Dear White People, Boycotting Netflix Won’t Make You Any Whiter Than You Already Are
Ezinne Ukoha

Regarding Chris Cuomo comparing “fake news” to the n-word, I don’t think he meant that literally. He meant it as a metaphor for negativity — ie, being called a “fake news journalist” is to him the worst thing he can be called. He did not mean that white journalists experience anything worse than black people, but that in the world of journalism the label of “fake news” is the worst there is. In short, it’s a relative world where different communities have different levels of what’s worst. In the world of Journalism “fake news journalist” is the worst you can call someone while in the black community calling someone the n-word is the worst. See?

I think he used a poor choice of words and agree with you that he should not have made that comparison, but I don’t see it as an example of white privilege (although Cuomo is himself privileged because he was born to a rich, famous, well connected father). To the contrary, it shows how white people see the n-word as the worst, ugliest label to have and are nearly obsessed with banishing it (publishers deleted the n-word from Twain’s novel, “Huck Fin,”). Thus, the n-word has become symbolic of something intensely negative. If you consider that the n-word is regarded to be so intensely negative that it’s achieved the height of symbolism and metaphor (ie, Cuomo used it as a metaphor to mean the worst there is), then you can get an idea of how white people see it. Trust me, I am white so I know how white people regard that word.

I work in a special program at my college for low income black kids and thus I interact with black people all the time (students as well as their parents because I mentor some of the girls). I see how colleagues are seriously invested in using sensitive language — as are all professionals in every field. I discussed this with my students once and they were surprised when I told them how freaked out white people get about the n-word and about being called racist. They really didn’t know how deeply negative white people feel about those terms. I thought that was interesting. I also think it’s good for white people and black to just relax and talk to each other so we can learn such things about each other. Alas, most white people are so freaked out and afraid of being called racist that they police their conversations.

Here’s an example. There is a black girl at my college named Samantha and white girl named Samantha. I was sitting in the cafeteria with my black students one day and a colleague stopped by our table and said something about Samantha. I replied, “Which Samantha, do you mean the black girl or the white?” My colleague gasped, and then pulled me aside to chastise me for describing the girls by race. I replied, “Um, black people know that they’re black. And since there’s nothing wrong with being black why the hell should I be sensitive about describing Samantha as the black girl?” Incidentally, the black kids with whom I was eating lunch didn’t give a shit that I described their friend as being black. It is white people who get all freaked out. This is just one example, but I have witnessed many other cases of white people being paranoid about being called a racist. It’s unfortunate because it makes them uncomfortable when interacting with black people.

I have concluded that white people express discomfort and paranoia with black people far more than they express racism. If you’ve ever sensed something kind of off with a white person but you cannot put your finger on it, it means that what you are sensing is the white person’s paranoia and discomfort. It sucks for black people to deal with a white person’s discomfort, but it’s still not racism. I know a couple of truly racist people so I can tell the difference. Racism is rare while discomfort is common. Out of maybe 100 people I know, only 2 are flat out racists. They are both low income white people. My friends who live in Manhattan don’t know any racists. I wish black people knew how rare it racism is so that they can feel less besieged by negativity. I would not want to go through life thinking people hated me because of my race, so I feel badly that black people do.

I have students who are afraid to apply for jobs in white communities and I always have to tell them, “Listen, they WANT you at these companies. If you are good worker then they will welcome you with open arms.” All the good jobs in Northwest NJ where I teach are in predominantly white towns and I want the kids to feel confident about applying for the good jobs. I am always surprised by how they fear that a white company will dislike them based on race. It really bums me because it thwarts the kid’s confidence in applying for good jobs. It also bums me out because it’s not true. In fact, my black students always come back telling me that they are treated well. Most elementary and high schools in my area want diversity and thus they are actively looking for black applicants. My students who apply to be teachers are always embraced with open arms and nearly always hired.

To be clear, I am not denying the reality of racism — of course it’s real — I am simply saying that many black people do not know that the average white person is truly, seriously invested in having a positive relationship with black people. :)