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Est. April 5, 2002
June 25, 2020 - Issue 824
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White Liberals Allies
Must Demonstrate
Genuine Commitment
This Time Around

By Dr. Elwood Watson, PhD
"To say that the relationship between Black Americans
and White liberals has been complex and fractious is
understatement. Rabid feelings of anger, glee, disillusion,
disgust, and more have been commonplace within the
frequently fragile and fractured discourse in both groups."

George Floyd has finally been laid to rest. The brutal and inhumane manner that he departed this earth was nothing short of abominable. May he rest in peace. Although, Mr. Floyd is no longer with us, the problems that led up to his death — racism, racial profiling, police brutality, and other maladies still remain deeply entrenched in our presence.

To say that the relationship between Black Americans and White liberals has been complex and fractious is an understatement. Rabid feelings of anger, glee, disillusion, disgust, and more have been commonplace within the frequently fragile and fractured discourse in both groups.

From the shakers of colonial America to the abolitionists of the mid-19th century to early 20th-century leftist radicals to mid-20th-century progressives to the idealistic white liberals of the modern civil rights movement of the 1960s to here and now in the year 2020, the relationship between these two groups has been akin to a roller coaster: sudden highs, abrupt lows, and occasional stops. This relationship could best be described as one of political, social, and cultural ambiguity.

If there is one thing that can be said about the current moment in time, it is that it is unquestionably surreal. There is an undeniably distinctive feeling about the present environment — intensely so. That is why it is so crucial that genuine White liberals make a valiant effort to work with those they claim to support in an effort to move this nation forward.

If we are being honest, many White liberals have dedicated their time and energy to issues that have directly impacted Black people (and sometimes other non-Whites) only when it has personally, politically and psychologically benefited them. To be sure, there have been a number of White liberals who have genuinely “practiced what they preached,” so to speak. These are the White progressives who have risked their reputations, livelihoods, social status and personal comfort in an effort to better the often desolate circumstances that plague many Black and some other non-White Americans. Unfortunately, however, these men and women have been in the acute minority.

More often than not, the rhetoric for racial justice and equality that has flowed from the mouths of White liberals is just that: rhetorical exercises in self-congratulations. A self-indulgent manner of priding themselves on supposedly not harboring the same racially bigoted, retrograde sentiments and values as their White right-wing counterparts.

The fact is that such self-congratulatory behavior is occasionally misguided. The truthful reality is that many White people who identify as liberal indeed harbor attitudes that are just as primitive and condescending as their social and cultural conservatives counterparts. The difference is that White liberals tend to adopt a more sophisticated approach in exercising their true sentiments.

Fractious relationships between White leftists and Black America is nothing new. Throughout American history, Black leaders and activists have made no secret of their disappointment and outright disdain for what they have perceived as liberal disingenuousness and hypocrisy. From Martin Luther King Jr. to Malcom X

to mid-20th-century Black intellectual extraordinaire James Baldwin

to modern CNN commentator Van Jones, more than a few members of the Black intelligentsia have made their feelings about White liberals well known and have taken no prisoners in expressing their searingly, unfiltered critiques. Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. DuBois made their occasional displeasure of White liberals known as well.

It is crucial to note that Black criticism of segments of the White left by no means indicates that they were avid supporters of conservatives. Their deep animus toward the political right was well known. However, the Right made their disdain and hostility toward Black people and other progressive causes clear, thus right-wing resistance toward racial, political and social equality came as no surprise. Rather, it was the transactional behavior of more than a few White liberals that was so unnerving and disappointing to their many marginalized and disenfranchised supporters of color.

It has been the long-standing practice of White liberals to embrace progressive attitudes and positions when it has been politically expedient to do so. To put it plainly, if it is politically advantageous (in the broadest sense of the term) to be liberal in a given situation, then they act accordingly. Otherwise, they are more inclined to revert to more socially centrist, conservative, or in some cases, apolitical behavior. The truth is that some will quickly align themselves with White Supremacy in a heartbeat. Their behavior is unreliable to put it mildly.

The majority usually forfeited the opportunity to be genuinely committed allies to the disenfranchised and marginalized. As a result, when it came time for real, demonstrative action, people of color and other indigenous people were often left to fight arduous battles alone, abandoned by their supposedly White liberal allies who claimed to empathize and stand with them in solidarity. It is a sad commentary to be sure.

History has demonstrated all too often that when the going gets rough and the white, right wing backlash monster fiercely flashes it sharply pierced teeth, too often, so-called White liberal allies recoil in fear, anxiety, panic, pack up, retreat, keep a low profile and ride out the storm until things subside. Only managing to emerge when the next seemingly monumental event arises. Such Houdini, phantom like antics cannot happen this time around. We are in a moment of electrifying levels of activism. Not since 1968 (some more dramatic observers would argue that not since the Civil War) has our nation been at such a crossroads.

This time, the zeitgeist feels different. So many White people of so many education levels, religions, regions of the nation, and walks of life have taken to the streets with people of other racial and ethnic groups, peacefully and bravely confronting law enforcement, legislators, and others to demand that real and consequential political, social, economic, and legal measures be enacted for the betterment of all. It is nothing short of awe inspiring and has been euphoric to say the least.

It is imperative that this momentum, determination, and resilience continue. We cannot allow the retrograde, sinister forces of White backlash, neo-liberalism, White supremacy and other retrograde forces abort such a grandiose opportunity. Many American citizens seem to be adhering to the sagacious messages of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who profoundly stated that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and the late, often prophetic Black feminist and activist Audre Lorde, who said, “The war against dehumanization is ceaseless.” Indeed, too much is at stake this time around. Guest Commentator, Dr. Elwood Watson, PhD is a Professor of History, African American Studies and Gender Studies. He is also an author and public speaker. His forthcoming book, Keepin' It Real: Essays on Race in Contemporary America will be published by the University of Chicago Press later this year. Contact Dr.Watson and BC.
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