I know that President Obama’s comments on the George Zimmerman verdict stirred up a lot of emotions over the last few weeks. But the one thing that still doesn’t sit right with me is the fact that so many (white) people didn’t hesitate to lodge racist attacks on Obama for taking a moment to speak truth to power about race in America. (Read “Top 12 Conservative Freakouts After Obama’s Race Speech” from Think Progress)
The full transcript of Obama’s speech is online (so that people can actually take the time to digest the meat of his speech: that there need to be more conversations about race “in families and churches and workplaces”). But I wanted to clear something up once and for all for all the people who continue to call President Obama (or any other black person) a racist. News flash: Black people can’t be racists.
Here’s the proof (not just some made-up stuff used to stir up controversy). In Beverly Tatum’s book, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” she clearly explains what being a racist is really all about:
Of course, people of any racial group can hold hateful attitudes and behave in racially discriminatory and bigoted ways. We can all cite examples of horrible hate crimes which have been perpetrated by people of color as well as Whites. Hateful behavior is hateful behavior no matter who does it. But when I am asked, “Can people of color be racist?” I reply, “The answer depends on your definition of racism.” If one defines racism as racial prejudice, the answer is yes. People of color can and do have racial prejudices. However, if one defines racism as a system of advantage based on race, the answer is no. People of color are not racist because they do not systematically benefit from racism. And equally important, there is no systematic cultural and institutional support or sanction for the racial bigotry of people of color. In my view, reserving the term racist only for behaviors committed by Whites in the context of a White-dominated society is a way of acknowledging the ever-present power differential afforded Whites by the culture and institutions that make up the system of advantage and continue to reinforce notions of White superiority.
Now, I know there are still going to be people in denial about that explanation. Knowing the history of this country, they’ll probably never get it. But as far as President Obama’s speech on Trayvon Martin goes, I’m not letting another white person get off with another baseless, racist attack on the president. So the next time you want to bring up racism and Obama, here’s my suggestion: Read a book!