Sorry About Your Statues, America: What Whites Don’t Get About Blacks
By Michael Levin
Blacks and whites interpret current events in such radically different ways that it’s hard to believe they’re talking about the same country. If there are to be any meaningful results from the George Floyd killing and its aftermath, they can only occur if members of the two races understand where each other is coming from. So here’s a quick way to catch up.
The short of it is that when white America hears about a George Floyd or a Freddy Gray or an Eleanor Bumpurs or a Trayvon Martin or a James Byrd or any such individual all the way back to Emmett Till, we shake our heads and frown and say, that’s just awful. But then we forget about it and go about our business.
Blacks, on the other hand, connect the dots and see a pattern that whites don’t see, that it’s still open season on individuals with dark skin, and that police and private citizens alike can kill Blacks with relative impunity. Blacks can tell you with specificity how Freddie Gray died, how Eleanor Bumpurs died, how Trayvon Martin died, how James Byrd died, and, for that matter, how Emmett Till died; whites barely recognize the names.
Whites look at the police as guardians of public safety. White drivers who doesn’t go 15 miles over the limit may never encounter a police officer in their lifetimes. Blacks don’t buy the statistics indicating that Blacks kill far more Blacks than the police do; they fear for their safety whenever they see a cop. But it goes much deeper than attitudes toward policing.
Whites look at Blacks and ask, “How can you vote for the Democrats? They’re in bed with the teachers’ unions, which oppose inner city charter schools and keep Black children from getting a decent education and a shot at moving up.” Blacks look at whites and say, “We have to vote for somebody, and the last Republican who had any connection to Black people was Abraham Lincoln.”
Whites say, “Prior to COVID, Blacks had the lowest unemployment rate since 1967.” Blacks counter, “Yes, but those were dead end jobs, flipping burgers in McDonald’s or changing bedpans in nursing homes.”
Whites say, “You’ve had 50 years of affirmative action, and you’re still mired in poverty? What gives?” Blacks say, “White kids get the SAT prep and the afterschool tutoring, whites get into the good schools, whites get the good jobs, and Blacks run nothing and own nothing.”
So whites say, “How can you let your kids listen to misogynistic gangsta rap, which glorifies violence and reinforces self-hatred through its constant use of the N-word? Isn’t that why you’ve got so much Black-on-Black crime?” To which Blacks respond, “White kids play Grand Theft Auto and Call Of Duty, and then they go shoot up churches and nightclubs and Las Vegas concerts.”
Whites ask, “Where are the Black leaders? Is Al Sharpton the best you can do?” To which Blacks respond, “Leadership is more diffused today. You don’t have national figures like Dr. King or Malcolm X or Medgar Evers. And by the way, every time white people kill a Black leader, it makes other Blacks wonder if going into a visible national leadership role is a smart idea. After all, it’s one career that’s never required a pension plan.”
To which whites say, “Stop playing victim,” to which Blacks respond, “We came here in chains and we’ve only been free for 150 years. We’re packed into crummy neighborhoods like Chicago’s South Side. Our schools stink. We’re sentenced disproportionately relative to whites for the same crimes. Our net worth is one tenth of that of white people. There are still countless neighborhoods in the United States where Blacks can’t buy houses. And you think we have a victim mentality?”
To which Whites reply, “I’m not a racist. I don’t oppress Black people.” To which Blacks respond, “Probably so. You may not even know any Black people to oppress. But you benefit from a system that oppresses Black people, and does so in such a quiet, efficient manner that you don’t even notice it. But we do.”
Whites wonder, “What happened? The day before George Floyd died, the temperature in American race relations was 72 degrees. Everything was fine. And then Floyd gets killed, which we all agree is indefensible, by the way, and then all hell breaks loose. What gives?”
To which Blacks respond, “White people, you just weren’t paying attention. For you, it might have been 72 degrees. For us, it was 211 degrees, and with Floyd, we reached the boiling point. Sorry about your statues and your shop fronts. But we tried nonviolence, and we tried self-help, and we tried voting, and we tried marching in the street, and nothing got your attention. Glad you’re paying attention now. Let’s hope that something good comes out of all this, because for our people, it hasn’t been 72 degrees since 1619.”