Tucked away in the affluent suburbs of New York, white liberals have gravitated to the same string of words – “we need to take the moral high ground” – their security blanket in the face of race riots and burning cities.
A week ago, we may have nodded, too polite to point out that this was never their fight.
The public slaying of George Floyd exposed a gaping wound every black American carries, buried deep within our souls. Buried deep, not for shame, but so that we can carry on with our day-to-day without bleeding out. That wound is the unrelenting understanding that in America, we matter less.
It is an unwritten rule. Our success hinges on being pleasant, articulate, gregarious, and putting everyone at ease in our black presence, lest we be deemed dispensable. Most days, that knowledge feels like an irritating old wound that has scarred over, one that still itches and irritates but is reinforced in a way that feels unbreakable.
This changed with the slaying of George Floyd, the powder keg moment in a litany of racially charged police-directed fatalities of black Americans. With George Floyd, so died black Americans’ capacity to endure, to keep explaining why Black Lives Matter, to quietly accept our second-class status, and to talk about race in a way that puts white Americans at ease.
White Liberal Racism
White liberal racism isn’t new in the United States. In the early 1900s, the country rebuilt from the tatters of the Civil War, and Black America writhed from the failure of Reconstruction. The overwhelming sea of white public opinion threatened to suffocate black Americans trying to tear down Jim Crow with their bare hands.
“The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line,” wrote civil rights activist W.E.B. Dubois in 1903. His words threatened to knock down the privileged platform upon which white men precariously stood. By calling attention to white privilege and the American race issue, the civil rights leader became a threat, a condemned “militant.”
Turning toward comfort, white Progressives like President Theodore Roosevelt, who prided themselves on their liberal race ideas, embraced the black advisor Booker T. Washington. An accommodationist, Washington accepted segregation, calling for black men to help themselves, advocating for “racial harmony.” It was comfortable because it refused to shatter the segregational norm.
Civil Rights Movement
In the late 20th century, during the Civil Rights movement, the United States divided into a struggle to shrug off “separate but equal.” From the ashes of this era, Martin Luther King Jr. emerged as the champion of civil rights.
But in many ways, he is a man rewritten by history, reduced to peace, love, and Instagrammable quotes. Forgotten, along with his more radical contemporaries like Malcolm X and Angela Davis, were his own radical stances on the dangers of the white moderate.
Today, some 60 years later, white liberals are comfortable with BlackLivesMatter hashtags and corporate advertisements – like Nike’s “For Once, Don’t Do It” – with feel-good messages of harmony. This leaves black Americans to walk on eggshells, playing by the rules: don’t be too loud, don’t be too angry, don’t be too forceful.
But the time for comfort is over. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin spared George Floyd no thoughts of “comfort” when he pinned him to the ground. The path to the so-called moral high ground disintegrated as we watched Chauvin’s three colleagues stand by, silently complicit, perhaps in overt disregard for the black man dying in front of them or perhaps merely taking the path of least resistance.
Stand With Us
America has never had peace. In the words of Martin Luther King, “There can be no peace without justice.” Since our country’s birth, the fear of violence has seeped into every facet of Black America. With the riots, a physical expression of our pent-up frustration, the moderate liberal American finally sees it.
We understand that it may be a confusing balancing act we’re asking you to take. Stand with us, but we can no longer be worried about your fear and comfort with our anger. We can no longer stand quietly when you speak for us.
Instead, amplify our voices in the same way Minnesota Governor Tim Walz did when he said, “I not only see you, I hear you, and I stand with you.”Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.