In response to Sam McKenzie Jr.’s “Black Like Me” Is Blackface Too.
Sam, there was a time when I would’ve said, “Do whatever it takes to get people to understand the horror of racism.” Now? Not so much. To me, it comes down to this: is revealing a universal truth (racism is evil) that in the process also harms the victims of that oppression (blackface) viable?
Like my grandparents used to say, there’s a way to talk to anybody; meaning, a desire to tell the truth is not a license to disrespect someone in the process. Respect for human dignity must be the force that guides all social justice. Namely, first, do no harm to those who have been negatively affected by racism. What’s the point in calling out racism via means that perpetuates another yet facet of racism?
Griffin’s approach in Black Like Me connects with a segment of the population that otherwise would remain deaf to scores of black people’s testimonies because that segment fails to recognize the inherent humanity of black people. Period.
If those people first saw black people as people, the gulf between their sideshow fascination with the transient experiences of one of their own and genuine empathy for those who live the black experience in perpetuity would shrink, and allow them to realize that the same systemic injustices that black people have lived through and died from for centuries are indeed inhumane, and warrant dismantling.
To accomplish that, Griffin’s prickly white segment must engage in self-examination, and as anyone knows, reconciling past/present behavior in the light of truth is not for the faint of heart. It also means that they have to climb, slide, or fall off their trusty steeds of arrogance, and acknowledge that either a) they are no better than those they view as less than or b) the “other” is just human and worthy as they themselves are. That’s a helluva reckoning, but hey, that’s the price of personal growth.
“The end does not justify the means,” “two wrongs don’t make a right,” and similar maxims definitely apply here.
Thank you Sam for facilitating a much needed conversation by closely examining the past in the light of what we know now and understand better today.