My father had a saying: “You wanna talk to somebody, you gotta meet them where they are… But some muthafuckas are just too far away.”
This saying applies to a lot of situations, but he would use it most often when it came to talking to white people about race.
Talking to white people about race is a hard thing to do. The main reason is that it’s not always clear just how far away some muthafuckas are. It can be difficult to tell if a white person is speaking in good or bad faith. If you discover they are speaking in bad faith, then they’re too far away and it seems easy to just not engage…
But it’s not necessarily that easy. There could be other white people involved who don’t recognize the bad faith and question you as to why you’ve ceased engagement. Suddenly you’re in a debate about the intentions of a person with bad faith while that person remains unaccountable and all the other white people just think you’re overly sensitive or paranoid.
But even if you can manage to successfully navigate all of that, stay away from those with bad faith and end up communicating with a white person who is speaking in good faith, there is still no guarantee you will be able to get them to understand.
It’s like the difference between the current president and Joe Biden. Obviously, the president is a man of bad faith. Joe Biden, on the other hand, has all the markings of a man of good faith. He always seems to have a kind word to say. He seems friendly and optimistic. Plus, he’s got that Black friend we all know about!
Unfortunately, there was that time he said of that Black friend, “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” Naturally, he later non-apologized saying, “And I really regret that some have taken totally out of context my use of the world ‘clean,’” as if that were the problem.
I know right now some of you are thinking So what? He said some bad stuff a long time ago, but he’s learned and he’s better. To you I say, first of all, if his current situation in being told not to touch people who don’t want to be touched is any sort of signifier—which I think it is—he hasn’t learned anything. He was publicly mocking the entire idea and then non-apologizing again just last Friday.
The problem isn’t that people just say some “bad stuff.” The problem is that if we accept that “bad stuff” from each other, then we also accept it from our leaders. In Biden’s case, some of that “bad stuff” he said in the 1970s was against integration and nearly 20 years later he was a leading proponent of mass incarceration. There’s a high cost to be paid for saying that “bad stuff” for such a long time, but Joe Biden doesn’t have to pay it. Countless Black men—or “predators,” as he called them—paid and will continue to pay.
Meanwhile, voters are just hoping Uncle Joe gets through this one OK. And I think that’s because we can all tell that he more or less operates in good faith. Unfortunately, good faith alone still leaves some muthafuckas too far away.
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