I'm pretty sure Ta-Nehisi Coates didn't intend this post to turn into a discussion of the final lines of Reverend Lowery's benediction yesterday--a prayer that I, as an unbeliever, was saying Amen to in the call and response at the end--but that's what happens when you're a big-time blogger. The discussion seems to focus on the line I used as the title for this post, the final rhyme that Lowery threw out there. Some commenters said that the line made them or friends of theirs feel slightly alienated, as though Lowery were calling out white people as the problem that all other races and ethnic groups should point fingers at in blame and accusation.
Which made me shake my head and laugh. As though that line alone would make you feel alienated from the celebration as a whole? Look, the history of white people in this country is an ugly one, and the invisible benefits that we white people get on the average are so numerous that we don't even notice them for the most part. Sure, the field has evened some in the last fifty years, but whites, especially white men, are still on the high side of that field. Again--on the average. If you're going to comment on how you think you haven't seen any great bias in your favor based on your skin color, then either reexamine your situation or assume you're one of the rare few white people I'm not talking about here, okay?
The point of Lowery's prayer wasn't to cast blame on white people for centuries of oppression, though if it had been, he'd certainly have been justified. It was more a statement about the reality of the relationships, and the hope that the group that has been in power for so long will continue to move toward "embrac[ing] what is right." Lots of white people have already embraced right, but getting gripey about it when someone points out that we have a sordid history and a ways to go yet just proves Lowery's point. And while we're being brutally honest here, I think the election season, the political circus, the fact that a candidate for the leadership of one of the two major parties in the US can send out a CD with "Barack the Magic Negro" on it and not see his candidacy vanish in a puff of smoke further strengthens Lowery's point.
Lowery was speaking in generalities. Should African-Americans who have been economically successful have gotten upset over "brown can stick around," because it applies less to them? Should Native Americans gotten upset over "the red man can get ahead man" if they're doing well financially? Of course not. We all acknowledge that when talking about large groups, there will be exceptions. So if you're a white person who has embraced what is right, then acknowledge that lots of your fellows haven't quite done it yet, and get to work convincing them to do better. And in the meantime, dust that chip off your shoulder.