White Responsibility

This is unedited and was sent to me by one of my bloggers; My response is at the end. I would like to hear what you think so please comment.

The idea of “White Responsibility” suggests that the majority group – white America – is solely responsible for the generational difficulties placed on the black population and that it is only white America that can correct these issues. There are some very valid points to this line of thinking starting with the fact that it takes structural and institutional racism and puts a spot light on it; not allowing folks to turn a blind eye to it. As a white man, it also makes me look honestly at the fact that there is such a thing as “white privilege.” So many times whites just want to gloss over everything with almost a color-blindness approach, as if racism is not still a reality in the twenty-first century.

I feel whites love to be color-blind because it removes the fear of the reality of the situation and makes their “sense of reality” more palatable and easier to write off; in essence it keeps the truth from interfering with their own perceived truths. Like anything though, there are some less powerful things associated with this model. For instance, it absolutely removes and ignores the responsibility of minorities to take ownership of the process of change as well as enables minorities to point fingers at others while playing the race card; waiting and expecting others to rectify the situation. In this brief essay I will look at the positive and negative ramifications of white responsibility and try to extract an avenue for us to work together to right this American ship.

The ideal of white responsibility that I most commonly agree with is that white America must make greater efforts not necessarily to correct what our forefathers did generations ago, yet we must work to better understand our black American brothers and sisters for who, what, and how they are. This understanding will not come from a book or a class, however it will come for a determined and intentional effort to engage each other, set aside our raw emotions, and initiate a series of discussions that may last for years, decades, or even generations. The topic of race is so taboo for us all simply because it is very delicate and would require us all to not wear our feelings on our sleeves. Instead of everyone walking on egg shells trying to find the best possible way to express their thoughts and opinions, we must have an open dialogue where we exchange the realities of living in white America, black America, and then finally in the America of tomorrow.

There are two main issues that are crippling this process, and they are both intertwined. As noted before, the majority of white America is color blind to the fact that racism is still a very real and prevalent issue being dealt with by black Americans. Because white Americans do not have to deal with it, and because many would not know it if it bit them on their ass, to them is simply does not exist. In this case, ignorance is definitely not bliss. Just because it is not raining in your backyard does not mean it is not raining in your neighbor’s across the street backyard. White America has to deliberately look for the signs of racism; that is IF they want to truly become an agent of change. Regretfully though, most of white America does not want to deal with this either because they do not care or because they do not want to exert the effort it takes to deal with these issues. However, they will be the first ones to smile in black America’s face then blast them in the back when they feel like they were passed over due to affirmative action. The next main issue that is crippling the process of rectifying the race issue in America that I believe is caused by white responsibility is that it takes ownership away from the minority group. Author Derrick Bell (1996) asserted that the following quote would be easier to reject than to refute:

Black people will never gain full equality in this country. Even those herculean efforts we hail as successful will produce no more than temporary “peaks of progress,” short-lived victories that slide into irrelevance as racial patterns adapt in ways that maintain white dominance. This hard-to-accept fact is all history verifies. We must acknowledge it, not as a sigh of submission, but as an act of ultimate defiance.  

Respectfully, I would think that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would absolutely disagree with this statement. I would argue that the works of Dr. King have not slid back into white dominance and have been further progressed by others who share the same ideals as the late, great Dr. King. When I read this quote, I read it as though no matter what black America does, they cannot and will not advance and win. I liken this to a football game. Your team may start its drive backed up on your own one yard line with ninety-nine yards to go. You may move the ball successfully down the field to the opponents’ twenty yard line and then suffer a set back; a personal foul that moves you back fifteen yards to the opponents thirty-five. Then you may have a holding penalty that sets you back another ten yards to the forty-five. Now at this point, you may regard your gains from your own one to their forty-five as temporary and then just punt on second down, or you can remember the lessons your coach taught you, think about the ones that played before you and the struggles and mistakes they made as well as the heart and triumphs they had when it was their turn; then with that resolve push forward to make play after play to finally get the nose of the ball across the goal line for your team’s winning score. Man, life would have sucked if you decided to give up and punt on second down.

