I'm gambling the Dkos community can honestly grapple with an issue concerning race. I am hoping this community is willing to unwaveringly face some of the complexities of dealing with race in America. It will be impossible to tackle all the variables that lead to personal bigotry or prejudices or biasness in America with one diary.
Instead I will attempt to expose an ugly reality that is often overlooked by both Whites and Blacks alike: the reality that, in America, white people are seen as individuals, while blacks are often seen as units.
In 2003, Tim Russert of NBC’s Meet the Press interviewed then-Secretary of State, Colin Powell. In the interview, Mr. Russert asked Secretary Powell about the views of entertainer and black activist, Harry Belafonte regarding Cuba. In 2006, Tim Russert asked Senator Barack Obama to comment on a few statements made by Harry Belafonte regarding President Bush. Tim Russert, according to my research so far, has never asked a white person to make a public comment regarding Harry Belafonte. The only connection Harry Belafonte had to Powell or Obama was race: all three are considered Black.
Harry Belafonte is seen by many as an "angry" black man in America who sometimes says outrageous and scary things. Tim Russert had to make certain these two "acceptable" black men, Powell and Obama, renounced and rejected Belafonte’s statements.
When white Americans say ridiculous statements, like Pat Robertson hinting in 1993 that homosexuals were behind Adolf Hitler’s atrocities, I haven’t found correlated evidence of white politicians being persistently asked to denounce these statements. The reason for this discrepancy is simple: In America, white people are virtually always seen as individual people who represent only themselves and not their race as a whole. Pat Robertson, for all his faults, merely represents Pat Robertson—it could be argued that Pat Robertson doesn’t even represent the 700 Club, for his members are not asked to renounce or reject Robertson’s statements. When a white person speaks in public, it is understood by most Americans that this person does not speak on behalf of his race, or his political party, or even his religious congregation.
Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter go out of their way to be seen as spokespersons for Conservatives in America. Whenever these two make ignorant comments in public though, other Conservatives are not held accountable. White people have the privilege of only representing themselves in America. The same is not true for African Americans.
An African American is too often viewed as merely a small component of his racial identity. When one black person is in the public spotlight, it reflects—negatively or positively—onto all black people. When Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson audition in front of the camera for attention, it’s seen as two black men speaking on behalf of black people as a whole. When black cons like Larry Elder or Armstrong Williams write a bogus article concerning race in America, it’s interpreted by society as representative of African Americans collectively.
Tim Russert didn’t mean any racial harm when he asked Barack Obama on Feb, 2008 to denounce Louis Farrakhan's so-called "endorsement." Obama has never been personally or politically associated with Louis Farrakhan in any way. A line can be drawn to connect the dots between Reverend Wright’s church honoring Luis Farrakhan’s contributions to the Black community, but a genuine stretch of the imagination has to be used to connect it to Obama personally or politically in any way. In fact, the media has repeatedly lied to Americans by claiming that Farrakhan actually "endorsed" Obama. Truth is, Farrakhan explicitly refused to endorse Obama. Farrakhan did speak well of Obama and told members to pray for him. He candidly told his followers that he was not going to "tell you who to vote for." Instead, he used the opportunity to express his wonder at how much the nation has changed and to articulate the pride he had for Obama and the new generation of Americans that Obama represents.
But a terrifying, offensive black man had said something in public and Tim Russert had to assure America that Obama did not share Farrakhan’s views. This sets a dangerous precedent for future African Americans hoping to serve this great nation. If Black men and women have to be held accountable for everything other African Americans say or do in public, they are forever doomed politically. If a faction of the Ku Klux Klan decide publically to vote for John McCain, is he held responsible for their actions or beliefs? Of course not. Yet, this is the standard Barack Obama is held to regarding the New Black Panther Party. Obama must pay for the sins of all African Americans, real or imagined.
It will be uncomfortable for America to decisively deal with the issue of race. The first step in this process will require the media, as well as individuals, to rethink and re-approach our own personal biasness. To White America, this means understanding that every Black person is a very unique individual and do not represent the millions of African Americans across the country. There are Black people who have never been called the N-word by a powerful White person in their life. There are others who have been called the N-word by White heads of institutions all their lives. This experience creates different perspectives of the same America. A Black man or woman can only articulate his or her own personal experience and story regarding race.
To Black America, this means always being conscious to include the following phrase whenever talking publically about race: "I can only speak for myself, for I do not represent the millions of African-Americans living in this country." It is a mistake for Black people to talk to friends or family members as though they have some secret insight into the African American community as a whole. The Black community is too diverse and complex for any one person to speak on it's behalf. Blacks have to start presenting themselves as individuals before it can reasonably be expected for Whites to seem them as individuals.
In this light, Black people are responsible for a part of this problem as well. So long as they use the imaginary term "Black leaders" to label various Black men and Black women who still fight for justice and inequality, it will encourage others to continue viewing the Black race collectively. There is no such thing as a "Black leader." African Americans, much like Jewish Americans and Anglo American and Mexican Americans, are too diverse to have one or two leaders capable of representing them all. The sooner Black people stop feeding into this myth, the quicker the media and White America can divorce it as well.
When Pat Buchanan used Obama's race speech as a moment to challenge "black hustlers", everyone understood it to be a case of Pat Buchanan talking stupid, as usual. He didn’t represent anyone but his own ignorant self. Rev. Wright, Louis Farrakhan, and Harry Belafonte have said some stupid, outrageous stuff in the past. Let’s not hold Barack Obama accountable for their comments just because they are all Black. If we don’t put an end to this now, definitively, we’ll be asking Obama to respond to Charles Barkley’s comments or Dick Gregory's comments next.