I’ve been a Bill Maher fan for years, since his Politically Incorrect show. On his last Real Time show, he floated an idea that I think is dangerous for the continued movement of the country towards equal justice for all. He and one of his guest opined that the Black Lives Matter movement was actually a deterrent to addressing the real culprit in America’s demise, poverty. There is no question that the progenitors of poverty need to be addressed to cure what ails all of America. But to say that there is not a racial component to poverty in America is not just naïve, but ignores the powerful, all consuming commitment to white privilege encompassed in the majority of white Americans. It’s not by accident that close to 2 million black men are incarcerated in America and police feel they have license to gun down black men and women like dogs, in the streets or in their own homes. Those of us who lived through Jim Crow and the horror of lynching and rape at the hands of white men know first hand the reality of systemic racism. It took millions of black men and women shedding blood in the streets and being willing to die to overcome the more lethal outward manifestations of white privilege and we fully understand the danger of ignoring the fact that the motivation behind Jim Crow is still very much alive.
I would suggest to Bill Maher and his guest, (a young black entrepreneur and blogger named Kmele Foster), both of whom I believe are well intentioned in their positions, that there are actually two components to the injustice America is struggling with. There is the poverty resulting from the lack of education, living wage and economic development and there is the intentional impoverishment of people of color, especially those of African decent. The myth that because slavery and Jim Crow are now illegal, therefore there is no discrimination against black people has been used to absolve lawmakers and the powerbrokers that control the institutions and vehicles of power of their responsibility for perpetuating systemic racism. Real change will require convincing white Americans that equal justice and opportunity for all is in their best interest as much as in the interest of minorities victimized by the status quo. That can’t be accomplished by burying our heads in the sand and pretending none of it exists.
Like Kmele Foster, I’ve heard other talented young black people, most note worthy Candace Owens whom I’ve spoken of on a previous post, passionately extol the virtues of self reliance and the value of not blaming others for your predicament. I understand exactly where they’re coming from. When I was their age I wrote an entire book titled, “African American Prosperity; You’ll See It When You Believe It”. While I still subscribe to the principles of self-reliance I discussed in the book, I now have a much better appreciation for the difficulty in accomplishing those objectives. The barriers incased in financial markets, real estate appraisers, zoning boards and other institutions are extremely formidable in their ability to make progress 10 times more difficult for black people than for white people, than I could have possibly imagined at that age. That’s not to say that those barriers can’t be overcome as many do, but it is unrealistic to think that the massive transformation needed to uplift the mass of people still at the effect of Jim Crow ethics and tradition is possible without a concerted commitment by everyone, especially white America. In other words, it is as important to remove the barriers to self-reliance, as it is to change the culture from victimhood to self-reliance. For Mr. Foster and Ms. Owens to suggest the problems identified by the Black Lives Matter movement are all of their own making is to negate the sacrifices of the thousands who were beaten and killed so that they can enjoy the benefits and opportunities they have today relatively without fear of loss of life and property.
It is important we continue to point out the role of systemic racism has played in America’s demise in recent years, not for the purpose of condemning those responsible for its continued use or to make white people feel guilty about it, but to educate and identify what is needed to effect the necessary change. No one knows exactly what the correct solution to those problems are. We have only our own understanding and personal experience to guide us. It is only through dialogue that, if we are lucky, will enable us to stumble into the right answer. What’s important is that we all have pure intentions, meaning we want the outcome to be satisfying to all concerned. That is why I welcome the commentary from everyone I’ve mentioned in the post.
As I’ve been saying in previous posts, white privilege is a very hard habit to break. It is just as hard to break the habit of victimhood and blame. We must begin to see them as different sides of the same coin. To trivialize either is to deny reality.