I’ve spent a fair bit of time defending myself from the attacks on my Black Lives Matter article this morning on the Huff Post Live so I’m not going to respond fully to this reader’s email. While it badly mischaracterizes my stance on black activists (my criticism of these two particular activists does not extend to black activists in general), it is thoughtful and worth reading:
I read your piece referring to the women who interrupted Bernie Sanders as “idiots.” Saying that if #BlackLivesMatter activists who want to be heard should act differently.
There’s a problem with this sort of thinking and expectation, one that has been exposed in this entire matter. Bernie Sanders is a politician running for office. He has done many things over the years which have helped various groups — minorities, economically challenged of all races, etc — but for the man running right this moment, voters in the city of Seattle don’t owe him a pass. He’ll have to earn it like anyone else.
Black men are being incarcerated at a higher rate that white men and are also being killed by police at a higher rate than black men. People are upset and the anger is justified. It’s not pretty. The feeling I get looking in my rearview mirror at a police car that just happens to be behind me (not even with its lights flashing) is indescribable. I can’t make you understand that.
I also can’t make you understand what it’s like to see the surprise on a white person’s face when they learn I have a master’s degree. Or that my brother has one also. Or that our father has two. Or that our father has been married to our mother for over 45 years. Or people commenting on how articulate I am, as if they expected something different.
These microaggressions are what populate my day-to-day life and they are infuriating. They may seem innocuous to you but they come from a source that is ugly and they have deep effects. The same ignorance that is the basis of the surprise at being articulate is the same ignorance fueling the prejudicial thoughts by an interviewer of an applicant who is of color. The ignorance that prompts surprise at my education or my parents’ marital status is the same ignorance fueling the racial profiling by police. The assumptions are more extensive in the latter case but it’s not fundamentally different.
If people of color “step out of line” with police, someone ends up shot or beaten. With every death that we see at the hands of police, there’s no end to the line of people saying “Well, respect the police officer. Don’t be belligerent. Don’t argue with him. Be compliant. Be nice.” I could go on and on. From the microaggressions to the macro, we’re being told we need to behave ourselves… or else.
Then there’s you: presenting the activists as rude, egotistical children who held a group of adults hostage at a rally. Calling them idiots. Black life in America is as dangerous for the “ill-behaved” as it is for the “behaved” so if Bernie Sanders wants to lead, he needs to answer to the “ill-behaved” activists. He could have chosen to say to those ladies, “I’d like to have a dialog with you right here and right now. Can we sit here with this audience while I listen to and address your concerns? Can we have a dialog? I want you to be assured that I’m going to be a part of the solution.”
That would have been powerful but it didn’t happen. On the tip of your tongue are probably the words “That’s not fair to the people who came. That’s not their issue.” Actually, it IS there issue. Racial inequality is a part of Seattle society just like American society. There are some white liberals who might think it’s okay to share an article on Facebook and rant about how the injustice infuriates them, but the minute someone stands up for a cause at a political rally in front of their candidates, they suddenly don’t care.
Women taking a stand on the issues is a part of this country’s very fabric. A politician missed one speech along a long road of speeches. He had the opportunity to show the people of Seattle more than just his prepared remarks but that he was willing to address the local issues facing Black people in Seattle as well as nationally. If he presumes to be worth anyone’s vote, he should have been able to diplomatically handle that and engage them. He did not.
You want to shame Black activists into behaving themselves? Are their choices making you uncomfortable? Is it nagging you, getting under your skin and occupying your thoughts at night?
Yeah? Then perhaps you do understand what I feel seeing a police car in my rearview or when I experience the microaggressions each day…
I’ve actually been stopped by the police with a black friend for them to search him and not me, so I’m acutely aware of how little I understand what it is like to be black. But this doesn’t negate my point that the activists who stormed the Sanders rally were childish brats who horribly harassed a man how knows full well what ethnic discrimination means. And yes, I do want to shame Johnson and Willaford, not because they are black, but because they behaved shamefully.
Either way, I’m certainly open to more discussion on this, so keep the comments coming.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.