White supremacy runs so deep not even accomplished black men recognize when they've been infected by and help spread it
Even space travel becomes reason to link young black men to violence
Can you spot the white supremacist thinking in this clip:
If not, let me give you a hint:
It’s in the form of the words flowing freely from between the lips of the first black man, Charles Bolden, to head up NASA, a black man who is a former astronaut who flew four Space Shuttle missions, a black man who was being questioned on national TV by one of the most-prominent black journalists in the country.
Bolden saw a young black dude interested in the launch of an aircraft into near-space and thought to link him to violent crime. That he did so thinking he was saying something positive - that a young black kid was being inspired by space travel - underscores my point. That’s how white supremacist-thinking shows itself even in non-white supremacists. I suspect Bolden is a really good person who has done really important things and has inspired a ton of people, including many young black people. All of that can be true - and he could still spout white-supremacist thought.
There’s no good reason to link that black kid to violent crime. None. The truth is that the overwhelming majority of black dudes don’t - let me repeat, don’t - participate in violent crime of any kind or gun play, no matter what media and the stereotypes rolling around in your head have led you to believe. And yet, violent crime is so thoroughly associated with young black dudes, even a man like Bolden talking about space travel decided to link the two in an effort to talk about the need to inspire young kids. Notice the young white people in the video. I suspect they, too, were inspired (whatever you think of Jeff Bezos). Notice Bolden didn’t think to link them to violent crime or opioid abuse or mass shootings, didn’t say ‘good thing a white kid was there at that launch instead of shooting up a historically-black church in Charleston, S.C.' like Dylann Roof.'
Inspiring kids to do positive things, to keep them busy, is something we all should commit to doing. It’s a foundational belief of many successful non-profits, like the one my wife founded, Freedom Readers. I suspect Bolden was trying to allude to that. But the way he chose to illustrate that point can’t be wished away. He could have used so many other examples. In fact, he was so sure of himself he repeated his point after initially accidentally being cut off by Gayle King. Again, the overwhelming majority of young black dudes don’t - DON’T - commit violence of any kind. Still, that association persists.
These ugly stereotypes, racist associations, are so embedded most of us don’t even notice them. Bolden’s example is just further proof that it affects us all, not just racists or white supremacists. That’s what those of us who say white supremacy is in our nation’s DNA mean. And if you think this is just a diss of Bolden, think again.
I’ve explained why it also affects me.
From a piece I wrote on the subject:
Last June, I traveled to Ghana for the first time. For most of my life, I wanted no connection to the dark continent. I had been convinced, by whom or what I don’t know, that the American in my African-American was better than my African.
It didn’t matter that I could trace my familial line directly to the race-based chattel slavery in the region of South Carolina where I was born and raised and still reside. My place of birth was more important than the place somewhere in Western Africa where some still-unknown ancestor took her first breath.
That ancestor was likely born free while my great-great-great grandmother on my mother’s side lived a life shackled on the blood-soaked soil where I was later praised for catching touchdown passes and making the National Honor Society.
Neither did it matter that I was spending much of my professional life writing and teaching about the importance of grappling with our country’s brutal racial history and how it affects how we think and act in 21st-century America. Those thoughts bled over into my other thinking, including a belief that black people everywhere really are more violent and less intelligent than white people. I allowed my ugly thoughts about black people to convince me to avoid dating dark-skinned black women, strike historically black colleges and universities from my list of potential places to study, and become afraid of strange black men.
No one is immune to the influence of white supremacy…Acknowledging that truth may be the only way for journalists to effectively navigate the complexities of race
My emotional struggles illustrate just how deeply such thinking has rooted itself into my brain.