I’ve noticed a really annoying trend in the San Francisco Bay Area of late, more specifically the last six years, and more intensely over the last four years (which happens to coincide with the election of Donald Trump as POTUS). It’s white folks telling black folks what racism is.
The most bothersome examples pop-up in news publications, and in social media, again, related to something a news reporter thinks or someone who dares write a “letter to the editor”.
Let’s take one piece written by Richard Keats II that I happened to see in Berkeleyside, and related to what happened to local comedian W.Kamal Bell at the closed Elmwood Café, now called Baker & Commons.
If you remember, what happened that eventually launched W.Kamal Bell into national view thanks to CNN, was that he was walking up to meet his wife and a friend, when a worker rushed out and ordered him to leave area. The worker believed that Mr. Bell was a homeless black man and in the worker’s mind, it was just fine to treat him as undesirable. The worker’s prejudice was so deep, the person did not even stop to consider that the “ homeless black man” was actually a black man who knew the white folks he was talking to, let alone married to one of them!
What happened to W.Kamal Bell is all too common in the San Francisco Bay Area, and in America: someone white thinks someone else who’s black, basically, just doesn’t belong. The many ways this staple of institutional racism is expressed are legion:
• A white student at Berkeley thinks a black student got in only because of affirmative action, and says so.
• White San Francisco Bay Area news reporters constantly couch something a black person does that they don’t like as criminal or illegal, whereas a white person is called “clever” or pioneering, or some equivalent. (Media and technology are the last bastions of white supremacist thought in America. Just count the micro-small number of media and tech organizations owned by blacks – like Zennie62Media, Inc.)
• A white woman gets upset that a black man is singing “Grease” out loud with his white female friends, and so voices her displeasure. (That happened to me in Las Vegas two years ago at the Cosmopolitan LV.)
• A white woman comes upon black men setting up a barbecue at Lake Merritt, tells them she bought the Lake for $5 million (a good reason to immediately brand her as nuts), and harasses them for two hours before calling 9-11 on them because she says they’re not supposed to cook there. (That was BBQ Becky AKA Jennifer Schulte, in Oakland two years ago.)
As I wrote, I can go on and on and on. But here comes people like Richard Keats II who have the nerve to write that “The slight W. Kamau Bell experienced at the Elmwood Café does not rise to the level of racism. He just experienced several seconds of emotional agitation.” Seriously, he wrote that. He did.
Richard Keats II is not black – he’s white. In his letter, he does not stop to show any type of sympathy for what W. Kamau Bell experienced. He does what a giant number of white folks have done since 2016: witness a racist act done to someone black, or do it themselves, and then says what happened was not racist when the black victim dares speak up. This crap must stop. For someone who has not walked your shoes to tell you what to think and how to feel is, in itself, offensive. And its racist, on top of the racist actions such responses seek to defend.
In Richard Keats II’s mind, racism has to be something violent. Also, he thinks that if W. Kamau Bell was more communicative, there would not be a problem. That’s crazy. Mr. Keats doesn’t seem to get that what the worker did was wrong – period. Mr. Bell should not have had to explain anything to him.
What Mr. Keats and others who think like him seem to want is some door to be kept open that allows them to be mean to black folks. What cracked me up about what Mr. Keats wrote back in 2018 was that he came up with this typically Bay Area psuedo-scientific “let me show I can do research and cite articles to prove I’m smart” bullshit approach to justify that he, when it all breaks down, just doesn’t want to see how a black person perceives the world around them. And just wants to be racist toward that black person – but in a way that he, Keats, doesn’t think is racist. Wow.
Even worse, the “research” examples he provides have zero to do with blacks and racism. He refers to the LGBTQ community, as if that’s, well, the same. It is, only from a straight-white-male-centric point of view. Which, I might add, a person does not have to be straight, white, or male to have – one can be black and afflicted with the same problem. Think about that when a black person tells you “The white man’s ice is colder.”
Wake up, will ya?
Keats, and others like him, seem to forget is that if we as a society keep letting what he calls “slights” that “ don’t rise to the level of racism” go, eventually, we get the many racist encounters that have been captured on cell phone camera this year. All done by white people who did not get the message that they were being racist, and quite possibility had a habit of that kind of behavior before it was captured on camera. Amy Cooper, in New York’s Central Park, making a fake “help, a black man’s attacking me” call to the NYPD. I’ll bet that’s not the first time she’s done something like that.
In this post-George Floyd world, what anyone white must stop doing is discounting the complaints of someone black that they’re being racist. That white person must train themselves to ask one question of that black person: “How can I be better?” Then, they have to be prepared to listen.
We can’t have a society where only white women can say that we should hear them. Everyone has to listen to each other. If I say something you did was racist, don’t tell me it wasn’t and don’t try and find someone else black to cover for you. Humble yourself and ask how you can be a better person toward me. Ask me what it is to be treated in a racist way. Then, take a seat, and say nothing: just listen.
Stay tuned. Happy Star Trek Day! (Remember the IDIC?)
And watch W. Kamau Bell’s show United Shades on CNN. After all, it was basically born in Berkeley, at The Elmwood Café.
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