Years ago I was working as a photojournalist for an inner-city newspaper and was assigned to cover a Rap group called Public Enemy. They had just released their third album called Fear of a Black Planet, and our editors feared something would happen at the locally scheduled concert tour.
Nothing happened, despite the paranoid hype of some in the local, establishment media (including, admittedly, our own newspaper). It was actually a fun, exciting evening with plenty of visual candy to appease the Entertainment Page editor.
Later, I read an interview with the lead singer and songwriter for the group, Chuck D. I was surprised at the rather thoughtful intent and purpose the album was meant to convey. Rather than a call to “Fight the Power” – one of the songs on the album – the overall concept was one of education and understanding.
Chuck D talked about a theory of white supremacy and institutional racism espoused in the writings of Chicago psychiatrist, Dr. Frances Cress Welsing.
A Tribune article at the time nicely summarizes the hour-long interview I witnessed:
“It’s fear that divides us, he says; understand me better and you won’t run. Fear of a Black Planet is about achieving that understanding, but on Public Enemy’s terms. In presenting their view of life from an Afro-centric, as opposed to Euro-centric, perspective, P.E. challenges listeners to step into their world.” – Kot, Greg (April 15, 1990). “Rap’s bad rap ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ touches universal concerns”. Chicago Tribune (Tribune Company). p. 5
I think Public Enemy was largely unsuccessful in convincing main-stream, white America to embrace an understanding of the world as seen through non-white eyes.
I just can’t shake the feeling that we missed an opportunity to cross a cultural divide that has endured in America despite the valiant efforts of reformers such as Malcom X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and W.E.B Dubois.
Recently, a popular radio talk show host in Texas posted a video on his Facebook page that had one of the authors of the Common Core curriculum explain that part of his reason for helping to write the curriculum is because “as a white male in society, I was given a lot of privilege that I didn’t earn. I think it’s really important that every kid is given an opportunity to learn how to read.”
It was headlined like this:
WATCH: Teacher Admits He Wrote Common Core Standards Because He Was Ashamed Of Being White!
Nowhere in the video does the teacher say that he is ashamed of being white. Apparently, recognizing that white males have historically been privileged is evidence of such.
I know for a fact that I had certain privileges afforded me simply because of the color of my skin. Yet, I do not feel ashamed of being white. What I am ashamed of is the ignorance of my fellow white males who post stupid things like the above example.
If you listen to the audio, you can hear a gasp in the (mostly white) audience when the accursed equity talk is uttered.
Why do white males feel so threatened?
I think it is sort of like the way popular kids and star athletes in school react once they leave and are no longer the center of attention. They become extremely jealous of their peers. They are more prone to bully their co-workers and even sabotage other’s efforts. They miss the adulation and special privileges they enjoyed as teenagers.
White males in America have lead a charmed life almost from the beginning of the Republic. We tricked the native tribes into giving up the best land, and in a stroke of luck (for white Europeans), nearly wiped them out from our imported diseases.
While hailing our new-found freedom from imperialist English landlords, we built the greatest economy in the world on the backs of our indentured servants and imported African slave labor.
Then when that uppity lawyer in Chicago emancipated our free labor source, we lashed out in anger and resentment toward our former property through Jim Crow laws, poll taxes and lynching.
When the newly emancipated slaves began doing what comes natural to free men – seeking education and gainful employment – we made damn sure they weren’t going to have an easy time of it by reserving all the best jobs and homes for those whose pallor radiated brilliantly in the noon day sun.
So, when we make an attempt to somehow make up for the gross miscarriage of justice of slavery – as if we can…
When we stand for equal pay for equal work…
And, when we try to do the right thing for our gay and lesbian communities who endured our ignorant taunts and even violence…
When we include Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and even Atheists to decorate our public squares…
And when we make an effort to embrace our neighbors on our southern borders…
It’s not because we are ashamed of being white.
It’s not because we are ashamed of being male.
It’s not because we are ashamed of our sexual orientation.
And, it’s not because we are ashamed of being Christian.
It’s not even because we are ashamed of being Americans.
It’s because we are ashamed of being assholes.