David Bellavia on “Pigment Whores” : Counterpoint
I am a well-off white male with a graduate degree and a professional license. Some of this I owe to hard work, some of it I owe to luck, but almost all of it is due to extremely generous and brave parents who came to this country with nothing but an education.
Because of who I am, and the America that I experience, I fail to see the need to lecture women or minorities on, for lack of a better term, proper behavior. I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman in America, or black, or Asian, or American Indian, or anything other than what I am.
100 years ago, women couldn’t vote. 150 years ago, women were considered to be their husband’s property – chattel. Black people were brought to this country against their will to be bought and sold as slaves. For 100+ years after that, they lived, (in many cases, still do), as second-class citizens, and we struggle as a society with issues of race and class to this day.
I’m sure there’s a great deal of woman-on-woman crime, but we become especially outraged when, for instance, some bemuscled cretin beats his girlfriend to within an inch of her life. It’s upsetting because there’s a long and sordid history of our society condoning male brutality against women. Rape still goes underreported, as victims find themselves subject to withering cross-examination by defense attorneys about their every sexual experience and article of clothing. “She dressed like that, she deserved what she got”. It was a joke when, 50 years ago, Ralph Kramden threatened to send Alice “to the moon”.
We don’t lecture women about what they should be upset about when, say, a feminist decries abuse and inequality. Well, sometimes we do – for instance, men often tell women to shut it when the idea of equal pay for equal work is raised. Suffice it to say that female-on-female crime and abuse happens all the time, and is reported and prosecuted. But when a man abuses a woman, it calls for a special response, partly because of centuries of male subjugation of females, and because the idea of women being people is relatively new to our society, and not yet adopted by others. It is about power and rights. It’s about liberty. It’s about humanity.
But for some reason, white males feel perfectly comfortable lecturing black people about how insignificant their concerns are. Somehow, it’s perfectly reasonable to hector black leaders that they should STFU about police brutality or systemic racism because black people hurt black people all the time, and why don’t you talk about that, huh?
Black people have endured centuries of subjugation and racism. Between Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education – about 60 years – the Supreme Court of the United States (all white males) declared that black Americans could be subjected to “separate but equal” public accommodations. The reality was a postbellum century of two Americas – white and black; the accommodations for black Americans were separate and palpably unequal. The country that, in 1776, declared that “all men are created equal” didn’t just omit women, but the definition of “man” did not include black people.
It’s 2014 and there’s still a lot of work left to do.
This country never bothered to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which stood for the radical notion that women were equal to men, and should be treated thusly. It wasn’t until the mid-1960s that the country codified legal equality for racial minorities. But that didn’t magically make racism and racist attitudes disappear.
It’s become chic among the contrarian, reactionary American right to dismiss any grievance that blacks or women might have. The most fashionable argument is to dismiss leaders in the black community in part because they supposedly don’t criticize the right things.
I’m not a black man in America, so far be it from me to lecture black people about what they should and should not be concerned.
Batavian conservative commentator and former Congressional candidate, David Bellavia, wrote an article for Michael Caputo’s PoliticsNY entitled, “Say Hello to the Pigment Whores”. The tl;dr: national leaders and commentators in the black community have no moral authority to comment on what’s up in Ferguson because they don’t say anything about black-on-black crime.
The issue of white subjugation of black people manifests itself nowadays in many ways. Among them is predominately white police forces made up of non-residents, who patrol black communities in cars as if they’re on safari. That’s not to say I think that black people are animals – that’s simply the optics of what’s going on. This is how it works in Buffalo, too – we don’t have much community policing, we don’t have a residency requirement, and cops drive around instead of walking a beat. This reinforces the notion of “us vs. them”, and that the cops are there to keep the blacks in line – placid and quiet.
Similarly, Bellavia’s piece is breathtakingly condescending, lecturing black leaders on what they should be thinking and doing, and conveniently concludes that contemporary African-Americans have let Dr. King down.
