In an op-ed entitled, “Racism, White Privilege Still Exist, and Riots Prove It,” Vanderbilt professor Tony Brown quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. in defense of the Baltimore mayhem last week: “A riot is the language of the unheard.” I could be wrong, but I don’t think King had burning and looting businesses in mind when he used the word riot.
According to this professor, these riots were the fault of white racists and white privilege. Here’s what he said, in part:
Evidence proving that race and racism are meaningful is increasingly easy to find. We see it right here and right now. […]
Evidence consists of protests and riots, such as what happened last [week] in Baltimore in response to the mysterious death of Freddie Gray while he was in police custody. Something is awry—people of color don’t protest and riot out of boredom. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “a riot is the language of the unheard.”
Evidence consists of Oklahoma University fraternity and sorority members singing joyfully about the exclusion and lynching of black bodies. Supposedly, the song was taught to them and may connect back to the Confederate-identified white men who founded the fraternity.
Evidence consists of text and email messages exchanged between corporate executives, among police officers sworn to serve and protect the public, and by public servants and elected officials.
Evidence consists of graphic videos showing the willful killings (assassinations?) of unarmed black men in non-felonious interactions with police officers.
And then he describes reasons as to why this white racism and white privilege persist, addressing this “public service announcement” to white parents:
- Your child’s behavior is racist and it’s your fault (mostly).
- You never intentionally read children’s books with main characters of color, but you raised Sarah to appreciate diversity.
- You lived in a residentially segregated neighborhood, and thought that fact sent no implicit messages to Evan.
- You chose to worship in a church or synagogue where Katey was surrounded by white people, and she understood that way of life to be normal.
- You choose the best schools for Chase, but never considered the fact that those schools were racially homogenous.
- You talked to Isabelle about poverty but implied that all poor people are black and it’s their own fault.
- You let grandma say n***** at Thanksgiving in front of Elizabeth because grandma is old and doesn’t know any better.
- You told a racially insensitive joke in front of Liam, condoning symbolic violence.
The take-home message here applies to every person exposed to the disturbing videos, and text and emails showing the significance of race and racism. The issue is not about any white person’s heart or motivations or intent. Those things are hidden from sight. It’s about their actions—which let me remind you—speak louder than their words.
The bottom line is that it’s everyday whites making everyday choices that lock in and protect white privilege.
He goes on to encourage people of color as well as “empathetic or doubting whites” to record family/friend/co-worker/police interactions and conversations with the intent of compiling a video list of incidents of racism perpetrated by white people. I guess we should ignore incidents of racism from blacks. Or maybe there’s just no such thing as black racism or black privilege.
Even if I were to concede the point that there is a problem of racism inside law enforcement, I don’t think the answer is to burn and loot businesses and otherwise destroy a town. What do those businesses have to do with police brutality? A protest or demonstration is one thing. Physical destruction of property is something else entirely. If these people see a systemic problem with excessive force by white cops against black civilians, the answer is not to respond with excessive force and destructive violence.
Of course, part of the irony here is that half of the cops who were charged in Baltimore are black. I’m sure this Vanderbilt sociology professor would look at that as evidence of these black cops “acting white.”