As author, anti-racist activist and my professional colleague Debby Irving wrote in her book “Waking Up White”, it was when she went to graduate school in her late-40s and was asked to consider her own racial identity that it even dawned on her that she had a racial identity. While that was almost certainly a painful realization and admission, the truth is that for far too many White folks, rarely does one have to think about what it means to be White. Instead whiteness allows one to be a human first and foremost with white skin being almost meaningless at least on the surface.
Yet in the hierarchy of race, whiteness matters; it matters because despite the average White person’s inability to grasp the rights and privileges bestowed upon those who have white skin, whiteness frames the world. It controls the narratives that we all live by in this society with anything other than whiteness and white ways of being seen as suspect, deviant or lacking. If you think I am kidding, look at the old study that was done years ago on names. Several candidates with similar credentials submit resumes for jobs, resumes with white sounding names received more callbacks than candidates with Black sounding names. We know now that white felons with only a high school diploma fare better in the job world than Black folks with no criminal records and 4-year college degrees.
The humanity of whiteness was on full display for all of us after last weekend’s “biker brawl” in Waco, Texas. The Banditos and Cossacks had a little gathering at a place called Twin Peaks and, well, things got a little ugly. So ugly that 9 folks ended up dead and quite a few folks were injured. The bikers even fired on law enforcement and 170 folks ended up being arrested, yet the mainstream media issued a narrative that stopped short at referring to these bikers as thugs, despite the fact that these biker gangs apparently control the bulk of the drug trade in rural and suburban Texas. In fact, in the media photos that were widely distributed as the scene was unfolding, we saw bikers who were being detained sitting on curbs or milling about sans handcuffs with cells phones in hands and some casually smoking cigarettes. We have a group of dangerous men who apparently had been armed to the teeth with handguns, knives and chains who just finished re-enacting the Wild Wild West with dead comrades on the ground yet these dangerous men still managed to be arrested without any spines getting severed or any of the jarring scenes we have seen played out in the past 18 months when large groups of Black folks are involved or, for that matter, sometimes lone unarmed Black people posing little or no threat.
To add insult to injury, after seeing the mugshots a few days later of all the bikers who had been arrested, the only one biker who we know much about is the lone Black biker who apparently is a retired vice cop who is running around with a jacked-up beard. How come of the 170 men arrested, the only one we know by name is the Black guy? Sure, he is a retired vice cop gone rogue but didn’t anyone in the media think about how this would play out? Nope, whiteness bestows a certain level of humanity even when you are a bad guy. It’s why James Eagan Holmes, the lone gunmen in the horrific 2012 Aurora, Coloradp, shooting was described as being a brilliant student in several pieces written about him. Sorry, you walk into a public space and shoot up the joint, do we really need to know how “smart” you were? Nope.
At the same time that we allow bad White folks to be humanized, there is almost a pathological need in media narratives to dehumanize Black victims. If I had no knowledge of how race plays out in America, I would assume that the vast majority of Black folks are morally lacking and deficient beyond repair. Sadly, that is what far too many white folks do think, citing intellectually dishonest data that refers to “Black on Black” crime yet denying the fact that “White on White” crime is also a major thing. Most of us live in racialized silos, which means that when crime goes down, it’s probably going to happen between people of the same racial makeup.
When Black kids are killed by unstable police officers, we feel the need to dissect the kid’s family and find fault with his parents for some perceived shortcoming. When Black kids engage in age-appropriate behavior like being surly and defiant with authority, too many whites think that is justification for shooting the kid dead. I went to predominantly white schools growing up in Chicago and as a teenager I knew more than a few White kids who did dumb shit and for whom doing dumb shit is a right of passage yet all my White peers grew up and we are now middle-aged adults, the majority of whom are productive members of society.
As I write this today, it seems another White cop, in another city who took the lives of a couple of unarmed Black folks by shooting 49 bullets into a car was cleared of all wrong doing. Officer Michael Brelo climbed on the hood of a car and fired into the car. It seems the judge just wasn’t sure that Brelo’s shots killed the couple and since he couldn’t be sure, he had to acquit. I imagine the naysayers will say that if the couple hadn’t be doing XYZ, they would still be alive. If only that was a universal truth, the trail of dead Black and Brown bodies grows and too often those bodies were guilty of nothing more than not being white. Until we can accept the uncomfortable truth that racial bias frames our society and often casts non-white bodies in an unfavorable light while at the same time bestowing favor upon white bodies, nothing will change.
Since 2008, I have been writing in this space, for the most part it has always been a commercial-free zone with the occasional request that readers consider supporting it. Each time I have put forth a specific request, readers have answered the call and for that I am grateful. As I move through some major life transitions that require me to think honestly about pesky things like money since I do like inside shelter and plumbing, I would ask regular readers to check out my Patreon page or consider a regular “tip” in the Paypal jar. However no matter what, it is an honor to have you here!