White People have to be Wary When They Speak to African-Americans:
Reflections on the Bill Cosby Debate
I have now been writing for about fifteen years or so trying to rejuvenate a healthy dialogue about why there is a need for another civil rights movement. In doing so I have dealt with more African-Americans than I ever have before. And some things have really struck me as strange or just plain wrong in the subculture of blacks. (I prefer black to African-American because the blacks are not just another immigrant group like Irish-Americans or Italian-Americans. Their problems are much more severe than that of white immigrant groups.)
I have been a virulent critique of American racism, American society and American culture. But now that I have shown that I am not a white racist (indeed I am to the political left of the civil rights community), I just want to comment on the general controversy caused by Bill Cosbyís remarks.
According to Cosby's critics, the problem with the approach was that he did not emphasize the primary source of the problems with black culture, namely white racial prejudice and discrimination. So to avoid this kind of accusation or criticism I will clearly state that the ultimate cause of the problems in black society and culture are white racism. There is something wrong in American white culture and black culture. Obviously, much of white culture is racist and I have criticized that in my writings.
And if I were black I would be an angry black man. I couldnít help myself. Hell, Iím already an angry white man because of white racism and the damage it has done to everyone (white, black or brown) in American culture. (White people would say, heís got "issues".") But black culture has been damaged by white racism also. It has adopted a sub-culture of survival that is absolutely counter-productive to ever changing the racist situation and harmful to individual black people and their communities.
One interesting thing I learned was that blacks often do not know the real reasons why white people do and say the things they do and say in their interactions with blacks. If a black man is turned down for a promotion that he thought he deserved, he often does not know if the decision was made because of racism or because there were other non-racist, legitimate reasons for not being promoted. So black men (and women) are naturally a little paranoid and suspicious. Therefore, white men and women have to be careful how they approach blacks in regard to crucial life-effecting decisions. (Of course, racists are already extremely careful to hide their actual racism around blacks. This is more for white liberals/radicals who want to interact with blacks in a pleasant and productive way.)
Another interesting thing to learn was that many black men are so repulsed by the worst aspects of black subculture that they accept most of white culture. They are uneasy talking about white racism and discrimination. In some cases, most of their friends are white. I learned that this is just another reason why blacks are often not receptive to talking about the need for a renewed effort in the civil rights area. They donít want to hear it. They are trying to survive in a kind of make-believe non-racist world for themselves.
I was getting to be friends with a black owner/bar tender and his Asian bar-maid. I really enjoyed the interaction and felt very comfortable. So comfortable, that we could tease each other somewhat. But then one day the owner/bar tender tells me that I am a man who really likes to "dis" (short for "disrespect", as you probably know) people. Frankly, I was shocked and bewildered. Then I realized that I canít talk to many black men in the way I would talk with white friends. Apparently, white teasing can lead to a lot of misunderstanding and hurt feelings. And I also realized that I should be very careful around black people.
Speaking of being "dissed". In many parts of the black ghettos, dissing someone can get a man or woman killed. Now it would seem obvious to everyone with some common sense, that a subculture where a single word can lead to murder, especially a popularly used word, has a serious problem. The word really reflects terrible economic, social and cultural problems. Itís the attitude behind the concept that is so troublesome. A culture or subculture that insists on answering back to critical speech with violence is in deep trouble. It leads to a lot of unnecessary and uncalled-for violence.
Related to this problem is the concept of "going-off on" somebody. Many blacks feel they are entitled to respond to what they regard as a "slight" by going-off on the other person. Now I am sure that this is not very effective in black to black interactions, but it sure is counter-productive in black and white interactions. I had a black woman grocery cashier "go-off" on me while I was checking out of the store. You already know that I am an angry white man and not a racist, so I give it right back to her. (Some whites feel you should just ignore bad black behavior because they canít help themselves, while I see this argument as fallacious and racist.) After I had my rebuttal, I took my groceries to my car, returned to the grocery store and complained to the manager about her totally inappropriate response to my answer to her rude opening comments. About a week later I saw that she was no longer a cashier, but still working in the store. (No, I did not want her fired. I wanted her to understand that this is not the way to behave. I wanted the manager to tell her that and thatís all.) Going-off on people is really counter-productive and probably does in many cases lead to unnecessary hurt feelings and violence.
