Can Forty-Two Million Black People Be Wrong?
In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, the deep racial divide in the U.S. has become impossible to ignore. The outrage and mourning many Black Americans have expressed has been met with derision and denial. As they grieve not only for Trayvon Martin himself, but also for the promise of justice, they are being told that they are the problem. Those who have dared to suggest that the U.S. is less than a colorblind egalitarian meritocracy are being accused of dividing the country by selfishly and maliciously “playing the race card.”
Seemingly every media space, from mainstream media to the comment section of various political blogs, is overflowing with condemnations of “race hustlers” and/or “race baiters.” Such voices criticized President Obama harshly and loudly after he acknowledged that thirty-five years ago he very well could have been Trayvon Martin. Fox News’s Todd Stames responded with accusations that Obama is “trying to tear our country apart.” Jennifer Rubin from The Washington Post claimed that President Obama wants to “incite” people for “political ends.” Though she never elaborates on what these political motivations are, they can be inferred by her assertion that race has become “a crutch.” This race-as-crutch theme has been echoed across the media. A Washington Times editorial chastised President Obama for addressing structural racism rather than offering a message of “hope and personal responsibility.” Allan West took to Facebook to declare that he has never experienced racial profiling, which he attributes to being raised in a two-parent household that taught him respect. The examples go on and on.
All of the appeals to colorblindness, personal responsibility, and “proper” parenting add up to one unified message -– racism is over and Black folks need to stop complaining. Any assertions that racism is still alive and well are interpreted as either a sign of Machiavellian political calculus or as indicative of a refusal to take personal responsibility. Regardless, those who demand the redress of racial oppression are cast as an internal threat to our national unity and well-being. But, in reality, it is this very dismissal, this belittling of the experiences of our fellow Americans that is tearing this country apart, not people of color speaking on their lived experience.
To believe that there is no more structural racism in the U.S. is to believe that millions of Black Americans are simply lying when they claim otherwise. In rejecting the importance of race in creating social hierarchies and inequalities, one must accept that tens of millions of Black Americans are disingenuously asserting the continued impact of race on their lives for some kind of personal gain. You must believe that Black Americans are so profoundly lazy or unrepentantly malicious that they are willing to cause nationwide strife and turmoil rather than admit social gains. And, frankly, if that is how you see forty-two million of your fellow citizens, then perhaps it’s you who are dividing this country.
It’s the colorblindness hustlers and post-race baiters, with their invocations of Martin Luther King Jr. and their proclamations of pathological Black families, who are dividing the country. They are pedaling a dangerous message of distrust and suspicion. They are convincing us that our fellow Americans cannot be believed. They tell us that we must reject the calls of our fellow citizens to unite together in a struggle to fully realize the promise of freedom and equality our country holds. That is far more dangerous to our national unity than Black people simply telling their truth.