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Reggie Jackson: I can’t judge you as an ally until I see how you act once the bullets start to fly

“I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” (1963)

I am more and more disturbed by a trend I see playing out on a regular basis. Many of those who claimed to be woke and allies in the battle against racism have quietly toned down their support or simply turned away completely from the stated aims of anti-racism work. They have been intimidated into not participating in the work they considered so important less than a year and a half ago.

Organizations that were all in on “equity” work are now “vetting” the work more closely and deciding that it is focusing too much on race. They are cutting ties with real solutions to the racial issues to focus on other marginalized groups because some have told them the anti-racism work is too partisan.

The anti-CRT crowd has been loud and boisterous, scaring former allies of anti-racism organizations into retrenching into the background. I warned my followers last year that this would happen. I said it is great to be woke, but will these allies get out of the bed and do something? To their credit, many are still in the fight. Others have jumped off the “woke bandwagon” because the real work hit too close to home.

When it became time for these allies to fight for a truthful history to be taught to their children, in their schools, in their neighborhoods, it became a real battle. Figurative bullets were flying in their communities. Some stood up and fought courageously, but many held their tongues and refused to use cogent arguments to pushback against those who wanted to continue to whitewash history.

When the rubber hit the road, they deserted the cause. When it got to be too real, they lost their courage and shutdown in the face of vocal opposition from those they had claimed they wanted to confront and fight. They found out that many of the people they had promised to educate on the issues were friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers, and others they had close relationships with. It was not as easy as they imagined. Their relationships suffered. They became outcasts and persona non grata in social circles.

Within organizations that profited by claiming to be in favor of “equity,” empty platitudes were spoken, equity groups with no voice or power were formed, check-the-box trainings became the norm. People of color and other marginalized groups who thought they had a chance to openly discuss their concerns found out it was not possible.

The millions of dollars pledged to equity initiatives across the country never came to be. Sports leagues like the NFL and NBA which claimed support, paid lip service with placards on courts, fields and uniforms. They allowed players to put league approved messages on uniforms. It was all “fakeness” dressed up to look like “wokeness.”

The leagues and most players went back to the business at hand, making money. Some players put significant sums into real work. I applaud them for that because they did not have to do anything. Putting your money into this is not enough to make the paradigm shift we need in this country.

As has been the case for far too long, Black athletes have been called community leaders, while you never hear anyone call any White athletes community leaders. These Black athletes have an incentive to stay closely aligned with the leagues they belong to. Money will always be a hell of a motivator.

There is an assumption in the wider community that somehow these athletes have a great deal of sway over the actions of the Black community. That assumption is overstated and condescending. It’s as if our community does not have the ability to think and make decisions without the approval of Lebron James, Kyrie Irving etc. They are famous and have millions of followers on social media, but that does mean they can tell the Black community how to think and act anymore than Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers can tell White people how to think and act.

Black celebrities have for many decades been given a pedestal as a voice of their community. When those like Jim Brown, Harry Belafonte, James Baldwin, and others spoke out against racism, they had a platform that was significantly smaller than the platforms of today’s athletes and Hollywood celebrities enjoy. They also made far less money than these people today make. They had less to risk, financially at least. Today’s athletes make in many cases more money off the field than on it because of endorsement deals. They will only go so far in risking those deals.

When we look up to athletes and actors, comedians etc. as community leaders we are deluding ourselves if we think they have the ear of the Black community. They are famous, wealthy and influential but they are not the ones who dictate anything that happens in our community because they don’t live in those places anymore. They make occasional “photo-ops” to maintain a sense of being connected, then hop back into their limos and ride back to their mansions in a gated community far away in the suburbs.

So those who think these celebrities are the voice of reason when things go badly, such as when civil unrest breaks out, the reality is that they are useless in those instances.

We cannot think honestly that the end zones of NFL stadiums having lettering that says “End Racism” or NBA courts with similar messages are really a viable tool in fighting racism. They are tools of mass distraction. Most of the White owners of the teams could care less about real genuine anti-racism work. This is particularly true in the NFL where Colin Kapernick was blackballed out of the league and few qualified Black men get an opportunity to coach good teams.

For those in our suburbs who have asked me time and time again what they can do, I have a message. Actually I have multiple messages.

One is that it is way past time that you put on your thinking caps and figure it out yourself. We can give you advice and even guidance based on what we think might work, but ultimately, you know your community better than people of color ever will. Figure it out people.

Secondly, stop being caught up in the rhetoric and understand that whatever they want to call these attacks on anti-racism work (Anti-CRT, anti-socialism, and such.) it is all the same. The goals are to keep your mouths closed. These people fear White people learning, and more importantly acting out against the status quo. They are attempting — and sadly successfully doing so — to stifle your free speech.

You have been cajoled, bullied, scared, browbeat, harassed, coerced, tormented, hectored, threatened, menaced, badgered, intimidated, and terrified into laying down your arms just when the enemy picked theirs up.

This is no way to fight, and certainly not a way to win the fight against racism. Likewise, if you are a member of the victimized classes and refuse to fight, you need to find the intestinal fortitude to change.

“Conscious submission to racism seemed to me worse than death. It killed a person’s spirit. It took a little from him each time he knew he should not submit — and did.” James Forman (1972)

“No social advance rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1958)

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About The Author

Reggie Jackson

As an award-winning Senior Columnist for the Milwaukee Independent, Reggie Jackson writes about a range of African American issues. He is also co-founder of Nurturing Diversity Partners which consults with organizations about equity and inclusion.