The Infinite Circle of Black Responsibility

In 2006, after being a United States senator for one year, Barack Obama made an appearance on Meet the Press. After talking about the Iraq War for a while, Tim Russert asked Obama this: "I want to talk a little bit about the language people are using in the politics now of 2006, and I refer you to some comments that Harry Belafonte made yesterday. He said that Homeland Security had become the new Gestapo. What do you think of that?" Obama said he never uses Nazi analogies, but people are concerned about striking the balance between privacy and security. Russert pressed on, asking Obama to take a position on whether some insulting things Belafonte had said about George W. Bush were "appropriate."

I thought of that interview today as I watched another interview, this one with Bill O'Reilly interviewing White House aide Valerie Jarrett. I bring it up not because it's important to be mad at Bill O'Reilly (it isn't), but because it's yet another demonstration of the rules both prominent and ordinary black people have to live with. Unlike white Americans, they are subject to an entirely different and far more wide-ranging kind of responsibility. A black senator has to answer for the remarks of every black activist, black musicians are responsible for the actions of every wayward teenager, and black people everywhere carry with them a thousand sins committed by others. That burden isn't just psychological; as we've seen in cases like those of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, it can be deadly.

Yesterday, President Obama held an event at the White House called "My Brother's Keeper," to encourage people to help create more opportunities for young men of color. Afterward, O'Reilly told Jarrett that on "the streets," there's a problematic culture. "It's not just blacks—it's the poor, and the hard core, what they call 'gangstas.'" He went on: "You have to attack the fundamental disease if you want to cure it. Now I submit to you that you're going to have to get people like Jay-Z, all right, Kanye West, all of these gangsta rappers, to knock it off."

You may laugh at the idea that disproportionately high levels of incarceration among young black men can be laid at the feet of Kim Kardashian's husband. And I'm pretty sure that crime in America predates "Straight Outta Compton," though we might have to look that up. But the truth is that Bill O'Reilly could hear a rap song about butterflies and rainbows, and the first thing to pop into his head would be "gangsta rap!" because it's black people rapping.

And in this, O'Reilly resembles Michael Dunn, the man who gunned down Jordan Davis over his music. Over and over in his jailhouse writings, Dunn references the "culture" around rap music as one of criminality and danger, citing it as the source of crimes committed by black people. So naturally, when he heard that music coming from the next car over, he thought he was about to be the victim of a drive-by, and the only alternative was to pull out his gun and start firing first.

This is about the collectivization of every misdeed committed by a black person, the way all black people are implicated and have responsibilities imposed on them. When a white man beats his children or kills his wife or robs a liquor store or commits insider trading, nobody tells Bill O'Reilly that he, as a white person, needs to do something about it. And he sure as hell doesn't go on the air and say that white people need better role models. There isn't a thing called "white on white crime," but there is a thing called "black on black crime," because crimes committed by black people are black crimes, born from blackness and soiling all black people, but crimes committed by white people have nothing to do with the race of the perpetrators; they're just crimes, no modifier needed.

My guess is that if you asked Bill O'Reilly what responsibility white musicians or white politicians have for the thousands of white crimes committed every year, he would have no idea what you're talking about. It would sound like gibberish to him. As I've written before, a big part of the privilege of whiteness is that you don't have to have responsibility for anyone else. You can be just yourself. The security guard is not going to follow you around in a store because some other white person shoplifted there last week. A TV host is not going to demand that you defend something stupid another white person said, for no reason other than the fact that the two of you are white. No one is going to think that because of the music you're playing, it might be a good idea to fire ten bullets into your car.

Creating that broad black responsibility doesn't just happen, it has to be reinforced and maintained. Nobody does it with more vigor than Bill O'Reilly and the rancid cauldron of race-baiting that is the network for whom he works. The real mystery is why the White House keeps trying to court him. They actually invited him to that event yesterday.

Comments

I voted for Obama twice, and I'm no fan of Bill O'Reilly, but this article is so one-sided and erroneous, I have to comment. Maybe you should look at the stats, and try to be honest in your writing. For example, Dunn didn't "gun down" some innocent just for his "loud music". Dunn claims JD as coming at him, and that he saw a gun. Whether that's true or not is not the issue, but he didn't just hear loud music and start shooting into the car. You're erroneous and tendentious article only makes race problems in this country worse. Maybe you should try reading the court transcript: JD's friend testified that he turned the music down at Dunn's requiest. Then JD reached over his seat and yelled, "F***k that N****r!" and cranked it back up to full blast. And it wasn't so much the "loudness" (He may have reacted differently to Beethovens' Fifth blasting in all directions), it was the CONTENT. The song "Beef" is full of expletives, obscene suggestive lyrics, and glorifies defiance and violence. I guess all the children in the parking lot just had to cover their ears, or, as Don Lemon suggested, "just mind their own business."

