It’s Woeful Wednesday, a day I’m allowed to whine and rant and wail. Today I have something a little self-revealing. I hope anyone old and white and nominally progressive who reads this might ask himself, herself: What is he on about? Is he trying to suggest that I might have some racist roots too? You see, I am suggesting that, suggesting in the context of accepting the #blacklivesmatter movement activists’ choice to disrupt progressive politics as usual to get their message across…
So here’s my confessional moment that I think provides a foundation for why I agree that we have to disrupt our nominal progressive allies in order to advance the BLM movement:
See, I think it’s about racism and denial. Some of my best friends (irony intended) are white people who are in denial about their racism. Many of them were fortunate enough to have been brought up to believe that ALL lives really do matter. Others were brought up in rougher circumstances and suffered some cognitive dissonance around just why dad thought Archie Bunker was funny and mom did not. If you’re white like me you were brought up in a rough and tumble playground setting where mutual segregation was the norm and racial epithets were in the air because what’s wrong with that really? (You can’t write about this without a bunch of intentional irony). If you’re white like me you heard some pretty bad jokes at the expense of black people, and you laughed. You may even have repeated the jokes. If you were naive enough not to even understand them, well–you’re better off.
If you’re from the North and white like me, you grew up understanding that the sons and daughters of the Confederacy were racist yahoos, but you were content that the Yankees had kicked Confederate butt and freed the slaves, and so how racist could we be, really? If you’re working class white like me you worked for every dime you had from middle school until you found your first real full time job… the paper routes, the ice cream bike, the short order cook, the library assistant thing… if you think about it you might notice that none of the Madison newsies were black, the Street Treats guy only had white kids riding for him… if you think about it now. Odds are, you didn’t think about it then.
If you’re white like me you may have a memory of that time a black friend who was working in the dorm dish-room one summer gave you a ride home and your mom quizzed you a little too harshly about who that was? You aren’t going out with her are you? (You knew you’d be lucky to get a date with her, but to your shame you let mom influence your behavior).
If you’re an old white man like me you’ve been confronted with a couple of generations of feminists since the sixties, and if you’re really lucky maybe one or two of your grandmas were first wave feminists too. But that doesn’t inoculate you from the R word. Maybe in college you learned about red-lining and you supported civil rights activists. Maybe, god help you, you put down the hash pipe and got clean for Gene.
The fact is, if you soak a cucumber long enough in brine, it becomes a pickle. A lot of my best friends are pickles. I certainly am. We’ll never be cucumbers again, but unless we get over the denial about what a pickle we’re in, we’ll never be able to let go of the self-righteousness that obscures our understanding of why #blacklivesmatter.
(As always, none of this is sponsored by the old-white-guy-patriarchy, and my employer–if I had one–would as likely as not wonder what the hell I’m talking about).