Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Just Because I'm White Doesn't Mean I'm Wrong

I understand what it’s like to be white.

I understand the privileges bestowed on me purposely and unconsciously by others just because of how I look.

And I understand that I don’t understand what it’s like to not be white. Intellectually, maybe, but not really.

It’s not right to assume that I’m blind or ignorant or incapable or unqualified to have opinions about race because I never had to sit in the back of a bus or drink from a designated water fountain.

I get to define what I think about black people.

Not black people.

Not other white people.


I get to decide what I think is effective and less so when it comes to addressing race relations. I don’t have to be black to have ideas about how best to fight racism. My ideas might not be the best but they’re not automatically the worst just because I’m less likely to die during a routine traffic stop than a person of color.

I believe that #BlackLivesMatter and I want to help address the problems faced by people of color in this country. But when I dared to use Facebook yesterday to criticize Mara Jacqueline Willaford and Marissa Jenae Johnson, the two women who disrupted a political rally in Seattle last Saturday, August 8, I was ridiculed, unfriended and patronized by blacks and whites alike.

I was accused of being blind to the benefits of white privilege and unqualified to have an opinion about effective activism. My posts (shared below) were reposted with derisive introductions and I found myself for the first time in the strange position of having to defend myself against accusations of racism.

For the record, I judge people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Always have and always will.

Isn’t that a good thing?

I get it. People are frustrated because their wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, children and friends can’t go outside without being killed. It’s not safe in Ferguson, Staten Island, McKenney, Hempstead, Sanford, Cincinnati or anywhere else. But it’s not right to marginalize, silence or disregard me because I don’t look like Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Troy Davis, Sam DuBose or the countless other people of color who’ve been terrorized and murdered in the last few years. Just like it’s wrong to obstruct Barack Obama’s agenda and torpedo his presidency because he’s not white, it’s wrong to insult and alienate me because I am.
  • I was just unfriended by a young African-American man because I objected to his saying, "Most white people are evil." How strange to find myself in this position.
  • Wow. I was unfriended by a black guy for essentially being white and told by people half my age that I need to learn about white privilege and to let people fight for justice and equality using whatever tactics they want. Time to take a break from Facebook.
  • I just unfriended a white Malcolm X wannabe for calling me a "condescending, paternalistic asshole." One thing Mara Jacqueline Willaford and Marissa Jenae Johnson have succeeded at is shortening my Facebook friends list.
  • People are turned off by combativeness and obnoxiousness when it isn't obviously connected to any message or "ask." No one likes loud for the sake of loud, as any Occupy Wall Street activist can now tell you. What did Mara Jacqueline Willaford and Marissa Jenae Johnson achieve with their performance? Who did they reach? What was their message? Whose eyes were opened? They achieved nothing - other than to make people dislike them and not care what they would have said had they been able to say it. They weren't off-putting because they forced white people to look at the systemic racism that's killing black people in this country. They were off-putting just for the sake of being off-putting. That makes potential allies look to other issues and causes and is therefore stupid.
  • One of my Facebook friends - a young white guy - keeps posting that it's just too bad if people have a problem with confrontational disruptions. Play Malcolm X all you want, pal, but Mara Jacqueline Willaford and Marissa Jenae Johnson alienated potential allies and damaged, more than helped, the BLM movement. That's a fact.
  • Note to people of color: there are many of us white people who truly believe that black lives matter and desperately want to play a role in making things better. If you're telling us that we have to embrace assholes like the two Seattle women and their embarrassing behavior in order to affect change, you're alienating people who want to be in your corner. That seems nonstrategic and unwise to this middle-aged white dude.
  • Note to BLM activists: I suggest more Bree Newsome and less Mara Jacqueline Willaford/Marissa Jenae Johnson.
  • Call it whatever you want but that wasn't "uncomfortable activism" in Seattle the other day. That was two obnoxious, shrill, off-putting microphone hogs embarrassing themselves and temporarily derailing an important movement. Those two immature assholes alienated your allies and made it MORE likely that you'll continue to fear for your lives when you see blinking red and blue lights in your rearview mirrors. Why you claim and embrace misguided fools is a mystery to this middle-aged white dude.
  • Now that I've seen this clip, I'm even more sure of my opposition to these shrill, obnoxious, off-putting "activists." This isn't about frustration over police brutality and racism; this is two immature assholes embarrassing themselves and derailing an important movement. If you think my view is shaped by my racism and/or white privilege, let me know and I'll unfriend you faster than butter melts on a hot August sidewalk.
When I said yesterday that I was going to take a break from Facebook because of the vitriol, someone told me not to be so sensitive. I may be thin-skinned but I’m not thick-headed. It’s not helpful to attack people who want to fight this fight with you. Yes, some white people are the problem. But some white people are not. Race relations may not improve even if we’re at the table but things sure won’t get better if we’re kicked out of the room.

Just like one would think Israelis would know better than to do to Palestinians what was done to them, you’d think people of color would know better than to silence people who want to communicate with them. I guess nothing’s black or white, huh?


  1. Patrick, we're definitely on the same page on this one.

    The orientation of BLM is absolutely right on. Note that those bikers in Waco, almost all of whom were white, were sitting around smoking cigs with cops within an hour or so of 9 people getting killed in a freaking riot. If the bikers had been black, they'd either all be dead or breaking rock by this point in time. No cigs.

    Furthermore, while I completely disagree with Willaford and Johnson's tactics, I don't know anything about their personal situations or experiences. I do know that I cannot imagine how angry and frustrated I'd be if I were black; so, I might be someone who'd grab the megaphone too under different life circumstances.

    But, trying to discuss what constitutes good strategy and tactics shouldn't be sufficient cause for getting called names. In fact, the whole name calling thing is a form of totalitarian and dehumanizing behavior. If someone is a "racist asshole", it doesn't take much to stop caring if they live or die or if they are well or sick. They're a "them", and making others into a "them" is almost always a questionable activity (although there probably is a special place for soulless creeps like Richard Nixon)

  2. They would be well served to remember that it was mostly white men who died in the civil war to free their ancestors from slavery. Or that it was a white President who desegregated the south.

    They should do more to outreach and engage their allies rather than dragging them down for cheap stunts.

    1. And you would be well served to remember that white people began the practice of generational enslavement and stolen labor along with the fact that Lincoln was not on board with ending slavery because it was wrong rather he knew strategically it would gut the southern economy. Perhaps you should educate yourself before you respond in ways that are factually inaccurate.

    2. Uh maybe you need to rethink your educational postulations. Slavery has been around in most cultures, nationalities, religions and has been recorded back to 1700BC.

  3. I hope you're done calling them bad names, though. You were off to a good start before you went crazy. Those young women are what? Twenty three? Twenty five? And you are...and Mr Sanders,,,? As we age, one would hope that patience and awareness creepa in. I'm pretty sure almost no 24 year old can see all the way around a situation with as much presision as your hard old glare. There's white, and then there's cranky and oblivious. You really started that well, but I can't share it because of your hissy fit.