I get what Jamelle Bouie is saying here:
The piece urges white liberals to confront racism … by not being so confrontational about racism. It deserves to be quoted at length.
But the grumpy old neighbor who voted for Donald Trump out of frustration with Washington? The high-school classmate who posts an Obama joke on Facebook? The white woman on the plane who tenses up when a Middle Eastern man sits down in the seat beside her? Try not to give up on them yet. These folks are your sisters and brothers. You belong to one another in exactly the same way that you and the targets of their racism belong to one another. Welcome to the Hotel California: You are at the most uncomfortable family reunion ever, and you can never leave.
If you’re a white liberal whose goal is to feel morally superior to such people, go right ahead and urge them to check their white privilege. Call them stupid rednecks. Get online and tweet your feats of moral derring-do in the cause of a more just society. You haven’t made a single thing better for anyone suffering the actual effects of racism, but when has that ever stopped a white person from airing a little righteous indignation?
If, on the other hand, you’re a white liberal whose goal is to foster a more equitable culture, you need to stop yelling “Racist!” at anyone who doesn’t see the world exactly as you do. Somehow you need to find enough common ground for a real conversation about race. Very few people are stupid or irredeemably mean. They’ll listen to what you have to say if they trust you’ll listen to what they have to say back.
Let me gently suggest this is again one of those issues where more than one approach is good and necessary.
Bouie is right to be impatient with people who soft-peddle calling racism for what it is just to preserve the feelings of … racists. On the other hand, what’s the goal? Your buddy may be an asshole, but calling him an asshole over and over is unlikely to persuade him differently. If you think such persuasion is impossible, keep moving. But if you think it is possible, a better approach might be to talk about facts — about who benefits from society’s power structures and why — than to call names.
I’m not going to ask Bouie to gently reason with racists. But some of us should, if we hope to reverse the trends that afflict us currently. It’s not fun, it feels like it should be unnecessary, and it’s hard work. But that seems preferable to giving up.