“I will flatly say that the bulk of this country’s white population impresses me and has so impressed me for a very long time, as being beyond any conceivable hope of moral rehabilitation. They have been white, if I may so put it, too long . . . .” —James Baldwin
In addition to James Baldwin, this story’s inspiration comes from the book, “White Too Long,” by Robert P. Jones. I heard an NPR interview with the author, and the topic of white supremacy in American Christianity intrigued me. So I ordered the book and received it a week or so ago. I originally planned to read the book and perhaps review it, but I got no further than the James Baldwin quote that preceded the first chapter.
While thinking about “white too long,” I realized there’s a corollary of being Black too long. What are the long-term effects of a lifetime of Blackness in a country that not only doesn’t value you but also actively promotes the concept that your life doesn’t matter? The Los Angeles Times just came out with an apology for racism in its historical news coverage. It’s sorry for what it says about what it used to be as if they’re now all better. The Orlando Sentinel apologized in 2019 for its racist coverage of the Groveland Four case, which began with the cry of rape by a white woman in 1949.
The Sentinel’s coverage of 1920’s “Ocoee Massacre,” the site of the worst Election Day violence in American history, was more specific:
Headline from the Nov. 3, 1920, edition of the Orlando Morning Sentinel reporting news of violence in Ocoee. (Orlando Sentinel Archives via Newspapers.com) (Staff / Orlando Sentinel)
“In the aftermath of the tragedy, the Orlando Sentinel’s headlines and news accounts typically praised the heroics of the white men involved, while casting suspicion on the black community, which stories blamed for sparking the violence.
The Orlando Morning Sentinel’s Nov. 3 myopic headline the day after the violence focused solely on the white casualties — ‘Race trouble at Ocoee claims two white victims.’ The Nov. 6 front-page took notice of the funeral for those men, but not of arrangements for black victims.
As the paper’s early coverage of the Groveland Four, the Ocoee coverage is a stain on the Sentinel’s legacy.
We were wrong then, as were the governments that didn’t let a man vote, failed to protect another man who was lynched, let an entire community burn, and allowed property to be wrongfully taken.”
Orlando Sentinel, January 10, 2019
While these two newspapers acknowledge their racist coverage of events, some almost a century ago, imagine if every major newspaper across the country did the same thing every day for decades of promoting whiteness and blaming Black people. Even today, you can witness white people shooting other white people while stirring up violence during otherwise peaceful protests, and the media labels it as a violent Black Lives Matter protest. Nothing has changed.
To grow up Black in this country is to be followed in malls and department stores, racially profiled by police, suppressed by politicians who don’t want you to vote; and suffer under a Supreme Court that alternately has said you have no standing in this country, that segregation was legal, and found unconstitutional or weakened in every Civil Rights Act or Voting Rights Act passed by Congress since 1875. In this country, corporations are considered people, yet according to the Constitution, Black people were counted as three-fifths of a person and had no rights whatsoever. Voter suppression is practiced today at a level unmatched by Bull Connor or George Wallace.
To be Black too long means having historical memories of lynchings and beatings and personal memories. The age of television news and internet videos has given us images of Bloody Sunday, Rodney King, and so many other names and events. It’s impossible to catalog them all. To be Black too long is to watch a police officer kneeling on a Black man’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. Black too long is to be enraged but never allowed to express that rage lest you be categorized as an angry Black woman or angry Black man and therefore dismissed. Black people carry the weight of being Black in a country where police forces have literally evolved from slave patrols with similar goals. Black too long brings the moment you realize you can’t protect your children from racism. But I’ve digressed — this story is about white too long, so back on topic.
I’m looking forward to reading Robert Jones’s book, “White Too Long,” to see what it says about the white church’s role in supporting enslavement, Jim Crow, and current immigration policies that don’t demonstrate a lot of evolution. White too long is the inability to recognize that the system is rigged and their leaders, past and present, are the ones who rigged it. There are those, bless their hearts, who believe and say there is no such thing as systemic racism, think voter suppression doesn’t exist, and that unarmed victims of police shootings, beatings, and chokings brought it on themselves.
There was a brief moment after the George Floyd murder where it looked like there might be real change. White people marched in the streets alongside Black people supporting Black Lives Matter and changing the ways minority communities and Black and Brown people everywhere are policed. Then white agendas, whether it be Proud Boys, ANTIFA, the Boogaloo Boys, or a teenaged boy with a gun, used the opportunity to tear it apart from within. A Christian crowdfunding site raised over $500,000 for the defense of Kyle Rittenhouse, a seventeen-year-old white boy who traveled from Antioch, Illinois, to Kenosha, Wisconsin, to kill two people. White too long.
How long does it take to be white too long? The answer is similar to how many licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop. Some people bite into the philosophy of white supremacy instantly, and for others, it’s a much more gradual process. Some may dislike the chewy chocolate center and stop before they get there, and others may view it as the best part, embracing it fully.
This is the part where someone might be hoping I’ll say I’m not speaking of all white people, but it’s not that simple. All white people who actively function in society are subjected to a barrage of information suggesting the inferiority of others to the benefit of themselves. Those that come from theoretically good homes are indoctrinated in their schools and churches. They’re subject to peer pressure and social media influence. Like the Los Angeles Times and Orlando Sentinel, the daily news is a significant influence, but now twenty-four-hour cable stations are also spewing their rhetoric day and night. If your white family is tuned to certain stations that are praising Kyle Rittenhouse, your child will be white too long too soon.
There is some good news, though — white too long isn’t the last stop in the evolutionary process. Even after being white too long for a while, it’s possible to evolve to a state where you recognize the inequities and desire to do something to correct them. It’s possible to avoid reaching the ironically chocolate center of white supremacy altogether, rejecting the premise that white is right. Some white people may have had mentors that helped them realize that all people are equal and reject the influence of their friends and sometimes family.
James Baldwin thought that the bulk of white people were beyond moral rehabilitation. I’d like to believe that isn’t true. I’d also like to win the lottery but understand the odds against it. Here’s to hoping that the odds can be beaten in both cases.
Be safe, everyone.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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