… the President can’t take the facts of this case and invent a cause that is noble and just for people to shoot at civilians, police, steal from their neighbors. He also can’t excuse and nullify all the criminality that is occurring every night.
Ferguson’s Michael Brown, the unarmed black man who was gunned down like a dog in the street by a white cop in a cruiser, was not a thug. He was an American teenager living in a tough neighborhood who was exceeding the expectations that our society settles on for kids like him. He graduated high school. He was going to college. He was creative musically. If every teenager who challenges authority is a thug, then ours is a thug society.
The cause? White cops shooting unarmed black kids under questionable circumstances, including (but not limited to) the cop being incommunicado and the department refusing to release the incident report, is something that legitimately outraged people in Ferguson. Theirs is a noble cause. Of course, because there are some violent elements among the peaceful protesters, it’s easiest to simply paint all of the demonstrators with the “looter” brush and dismiss them – and their grievances – as illegitimate and criminal. You could always search Twitter to see images that don’t comport with a media narrative, but don’t question that jerk in your knee, right?
[Michael Eric] Dyson and Spike Lee are not outraged of the black on black violence in Chicago, Washington and Detroit; why are we all now incensed when a police officer kills a black man? (regardless of the facts that show it was most likely a clean incident)
“Clean incident” is one helluva way to pre-emptively sanitize a homicide. Just like people shouldn’t rush to judgment against the cop and wait for the facts to come out, they shouldn’t rush to judgment in his favor. Any time an unarmed person of any race is shot & killed by law enforcement, there should be an investigation and legal process before any conclusion of purported “cleanliness” is declared.
And from where do we get the idea that black commentators and pundits do and say nothing about black on black violence? Anyone who says something so ignorant simply isn’t paying attention. Spike Lee focuses on, aptly enough, black male treatment of black females in his films. He has consistently been vocal about “colorism“. The right-wing commentator’s playbook requires equality of outrage in response to unequal and often irrelevant incidents.
Furthermore, what is it about Spike Lee’s alleged silence about black-on-black crime in Chicago that renders invalid his comments about racism? If he argues that black males are victims of government brutality, how about arguing that point with him, rather than pivoting to something completely different.
Hey! You can’t care about Jim Kelly’s mouth cancer, because you didn’t care about every other mouth cancer, ever!
Michael Eric Dyson is an academic and commentator whose main intellectual focus is on race and class relations in America. You’ll forgive him for not taking career and scholarly advice from conservative WNYers.
But what about the central thesis here – that black leaders have no right to comment about Ferguson because they’re silent about “black-on-black crime”?
Sharpton made a publicized trip to Chicago in November to focus attention on the city’s chronic violence. Last year, Michelle Obama attended the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old black honor student who was shot, allegedly by a black gang member.
The first lady later returned to Chicago to converse with students at a school that is nearly 100 percent African-American. “In choosing Harper High School for the visit, the White House noted that 29 current or former students there had been shot in the last year, eight of them fatally,” reported the Tribune.
The president also came here, meeting with kids involved in a mentoring program for at-risk adolescent boys, bemoaning gun violence and telling a crowd on the South Side, “Our streets will only be as safe as our schools are strong and our families are sound.”
That’s not to mention the local Chicago-based activists who deal with the crime epidemic on a daily basis. Also, this:
It’s no secret that rates of violent crime are far higher among blacks than among whites. What is generally overlooked is that these rates have dropped sharply over the past two decades. The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice reports that violent crime by young blacks has plunged 60 percent. In 1995, the FBI reports, 9,074 blacks were arrested for homicide. In 2012, the number was 4,203 — a decline of 54 percent. But conservatives don’t labor endlessly to publicize that trend.
So, black-on-black crime is declining. Ta-Nehesi Coats expounds on why violence by – and against – police is treated differently, adding:
I have said this before. It’s almost as if Stop The Violence never happened, or The Interruptors never happened, orKendrick Lamar never happened. The call issued by Erica Ford at the end of this Do The Right Thing retrospective (link here, ff to 16:31) is so common as to be ritual. It is not “black on black crime” that is background noise in America, but the pleas of black people.
