The following essay does not apply to my real life white friends because if I call you a “friend,” I have vetted you over time by observing how you act towards me, specifically, and humanity in general. Meaning, I could never call a racist, sexist or religious bigot a “friend” because my common sense would not allow it.
Now, I do “know” quite a few folks that I am convinced through observation are latent or overt racists, sexists and religious bigots. I even have worked as co-counsel, opposing counsel or appeared before judges who think that they are my friends, but they never could be my true friend because I know that deep down inside, they have overt contempt for my race and despite laughing it up with me in the halls of “justice” or pounding a few brews after a case at a bar, they have latent contempt for me, too.
A few years back, I had a judge take issue with an article that I wrote for the Tallahassee Democrat blasting a decision of the United States Supreme Court regarding affirmative action. The judge, who I am sure considered himself my friend, suggested that a number of judges were starting to view me as a “race baiter” based upon my articles that analyzed the impact of race on public policy. Said judge suggested that I stop “trying to be like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson” because I was “better than that.” I did not take offense to the judge’s suggestion because I found it refreshing that he would be so honest about wanting me to shut up. But I assured the judge that I would not stop writing about race–ever–because silence is what keeps the status quo.
Exactly one year ago, when I posted a “Hobbs’s American History Moment” on Facebook about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing by the Ku Klux Klan that killed four little black girls and wounded 17 others on September 15, 1963, I was questioned by one white Facebook “friend” who I did not know personally via direct message. This “friend” asked whether posting such topics could “lead to racial healing” with “so much going on these days with respect to racial tension.” My simple response to him was “yes,” and I added nothing further, as I considered the mere suggestion of black silence about white racial oppression to be asinine.
But on the public thread about the church bombing, I had another white Facebook friend who was a real-life courthouse colleague boldly ask why I was “so anti-white.” You see, whether it is ESPN’s Jemele Hill or some other nationally syndicated black journalist or pundit, or any number of black folks rendering an opinion about race relations on social media, there will be white “friends” who take offense and suggest that by discussing slavery and Jim Crow and their lingering impacts on modern race relations, that such is tantamount to being “anti-white.”
Well, of course I responded to my colleague with the following: “If you read this post and your take away is that I am anti white people, then that says more about you than me. I also realize that being around me at the courthouse does not mean that you know me at all–clearly you don’t. So let me tell you a few things about me: First and foremost, my bachelor’s and master’s degrees both concentrated in history and during my two decades of being a writer for various newspapers and online sites from the Tallahassee Democrat to my current gig as a writer for The Hill and The Grio, I often alternate and many times intersect political and legal analysis with history. More personally, I grew up the son of two parents who were raised in the segregated south, both of whom experienced the worst of systemic and brutal white racism in real-time. To them, the beatings, lynchings, bombings of churches and killing of men, women and children were not some abstract concepts or historical footnotes; rather, they, as did their families and friends, endured the same. Despite that, both (parents) pushed past systemic white racism to do well in their personal and professional lives. It is probably hard for you to imagine my father being a young second lieutenant in the United States Army when this very church was bombed, stationed in Fort Benning, Georgia and leading white troops on base only to know that if he traversed to Columbus, Georgia or Phenix City, Alabama during this time at the wrong time of night, he too could suffer a similar fate. Or a mother who was an English teacher when integration finally took root in earnest in 1970–two years before I was born–where white parents questioned her knowledge or expertise to teach their children. Despite that, both parents raised me to respect ALL people and take folks as they come. But neither admonished me to bury the past or pretend that what happened did not happen and even most crucially, to pretend that what happened does not impact what is happening in many ways today. That is what I do with my public writings and many of my “true” white friends and acquaintances appreciate both the historical vignettes and present day analysis. What I’ve long noted is that those who don’t either lack the intellectual capacity to understand, or they understand and simply do not care at all, or they undestand but have some trite belief that by ignoring the past we can create a better present or future, or they simply are just damned racists. I do not know you well enough to know which category you fall under, but I restate my initial premise, which is that if you believe that my post commemorating the brutal deaths of four little girls at the hands of white terrorists makes me anti-white, then you miss the point and clearly do not know me. By the same logic, I suppose my post yesterday of the two black women who were sentenced to life without parole for torturing a black child to death makes me anti-black. See how illogical that is?”
As expected, the white colleague who considered himself my “friend” is no longer on speaking terms or social media “friends” with me because I checked him so thoroughly. But such is the charge for all of us these days, to push back against bigotry and hatred even among those bigots who come in the form of a friend.