As someone who devotes a significant amount of his time to the progressive anti-racist struggle, I read with great frustration “Mum’s the Nerd” (10/24).
The story seems loosely based on the assumption that simply because Mayor Anthony A. Williams is African-American, he is the one responsible for leading the District’s racial dialogue. This is problematic in two ways. First, this assumption takes the city’s sizable white “minority” out of the equation by suggesting that they’re not responsible for advancing this very important conversation. And second, it seems as if white voices were left out of the story for the most part. Where are they? Why aren’t they weighing in on the issues in this story.? For decades, the “race question” has been advanced, for the most part, by blacks. It’s time for this paradigm to shift if we’re truly interested in undoing white supremacy. As radical white male scholar Maurice Berger from the New York-based New School for Social Research writes: “If black people must evaluate the status of their blackness in relation to the prejudice they experience every day, most white people, by their unwillingness to assign whiteness meaning, are freed from the responsibility of accepting, or even understanding, their prejudices.”
At the same time, I also found myself troubled by this piece’s relentless insistence that Marion Barry was and always will be known as a “race baiter.” Indeed, although Barry’s fiscal policies were extremely troublingand his personal foibles notwithstandinghe was very accomplished in promoting black self-determination and radical black subjectivity. Barry was able to undo so many of the psychological wounds inflicted upon black people by racist whites. Put quite simply: Barry made black people in the District proud to be black even in the face of white injustice and humiliation. Barry’s important contribution to African-American civil rights will live on in many of the hearts and minds of blacks. But his civil-rights work is constantly undermined by white media, which don’t seem too concerned with radical black subjectivity and self-determination. And since the white-dominated media seem determined to continue viewing blacks as objects to watch rather than subjects to hear and take heed of, that story will probably not be told. (Furthermore, there probably won’t be a piece by any white news organization about the endless capacities that black people have in our culture to practice forgiveness and welcome our own folks back home with unconditional loveaway from the terrorizing scrutiny of white folks. We do this even when they’ve apparently “messed up” in the white world. Think O.J. Simpson and Barry and honorary African-American Bill Clinton.)
I’ve got a radical story idea that would be quite subversive and would problematize your clichéd (typically white) liberal notions on race: Do a story exploring whiteness in the District, one that makes white people the object to view rather than the subject as center. Anti-racist white male Maurice Berger insists that it’s “time for white people to acknowledge the power and meaning of their race. Today, most white people, even the most liberal, are oblivious to the psychological and political weight of their whiteness.”