What I’ve learned in recent months from Twitter, Facebook, The Atlantic and The New York Times, from recent Supreme Court decisions, and from attempts to justify oligarchy and bigotry, is the following. That the term “White liberal” is a media falsehood, meant to create a distinction without any significant differences. That most White liberals are “liberal” by default, only because they’re not conservative — or really, reactionary — enough. That most Whites who see themselves as liberal also believe in colorblindness as a racial philosophy or refuse to acknowledge their own privilege of Whiteness and structural racism as major obstacles on the path toward an egalitarian society. And that people who look and write like me can and should be ignored, precisely because I’m Black and underprivileged by default.
There are in fact Whites who do acknowledge the privilege of their own Whiteness, who do understand the gigantic barriers of structural racism, institutional and individual racism. Some of those are leftists, many more, though, are racists who have fully embraced Whiteness as their cloak of superiority. Hence Donald Trump, Donald Sterling (heck, maybe even Donald Duck), Paul Ryan, Cliven Bundy, Tom Perkins, and, if you’re aware of recent racism rows in the UK, Jeremy Clarkson.
There are the rare handful, though, who are leftist enough to have also become active on the anti-racism front. I’m lucky to count quite a few of them as friends, or at least, colleagues. Some of these folks, whether Tim Wise or Mark Naison, Jessie Daniels or Joe Feagin, sure enough, do acknowledge that their rare enlightenment has its limits, that they, too, can and do get it wrong sometimes in discussing race and racism. They even acknowledge that they have Whiteness and other -isms, that they aren’t perfect or in need of a pedestal because they’ve managed to look past their privilege to be radical leftists.
That leaves this fairly large plurality of Whites who see themselves as “liberals,” but refuse to realize that they are liberals because they aren’t fearful or hateful enough to be right-wingers. Politically, they’re basically centrists, folks who don’t want to rock the boat on any issues involving social class, social mobility or structural inequality. They may care about a green planet, recognize that evolution is real and climate change is man-made, but will still see racism as an individual issue, and not one baked into the bricks and mortar of our society and its institutions.
These are the media standard “White liberals,” ones who care more about an individual White guy who uses the N-word on TV than they do about a White supremacist terrorist shooting up a community center or a place of worship. In fact, the media and these liberals will all but refuse to use the word “terrorist” in reference to systemic White violence against communities of color or those of different religious backgrounds. They’ll be the ones who’ll start with the sentence, “I don’t care if you’re black, white, green or red…,” as if racism were a simple matter of melanin, and not material and psychological advantages that begin at conception and end well after death. Not to mention, there aren’t any actual “green” or “red” skin-colored humans.
Yet, despite their colorblindness, they couldn’t possibly conceive of Blacks and Latinos smart enough to make it to an elite college without the handout of affirmative action, or of large numbers of people of color in positions of leadership in business and in politics, or of a feminism without the contradiction of femininity. For that matter, so-called colorblind White “liberals” still find it easy to call race a “card” that people of color pull out only when it’s somehow convenient for us, or lament the need for historically Black colleges and universities or other Black institutions. Some have even argued for a White History Month, which is ridiculous, considering how Whiteness is ever-present (kind of like the way the most religious of Christians think about God).
So, after four and a half decades as a born and bred American, I’ve realized that the average White liberal is not only not a leftist, Marxist or an anti-racist. That not only that the media labels them as “liberals” by default. But that they are as much to blame for our sorry state of affairs regarding race in America as Frazier Glenn Miller, Wade Michael Page, the NYPD, the LAPD, evangelical Christianity and those Southern Democrats who became Republicans between 1964 and 1994.