It is often assumed that, since White folks are a majority in this country, the key to ending racism is just making them happy or “listening” to them. Sadly, this has never worked. And, the suggestion that President Obama should waste his time on an angry White people “listening tour” is both ignorant and racist.
On Tuesday, Black male writer Isaac J. Bailey wrote an article for Politico called “Why Obama Must Reach Out to Angry Whites.” In the piece, Bailey suggests that President Obama should help scared White Americans – who have taken to the vitriol and hatred spewed by Donald Trump – by acknowledging their concerns about soon becoming a minority group in the United States. He goes on to say that “These feelings are emerging not because whites are all racists, but because they don’t know what that might mean for them and their children.”
To remedy these fears, Bailey suggests that President Obama become the “Uniter-in-Chief.” He suggests stops for this angry White people listening tour in places like Conway, South Carolina and along the Appalachian Trail. These are, apparently, places where Whites are particularly angry.
“Reaching out directly to those who express hatred for him is the kind of powerful symbolism that can break through a divide that cannot be healed by reciting statistics, will not be moved by stirring sermons and won’t disappear because enough of us wish it away.”
And, while his idea is cute, it rests on the problematic tendency of post-racialists and colorblind warriors to believe that if racial minorities, Black folks in particular, just coddle and placate racist White people, all of the world’s ills will subside. It requires that those who are the subjects of oppression in this country get “spat on,” abused, and otherwise harmed just so that White people will (maybe) feel better.
Bailey assumes that these people a) want to be listened to by a Black man they probably didn’t vote for, likely don’t believe is a true US citizen, and clearly don’t respect and b) deserve personal, targeted attention from a sitting US President. This article may as well had been subsumed under the title, “The Fastest Way to Get a Black President to Apologize for Centuries of White Supremacy.”
Let’s be clear here: while all Whites may not be explicitly racist, they do all benefit from the system of White Supremacy. Whites still enjoy many privileges that people of color, specifically Black Americans, do not. The idea that ending a racial divide requires patting their backs and consoling them ignores their own complicity in the systematic and intentional eradication of Black, Brown, and indigenous folks in this country.
To add, angry Whites who are concerned about becoming a minority group “because they don’t know what that might mean for them and their children,” are clearly aware that being a minority imparts certain dis-privileges. If their happiness is predicated on being a majority group, doesn’t that mean they are acknowledging that this country is harmful toward minority groups? So, the system of privileges and dis-privileges is okay as long as some other groups of people are on the receiving end of the gravest consequences? The unsaid narratives of this piece are more telling than the lukewarm non-solution it sets forth.
Black people have never been responsible for White racism and they never will be. Charging a Black man with ending it centers White people without holding them responsible for their own choices. Bailey didn’t call angry for White people to research the history of racism and oppression in this country. He didn’t ask them to go on a tour of areas in this country which are being occupied by reckless and violent police systems. He didn’t even ask them to Google Juneteenth. His article made racism and White fear someone else’s problem. The notion that this is an avenue to “healing” is actually laughable, not to mention, violent toward Black Americans.
Bailey, like many others, is setting President Obama up as a Magical Negro. Somehow, just by virtue of being a biracial Black man in the White House, President Obama is supposed to be able to charm racist White people out of their long-held, institutionally established, intergenerational hate and privilege. Requiring a special angry White people tour from the first Black President is asking him to do something that has never been required of another president. It prioritizes whiteness and legitimizes their fears as important enough to require presidential action. This, in and of itself, is racist.
Frankly, the only thing President Obama has to do at this moment in history is stay Black and die. He isn’t a unicorn. He certainly isn’t a snowflake. And his magical negro super power isn’t ending White racism.
The sooner everyone gets this, the closer we will be to an actual solution to our problems.
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