Another alarming idea comes from Andrew Hacker (1992) as his parable that if a white person were to become black at the stroke of midnight and could request any amount of “compensation” for being black, they would request $50 million ($1 million for each black year in front of them) as a way to place a value on their white skin. While I appreciate the thought that Mr. Hacker is trying to express, I feel this to be misplaced. I do recognize that there are inherent, institutionalized, and might I add unfair advantages to being white, but I would argue that if you asked a black person how much money they would want if they were to become white at the stroke of midnight, you would probably get a similar answer; not because of the value of their skin color, but because of the value America has on the almighty dollar. Furthermore, Hacker goes on to say that black adults have to explain to their children that they will “never” be seen as simply Americans or wholly accepted and will “always be regarded warily, if not with suspicion or hostility.” Now I understand that there are elements of truth here but this is a fundamental hurdle being set up be blacks that work against the efforts of Dr. King and the like. If as a child you are told this by your parents and elders, then how can you allow your heart, mind, and soul to be open to genuine acceptance? How can you allow yourself to understand that there are harsh realities out there but that they are not inevitabilities that are set up to pin you down? Hacker also states that an author who happens to be black cannot just be an author, but must be a “black author.” Again, it is my belief that he is damning himself by applying his own labels. If we take a thirty-thousand-foot-view of this statement, we can see how this separatist remark is played out across all spectrums. There are black people in every college and university in America, yet we still have “black colleges.” There are beautiful black women in every beauty pageant, yet we still have “Ms. Black America.” There are black men and women that own businesses and chair Chamber of Commerce Committees, yet we still have “Black Business Owners Associations.” There are black people that are republicans and democrats, yet we have “Associations of Black Republicans and Democrats.” How is black America ever going to become just part of America as long as they strive to be seen as “Black Americans”, separate from the rest of Americans?

In closing, I agree that white responsibility embodies some very helpful tools to address the issue of race in America; after all, we are the ones that mucked it all up. I personally feel remorse, guilt, and shame for what my forefathers did even though I personally had nothing to do with it. I believe all whites should have some level of guilt or remorse that evokes a response of understanding or at least a desire to better understand the plights of black America. I also think it should make us look at the deeper issue of tearing down the major reason racism is still prevalent in 2013; institutionalized racism. It is not until we re-write the books that we can begin the rebuilding process, however it must be a shared task; whites have to want to learn, understand, and correct, but blacks have to allow us to do so and help us along the way; not with one hand waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent.

My Response

This was very well written, I agree with much of what you say but a couple of points to add along the lines of responsibility. We as Americans need to recognize the past and understand the whole story and truth behind its existence. In this country we had Black, Latino, Asian, and yes, even whit slaves. Slavery no matter what people from what land or what their skin color is wrong. Most slaves brought to America was captured, by raids or battles between tribes, by blacks and sold into slavery. What has been left out of our history due to political correctness is these points; blacks were not the only slaves, blacks put other blacks into slavery, and that blacks have a part in this whole ugly past of ours called slavery but also, if it wasn't for whites fighting for the freedom of blacks, they may still have been in slavery as is the facts in other parts of our world.

Discrimination by age, gender, race, or any other group you place in the cross-hairs is still discrimination. I do believe Affirmative Action was necessary when it was implemented but is out dated. To tell a white student with better grades, better SAT score, and having all the areas met to get into collage they didn't make the score because a minority gets 20 out of 100 point to qualify just for being black is discrimination itself. If we can have a black president in the country, it shows that only you as an American no matter your race, only you can hold yourself back. . Eleanor Roosevelt said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” but the same is true that “No one can make you succeed or fail without your commitment”.

There is still racism in America, but it comes from all the communities, the Black, Latino, White, Asian, and any other you want to point to. I hate the KKK just as I hate the New Black Panthers, La Raza, Arian Nation, Nation of Islam, or the Brown Beret because they are all racist but they are a fact that exists in our country. The only way to get rid of this racist blight on America is first must stop blaming everyone for our problems and stand on our own two feet no matter your race. When you have a suspected crime like the Duke Lacrosse scandal and automatically like on queue you have Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton saying "This was a racial act by privileged white people raping a poor black sister" without even looking at the facts, this is racism in itself. These kids lives were tore apart, threatened, and forever tarnished by lady who tried to shake them down for more money; She is now in jail for murder but did Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton ever apologize to these kids? NO

When you have leaders like these leading the black community and using the black communities strife to get rich, they don't want racism to end; it's their money train. These type of people must be removed from all communities not just the black, and the parents, teachers, politicians, preachers, and any other role models need to tell them they can succeed instead of "its there fault". I was lucky to have a good influence and made it out of my predicament of society by having people tell me I was as good as the others, I could succeed, and it was all up to me if I did or didn't. One of Martin Luther King, Jr. famous quotes is what we need to live by, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." I would add to it, my version goes like this, "I have a dream that my three little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character and likewise judge not others by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Martin Luther King, Jr. would turn over in his grave at seeing what Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton has done to his legacy. Our nation will never come together as long as we have race baiters like these.

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