Part of black subculture is that white people cannot use the "N" word. Even if I were trying to use the word in a very legitimate historical or sociological sense in order to criticize whites for their racism, I could create a lot of misunderstanding and wrong-headed accusations over this emotional issue of race. By having to say and write N instead of the other word, it seems a shame to me that I canít use this term in at least an historical context so such illustrate better the ugliness of whites when they could use this term very freely. (N takes the sting out of the real word and dulls the emotional impact.) But I, like many whites, find it strange and really hypocritical that black people can use the word in any context they want, but whites canít use it at all in any context. If the word is so emotionally damaging to the black souls and personalities, then how can they used about each other? I was coming out of a veteranís hospital when I passed two black guys kidding and laughing with each other and then one calls the other a N. I am opposed to politically correct speech, but I was really emotionally and physically taken aback by the word. I felt very strange and thought that the black man should not have used the word. I donít think any one (black, brown or white) should use the word unless it is in a completely scientific context and in a carefully explained way. There does seem to be a double-standard at play here that only causes resentment and misunderstandings.
I wanted to beep loudly at a traffic-violating, aggressive driver who I had not seen. But when I got into position to do so, I saw that he was black. Then I didnít want to blow my horn at him. But then again, I told myself that to act equally I have to blow the horn. So I ended up acting to him like I would act to a white man. But what happened was very peculiar. A black couple in a car acted as if I were a KKK fellow trying to harass a decent man fellow black man and deliberately cut me off in traffic after I was finished with and had passed the target. Indeed, they were so out-of-control that I knew there was no possible way of explaining to them my behavior. But I resented being the target of such hatred that I saw coming from them and I just returned the finger salute that one of them so zealously was flipping at me like a complete mad man. (I may be an angry white man, but even I donít hate black or white racists. I view them more as mentally ill and in need of help rather than as evil.) But I did learn a lesson. A white person has to be careful in criticizing a black person because of the danger of being mistaken for a white racist. So, even if people should be treated equally, for oneís safety, a white person in some potentially dangerous situation may want to forgo the criticism or handle it in a much different way.)
I had a very rude white police officer in Hastings-on-Hudson assume I was racist because I was very angry about being tail-gated. (I did not know the sex or race of the driver when I got angry for being tail-gated.) The woman falsely reported a hit-and-run accident to the police and I had to deal with a policeman who assumed I was both a racist and guilty of hitting and running. (But unfortunately for the police officer, there has to be an actual accident for there to be a hit-an-run accident. And I did write of letter of complaint to the police chief of Hastings-on-Hudson. Whether he responds or not I do not know. You know how policemen stick together regardless of the crimes or rule violations their fellow officers may commit.) So now I have to worry about both white and blacks in black and white interactions. I guess thatís why the politically-correct police created this sort of modern day black code of what words are to be used and not used in almost every situation dealing with inter-racial relations. Hell, sometimes I deliberately use non-politically correct term to try to stir both blacks and whites out of their apathy and passiveness as regards to whatís happening or not happening in the field of civil rights. Even now, there are just a lot of blacks and whites apathetic about having an honest discussion of race issues rather than a pre-scripted, dishonest one. In fact, I would go so far as to say we cannot have an honest discussion about race in the United States. It would not be politically correct.
Crime and violence are often rampant in parts of the black community. The kind of crime and violence that so frightens white people, especially of a higher socio-economic status. Why should there be a black culture that further encourages this crime and violence, as well as misunderstandings between the races. Songs and writings can clearly criticize white society. I would like that. But when a black subculture becomes virtually anti-white in nature the artistic endeavor is virtually artistically and morally destroyed. Itís o.k. to be angry. Itís not o.k. to be unfair or racist.
So in short I agree with Bill Cosby that blacks and whites should examine black subculture and try to cleanse it of the worst aspects, so eloquently outlined by Mr. Cosby. (Oh, by the way, the title of this article is deliberately provocative because most blacks and whites just donít pay attention to new and maybe better approaches to race relations. Itís as if they are saying, we already know everything there is to know about race, we have worked hard on the right words to use in discussion and that there is no need for new approaches that might weaken our politically-correct code.) One further thing. You know whites and blacks also had a politically-correct speech code during the days of slavery and apartheid. Did this vocabulary do anything to end these injustices. NO!!! Think about it.)
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
July 15, 2007
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