Whenever I get the opportunity to address a group of black youths or counsel a black male one-on-one, I always impress upon them two truths in our society, which I tell them never to forget. The first is: you are not white. This may seem obvious, but we have come to think of ourselves as being “the same” as our white friends and co-workers. We are fed the lines… and most of us have come to believe it, even on a subconscious level… that “colour doesn’t matter”, “we’re all the same”, “if we cut we all bleed red”, “blah blah blah”. The second truth, which flows from the first, is that: the colour of your skin matters. It matters in how you are perceived, accepted and treated. This may also seem obvious, but again on a subconscious level, we expect to be treated “fair”-ly by society, that is, “the same” as our “fair”-skinned brothers and sisters.
It is because of these two truths why I am not very sympathetic nor supportive, when black people complain that they are not being treated “the same” (there’s that term again) as white people when they do illegal, unethical or just plain dumb shit. For me the issue isn’t the fact that the white person would get probation for the same crime that a black person is getting 5 years in jail. Nor the fact that a Barry Bonds is being vilified for using steroids, while a Mark McGwire is now a hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. The point is that they shouldn’t have been doing what they knew was wrong in the first place and once they got caught, they should know and expect that they won’t be treated “the same” (there’s that term again) as the white person… or let’s say “fair”-ly. Let me ask this: “when have we ever been treated ”fair”-ly… whether it is for the good or the bad that we’ve done?” So why are you expecting it now!? White boys caught doing drugs are seen as going through an “experimental phase”. Black boys caught doing drugs are seen as “drug fiends”. This is our real world, not one of our imagination.
Which all gets me to Tim Wise. The blogosphere, as well as the afrosphere, are all abuzz about his article, “Imagine: Protest, Insurgency and the Workings of White Privilege”. In it he argues that if black people did the same crazy, ignorant, obnoxious, reprehensible, racist, illegal or just plain dumb shit that some white people do, then we’d be perceived and treated differently. That’s it. That’s his theory. Well any black child in grade 3 could tell you that black people are treated differently than white people, although maybe not in a self-righteous pseudo-intellectual essay. However for this insight, Wise is given accolades, much props and worshipped as a prophet of enlightenment.
The problem I have with his treatise is that he is working from the premise that black people and white people are “the same” (there’s that term again), so given the opportunity black people would be likely to act just like them. The issue isn’t to “imagine” what would happen if black folks decided to arm themselves with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition, and then descended upon Capital Hill or the White House calling for revolution. The reality is that there are countless guns and ammunition in the black community already, which we’re using to exterminate each other, so in time there won’t be enough black people left standing to call for any kind of revolution. The issue isn’t to “imagine” how black folks would be perceived if they acted like the “Tea Party” and took to the streets to express their anger at the government and organize politically to achieve their agenda. The reality is the apathy and lack of urgency among black folks to take to the streets of Washington to demand that their government also look after their collective interests, like it did for big business.
Listen I get his act and I’m not hating (although it may sound like it). It’s all about marketing and Tim Wise has been able to market himself as the embodiment of white guilt. In a previous post, “Stuff White People Like”, I explained that there are the “Tim Wise” types… white people who make their living pimping diversity workshops and anti-racism seminars, as well as hustling their books, cds, dvds and t-shirts… and we get dazzled and follow along mindlessly… again.
America is about capitalism, which means also capitalizing on others pain, fears, sufferings and weaknesses. Marketing works because it appeals to our weaknesses, not our strengths… and we, “black folk”, have a weakness for the white guilty liberal male. We graciously give them the platform so that they can feel privileged to speak to our pain, to rage against the injustices we experience… be it yesterday, today and tomorrow. We celebrated them for confessing to the guilt that they are privileged to feel, due to the “fair”-ness of their skins. Of course (and here’s the irony), all for the privilege of paying the price of admission to hear them lecture on this, their area of expertise… and also to buy their merchandise.