I've been disappointed by white liberals and progressives' unwillingness and incompetence combating racism for 20 years. The inaction of large green groups surrounding Van Jones' resignation from the Obama administration is yet another example.
The NAACP, Equal Justice Society and Color of Change explicitly supported Van Jones before his resignation. On the white side, Treehugger, Grist and a few other small white organizations did. But the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace, and NRDC, who together must represent more than $100 million of mostly liberal and progressive foundations, big donors, and individual contributors money, were MIA. These groups either took a dive because the attacks on Van were racist, or they incompetently let the right set the terms of debate before entering. Either way America deserves better greens.
Here's today's question: Are there organized white liberals that can be trusted to stay the course when the right attacks with racist wedge issues? I appreciate white fellow travelers, like Tim Wise, and small white anti-racist organizations like Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, on the racial justice path. But they seem to have no influence on larger white groups like the Sierra Club, NOW, Common Cause, MoveOn, and other staples of the white left. To be clear, I'm not discussing whether white groups will take on issues of people of color; I'm setting the bar much lower: Can organized white liberals keep their eye on THEIR prize when the right's racism comes a-calling?
It's been easy for progressives to attack President Obama for not defending Jones—but do they really expect Obama to be out in front of the white left? It seems hypocritical to attack the White House for being spineless without attacking the NRDC, Sierra Club, EDF and Greenpeace for being spineless as well.
Lets remember—the most radical thing said by any national figure about racism in the recent past was Obama saying white police officer Joseph Crowley "acted stupidly" by arresting Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The left certainly didn't counter the right's racist framing of Obama's articulation of a racist incident.
Here's the truth: In my political lifetime, people of color have been let down by white national liberal organizations on a number of issues. By white feminist groups on mid-1990s welfare reform, by white gay groups who blamed black voters for the passage of California's Proposition 8; by white communications organizations on any number of issues including California propositions 187 (anti-affirmative action) and 209 (anti-immigrant). Although some examples are from a decade ago, I see no indication that white liberals are any better on racism now.
Although whites will be a minority by around 2050, America has to survive that long. If white progressives either can't or won't oppose racism, then we'll need a new set of white progressive funders and leaders to do something better. And if white liberals continue to be unable or unwilling to challenge the right's racist attacks then we are truly on the path to fascism.
is a long-time racial justice advocate and writer in Berkeley, California.