On Self-Worth, Fake Racism, and the Black V.I.P.

Elizabeth Wright, Issues and Views, July 24, 2009

Last year, on a radio talk show, New York City’s former Mayor Ed Koch voiced a cliche that’s near and dear to the hearts of many blacks. I was reminded of this cliche while hearing a version of it from a young white man interviewed in Craig Bodeker’s documentary, “A Conversation About Race.” The man in Bodeker’s film remarked that he had seen his black friends “struggle” with racism. He had no details to offer about the nature of said “racism,” but he expressed dismay over something either perceived, or told to him.

Similarly, Ed Koch had claimed that in this terrible society of America, “all blacks” face racism “every day.” According to Koch, from the minute a black leaves his home in the morning to go to work, he encounters ugly, persistent racism, which goes on throughout the day. My ears perked up, because I wanted to know in just which city or state or region were blacks being tormented openly and on a daily basis. Mind you, he was talking about the year 2008. Of course, he, like the young man in the Bodeker film, did not offer any examples of this horrendous treatment.

My instinct was to get in touch with Koch and challenge him to pick any black man, and go off to work with him, spending the entire day on his job, as well as remaining with him in the evening. I would have liked for Koch to come back on radio and report on the terrible, racist encounters suffered that day by that black man.

Of course, we know that no such encounters are occurring on a daily basis. The use of the term “racism” does not mean today what it meant to a 1930s black sharecropper, whose choices were circumscribed by realities that were out of his hands. These blacks cannot pin down specific instances of meaningful, substantive bias, that is, bias that negatively affects their daily livelihood.

The black who whines about facing a “struggle” is not prevented from going about his business, or living his daily life as he chooses. The society he now lives in places no life-threatening obstacles in his path. The degree to which he can prosper is determined by the limitations of his own natural abilities, and vicissitudes of his family, social circle, and upbringing–as is true for everyone else. The very real racism that prevented that 1930s sharecropper from expanding his choices in life is the only type of racism that matters.

However, there are clever blacks who insist on invoking the spirit of that earlier scenario and hyping the “pain of racism,” a disposition that a great many whites eagerly buy into. The goal of such blacks is to keep whites preoccupied forever with the Black Cause, while expanding the scope of just what constitutes “racism.” That scope, of course, must encompass the very thoughts in the heads of others.

Whenever I insist to some complainer that specific instances of racism be cited, he usually stammers and talks in generalities. “Well, you know what I mean,” he will intone, as if I’m supposed to fill in the blanks. What he means is that he takes offense at any form of rejection. Although all human beings face personal rejection at the hands of others, these blacks want exemption from such uncertainties in life. They want no leeway for personal discrimination against themselves.

Recently, a commenter on a popular blog expressed that lame black mantra, “until-you-have-walked-in-my-shoes,” by claiming that the white commenters in the forum, being people “who have never experienced racism on a daily basis since the time you were a child,” could not understand his anguish. Racism, every day, from childhood right into adulthood? Are we really supposed to buy that? And then he really poured it on, by claiming that this racism “makes your heart start to race, your blood start to boil, and tears start to form in your eyes.”

I suspect that if we were to probe deeper into this man’s grievances, we would discover some sticky stuff going on here. Does he cry whenever he finds himself rejected socially by a party or parties with whom he wished to engage? Does social rejection send him into mourning? Or, as in the case cited below, from a black blog, might he harbor a host of insecurities that only competent practitioners in the psychological counseling field could deal with adequately?

On the blog, Within the Black Community, black blogger “Constructive Feedback” writes about the black actor Boris Kodjoe, who complained about a delivery man, who made him feel “dirty and black,” at the door of Kodjoe’s mansion in Atlanta. Because it appeared from the delivery man’s attitude that he did not believe Kodjoe to be the owner of such a grand house, this apparently irked Kodjoe, so much so that he talked about it in public. Is this millionaire actor admitting that his own self-worth rests on the basis of what he thinks others are thinking about him–even a minimum wage delivery man? Constructive Feedback observes:

This wealthy Black man’s self-worth is still subject to confiscation by the lowliest of service men who ring his door bell . . . The only thing at play is the pathology that is resident in the minds of Mr. Kodjoe and other African-Americans who hand over their own self-worth for someone else’s blessing. We have people who wear their self-worth on their shirt collar, expecting everyone to validate them about their insecurities. They project these insecurities as “racial assaults” upon our entire race.

It was never put better. This is a subject that blacks discuss all the time, but most whites are fearful of contemplating. When the approval craved is not forthcoming, the cry of “racism” against the entire race goes out. And when a degree of deference cannot be extracted from a white especially, as in Professor Henry Louis Gates’s interaction with Officer James Crowley, this is another “assault” on the black community. Constructive Feedback continues:

It is clear that the expectation was for the police to show due deference to this accomplished BLACK professor of great stature at this elite White school. The fact that his outbursts were responded to by the group of police men, just as they would have done to those of a less established person, the peanut gallery feels that this Black man was not treated fairly, per his position.

The blogger then facetiously asks, about this prestigious Very Important Person,

Why didn’t they know who Dr. Gates was when they confronted him? Didn’t they see him on television with Oprah and Chris Rock, as they connected with their ancestry in Africa from so long ago?

And, for those who understand the reference to the haughty, 19th century Harvard-educated W.E.B. Du Bois, he adds, “I detect some W.E.B. DuBois-esque ‘Talented Tenth’ elitism among the commentators. Prof. Gates, director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, appears to have taken on some of the airs of his mentor.”

What a mockery Gates’s behavior turns out to be, when we look at the pressure put upon black athletes and entertainers to behave respectfully, so they might be role models to the young. Yet here is this highly touted, prestigious Harvard Professor, who expels coarse vulgarities to a police officer, even spewing out the “Yo’ Mama” insult, like a common street thug, carrying on like the proverbial “Crazy Nigger.” Are we to believe that such behavior is not characteristic of this black V.I.P., this Distinguished Scholar?

Constructive Feedback asks just when will blacks feel they have enough societal control that they can move on and finally deal with the pressing realities that “are actually killing African-Americans.” The answer to his question was given long ago.

Black elites, those who have always had the power and the resources to ameliorate much of the suffering within the black community, made it clear from as early as the 19th century that their interests will always rest outside the group, even as they exploit the theme of “race” to personally elevate themselves. You need look no further than Henry Louis Gates and the entire entourage of professionals and academics, who covet white society’s credentials in their striving to be socially acceptable. Some of the earliest observations and commentaries by both blacks and whites about the American Negro personality still hold up (see especially Harold Cruse).

Yet, even in these venues among whites that they have chosen, these elites remain in a combative stance, always pushing the envelope in a need to prove who they are. They have no more concern today about the genuine needs of the black masses than did their fathers and grandfathers. And, if given the chance, these elites would just as eagerly oppose Booker T. Washington for his temerity in insisting on putting the welfare of the masses first. So, the answer to the rhetorical question as to when blacks will move on and deal with the real stuff is, Never.

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