White advice for black protesters

Because white people know all there is to know about black people and protests.

Michael Harriot, The Root | 9/12/2016, 2:05 p.m.
Because white people know all there is to know about black people and protests.
Actor Michael Rapaport attends the New York Jets-Cincinnati Bengals game at MetLife Stadium on Sept. 11, 2016, in East Rutherford, N.J. AL PEREIRA/GETTY IMAGES

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.

My people?

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.