Accommodating White People... Until It Hurts

I am a strong advocate of speaking the truth about race. But the reality is that most Black people - including me - don't really say what’s on their mind. This reality is the source of my own rage that Obama talked about in his speech on race at Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ellis Cose described what I feel and countless other middle class Black people in the introduction of his book, The Rage of a Privileged Class:

“Despite its very evident prosperity, much of America’s black middle class is in excruciating pain. And that distress – although most of the country does not see it – illuminates a serious American problem: the problem of the broken covenant, of the pact ensuring that if you work hard, get a good education, and play by the rules, you will be allowed to advance and achieve to the limits of your ability.”

“Again and again, as I spoke with people who have every accouterment of success, I heard the same plaintive declaration – always followed by various versions of an unchanging and urgently put question. “I have done everything I was supposed to do. I have stayed out of trouble with the law, gone to the right schools, and worked myself nearly to death. What more do they want? Why in God’s name won’t they accept me as a full human being? Why am I pigeonholed in a ‘black job’? Why am I constantly treated as if I were a drug addict, a thief, or a thug? Why am I still not allowed to aspire to the same things every white person in America takes as a birthright? Why, when I most want to be seen, am I suddenly rendered invisible?”

The Black church (and other indigenous Black institutions, such as fraternities and sororities, Masonic organizations, and so on) is the only place that Black people can talk about the sources of their rage, take some of the edge off of it, and find a reason to get up Monday morning and go back to work and play “the game.”

Understand this: the Black Church is led by Black people and is financed by Black people. As a result, it is the only institution where Black people, like Barak Obama and Rev. Jeremiah Wright, can speak the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth.

So, what is the game that Black people must play? I say must, because it is a game that every Black person who works in a predominately White environment learns to play if he or she plans to survive. It’s the “Accommodation Game.”

It is not a new game. Black people have been accommodating White people since we were first brought to these shores as slaves. We’ve been arguing amongst ourselves about the game for years. W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington argued about the game. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X argued about the game.

The question that Black people face is not whether to accommodate White people. Most Black people accepted a long time ago that they will have to play by the rules of the game.

The question Black people ask themselves is not if, but how much, do I accommodate White people.

The game asks every black person to surrender a piece of his or her humanity to get along. We make the accommodations to keep our jobs. We make the accommodations so that we can hold on to our homes. We make the accommodations so that our kids will have access to quality schools. We hope and pray that they will not have to play the game.

My problem with Obama is that I believe that he is willing to accommodate white people far more than I am willing to. Moreover, I fear that the accommodations that he is wiling to make will do more harm to Blacks’ continuing struggle for social, political and economic justice than he is willing (or able) to acknowledge.

Nearly everyone who has heard me criticize Obama for not taking a stronger stand on racial and ethnic issues tell me that he can’t take those stands; if he does, they remind me, he will not win the White House.

I believe very strongly that some Black people can’t afford the accommodations that Obama is willing to make to win the Presidency.

According to a March 24, 2008 article in the Washington Post, “The average black person in America is 447 percent more likely to be imprisoned than the average white person, and 521 percent more likely to be murdered. Blacks earn 60 cents to the dollar compared with whites who have the same education levels and marital status. The black poverty rate is nearly twice the white poverty rate. Blacks tend to die five years earlier than whites; the infant mortality rate among black babies is nearly 1 ½ times the rate among white babies. And because of long-standing patterns of inheritance, blacks and whites begin life with substantial disparities in family wealth.”

Given that most White people do not believe that they have a racist bone in their body, that racism is a thing of the past, that the average Black person is doing just as well as the average White person, and that Black poverty is the result of Black irresponsibility, not endemic racism, anyone, such as Rev. Wright, who talks about the stark realities of racial inequality runs the risk of being condemned (as Obama said of his pastor) as someone who sees race through a pre-civil rights lens, or, at worst, portrayed as a racial huckster (as much of the media establishment said of the pastor).

Rather than condemn or caricaturize Rev. Wright, let’s do something about the endemic racism that fuels his and my rage.


Lester Spence said…
"Understand this: the Black Church is led by Black people and is financed by Black people. As a result, it is the only institution where Black people, like Barak Obama and Rev. Jeremiah Wright, can speak the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth."

You know what doc? I would say that it is the only place where black people can routinely critique white supremacy. And a place where we can say the type of things on our mind that we can't say elsewhere. but that's not the truth anymore than the face we supposedly present to whites.

Popular posts from this blog

Neoliberalism, the Fiscal Cliff, and the Fate of Black People

No Surprise Here: Growing Socioeconomic Segregation and Racial and Ethnic Isolation In the Schools.

What the Black Community Can Learn From A Tragic and Senseless Death