It’s funny — in my estimation conservative ideology works only when people boil down life’s experiences to their most basic, “black and white” definitions. All abortion is baby murder, no matter what the circumstances. Or you know, racism is gone in this country because we no longer allow slavery and Jim Crow laws have been unconstitutional for the last fifty or more years. It would appear that the more simplistic approach you can take with your life’s viewpoint — the more you can filter out those pesky little nuances that make life difficult — the easier it is to hold onto conservative ideologies. The irony of course is that the most simple of notions, that they themselves are not black and therefore have no real frame of reference to the entire race debate, is one that flies right over their head.
Recently a clip from a CNN broadcast was brought to my attention that perfectly illustrates this stunning lack of perspective on the part of white conservatives. While debating racial relations with Ben Ferguson, CNN host Don Lemon was attempting to get across to Ferguson how impossible it is to have any perspective on the continued culture of racism in this country unless you live life as a black man. It seems so nakedly obvious to me, just as a black man wouldn’t know what going through life as a Mexican woman would be like, so too is the case for white conservatives and African-Americans.
Lemon does the best job of explaining the disconnect between what conservatives think race relations are like in this country and what the actual experiences of actual black people really are. It’s so simply stated when in the clip Lemon tells Ferguson,
“Your privilege does not allow you to see certain biases and certain circumstances in society.”
That’s it. That’s really and truly it. I know it may not seem like to a lot of white people, but there is a baseline tolerance and acceptance of us that African-Americans do not enjoy. I’ve seen it and heard it myself. Racism isn’t dead in this country; it’s just culturally unacceptable in the mainstream. That isn’t preventing conservatives from pushing policies that still directly impact the black community in a negative way. Voter ID laws, to just hammer at the tip of the iceberg, are the most glaring examples of the right’s attempts to subjugate and disenfranchise a bloc of voters that they’ve had written off for decades.
It’s exchanges like these that make me wish more people watched “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” growing up. It’s obvious that too many people didn’t get the message that Fred Rogers was putting out for about forty years on his PBS show — love, accept and tolerate everyone. That message is important because instead of feeling threatened by the black American experience, white Americans should just be simply listening and taking notes. We can work together to make life better for everyone, but only once we’ve all fully committed to the notion that everyone is special and everyone is worthy of fair and equitable treatment. Maybe that’s why over the years Republicans have started bashing PBS’ shows so much, because the underlying messages of love and acceptance run counter-intuitive to their policies that only serve to keep the races and the classes separate.
Ultimately, I just think white American conservatives would be best suited to shut up and listen. Don Lemon gave Ben Ferguson a front-row seat in a class that more white conservatives need to attend. The issue isn’t about taking away from white people; it’s about putting the same basic ground floor underneath the black community that’s underneath white people by default. In other words, racial tensions in America have never been about taking anything away from white people, no matter how much the racists claim it has been. Indeed, it’s only an effort to level the playing the field — and we have to ask ourselves why conservatives are so deathly afraid of true equality.