Sometimes 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.