I don't have time to comment on all the ridiculously wrong statements in this article, so I'll leave it at that. Just look at statistics for black on non-black crime. Google the "knockout game" and read about the epidemic of black kids attacking white people for fun, or out of revenge for the Trayvon Martin verdict. And it's articles like this that make black teens even more angry, when they shouldn't be. I've watched and read nonsense like this for two years now, and it's this kind of material that fans the flame of racial discord. Shame on you, Paul Waldman.

You are a joke. If anyone would have went after that coward, he wouldn't have made it to his car to get the gun he used to gun down a child. I wish someone would have gunned you down for being a young man, who felt that you didn't have to do what some drunk told you to do. Just because they felt they had the right to tell everyone else how to live. Sure you voted for Obama right. And you were the perfect human being, that never acted up as a youth. You and your hero Bill O are nothing more than ignorant morons, that think that your better than everyone else, but your the lowest form of human life there is. And hopefully someone does to your family what you think was justified for those other sub humans to do to the CHILDREN of those other families, just because they were black. And no moron I'm not black, I'm just human, just like the poor people who lost their children to idiots like you and Bill.

Maybe you should try reading more carefully. I do not like Bill O'Reilly, and disagree with him on 99% of the things he says. So you referring to him as "my hero" only shows how little you care for accuracy and truth, which is precisely the point made in my comment. Thank you for proving my point. It's people like you, with your ignorant, one-sided slant, and a total disregard for the facts, that turn cases like this into all-out race wars. You, like Paul Waldman, should be ashamed.

Yes, I acted up as a kid, and I'm not saying JD deserved to die. All I ask that is that we be honest in our discourse. Honesty, and constructive discourse, I see, are not your strong points. Your crude comment only shows how truly ignorant -- and belligerent -- you are, and how racial peace and harmony, like the truth, are the least of your concerns. You don't want justice, or harmony, or peace, you want revenge. You sound just like the thugs that you are defending. Shame on you!

Thanks again for proving my point so clearly. Have a nice day.

I voted for Obama twice, and I'm no fan of Bill O'Reilly, but this article is so one-sided and erroneous, I have to comment. Maybe you should look at the stats, and try to be honest in your writing. For example, Dunn didn't "gun down" some innocent just for his "loud music". Dunn claims JD as coming at him, and that he saw a gun. Whether that's true or not is not the issue, but he didn't just hear loud music and start shooting into the car. You're erroneous and tendentious article only makes race problems in this country worse. Maybe you should try reading the court transcript: JD's friend testified that he turned the music down at Dunn's requiest. Then JD reached over his seat and yelled, "F***k that N****r!" and cranked it back up to full blast. And it wasn't so much the "loudness" (He may have reacted differently to Beethovens' Fifth blasting in all directions), it was the CONTENT. The song "Beef" is full of expletives, obscene suggestive lyrics, and glorifies defiance and violence. I guess all the children in the parking lot just had to cover their ears, or, as Don Lemon suggested, "just mind their own business."

I don't have time to comment on all the ridiculously wrong statements in this article, so I'll leave it at that. Just look at statistics for black on non-black crime. Google the "knockout game" and read about the epidemic of black kids attacking white people for fun, or out of revenge for the Trayvon Martin verdict. And it's articles like this that make black teens even more angry, when they shouldn't be. I've watched and read nonsense like this for two years now, and it's this kind of material that fans the flame of racial discord. Shame on you, Paul Waldman.

I'm thinking that bruth112 is missing the main point of the article: "This is about the collectivization of every misdeed committed by a black person, the way all black people are implicated and have responsibilities imposed on them. When a white man beats his children or kills his wife or robs a liquor store or commits insider trading, nobody tells Bill O'Reilly that he, as a white person, needs to do something about it. And he sure as hell doesn't go on the air and say that white people need better role models. There isn't a thing called "white on white crime," but there is a thing called "black on black crime," because crimes committed by black people are black crimes, born from blackness and soiling all black people, but crimes committed by white people have nothing to do with the race of the perpetrators; they're just crimes, no modifier needed."

No, I'm not missing the point. If you bother to read my comment, all I ask is that we are HONEST in our discourse and lay all the facts on the table. I have no skin in the game (pun intended), so this is not black or white issues. It's about honesty, especially in journalism, and especially in a case that has the potential to upset so many people. And I'm not defending Dunn, O'Reilly, or even Jordan Davis. I'm just asking that we all stick to the facts and speak honestly about these issues. Otherwise, we don't stand a chance at fixing them.

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