If you’re late to the party, you can check out the introduction to this series at this link.
I was going to jump right into this by beginning with a post about history, but as I was scanning Facebook today I came across a posting from Shaun King, a Black Lives Matter activist and contributor to the New York Daily News. It compelled me to extend the introductory portion of this series by one piece with a prologue.
The gist of King’s article focused on education levels in presidential administrations, honing in on Donald Trump and his cabinet nominees’ lack of advanced degrees. As this was written by King for the Daily Fake News, the point was that lacking advanced degrees made Trump and his picks unfit to lead.
In contrast to Trump’s nominees, King cited the incredible academic pedigree of the Obama administration’s cabinet members. Law degrees, physics degrees, doctorates, Ivy League representation- you name it, and it’s there. Given that the article started with a quip from author Ta-Nahesi Coates about how black people have to jump six feet to achieve the same things as a white person who only has to jump two, I found it peculiar when he proceeded to mention multiple well-educated people from the Obama White House who were not black at all.
This was, after all, the point he was trying to make; Obama needed a bunch of degrees to become President. John King, Jr., Obama’s Secretary of Education who also happens to be black, needed degrees from Harvard, Columbia, and Yale. The rest of the non-black people were just thrown in to the mix as if no one was going to check and see if some of the more obscure ones happened to not be black.
Relentless race baiters like King play this game all too often. Make a point- any point, really- and start talking about how white people have taken down the black man. The thing is that white people did take down the black man, except King, Coates, his colleagues in Black Lives Matter, and every single activist out there blocking traffic talks about this in such simplified ways that nothing ever comes from it but mutual animosity. It really makes you wonder if progress is actually a goal for people who old views like King does.
Points made by folks like King are taken without question. Their lessons are seen as gospel. Their logic is presumed to be air tight, and anyone in dissent is assumed to be incapable of understanding subject matter that exists outside of the norms of their own race. How can thoughtful discussion on this topic come when the starting point for it is one of close-mindedness? With the full understanding that plenty of white people might be close-minded or ignorant to the realities of black Americans, if that discussion begins with both sides being close-minded, where can we find common ground? I write pieces like these to aid in convincing the public that there’s more common ground here than we might think, but would someone like King give me the light of day? He would not.
Would my master’s from Johns Hopkins render me capable of speaking on this subject with the likes of King, despite my white skin? If I agreed with him I am sure that answer would be ‘yes’, regardless of the differences in our political philosophies on other matters. Should I begin speaking from a position of disagreement, that answer would become ‘no’. To King, this really is about nothing but black vs. white. How is it that his close-minded perspective about race is seen as worthy of praise, writing jobs, and media appearances while my perspective (In my previous piece I noted ten perspectives from which I study and write about the subject of racism) is unworthy?
Now I’m not one to whine- I hope people take the time to read what I have to say, but this isn’t about my feelings. The point is that a lot of people want to participate in this discussion with people, of all colors, because there is a ton of stuff we have glossed over (or ignored) that is not only significant in the discussion on race but a prerequisite.
The comment sections on Facebook, on YouTube videos, and at the bottom of mainstream news articles take a lot of heat from the public. Much of this is fully warranted as comment sections too often devolve into absolute cesspools full of people trying their best to put each other down in horrific ways. That being said, I happened upon a comment a few weeks ago on an article about race relations and it stuck with me- so much so in fact that I have been trying to figure out how to bring it up in an article since the night I read it. The comment was in response to a commenter taking a typically-progressive stance, speaking to the white supremacy of Steve Bannon and the Trump Administration and how its followers were, too, racist white supremacists. The author of the comment began with noting how the progressive was focusing on individuals, while ignoring “the soft racism of low expectations” found within systems, institutions, and even the Obama Administration itself.
I was startled by how succinct and perfectly put that was. That, in essence, was how I have always tried to frame what my version of “white privilege” was– it is the notion that self-driven success came secondary to a prescribed kind, granted by politicians who, in their quest to be “on the right side of history”, ignored that history while concurrently showering the country’s downtrodden with what they refer to as a “safety net”. It is the idea that subservience to the government’s fatherly hand was somehow liberty-inducing; that “spreading around the wealth” (and I’m not simply talking cash) was a pathway to success for the millions of Americans who were a part of historically disenfranchised groups. It is the idea that mediocrity was alright, and worse- that the mediocrity gifted upon minority communities by progressive leadership was a kind of blessing in itself. Their help was to be accepted without reflection upon its results. Black Americans have fared worse under Obama in nearly every way, but the ends amount to nothing when the means are so pure of heart, and well-intentioned.
