As a privileged white man, I've always been cautious about writing about race, thinking that it was a topic best left to others. Like many liberals I've assumed that whenever race was discussed my best response was to listen to what my black brothers and sisters had to say. Nonetheless, in the face of the growing "Black Lives Matter" movement, I feel compelled to speak.
First, black lives do matter to me. (As do those of all the people-of-color who are part of my community.) My life is made richer and fuller by your presence. When you hurt, physically, psychologically, spiritually, it hurts me, too.
That said, my community -- privileged white Americans -- is responsible for the current state of race relations. The string of deaths and disgraces -- from Trayvon Martin to Sandra Bland -- is our fault.
When Barack Obama was elected President, many in my community were hopeful that the event signaled the end of widespread racism. That hasn't happened. A recent New York times/CBS News poll found that "nearly 6 in 10 Americans, including heavy majorities of both whites and blacks, think race relations are getting bad." (After President Obama entered the White House, two-thirds of poll respondents 'believed race relations were generally good.")
The responsibility for the decline of US race relations falls on people like me, members of the white male power structure. We should have done more to build upon the positive feelings generated by the election of Barack Obama.
Instead, my community of liberals went to sleep. Never lacking for issues to attend to, we turned our focus from race relations to pressing concerns such as the economic recovery and breaking up the "too big to fail banks" and providing affordable healthcare for all Americans. Only recently has race relations reappeared on the list of national priorities.
Even though the White House was integrated, much of the liberal power structure stayed lily-white. This is illustrated in the racial composition of the primary Democratic Presidential candidates. According to a report by Blue Nation Review: 90 percent of Bernie Sanders staff is white, while 91 percent of Martin O'Malley's staff is white. In comparison, 68 percent of Hillary Clinton's staff is white. No wonder that after being challenged by "Black Lives Matter" protestors at Netroots, only Clinton had a reasonable response.
Nonetheless, while the white liberal establishment bears some blame for the decline in US race relations, the bulk of it lies with the conservative white power structure. After all, they were the ones, after the election of Barack Obama who chose to let their race flag fly.
There were three aspects of the post-election conservative racism: the first was direct attacks on Barack Obama and his family; the second was steadfast opposition to any legislative initiative proffered by the Obama White House; and the third was a concentrated effort to reduce the voting rights of African-Americans, and people-of-color in general.
Even before Barack Obama was elected President, conservatives attacked his eligibility, claiming that he had been born outside the United States, that his birth certificate, showing that he was born in Honolulu, Hawaii was a forgery. (One of the leading proponents of this theory was Donald Trump, whom as recently as February suggested that Obama's birth certificate was a fake, "I don't know where he was born.")
During the 2008 campaign, conservatives also suggested that Obama was actually a Muslim. (This false claim originated in a January 2007 Insight Magazine article.) Conservatives have also insulted Michelle Obama and the Obama daughters.
The second manifestation of conservative racism was the blanket opposition to Obama's efforts to move legislation through Congress. On October 23, 2010 then Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." Since that time, there has been an unprecedented Republican campaign of obstruction.
Finally, conservatives have simultaneously engaged in a campaign to dismantle the Voting Rights Act. As the New York Times recently reported: "In 2010, Republicans flipped control of 11 state legislatures and, raising the specter of voter fraud" They rolled back early voting, eliminated same-day registration, disqualified ballots filed outside home precincts and created new demands for photo ID at polling places. In 2013, the Supreme Court, in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, directly countermanded the Section 5 authority of the Justice Department to dispute any of these changes in the states Section 5 covered."
Black lives do matter. Nonetheless, as a result of liberal lethargy and conservative antipathy, in many parts of the United States blacks are second-class citizens: at the mercy of their local police department and unable to gain access to decent jobs, housing, healthcare, and the other aspects of a middle-class life,
Conservatives aren't going to change. So it's up to my community of privileged white liberal Americans to take responsibility for this issue. We have to lead the charge that ensures that all Americans recognize: black lives do matter.