Hello, angry black people!
We, the members of the white delegation, have recently noticed an undercurrent of restlessness among the Negro population. As part of those outreach efforts, I have been dispatched here to teach the proper way to voice displeasure about the state of race relations in America before this discontent grows into a full-blown consciousness.
Most of what we would like to teach you centers on the notion of respectability dissent—the idea that there is a proper way to protest the systematic inequalities that people of color face every day. I'm sure you've heard it before. Maybe it was the suburban, blond soccer mom who complained that protesters blocking traffic at the mall were an inconvenience that didn't do anything but make her less sympathetic to the cause. Perhaps it was the president of your local police union berating you for disseminating video and staging marches after another unarmed black boy was gunned down on video. Or maybe it was the people who say that the phrase "Black Lives Matter" is inherently racist unless you affix the word "too" to the phrase.
We’d like to teach you some of the ways to dissent without upsetting the peace and tranquillity of our fragile white sensibility.
Angry black folks, we need to have a conversation about having a conversation about race.
Every few years, a politician pandering for the black vote, or some progressive social-justice warrior, announces that it is about time America "has a conversation about race." It is usually followed by groupthink phrases like "ally," a "coming together" and "much-needed dialogue." Just because you seem so willing to listen, I'm going to let your people in on a secret:
America will never "have a conversation about race."
That's right. Whenever we in white America say that we need to have a conversation about race, it is a stalling tactic. I've been to a black barbershop once, and in 1986 I was invited to a cookout. There was a spades table and everything. When I visited those settings, I learned that America doesn't need to have a conversation. Your people are always having conversations about race, and have been doing so since you were dragged here in chains.
Not so much.
Forget the Past
The key to coming up with acceptable ways to protest is forgetting about all history. You should be careful never to bring up the past. Respectability dissent is based on the premise that the past is nullified by the recent benevolence of white America. I believe you refer to it as “Why you gotta bring up old s—t?”
If you want white America on your side, do not mention Jim Crow, segregation or the government practice of redlining when talking about poor black neighborhoods. When the topic of conversation turns to “American values,” you must resist the urge to mention that the full rights and privileges of American citizenship weren’t granted to African Americans until 1968. And never, ever, ever, ever speak of slavery.
Any discussion of the history of discrimination and inequality in this country activates our white-fragility panic button. The major source of our consternation stems from the idea that the mention of slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, police shootings, housing inequality, an unbalanced educational system or unequal employment opportunities feels accusatory to us—even when discussing historical fact. It makes some people uncomfortable—and by “some people” I mean us … white people.
Do Not Offend
Any tolerable form of protest should never be deemed “offensive” toward any group—even the one you are protesting against. I know this sounds antithetical to the entire concept of protest, but we don’t make the rules, we just—well, actually, we do make the rules, but you know what I’m trying to say.
If you want to protest police brutality, you must be sure that police officers won’t feel slighted. You must respect the fact that shooting innocent boys in the back and targeting people of color unequally is a difficult and dangerous job. Even if studies, statistics and scientists point out racial bias in a system (which is the definition of racism), calling it “systematic racism” sounds belligerent. Again, if you want mainstream acceptance, you must use mainstream words like “improvable” and “problematic.”
You must also be careful never to voice a criticism that could be misinterpreted as “unpatriotic,” lest you be branded with the scarlet letter of hating America. Even if this country treats you as a second-class citizen, you must remember that a second-class citizen is still a citizen. Therefore, complaining about your second-class status is un-American. And if you are un-American, then you must be with the people who hate America. Which means that you are against the brave men and women of the military who fight for American freedom every day. And if you’re against the soldiers, then you must be with the terrorists.
Yes, it is clear: Black people who complain about black issues obviously hate the troops and love the terrorists. (See what I did there?)
If there is any lesson to be learned about protesting in America, it is that you must wait on the results. Things do not change overnight. I believe that your hero Martin Luther King Jr. once said that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Why are you rushing it to bend? It is culturally insensitive to force changes on the white population all willy-nilly just because you want your so-called freedom.
If you want America on your side, your protest must be an innocuous, dull-toothed display of respectability. Failing to adhere to these rules of can get you killed, but at least America will remember you fondly in death.
Please share these instructions with the other rabble-rousers intent on upsetting the apple cart. When you hear the groans and complaints of white America after you decide to stand up or sit down for your people, remember this guide.
Or you can remember how mainstream America vilified King as a troublemaker and terrorist, called Muhammad Ali a traitor, and hated Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Jim Brown, Fred Hampton, the NAACP, Frederick Douglass, the civil rights movement, the black power movement and the abolition movement.
In fact, we in white America have scorned every form of black protest and dissent that ever made a change in America. Worrying about the sensibilities of the people you are protesting against is like a slave asking his master for permission to escape.
What did you think we were going to say?