This month’s protests started out as a black movement against police brutality, but they have a different look now. In many cases, whites have taken over. They apologize for their “white privilege” and, in at least one case, wash black people’s feet to expiate their collective sins.
Celebrities, athletes and corporate America followed suit. Portland’s police chief resigned, asking to be replaced by a black man, and the CEO of Chick-fil-A urged whites to shine the shoes of black people to show a “sense of shame.” But why now?
To find out, I had to hear what whites were saying. I listened to the protesters, talked with my white friends and read articles and social media posts. What I found was white people overwhelmingly depicting black people as desperate and defeated, with no way to pull themselves out of their misery.
“I understand your point,” a white friend said when I objected to this simplistic narrative. “But don’t you think blacks are being oppressed?”
That’s when I realized that white wokeness is the new factor in our national life. It has been embedded into the consciousness of whites that all blacks are the same and that they all face impossible barriers to improvement — from standardized tests to the black men being arrested on the nightly news. A growing number of whites believe that black life is unrelentingly grim.
Most whites don’t have many black friends to give them firsthand accounts of what their experiences are with racism. While most blacks do experience some discrimination or racial prejudice, it is rarely violent, and it doesn’t hold them back in a significant sense.
The media give a distorted view of black life. We see this in the stories they choose to report — and those they eschew. In 2018, police shot and killed 54 unarmed men; 22 were black. Compared with the percentage of blacks in the US population, that figure looks disproportionate — but black people commit a disproportionate amount of violent crime and thus tend to have more interactions with the police.
Every police shooting must be investigated thoroughly and fairly, but we should also demand fair and thorough media coverage of these shootings. It’s telling that so many people can name some of the unarmed black men killed by police, but few can name any of the white men.
Blacks do lag whites in many socioeconomic indicators — but most blacks don’t live in poverty, don’t have constant run-ins with law enforcement and aren’t uneducated. It’s important to look at racial disparities in context. Though blacks commit more violent crime than whites do in relative terms, in absolute terms, the percentage of people who commit any violent crime is tiny. The white violent crime rate is 0.12 percent; for blacks, it is 0.44 percent. By any standard, most people aren’t violent criminals, regardless of their race.
Yet sympathetic non-blacks often see blacks as oppressed victims with limited opportunities. Since the killing of George Floyd, I’ve had many conversations with whites, mostly centered on my own well-being. Many of my black friends relate stories of management at their companies telling employees to “check on” their black co-workers.
Everywhere one looks, organizations are showing their solidarity with Black Lives Matter — both the motto and the organization. Uber Eats canceled its delivery fees for black businesses. Turn on YouTube TV or order from Amazon, and you’ll see messages of support for “the black community.” Nike, the NFL and others made Juneteenth a paid holiday for all employees. These gestures, mostly symbolic, suggest what whites believe blacks are concerned about. They seem insincere.
Since they don’t have many blacks in their social circles, and having conversations with blacks is awkward and can take time, woke whites opt for easy, feel-good actions, most of which will have no effect on police brutality, on the quality of black schools or neighborhoods or on black lives generally.
Most woke whites have good intentions, but their symbolic gestures will, at best, have little effect and, at worst, do real harm. The campaign against police is a good example. Broad anti-police sentiment has already caused cops to become less proactive in high-crime neighborhoods, with the predictable result that shootings have spiked around the country.
Whites are engaging in activism motivated by a misperception about black life that doesn’t comport with reality for most blacks. With their views of blacks as wounded and perpetually oppressed, woke whites would do more good by doing nothing.
This piece originally appeared at New York Post
Charles Love is the assistant executive director of Seeking Educational Excellence. This piece was adapted from City Journal.
Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images