Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Four Myths White People Want to Believe about Race Part One:The George Wallace Gambit

The next few blogs posts will deal with the four myths that white people want to believe about race.

MYTH NUMBER ONE. We will call this the George Wallace Gambit. That is when you try to pretend that a movement only exists because irresponsible leaders are agitating the otherwise good and peaceful Negros. George Wallace once famously said “We have never had a problem here in the south, except in a very few isolated instances and those have been the result of outside agitators.”

     Whenever there has been oppression there have been oppressors decrying “outside agitators” It seems that this is the first step in the playbook to discredit a movement. Right now in 2014 we seem to love and admire Martin Luther King Jr. (well we love the toned down Coke zero version of King that the media has pushed on us for the past 15 years or so but that’s a different blog post) but in 60’s King was reviled and hated. Harry Truman had called him a troublemaker and a “publicity seeker”.  These are the same charges that have been leveled against Al Sharpton, or anyone else who attempts to talk about race and oppression in America.

     There is a section of America that seems to believe that if black leaders would just stop talking about race and oppression, it would go away. Recently police officials, actors, politicians and pundits have all tried to place blame on Al Sharpton for the murder of 2 NYPD police officers.  Al Sharpton has been called a race hustler, a race pimp, a demagogue. They have said, that if Sharpton would just be quiet none of these protests would be going on. They have said, that without Sharpton there would be no looting, or violence, or anger. They have said, that without Sharpton there would be no “die ins,” no shutting down of highways or malls. The critics have more or less insinuated that Al Sharpton is a pied piper leading the poor unsuspecting black folks to their doom.

     It’s times like these that painfully remind me of how little the general White community knows about Black folks. Contrary to popular belief Al Sharpton's legacy and leadership is a highly contested topic in the black community. There was no secret vote in Larry's Barbershop to elect Al Sharpton the undisputed leader of black folk. There are some of us who like, love and hate him.  There have been vast critiques of Sharpton and his methods from the youth activists of Ferguson to the Ivy League intellectuals like Cornell West. Al Sharpton has a place in the movement but he is NOT the movement. Blaming Al Sharpton for the protests is na├»ve and shortsighted. Blaming him for the murder of two police officers is libelous and sickening.

     You think that if Al Sharpton took a leave of absence that Black folks would suddenly no longer be angry about police brutality? You think if Al Sharpton went to a desert island people would stop shutting down streets and malls? You think if Al Sharpton was shot into space Black folk would suddenly have group amnesia and fail to remember that we are living in an oppressive system that doesn't value black life?

     But I understand, Al Sharpton is an easy target. America has always hated loud, confident Black men. They have always wanted us to be less arrogant and uppity. Less Ali and more Cassius. You don’t have to like Al Sharpton. You don’t even have to respect him. His job is not to earn your love, or your respect; his job as an activist is to bring attention to issues. The fact that you hate him so much that your willing to ascribe him mystical powers of mass persuasion, shows that he is doing his job, regardless of how you feel about him. I am absolutely sure that Al Sharpton doesn't lie awake at night wondering why right wing tea partiers and Fox News pundits don't like him.
     But let me be clear, this is bigger than Sharpton. He is just the current embodiment of the black boogieman that scares White right-wing America right now. This is about a system that uses the same language, reasoning, and actions to discredit anyone that dares to shove a mirror in it's face. White America doesn't like what it sees, so it constructs mythologies to hide behind, it constructs stories to make itself feel better, it whispers sweet lies in it's own ears so it can sleep at night. But it's not about Sharpton, it's about the bigger picture. 

     It's about the first myth. The idea that if they discredit and destroy our leadership, the rest of us will go away like lemmings. They killed King, Malcolm, Fred Hampton, Medgar Evers and many others; they imprisoned and tried to disgrace Huey Newton, Marcus Garvey, Geronimo Pratt and countless others. Yet the movement lives on, because you can’t kill an idea, you can't trick people into not wanting equal rights. You can't kill unarmed black man after unarmed black man for the better part of a year and tell folks "Move along, nothing to see here".

     It is a myth that discrediting and blaming Sharpton will cause black folk to abandon the fight to end oppression and police brutality. It is a myth that Fox News or Bill O’Reily or the NYPD police union president will be able to tell black folks who our leaders should be. We will have those debates without you. You keep thinking that it’s outside agitators riling up Black folk and you are going to miss your chance to be on the right side of history. You are going to miss your chance to make effective change. Black folks will stop talking about oppression when oppression stops; we will stop marching against police brutality when the brutality stops, when the harassment stops, when the racism stops. But go ahead, keep using the George Wallace Gambit, keep talking about outside agitators and racial hustlers or race pimps, or race magicians, or whatever colorful language Rush tells you to use this week. There are two things you should remember : the arc of history is long but it bends towards justice, and the history books are rarely kind to oppressors and those who support them.