In a recent column in The Pilot, Robert Levy used Malcolm X to expose the hypocrisy of white liberalism. Levy shared the quote, “The white liberal is the worst enemy to America and to the black man.”
Respectfully, using the slain civil rights icon to make the case that white liberals, not the systems of exploitation inherent in supply-side economics, are to blame for the economic oppression that disproportionately affects people of color makes Mr. Levy guilty of exactly the kind of hypocrisy Malcolm X accused white liberals of.
Malcolm X’s derision of white liberals, unsurprisingly, shows up a lot on white nationalist websites, and it’s not entirely wrong. The stereotypical white liberal politician who shows up to shake hands and feign concern before elections only to disappear between elections is no myth.
Even for the most well-meaning white people, learning to see through (let alone shed) the privilege that our pigmentation engenders does not come easily. We have to expand our consciousness with the understanding that the paradigms we are comfortable in may not apply.
Being an effective ally doesn’t begin with offering a plan, it begins with paying attention and asking, “How can I help?”
It is also worth noting that as Malcolm X was warning black people about white liberals, white liberal allies were sacrificing their lives acting in solidarity with their black brothers and sisters. In 1963 William Lewis Moore, a postman from Baltimore, was killed for marching to deliver a letter to the Mississippi Gov. Ross Burnett opposing segregation. In 1964 the Rev. Bruce Klunder was crushed by a bulldozer while blocking the construction of a segregated school.
Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were killed along with James Chaney for organizing civil rights efforts in Neshoba County in Mississippi. In 1965, the Rev. James Reeb was beaten to death in for participating in the marches in Selma, Alabama. Two weeks later,
Viola Louizzo, a Michigan housewife and mother of five, was murdered in a drive-by shooting as she ferried marchers during the March to Montgomery.
The Freedom Riders filed their wills before they traveled. The risks were understood.
By 1968, white Southern segregationists who felt betrayed by Lyndon Johnson’s passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act shifted the “solid South” from blue to red, and the party that calls itself the “Party of Lincoln” became the de facto “Party of Jefferson Davis.”
The inoculation of racism into more traditional conservatism was the price some conservatives were willing to pay to expand their power. What began as the Southern strategy broadened into ceaseless appeals to the anxieties of white people everywhere who fear that “others” are out to take what’s theirs. That strategy culminated with the election of Donald Trump.
I’m writing this on a Sunday morning after two mass shootings 1,500 miles and 15 hours apart claimed 29 lives. I am a white liberal independent who left the Democratic Party because of the disproportionate influence of economic neoliberal leadership within that party — the kind of liberalism Malcolm X referenced. Still, it is impossible today to conflate the two parties today the way that Malcolm X could in the 1960s.
Under the leadership of Donald Trump, the Republican Party is not the party of Lincoln, and it’s not even the party of Jefferson Davis. It is the party of Dylann Roof.
Trump has the confidence man’s flair for telling us that he’s not a racist even though his whole life is testament to that racism, and he cannot help himself from affirming it on a daily basis. He’s not just a racist, he’s the Pied Piper of racism.
Principled conservatives have abandoned the ship. Those who remain seem unable to acknowledge their leader’s racism for fear of confronting their own. One cannot support this president without accepting complicity in his overt racism.
I am reminded of another quote from Malcolm X: “I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those that do the oppressing … I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation.”
That clash began with the murder of nine African-Americans in a historic church in Charleston in June of 2015, and it has accelerated in the three years of fear-mongering and race-baiting that have defined the candidacy and presidency of Donald Trump.
I’m a white liberal in America in 2019 and I know where I stand.
Kevin Smith lives in Aberdeen. Contact him at kevin firstname.lastname@example.org.