The president told us on Friday what it’s like to be black in America.
A couple of days before that, his attorney general said that America needs to be honest about race. Since then, any number of prominent black people have said we need to have a national discussion about race.
Let’s have a discussion about race.
Not a one-sided harangue, but a two-way discussion. Let’s move beyond the politically correct “Whites are racists, blacks are victims” and actually talk things out.
You do that by hearing both sides.
Toward that end, in the spirit of the president’s remarks, I’d like to discuss what it’s like to be a white man in America. And I’d like to be held to the same standard as the president. His remarks were personal impressions based on generalizations, traditions, culture and folklore.
He was called brave.
I’ll be called racist.
That’s because our system is based on a double standard. Black criticisms of white society are insightful; white criticisms of black society are bigotry.
White people know that if they say anything that doesn’t exactly toe the line of political correctness, they run the risk of losing their jobs and their public reputations. We live in a society where the accusation of racism is evidence enough; to be accused is to be guilty.
That’s what we white people think.
We also think that we pay the bills. We think that we disproportionately pay the taxes and that black people disproportionately collect the welfare. We feel like we are being ripped off and that this uneven shouldering of the burden will eventually bankrupt and kill our country.
I work in a building that houses a Social Security office. One elevator serves that office specifically. It is stunning to note the demographic difference between the elevators. Overwhelmingly, white people go up one set of elevators to work, and black people go up the other set of elevators to apply for SSI.
Young, healthy people.
All day long.
The culture of many white Americans is one of hard work and self-reliance. Our heritage teaches us that work is ennobling, and our religion teaches us that by the sweat of our brow we should eat our bread.
And we feel like we are being robbed by a socially dysfunctional urban black America where out-of-wedlock birth, educational failure, criminal conduct and other irresponsibility perversely entitle people to money we earned to support our families.
We believe that races are equal, but cultures are not, and that a woefully failed black urban culture is cancerously destroying lives and communities. And we feel like we have to both foot the bill to support it and fight it, and watch out for spillover that might threaten us.
White people also believe black America has a predatory crime problem that creates a real danger for all of us.
We believe that because it happens to be an undeniable truth. Blacks are disproportionately involved in crime, and while some blacks believe that’s because of a racist criminal justice system, most whites believe it’s because blacks are more likely to commit crime.
We all pretend not to notice the race of the mug shots on the evening news, but we’re only pretending. We notice, and we don’t forget. We don’t believe the criminal justice system is victimizing inmates, we believe the criminal justice system is protecting us from inmates. We believe people in prison deserve to be there – they did the crime, they do the time.
Black violence – much of it directed against other blacks – has over the years since 9-11 racked up a higher body count than the war on terrorism.
White people think that is a big deal.
If black people are complaining about Stand Your Ground laws of self-defense, white people are saying that you don’t have to worry about it if you don’t attack anybody. The cry against Stand Your Ground is a cry in defense of people who are violently assaulting other people. Black people are disproportionately injured in all types of self-defense situations because black people are disproportionately involved in attacking other people, and pushing those people into self-defense. That’s not a problem with the law, that’s a problem with people’s conduct.
White people also believe that we are disadvantaged in the workplace. We believe that quotas and diversity programs discriminate against us in hiring and promotion. This is truest in the government and corporate workplaces.
It’s true for the white male hoping to get hired on the police or fire department, and it’s true for the mid-career white person passed over for less-qualified minority employees.
Many white people are bothered by the social conduct of some black people. Often there is a loud, obnoxious and profane behavior, and a crude sexual harassment of women in public settings.
Black apologists often speak of “culture” and of the need for whites to understand and respect black culture. The president on Friday said we needed sensitivity training. Many whites would like that to be a two-way street. We’d like a little courtesy extended to our sensitivities, too.
White people believe that black people have a chip on their shoulder about race. And a persecution complex. And an inability sometimes to talk or think about anything else.
We also think that black people get pulled over by the police for the same reasons anyone does – for breaking the traffic law – and that the cry of racism anytime anyone has contact with the police is a bunch of crud.
These are some of the things white people think.
Of course, my account is just as full of generalizations as the president’s. He made assumptions about the thinking of the very diverse group of Americans who happen to be black, and he made assumptions about the thinking of the very diverse group of Americans who happen to be white. I have done the same. He was undoubtedly part right and part wrong. I am also undoubtedly part right and part wrong.
Do you think some of my observations were hurtful and overbroad? What of the president’s implicit assertions that white women on elevators are racists, and that cops on patrol are racists, and that store employees are racists? Are his claims different or more justified?
The president, to the extent that he understands the subject, told us what it’s like to be a black man in America.
But what he had was not a conversation, it was a condemnation. And two can play that game.
With all this clamoring in recent days for a conversation, it is understood that what activists and politicians really want is one more denunciation of white America. The conversation is about how racist America is and how unfair it is to blacks.
And that’s simply not true.
And if this is truly a conversation, then I am free to say that.
But I’m not.
And that’s what it means to be white in America.