Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Undergraduate Times in July. It has been republished here with the author’s consent.
Imagine a black man of tall stature and brawny build walks onto an elevator wearing all black—baggy jeans, a hoody, and a face mask—and the only other occupant, an elderly white woman, instinctively clenches her purse and gasps in fear of being robbed. Now, it would be easy for me to describe this woman’s reaction as racist. Perhaps some liberals might even suggest that the woman herself was ‘a racist.’ But frankly, I see black men who fit the aforementioned description all of the time in my neighborhood in Southeast DC and though I try not to assume the worst, there have been instances in which upon being approached by someone, the possibility of being robbed has crossed my mind.
Is that racist of me? I don’t think so. Cognizance of robbery in such instances stems from my understanding of the fact that more black men are killed at the hands of other black men than by white police officers.
As a nineteen year old African-American male who aspires to one day be President of The United States, I admire Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama. But just because I am a black democrat does not mean that I have to agree with the notion that everything that offends black people is racist. As Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson evidenced in The Declining Significance of Race in 1978: the significance of race in America is, in fact, declining. That does not mean that race is not important, nor does it mean that racism is non-existent. Racism is perhaps as prevalent in America as thuggery is in poor black communities.
Needless to say, racism is not only problematic; it is shameful. Also shameful is the reality that some of my black peers at Williams College would likely exclaim racism if a white student on campus publicly stated that in light of recent events surrounding the death of Freddie Gray, some students of color have deemed racist nearly every person, policy, effort, or action that offends them. But because I’m black, it is very unlikely that writing this article makes me a racist, in their eyes. Instead, because I am black it is possible that writing this article could lead to some of my black peers viewing me as ‘anti-black.’
While I welcome anyone who feels so inclined to challenge my understanding of race in America, I cannot help but feel sorry for someone who feels the need to describe anyone as racist or anti-black for making critical observations of racial attitudes that find fault in the logic of racial reasoning, or the behavior of black thugs in Harlem. One need not feel the urge to apologize for observing that owing to perceived racial bias, some black college students are hypersensitive to anything having to do with race.
This hypersensitivity to race can lead to racial reasoning which posits that everything that offends black people constitutes white racism. Yet the reasoning is erroneous precisely because it conflates racially insensitive treatment, which can be unintentional with racism, which is invidious. For a white person to say that there are young black thugs in poor communities who do more harm than good and need to get their act together is not racist, nor do I find that remark offensive or racially insensitive. Yet we may imagine how many black progressives, like Cornel West, would respond to hearing a white Reagan conservative, like Pat Buchanan, emphasize the need for young black thugs to evince personal responsibility.
As a black student at a predominantly white collegiate institution, I have white friends on both sides of the aisle who tell jokes about race. I have white friends with whom I am quite close who have told me of how much they dislike Barack Obama. I often laugh at their jokes because, well, I do find them funny. Sometimes I even tell my own. Other times, I debate energetically or agree to disagree with my friends politically.
In the event that one of my white friends says something about race that offends me, I don’t consider their remarks to be racist, nor would I describe them as being racially insensitive. Rather, I would do my best to explain how and why their remarks may offend students of color.
To black liberals who do their very best not to blame poor black people who engage in violent criminal activity, I issue the challenge of making a concerted effort to understand how blindly blaming white racism for virtually every undesirable racial reality hinders America’s ability to move toward a racially just society.