Let’s get real, fellow white people. We are afraid of Black people. Even for those of us who have worked diligently on our racism, who have tons of Black friends, some black people scare us, the young men, maybe, with low slung pants, who listen to that music that most of us older folks don’t really like.
We need to get over this fear. If we are going to get Bernie Sanders elected, if we are going to build a movement for a society that puts people before profit, we need to get beyond this fear.
The best way to get over our fear is to make friends with Black people. This is easier than we think. Considering all the hostility Black people get from white people, all the myriad microaggressions, in my experience most Black people are hungry for white allies, no matter how awkward we are at first. And there will be awkward uncomfortable moments. But if we want to stay in our comfort zone, we probably should give up on the revolution, because it won’t happen. The revolution is not a dinner party, someone once said.
Let me tell you my story, some of which is fictionalized in my forthcoming novel, White Knight. I had a job as a temporary teacher at a school in a low income, mostly black neighborhood in San Francisco. We’re talking mid 70s here. I was separating from my first wife and decided to move into an all-black housing project near the school so that if I needed to fight for my job I would have access to parent support – basically for selfish or at least self-interested reasons. I had been through a similar experience at another school. I was scared as shit at first. I hadn’t grown up around Black people. I had a few Black friends. This was a complex of buildings, Geneva Towers, with upwards of 500 apartments. (You can see the implosion of this complex — another story — in the background of my blog). I was surprised at how welcoming everyone was. In my experience, Black people by and large really like it when we reach out to them, when we can cut through the bullshit and get human with them. Long story short, I did lose the job, I kind of tried to organize the parents, but it didn’t work. Still I stayed and became a respected member of that community. Lots of other stuff happened but you’ll have to read the book (White Knight) to get that story, no spoilers here.
In my experience, Black – and Latino – culture is incredibly warm and welcoming. Suffering from oppression forces you to get in touch with your humanity, which helps you to see the humanity in others.
So, if you want Bernie to win and you want to help develop a society that places people before profit, make friends with some Black people.
Ironically, many of us white progressives, perpetrators of gentrification that we are, now live in integrated neighborhoods. Get to know your neighbors. You have more in common than you have differences.
One difference is the economic situation. To conjure up some empathy for Black people, it might be useful to look at the statistics. In 2010, the median wealth of white families was $113,000. The median wealth of Black families was $6000. That’s a ratio of 20 to1, or to put it another way, Black wealth is 5% of white wealth. Median. So, if you’re somewhere near the white median, imagine what life would be like if you suddenly lost 95% of your money and property. Imagine what it would like to struggle to pay the rent every month, to drive an old car that breaks down once a month, but you don’t have the money to fix it. Imagine you’ve used all your food stamps and there’s still a week to go in the month and there’s no food in the house. Imagine you’ve gotten a few parking tickets but you couldn’t afford to pay them so you end up owing three times as much. Imagine watching your kids go to bed after a bowl of cereal with powdered milk because that’s all you have. Most of us median whites can get through life’s petty annoyances by throwing money at them. This is what white privilege looks like.
White people were not born racist, but we are forced to suck it in with our mother’s milk. We resisted the imposition of racist ideas as much as we could, but the onslaught was relentless. Much of our racism derives from the fear engendered by segregation – most of us grow up with little contact with Black people. This is why the integrationist movement was so important to us, more so probably than for Blacks. We wanted to overcome our fear of Black people. We knew it was wrong and limiting us. But we also knew unconsciously that if we were treated as viciously as Black people, we would harbor murder in our hearts. We are surprised when we do get to know Black people that they don’t by and large resent us, that they, more than we, tend to understand that it is the system that is responsible for the grotesque inequality that exists between us.
I do think a national discussion around ending the war on Black people will help. The more white people hear that the ratio of white wealth to Black wealth is 20:1, the more they will wonder how such a grotesque injustice came about. The more they find out about how the New Deal essentially excluded Blacks, that Social Security and unemployment insurance did not apply to domestic or agricultural workers, fields of employment that were overwhelmingly Black; the more they hear about redlining and reverse redlining that deprived and still deprives blacks of attaining equity in a house, they will come around to supporting ways of redressing the injustice. White people hate injustice. We just all too often fail to see it.