When Being Good Isn't Good Enough

Danielle Belton of The Black Snob has something to say about Trayvon Martin’s murder. It is perhaps the most astute observation on bigotry that I’ve read through this whole thing.

Don’t apologize — Because it doesn’t matter.

In St. Louis, my hometown, folks in the county would say, it wasn’t that they didn’t like black people it was the “quality” of the black people. Why? If it were Cosby-esque doctors and lawyers moving in next door in the suburbs they’d feel just fine.

Then, when my family and tons of other black professional families moved to the ‘burbs, they fled to O’Fallon and St. Charles anyway.

But you said doctors and lawyers were “OK?” I guess bigots lie. It wasn’t really about the “right” kind of black people. Ha ha. You were “good” too, weren’t you? Cute. Didn’t mean anything. Didn’t mean a damn thing.

My favorite book, Invisible Man, tells of Anonymous and there is a letter in that story that haunts me as it haunted the unnamed narrator that says “keep this nigger boy running.”

And that’s what they do to us. They keep us running. They keep telling us it is us. That if we just made ourselves a little different, it would all go away. If we’re just good.

“Be good” is one of those burdens that only ever belongs to the minority. Not that it does the minority a bit of good, at least not on its own. What does do good is political power, the power to protect one’s rights and interests, and “being good” is the antithesis of exercising political power.

“Being good” is giving up what power you have so it doesn’t, can’t possibly, scare the people who feel they have the right to run–or destroy–your lives. Of course, when you give up that power, they run/destroy your lives anyway. And if you dare to challenge them in any little way, you’ve “earned” everything they do to you.

So what do you do instead? Belton’s got an answer for that. It’s not perfect. It’s risky, in fact. It could even get you killed. But when was the last time someone promised you that “being good” could keep you from getting killed. Even more important: Do you still believe them?

When Being Good Isn't Good Enough
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8 thoughts on “When Being Good Isn't Good Enough

  1. 2

    I wrote a story last night imagining Trayvon’s “evil white twin”, if you will… A white boy who was definitely not “being good”, at least not by the ridiculous standards that minorities are constantly asked to live up to, but who was still basically a decent person… who was walking in his neighborhood wearing a baseball cap tucked low over his head when this big scary-looking black dude starts tailing him in an SUV. When the guy in the SUV finally pulls over and approaches him, the white kid, who has a bit of a chip on his shoulder, takes a swing at the guy who was following him. Then the big black dude pulls out a gun and shoots him.

    You cannot read that story and imagine for a second that the shooter wouldn’t have been arrested. Whatever minor offenses and slights Trayvon may have been guilty of, if you imagine the races reversed, then it’s obvious just how fucked up this whole thing is.

  2. 3

    I used to read the conservative Christian journal “First Things.” One paper they printed contrasted Booker T. Washington’s civil-rights philosophy (“If we African-Americans focus on being the best, most virtuous people we can be, Caucasian Americans will be guilted into giving us equal rights eventually”) with W. E. B. Dubois’ (“Agitate, agitate, agitate…we should have equal rights *now*”).

    The author of the paper concluded, of course, that the civil rights movement would have achieved more, sooner, if it had gone Booker T. Washington’s way.

    Sure it would have.

  3. 4

    Jamesweet,I could not have put it better…and as long as we live in a country with 12% African American population, where it only takes 8-10% moving into a neighborhood to cause ‘white flight’ no matter what their economic or social status, we will never have equality.

  4. 5

    There has been some research in gender studies to the fact that people who claim to be “rational” and “unprejudiced” and who claimed to “apply criteria fairly” to everybody usually are just very good at “rationally” justifying their bigotry.
    I have no doubt that this spplies to minorities as well.
    They have nothing against that couple because they’re black, it’s because they have 5 kids! See, this neighbourhood has fairly small houses, they’re just not right for large families.
    They would oppose any white couple with 5 kids as well!
    Only that they wouldn’t. A white family would just be judged by a different standard. A different set of “objective criteria” would be applied.
    And those bigots would be completely convinced that it hasn’t got anything to do with race, no sir.
    That’s why “colourblindness” leads nowhere. Be aware of the fact that you are racist.
    It’s not your fault, you grew up in a racist society. My racism is different than your racism because I grew up in a different society.
    Be aware of it and you can change it. Claim that you “treat everybody alike” and you perpetuate it.

  5. 6

    Belton’s article is awesome! One can draw a lot of parallels to the LGBTQetc. equality movement too – the radical Gay Liberation movement was attacked because it was trying to upset the status quo, especially with respect to things like monogamy and “decency”. Now that the movement’s shifted to Liberal legal equality, the bigots are pushing back against that. For all marginalized social groups, it’s not actually what people DO, it that they exist at all. Hell, check out the response to that bus ad that simply read “Atheists.” We’re subject to similar ontological bigotry as atheists. I’m completely in support of Belton’s thesis. It’s not up to Black people to make White people feel more comfortable by consciously scrutinizing every action, it’s up to White people to get over their racist biases. No one should have to apologize for simply existing.

  6. 7

    Belton’s article is indeed excellent. I’ve been saying for years that white people need to get the hell over race already. Then, once we’ve gotten the hell over it, we can formally acknowledge white privilege and start seriously doing something about it, instead of whining and sobbing like toddlers being denied candy every single time even the slightest steps to rectify the situation are suggested. (not calling out anyone in this thread, obviously, but I swear that talking to white people generally about race issues is like pulling teeth.)

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