Like the N word, death is apparently acceptable when it comes from the hands of blacks, but outrageous when it comes from whites. Murder is abhorrent. Dehumanizing a race is un-American. We cannot ignore the culture that cannibalizes its own and blame it on racists in a town elected by the same culture.
The homicide of a black person is not acceptable under any circumstances, barring some legal justification like self-defense, and white people should stop whining about who is and isn’t allowed to call someone else a “nigger”. Because, really.
We have an African American President. He was elected by white people in the majority – twice. This president has bent over backwards to elevate young people to dream to aspire to be a part of the American Dream. This president has done more to bring the Internet, exercise and free everything to people in the inner city who have little of their own. Still, Dyson wants to remind us “It is simply not enough.” Nothing is ever enough.
I have to say it’s a tough row to hoe for white conservative commentators – are you blind to race, or are you going to bring it up constantly, in order to lecture black people about the insignificance and invalidity of their concerns? Did you catch that patronizing phrase – “free everything”. This black president has showered black America with freebies, and yet they’re still getting pretty uppity! Gah!
No, it isn’t enough. It isn’t enough until a black kid in a hoodie is no more or less threatening to you than a white kid in a hoodie. It isn’t enough until you stop mistaking a fraternity sign for a gang sign. It isn’t enough until you consider as legitimate and valid the grievances of an America with which you’re not especially familiar, and of which you’re not a member. Instead of dismissal, maybe listen.
To turn the hatred on the President at this time just underlines what the agenda of soulless peddlers in the bigotry industry is and has been all along: To stoke the embers of inequality and promote racial tension.
Sure, there are people who do this. For instance, I am by no means a fan of Al Sharpton, whom I can’t forgive for the palpable crime that was the Tawana Brawley hoax. But what this amounts to is a distraction – whenever there is anything of news import, people will parachute into the imbroglio in order to grandstand or self-promote. Focus on that, and you ignore the underlying, real problems.
Michael Eric Dyson, Jessie Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Spike Lee went all in on Michael Brown and lost; you went all in on Trayvon Martin and lost. Double down in your own community. Stop expecting government to save you. The one thing that history has taught us is that we must save ourselves. If you don’t trust the people you elect in St Louis County, elect other people. There’s a process and a schedule for that – it has always been there.
I have no clue what that’s supposed to mean. When it comes to the cherry-picked alleged “pigment whores” (notice the glaring absence of the word “race”) black America is their community, and the treatment it receives by America’s power structure is a valid topic of discussion and, sometimes, agitation.
Bring up Trayvon Martin, and while George Zimmerman was cleared of any crime, the fact remains that he used deadly force against a kid whom Zimmerman was stalking as part of a “neighborhood watch”.
Bring up Michael Brown, and the fact remains that no one yet knows all the details of what happened, except that Brown was shot six times, with his hands up, and was left to bleed out in the street for hours.
How is outrage over this illegitimate? Martin is dead. Brown is dead. It’s not Jesse Jackson or any other conservative bogeyman who has “lost”. The Martin and Brown families have lost. A strong argument can be made that the Martins did not receive justice, and it’s indisputable that the same is true of the Brown family.
These men have no problem abandoning the cause when it comes to lining their own pockets, but they now speak to inflame the same people they long left behind. Jackson even tried – and #FAILed – to raise money while fanning Ferguson’s flames.
How many inner city youths attend your Georgetown classes or afford your degrees, Dr. Dyson? How many can afford your racially based films, Spike? How many black community members donate to your coalitions and think tanks, Reverends Jackson and Sharpton?
Talk about missing every available point.
These men feed at the trough of the rich to remind them of the poor, but what are they doing to save those they claim to represent? They are pigment whores, blinded by a skin color they exploit and agnostic of personal responsibility or character.
Dr. Martin Luther King’s message has been hijacked. And for that, I don’t believe that there is a Hell hot enough for any of them.