I would ask King to question why he so easily assumes that the Democrats he supports or works with have the best interests in mind for minority communities. How much failure will be necessary in the nation’s most impoverished areas before King sees a breaking point in his trust for progressive rule? It’s ironic, really, but what King exemplifies in his activism, and his writing, is that he is without question keen on practicing the soft racism of low expectations. King’s close-minded perspective enables him to ignore the president’s train wreck of a record when it comes to race, because King cannot fathom a black man being anything but helpful to people of the same color. That, I’m sorry Shaun, is racism.
To King, you only make it places with advanced degrees. There is an endless supply of untapped potential within American minority communities that will never step foot in a college classroom, but for King, they’ll never make it anywhere without those degrees. While he himself was a graduate of a historically black college, he ignores the culture present in black television, film, and music that relentlessly glorifies the life of grinding things out on the street. That so many young black men and women grow up either never considering college, or not being able to afford it, should be a focus for King who never considers how much of that mindset is driven from within the lessons of low expectations he and his colleagues teach young people every day.
Being conditioned to believe that you have nothing to give, that white people are trying their best to keep you down, and that the government can provide you a better shot at success than self determination and liberty can epitomizes the soft racism of low expectations. King simplifies racism to it being a matter of racist individuals— Dylan Roof, perhaps a white cop on the news that actually did step over the line, some racist old person’s Facebook post– these insignificant people, even if multiplied by the thousands, are somehow more influential and detrimental to those of non-white races than the political systems, the political party, and the politicians that have seen to it since the 1800s that they maintain control over minorities and keep them chained to institution of perpetual dependence.
King might honor my degree, and so might you, but I would urge you both not to. My degrees mean nothing. I, mean nothing. Of course to my family and friends (and dogs) I have worth, but that really is the extent of the value that each of us possesses. I do not say this to be negative towards who you are as a person, but rather to note that as individuals we do not possess enough influence to render our entire country a white privileged, and racist abyss. Individuals, even a large amount of racist ones, have zero impact on a political system in which half was founded upon the blood of slaves, survived by segregation, and intent on forever practicing the soft racism of low expectations. If you want to change the state of race in America, the focus should be less upon the old grandmother calling Obama a Muslim via social media and more on the system that you vote for, or praise, because the individuals leading it have “advanced” degrees.
When I was in the military, I had the honor of serving under many minorities. Even in the intelligence field, which is not always known for being the most diverse branch of the Army, minority men and women defied the concept of being satisfied with low expectations with every step they took, and with every leadership lesson they imparted upon us. Hard work, professionalism, and an unrelenting love for the people supporting common mission made them successful and revered. I would have taken a bullet for my First Sergeant, a black man, while I was at language school. We as soldiers never allowed ourselves to accept mediocre results because our leadership taught us to hold unbridled disdain for the belief that being mediocre was okay.
In King’s world, Obama and his people got where they did because of their degrees. Everyone else is little else but stuck in a perpetual rut that sees them needing to do three times the work of a white person to achieve goals. This is precisely how Obama’s administration led during his eight years, and his failures within the black community are direct results of it despite his nearly unanimous support from minorities at voting booths.
The Founders did not envision our nation being perpetually led by a class of people with endless academic achievement, bred into a political club of elites where they spend entire careers. Leadership of, by, and for the people was meant to be a reflection upon the people, rendering the only requirement for its premier leaders to simply respecting the innate goodness of all, their liberty, and their individuality. The Obama Administration- with its high volume of advanced degrees and all- failed so many in this regard. At no time in history has our government been so welcoming to leadership that practices the soft racism of low expectations.
This series is being created to highlight how we have allowed that to happen over time, and to better understand why regular guys like Shaun King are so invested in enabling it be it through their votes, or through their words in the Daily News.