Whiteness Matters

Between the racist comments, the constant use of the race denial card (this country's most frequently used "race card"), and the absurd claims of White victimhood, our conversations about race need to change. The failed responses, at a rhetorical and a policy level in the aftermath of Katrina and post-Trayvon highlights a persistent failure to account for American racism. As Richard Wright reminded us decades ago, "There isn't any Negro problem; there is only a white problem." In other words, there isn't a race card, but the injustices of persistent racism, one that not only erects obstacles but also provides unearned advantages for White America. Whiteness matters and it is time to account for American racism.

Sure, we got teary during The Blind Side and Antoine Fisher; we maybe even gave money to KONY2012 and after Hurricane Katrina; we maybe even donned a hoodie to protest the murder of Trayvon Martin. Sympathy and apologies are in great supply. As James Baldwin once said, "People can cry much easier than they can change." I don't even doubt there are individuals out there who are genuinely concerned about racism and injustice; I don't doubt that there are many Whites that marched with Dr. King and whose "best friends" might be Black. None of this matters if African Americans continue to die at the hands of guns held by security guards and police officers all without justice

During the last few months, I have heard over and over again: "we are all Trayvon Martin." Yet we are not Trayvon Martin - and we never could be. White America is never suspicious. Is it White America who is stopped and frisked in cities like New York? Can you imagine if Whites in Salt Lake City were stopped daily in search of guns, even though only .2% of those stops would result in finding a weapon? We can already hear the outrage!

Is it White America who must show their papers when stopped in places Arizona? Is it White America who endures "driving while black," "shopping while black," or "walking while black." Driving or shopping while White is not an issue insomuch as Whites are able to engage in the practices without being seen as problem. White America can walk to the store without fear of being hunted down. White America can count on justice and a nation grieving at the loss of White life. We aren't Trayvon Martin, we are George Zimmerman; we aren't Rekia Boyd or Marisa Alexander: we are presumed innocent until proven innocent. We are seen as victims worthy of protection and mourning. The cover of People Magazine features three victims of Aurora and not the many victims of extrajudicial violence and the daily realities of guv violence.

I want you to close your eyes for a second, and imagine that your son or daughter, sister or brother, granddaughter or grandson, ventured to the corner store for some Skittles and tea but never returned? Can you imagine if Peter or Jan were gunned down right around the corner from your house and the police didn't notify you right away? Can you imagine if little Cindy or Bobby sat in the morgue for days as you searched to find out what happened them? Can you even imagine the police letting the perpetrator go or the news media remaining silent? Can you even fathom learning about background and drug tests on your child? Can you imagine the news media demonizing your child, blaming your child for his own death?

Can you imagine the outcry if seven White youths had been gunned down by police and security guards in a matter of months? What about more than 110 in 6 months? Can you imagine the extensive political interest, the media stories that would saturate the airwaves? If the recent coverage of shooting in Aurora is any indication, there would be little else on the national media landscape. Can you imagine Fox News or any number of newspapers reporting about a school suspension for one of the victims or doctoring pictures in an attempt to make these victims less sympathetic? Can you imagine a person holding up a sign calling these victims "thugs" and "hoodlums." Can you imagine pundits blaming White youth for wearing "thug wear" or citing THC in their system as explanation for why our sons and daughters are gunned down with unfathomable frequency. Just think about the media frenzy, the concern from politicians, and the national horror every time a school shooting happens in Suburbia or every time a White woman goes missing ... can you imagine if women routinely went missing from your community and the news and police department simply couldn't be bothered?

No, you can't. And you don't have to.

Yet, from Florida to Los Angeles, from Atlanta to Wisconsin, from Chicago to Ohio, Black families are burying the innocent and the future. Doesn't that make you sad; doesn't that make your angry? Our silence is telling. We can barely say their names much less acknowledge the epidemic in our midst: Stephon Watts; Trayvon Martin; Ramarley Graham; Wendell Allen; Dante Price; Bo Morrison; Rekia Boyd; Kendrec McDade.

All have lost their lives; and we don't even say their names. Many of us don't even know their stories and don't care about their "Dreams Deferred." All have died under similarly disturbing circumstances. All should have prompted national outrage and action; or at the least for us to say their names. All point to the fallacy of a post-racial America.

Instead of saying their names and recognizing the level of extrajudicial violence harming communities of color, White America trots out denials and distractions in the form of claims about "black-on-black" crime. "The term, Black-on-Black violence, has anesthetized us from wanting to do something about it. We resist gun control because we believe only African Americans commit gun violence," writes Mark Thompson. "The moment we start saying White-on-White violence, the conversation will change. Imagine if the presidential candidates were asked for their plans to prevent White-on-White violence. Plans would materialize, and both political parties would end their silence on gun control. Otherwise, we will eventually become numb to the gun deaths of whites, too."

I don't care if you cried during The Help and if the 'feel good' movie of the year featuring chicken-frying maids and affluent White women made you feel all post-racial tingly on the inside. Did you cry at the report of yet another lost Black life? If so, what have those tears done - have they led you to join a rally, to demand justice? I don't care if you voted for President Obama; have you demanded dramatic changes to our criminal (in)justice system? It is time for us to check ourselves, to listen and demand a better America starting with ourselves. It is time to stop denying racism and defending White privilege, distracting and deflecting with "what ifs" and excuses. It is time to move beyond wishing for a post-racial America, but demanding post-whiteness. "Whiteness travels in stealth; it is supplemented by what anti-racist feminist Peggy McIntosh, writing on White privilege, unforgettably names the "invisible knapsack." The fact is: that "knapsack" has been quite visible in the lives of native and non-white Americans. It has only been invisible to those who carry the weightless knapsack on their backs. Indeed, the burden of the sack is felt by everyone but the bearer," writes Darnell Moore. "It seems, then, that there is a need for new interrogations of our present racial moment. This may very well be the perfect moment for us to enter, as opposed to transcend, America's racial imagination." We have seen the power and consequences of this knapsack in countless cases. It is time to demand justice for the Trayvons and the Rekias, it is time to collectively account for the horrific mistreatment of Marissa Alexander and Kelley Williams-Bolar not because it could have been one of our sons and daughters--it couldn't--but because it is simply the right thing to do.