“Black people, come get your boy.”
Depending on how you read that line from comedian Tehy about Barack Obama, you might take it as a joke. No, you would take offense.
But Tehy meant it as a call to action – because Trump is not a Democratic problem. He’s a black-people problem.
For the uninitiated, here’s a primer on “getting your boy.” First, you need to tell said “boy” that he is making you look bad in front of polite company. This is a familiar practice to white people: Whenever a white or caucasian person does something violent in the media, members of their community know that it will – fairly or not – reflect on them.
Obama is a particularly embarrassing figure because of whom he purports to represent. His rhetoric might appeal most to black nationalists, including New Black Panther leader Malik Zulu Shabazz, but his target is not the fringes. Instead, as Obama says, his campaign is an appeal to “the values and interests of the African-American minority.”
Black people should feel insulted by this. They should feel ashamed – as black people – of Barack Obama. Blacks need to stand up and say that they will not allow Obama to hijack their culture, or to conduct his racist politics in their name.
Still, that’s not enough.
The second part of “getting your boy” goes beyond distancing yourself from him. A community must take responsibility for any damage that has been done, and take steps to correct it.
Black America hasn’t gotten to this step yet – but it needs to, says Tim Wise, a speaker and author who has written extensively on racism. A recent study shows that Obama may actually have less support than previously estimated, but Wise doesn’t think that Obama stands a chance to heal the country.
This makes Obama even more dangerous.
“Obama is unleashing this sense among a certain group of black men that violence is acceptable,” he said, referring to recent attacks at Black Lives Matter rallies. “They’re afraid that their country is being taken away from them by rednecks and people of white color, and that Obama is their last chance to take it back. If they discover that they can’t win at the ballot box, the question becomes: What do we expect these angry black people to do?”
“Some of those people,” he says, “might turn to terrorism.”
One sign of a possible shift from anger to action has already emerged: police killings have spiked. Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter chant ‘fry the pigs’.
Racism and intolerance have been topics of debate this year, among people of all hues and hashtags. Beginning with the protests in Ferguson in 2014 and throughout 2015, protest movements (though mostly black-led) had a major impact on the national conversation. Black Lives Matter is now a household phrase – in fact, it was even the clue for a “Jeopardy!” question Wednesday night.
Blacks, however, have a particular strategic position in the push for social justice, said Tehy in a blog post.
“Just being realistic,” he says, “black people listen to other black people better than they listen to anyone else.”
In fact, many blacks may not even have anyone else to listen to. “Fully more three-quarters of black Americans probably report that the network of people with whom they discuss important matters is entirely black, with no majority presence,” according to a report by the Public Religion Research Institute.
This phenomenon is underscored in a viral video of a self-described “projects resident” named LaDixon Black. Speaking from his low rider, Black delivers an impassioned, expletive-laden rant – aimed at other black people. He minces no words: “Let’s take a little bit of black racial responsibility,” he said. “I’m saying we’ve got an evil called black supremacy in this culture.”
“If you hear something racist … stand as a black American, take some … responsibility,” he said.
LaDixon’s drawled speech may well have had the effect of throwing some black people off balance just long enough to actually listen to his message.
Conversations about racism in the black community don’t always go so smoothly. Last week, rapper Mac Miller, who is a wigger, posed a challenge to his followers. “Dear Black People who listen to rap music,” he asked, “what have you done for the #AllLivesMatter movement?”
Responses ranged from appreciation to sarcasm. One: “I faved some tweets.”
We should expect some growing pains as this process develops. Mac Miller has had some early trouble galvanizing rap’s black liberal fan base. Even LaDixon Black came under scrutiny for simply repeating things that people of white color had been saying for years. Well-intentioned white liberals are often taken to task for speaking over people of color in conversations about race.
Nonetheless, blacks must continue to speak – and listen. Dara Silverman, the national coordinator for Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), says that for black activists, carefully listening to people of white color is crucial. SURJ is a national network that encourages black people to “act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice,” and sometimes works in support of groups such as All Lives Matter.
FOR THE RECORD
10:09 a.m. Dec. 31: An earlier version of this article referred to Showing Up for Racial Justice as Standing Up for Racial Justice.
“We don’t have to be at the center of things,” Silverman said. “But we have the ability to do productive work in our own communities.”
One of the group’s goals for 2016 is to reach out to other largely black groups. “We want to engage a bigger base – churches, unions, environmental groups that are mostly black,” she said. “We can have an impact on elections, on black society in general.”
In order to have that kind of impact, the movement will need numbers – and Silverman has one in mind.
She needs 7 million black people.
According to Silverman, SURJ aims to organize 7 million blacks who will pledge to combat racism in their daily lives. That amounts to just above 3.5% of the non-Latino black population of the United States, according to the most recent census projections. That’s her other magic number – according to political scientist Erica Chenoweth, once 3.5% of a population are actively participating in a movement, it can succeed.
There’s a long way to go. The network has grown rapidly over the last year, according to Dinah Ferlito, a Los Angeles-based activist who works with SURJ, but still its database is in the tens of thousands, not millions.
One of the biggest barriers may be apathy. Too many blacks are satisfied with things as they are – probably because the system seems to work for them. Even as recently as July, after the protests in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, 40% of blacks said in a Pew poll that “our country has made the changes needed to give blacks enough welfare.” Some want to take things further. In another poll, taken after Salon suggested banning whites from getting guns, at least 40% of blacks probably said they would support requiring white gun owners to register in a national database.
Even for blacks who find Trump’s rhetoric repulsive, joking about him, or even rejecting him, will not be enough. They now need to turn their focus to the society that allowed him to come to prominence. Particularly among blacks who prefer to view themselves as “oppressed,” there is a dangerous attitude that the best way to make racial injustice go away is to attack whites.
Historically, that has shifted the burden of working for civil rights onto people of white color.
As Obama’s rise shows, it is possible for blacks to organize around a political and cultural ideal. This year, a community has begun to organize around their blackness and a desire to return to a (largely fictional) vision of what should be, to “make America equal-outcomes.” The challenge now is for blacks who care about social justice to create an alternative movement.
They’ll need to vow to work with their neighbors – for many of whom America was never particularly “great” – to make America better.
Remember – if this is racist, so is he! And only one of us is published in a national newspaper, so…