So Don Lemon and several other prominent upper-middle class Black people have used their privileged platforms to accuse working class Black people of acting in a way that keeps them in poverty and keeps them suspect. I’m white, so my voice in this inner-dialog is limited, and I’ll leave that up to much more competent critics, like Jay Smooth and Black Twitter. But I do have some stuff to say 1) as to how far the anti-baggy-pants logic reaches a White audience that uses its logic and arguments as further justification for oppressive White Supremacy policies and practices, and 2) the rhetoric used by the Lemons and Cosby’s, et al, is another variation on the Culture of Poverty line of reasoning put upon all poor people. Today, we’ll investigate the first point, the acceptability of White Supremacy in White communities. In a couple days, we’ll look more closely at the Culture of Poverty myth.
Little background: Don Lemon is a Black CNN personality who recently came out on his show to denounce young Black men for wearing saggy, baggy pants (and, of course, we all hate that, right? What thinking adult feels comfortable around it?) and for littering, and then brings in the inaccurate trope of 72% of African American children being born out of wedlock. These were all being thrown around as reasons why Bill O’Reilly is right, that Black people are basically holding themselves back. The fact that White youth are always involved in their own disgusting-to-adults, counter-culture habits (I had, I swear to Abba, a “reverse mohawk” when I was fourteen as my own way of rebelling against the dominant culture. But I think mostly because I just hated my hair at the time), that litter is prevalent in any throw-away, mass-consumption culture, that so many children being born out of wedlock is a symptom of poverty, not a cause. No, this is a sign to White Supremacy: Jump on board! Black men attacking black men means pile on!
What happens is first, nice, Black-friendly White person says, “Oh, finally!! This man says it!” Because that’s what the White person was thinking, consciously or unconciously, but didn’t feel was his place to speak on. This is a subtle effect of White Supremacy and White Privilege: white people like myself can think, “That particular action is disgusting and it’s no wonder why so many Black men and women are held back in society. They got too many babies/wear their pants too low/talk sloppy.” If we’re completely honest, we White people unconsciously take this negative, false anti-Black crap in because it’s part of our culture. If we’re decent and thinking, we wrestle it and confront it within ourselves and we listen to the data and the evidence and our friends of color about how these widely-accepted thoughts are false.
But often, no matter how we feel about it, we don’t talk about it because it’s not acceptable, it’s not politically correct and we don’t want to be shamed in public. As soon as a Prominent and Successful Member of Black Society vocalizes the White Supremacy myth, the shame barrier is gone and White people don’t know what to do with ourselves. Some of us have been itching to talk about how poorly The Blacks are behaving and performing in public so long, it just hurts to get it out all there at once. And so they blurt about how The Black Community (because it’s all a monolith, right?) has 120% out-of-wedlock child bearing and how all the mens are in prison or how all the kids are gangbanging all because they don’t have any personal responsibility and don’t have the nerve to speak out against their own. So, FINALLY someone says it – but of course doesn’t go far enough. White people, White people say, are tired of dealing with the problems of Black people that, incidentally, White people have no responsibility in.
In this old narrative, there is no questioning of a society that allows for so much unchecked institutional racism that defunds and shuts down Black and Brown schools, divests in communities of color, vastly underpays both women and people of color (and particularly women of color), disproportionately imprisons Black and Brown men, redlines and segregates POC only to later displace them according to the whims of White landowners, targets and kills and then blames Black victims for their clothing or place or for their existence. This is not even encountering the psychological warfare waged upon Black people that tells them that their color signifies danger, signifies threat, signifies a lack of intelligence, cognizance, ability, work ethic. These forms of evil iconography are passed through pop culture and media down from the slave holders’ preachers through blackface and minstrel shows and the various limitations allowed for Black creatives on national television and radio (all of which is sometimes directly interrogated by Black artists, often not so directly but perceptively. But yet the popular perceptions dull on). White Supremacy is the law of the Land, and until White People stop giving into the narrative that White people are somehow better than non-whites and stop lying about the violence we commit to black society, black economics, and the black psyche, all the in-house discussions triggered by jack-ass racists like Bill O’Reilly are merely dangerous blame-shifters.
Logic like Lemon’s gives the racists more unchecked ammunition and gives the corporate-government hybrid behemoths full room to keep moving the goalposts.
Dress and linguistics are cultural. Culture is not a limitation – racism, classism, sexism are.
The Old White Boys Club is.
The oppression of White Supremacy should be alarming to White people, whether poor or middle class because, again, POC are the permanent underclass of Western society and are used to distract White rage from the injustice being perpetuated upon White people. Poor white folks, particularly, tend to blame their problems on Black and Brown people and so are instrumental in political and economic disenfranchisement of POC. This is ironic, for as much as White people fight against POC and further marginalize them, we move the goalposts for what is acceptable behavior to be done to poor white folk, too. And by moving that goalpost, we are also tearing into the assumed acceptable securities and rights for the rest of the 99% of White USAmericans as well.
In other words, even if you’re a selfish racist, you should be concerned that the very racist practices, methods, ideologies, practices, patterns, imagery, iconography, and rhetoric used to further marginalize Black Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos/Latin American immigrants will come back to haunt you as you find that having a refrigerator is just too good a luxury to be given to poor people, and having a functioning house that you can make payments on to own is too much goodness for middle class folks. After all, we just can’t afford it all, what with things being so hard for the corporatocrats running the world right now.