Blame the victims. Trayvon Martin deserved to die. He was a thug. He started it. Michael Brown deserved to die. He was a thug. He may have (but likely didn’t) steal some cigars. He shoved a guy. He was big. Here’s a picture that people spread around that turned out not be him at all. It’s uncomfortable to point out when white people kill black people, because it might mean we need to examine race and class in America again. It’s much easier, and more convenient, to simply treat blacks as, if not inferior, then defective, or congenitally violent – just ask Anthony Cumia.
From the Chicago Tribune:
There’s another, bigger problem with the preoccupation with “black-on-black crime.” The term suggests race is the only important factor. Most crimes are committed by males, but we don’t refer to “male-on-male crime.” Whites in the South are substantially more prone to homicide than those in New England, but no one laments “Southerner-on-Southerner crime.” Why does crime involving people of African descent deserve its own special category?
The phrase stems from a desire to excuse whites from any role in changing the conditions that breed delinquency in poor black areas. It carries the message that blacks are to blame for the crime that afflicts them — and that only they can eliminate it. Whites are spared any responsibility in the cause or the cure.
Excluding them from complicity is harder to do when the killer is white and the killed is black, as in the shooting in Ferguson. Raising “black-on-black crime” right now is not a sincere attempt to improve the lot of African-Americans. It’s a way to change the subject and a way to blame them.
Just as we blame Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown for their own killings.
There is a pattern here, but it isn’t the one Eugene Robinson (for whom I have a great respect) thinks. The pattern is the transmutation of black protest into moral hectoring of black people. Don Imus profanely insults a group of black women. But the real problem is gangsta rap. Trayvon Martin is killed. This becomes a conversation about how black men are bad fathers. Jonathan Martin is bullied mercilessly. This proves that black people have an unfortunate sense of irony.
The politics of respectability are, at their root, the politics of changing the subject—the last resort for those who can not bear the agony of looking their country in the eye. The policy of America has been, for most of its history, white supremacy. The high rates of violence in black neighborhoods do not exist outside of these facts—they evidence them.
This history presents us with a suite of hard choices. We do not like hard choices. Here’s a better idea: Let’s all get together and talk about how Mike Brown would still be alive if Beyoncé would make more wholesome music, followed by a national forum on how the charge of “acting white” contributes to mass incarceration. We can conclude with a keynote lecture on “Kids Today” and a shrug.
White people need to stop the “moral hectoring” of black people. The issues in Ferguson do not exist because of black commentators or “pigment whores”, nor do the occasional outbursts of violence by demonstrators render the underlying grievances invalid. The issues in Ferguson, after all, are not unique to that town.
As an American, I can abhor violence and looting while treating the black community’s anger and frustration as legitimate. As an American, I can demand justice for Michael Brown while simultaneously holding no love for Al Sharpton. As an American, I can recognize that it’s not necessarily my place to lecture black Americans on what they should and shouldn’t worry about, but that it is my place to help identify problems, and fix them.
There are far more peaceful demonstrators in Ferguson carrying out Dr. King’s ethos of nonviolence than aren’t.
David Bellavia from rural WNY wants to lecture black America on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Let’s start with Dr. King’s own words, then:
The Triple Evils of POVERTY, RACISM and MILITARISM are forms of violence that exist in a vicious cycle. They are interrelated, all-inclusive, and stand as barriers to our living in the Beloved Community. When we work to remedy one evil, we affect all evils. To work against the Triple Evils, you must develop a nonviolent frame of mind as described in the “Six Principles of Nonviolence” and use the Kingian model for social action outlined in the “Six Steps for Nonviolent Social Change.”
Anyone who has been paying attention to Ferguson knows full well that poverty, racism, and militarism still exist as forms of violence, and are now brought to the fore, yet again. As an overwhelmingly white police presence appears in Ferguson with MRAPs and guns aimed at men, women, and children marching, let’s consider maybe that this underscores the marchers’ points, rather than disproving them.