Recently Chris Rock was in hot water for posting a meme in response to mass shootings…
In case you didn’t catch it, that’s Betty White. In other words, the first thing people say when they hear about a mass shooting is, “I bet he white.”
The internet was quick to point out the double standards that black people seem to have when it comes to racism. Some argued that if a white person had said something like, “The first thing people say when they find out someone was mugged…” it would’ve been racist, but when a black person says it, it’s fine. Which raises an age-old question: can black people be racist?
Well…it depends on how you define “racist” and believe you me there are heated debates over the definition of racism.
Websters dictionary defines it as:
“a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”
In other words, racism is simply thinking your race is better than another race. That means that when black people say things like, “white people can’t jump…white people can’t dance” or “white people don’t know how to put sauce on their chicken”, that’s all technically racist because it’s assuming that black people are superior to white people in all these instances. So by this definition, yes black people can be racist.
But many people of color don’t actually subscribe to this definition. Instead, they argue that racism is the abuse of power to make another race feel inferior. Therefore, if you don’t have power, you can’t be racist. So if you adhere to that definition then no, black people can’t be racist because we’ve never had power to abuse over white people.
But regardless of what definition you choose, we still have to deal with how black people make white people feel. Because even if black people really can’t be racist, simply tossing this explanation out when a white person cries racism is irresponsible at best and cruel at worst. Because even if it’s true, it disregards the fact that white people are still offended. So what do we do?
There’s an ugly truth about racism and as usual I want to use an illustration to convey it. The other day I went to a friend’s wedding and when the Cha Cha Slide came on I hopped on the dance floor. The mother of one of my youths came and danced behind me and when it got to the “how low can you go” part she grabbed my waist and rocked my hips side to side. It was all fun and pretty hilarious in my opinion. But if the roles had been reversed and my father had grabbed her daughter’s waist, that could’ve been a lawsuit.
The reality is there are some things women can get away with that men can’t. If a man sexually harasses a woman at work, that’s the end of his job. If a woman does it to a man, it’s still frowned upon, but it most likely won’t make headlines. Men can’t get away with sexually charged comments to women and rightfully so. But I can’t tell you how many times someone’s grandmother has told me some version of, “If I was 50 years younger…” Grandpas can’t get away with that. Because historically men have had the power. So men don’t usually make a big deal of the sexual double standards because we understand that one: it’s not as bad for us as it is for women and two: given all the things that men have done to women we kinda had it coming.
This seems to be a natural byproduct of a society where one group has power and another doesn’t. The oppressed can get away with evils that the oppressor can’t. It’s also why everyone in the U.S. is allowed to bash Christians but when Christians say anything vaguely unsupportive of the LGBTQ community, they’re homophobic. Because historically Christians have had the power.
So here’s the ugly truth: it’s not that black people CAN’T be racist, it’s that we’re “allowed” to be. This doesn’t justify prejudice and discrimination against white people. This doesn’t justify verbal abuse or stereotyping. And this doesn’t mean it’s okay for black people like Chris Rock to be irresponsible with their words. Just because you can get away with something doesn’t mean it’s right to do it. But the point is that just like I as a man have to accept that women are allowed to get away with things that I can’t I believe that white people have to accept that the same is true of black people.
Because at the end of the day, until we live in a country where the wealthiest and most powerful people are not all white there will be a double standard.
But what can we do in the meantime?
Black people: Don’t shoot unless shot at
This is not to be taken literally by any means. My point is that in the event that we know something to be true, but it may come off as racist, we shouldn’t say it unprovoked. But if someone were to make an ignorant racist claim, then it becomes appropriate to fire back with the truth, even if your truth may sound racist. For example, Chris Rock’s comment about mass shooters usually being white was relatively unprovoked in that he wasn’t responding to any post in particular. But if President Trump had posted earlier about immigrants being the problem with America and Chris Rock had then tagged Trump as a response then this, in my opinion, would have been more responsible. Unfortunately, people of color(myself included) usually spew out facts like the color of mass shooters without barely even a hint of racism in the room. We fire “truth” just because we can and don’t realize how harmful this is to our white brothers and sisters. But even this has to be done in love and not out of spite or pettiness.
In addition, why do we only shoot truth at white people? Why not shoot truth at the ignorant black people among us? If you hear a black friend say something ignorant that you know would offend a white person if they were there, call him out on it. Because if you don’t, further down the road he’ll say it around the wrong white person, stuff will go down, and the vicious cycle will continue. Ignorance breeds ignorance. So put a stop to it with the truth.
White people: Don’t compare your wounds
This whole thing started because some white people compared what they were feeling to what black people were feeling. When it comes to racism, the wounds will never match up. Yes, you were shot in the leg, but the only reason there’s gunfire in the first place is because we’re in a war that your side has started. So the more attention you draw to your wounds, the more you’re missing the bigger picture. Instead of comparing, have compassion on your black friends who are wounded. Just listen.
In addition, shoot truth at your ignorant white friends. They will be much more receptive to you than to us. You can be the spy behind enemy lines that stops the war from the inside.
And hopefully, when we learn to be patient instead of petty, have compassion instead of comparison, and fight ignorance with truth, we can see both sides raise their white flags and have a civilized conversation.