Black Lives Matter

black lives matterSometimes a person puts into words something you’ve always known was true, but never thought of in quite those terms. The other day I stumbled across an interview with Chris Rock that gave me a new perspective on racism in the United States.

White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before. …

So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years.

That’s it. White people have made progress. Unfortunately, not all white people and not enough progress, as the ongoing protests arising from the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner attest.

For many years, leaders of all political stripes have mouthed words about “black progress.” Black people are coming along, those people said, and sooner or later they’ll make enough progress and we’ll welcome them into the larger society. But they have to take those steps, have to change, have to excel in every way.

Those words let white people believe they didn’t have to do anything, didn’t have to listen, didn’t have to change, didn’t have to take a hard look at slavery and the Jim Crow years.

So, despite laws against discrimination, lots of “black progress,” and wider acceptance of African Americans in all walks of life – including the presidency – we still have a society that doesn’t value black lives as much as it values white ones. And way too many white people live in irrational fear of blacks, to the point of believing that black = criminal. Worse, a large number of those people are police officers.

Not all cops, of course. Apparently the Richmond, California, police department has figured out how to deal with crime and take care of the citizenry at the same time. The police chief even participated in a recent demonstration, holding a sign saying “Black lives matter.”

As I write this, I can hear police helicopters overhead, a sign that protests are starting up again tonight in my neighborhood in Oakland, where we’ve had quite a bit of action. I’m glad to see the protests (both with and without supportive police officers), because they are a demand that society change unjust practices. The time for polite requests is long over.

It’s time for more white progress.

Chris Rock seems to think we might get it. In that same interview, he said:

The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.

Amen.

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Black Lives Matter — 8 Comments

  1. It helps here in NYC that the mayor’s wife is an African American woman, and his children, including an adolescent son, are biracial.

    White and black together have been protesting ever since the Staten Island grand jury refused to indict Pantaleone in the death of Eric Garner. That’s over a week now, in freezing weather and pouring rain, and yesterday sleet and snow and blasting winds too. One group of lower east side h.s. kids marched under they umbrellas all the way from there into Brooklyn, and the DA’s office.

    There’s been a strong focus of the protests on shutting down traffic: on streets and avenues, tunnels and bridges. Die-ins in Grand Central and even in Macy’s have been attention getters.

    Understandably enough, the working class, of whatever shade of skin, who have long long long journeys to get to their low-paying jobs, have been damned bitter about this.

    Love, C.

    Of course, the prote

    • My sweetheart and I were wondering last night why the Oakland and Berkeley city councils haven’t set up meetings with the protestors to find out what they’d like to see happen. I imagine most of those individual politicians would say that they were upset by the grand jury decisions in NY and Missouri and think change is needed, so why aren’t they talking to folks and finding out what we can do in our area to make some changes? Things are going much better up in Richmond, where the police chief joined the demonstrators. It helps that he did this after years of working to build a department that is considered very responsive to the community. That is, his words matched his previous actions.

  2. Here’s a small incident that made me sad because it was uncomfortable and shouldn’t have been. I was recently in the aisle seat on a plane, and there was a black guy in the window seat. Empty seat between us. When the attendant came around to take drink orders, the guy in the window seat appeared to be asleep, so she didn’t take his order. Later he sat up, in time to see me get my drink. He asked the attendant for a Coke, and she nodded, then hurried away, being busy as attendants usually are.

    I’m sitting there wondering if he thinks he was overlooked because of his color. The attendants went back and forth a few times more. Still no Coke for my neighbor. He looked at them, but didn’t catch their eye. I’m getting more and more uncomfortable.

    Finally I spoke to a passing attendant, telling her that my neighbor had requested a Coke. She happened to be carrying one, and in fact it was for him but they hadn’t remembered who had asked for it.

    So he got his drink, and I mentioned to him that it looked like he was asleep when they came to take orders, and he said he probably was, and all was well. But in the interim I had felt tension and wondered if he was feeling resentment and it was all very uncomfortable. And that’s because our culture is still working its way through this attitude problem.

  3. Worst of all, to me, looking at and listening to and reading the ‘main stream’ media around here: almost entirely the discussion consist of white people talking about the mess with other white people. Goddessa forbid that any African American voices be heard. The only “black” voices I’ve heard are: 1) the president, who isn’t African American; 2) some Africans, in Europe.

    This doesn’t help. Couldn’t you all even find Skip Gates? It feels like the Civil Rights era all over again.

    In the mean time African Americans are talking about all this, a lot, with each other and everyone they can; our friends have sure been talking to us, among others. They also have a lot to say online, and on the very few by now — and only one around here – black public radio, the jazz station out of Newark, NJ.

    However, it is heartening to hear a lot of the white voices who are talking about the police and Eric Garner around here, and they too condemn the actions of the police and the grand jury. Last week that’s all anyone anywhere talked about. This week, I don’t know, as I’ve been fairly immured with the activities at the Met with the upcoming show of Kongo art and starting meetings with people re events around publishing The American Slave Coast next year, so I haven’t been out and about much, to eavesdrop overhear people’s conversations. Plus the torture report sort of replaced police brutality as the subject — yet the two are so closely related. We are seeing the convergence emerge of huge social – political forces of many things that are making the police state of America since at least Reagan, though really, since Nixon, which was a dress rehearsal for the all information-gathering-and-surveillance-of-everybody-all-the-time state.

    It really does help that our mayor has come out as disagreeing with the Grand Jury decision, and his African American wife and biracial children are speaking up. It really DOES help ….

    Love, C.

    • I don’t watch mainstream media, but given that the default expert even on NPR so often seems to be a white man, I can’t say that I’m surprised.

      Though I do think white people should be speaking out. White people who understand the problem need to be educating white people who don’t get it. That’s how we get the kind of white progress we need.

      • I agree on that. But public radio really should be having black voices, and they do not. It’s an ongoing scandal, that WNYC has NO black programing at all. None. Zilch. Not even the public radio programs of Afrop Worldwide or The Tavis Smiley show. There are no African American personalities either, such as news voices.

        Love, C.

        • You’re depressingly right. And there are plenty of good people who could do the core programming, not to mention plenty of people who should be interviewed. In DC, we had a local program hosted first by Derek McGinty (who moved into TV and I think is now a local anchor in DC) and now by Kojo Nnamdi, both of whom were excellent interviewers and hosts. But those shows never went national. And why not interview the neuroscientist Carl Hart about drug issues, given what his research is showing? Just to name a few people who ought to be heard from more often.