Paternalistic racism

As I write this Oakland braces for violence in the wake of the Mesherle sentencing.  Mayor Dellums has just given a speech in which he said he decided whether justice was done by looking at the reaction of the family and, since the family was upset, he believed justice was not done.    Then, after five minutes of I-feel-your-pain type nonsense he lamely added that he “hoped” the demonstrations would remain peaceful. 

Now, Dellums is a lifelong black politician who would have no trouble giving a Bible-thumping black preacher type speech if he wanted to.  Something along the line of, “Now is the time for us to show the Bay Area, California, the world, that we are responsible, mature adults.  That we can express our well- justified and deep anger and outrage in a peaceful, law-abiding way.  White America doesn’t expect that of us.  They think just because we are black and poor we will act like children, ruining the very community in which we live and work.  Now is the time for us to prove those expectations wrong!  Be angry.  We have a right to be angry.  Shout our anger to the rooftops.  We have a right to.  But I challenge ever one of us to shout, but not to destroy.  To work for justice, but not to perpetrate injustice, in the form of violence on innocent others.”

But, of course, Dellums would not think of giving such a speech and neither would the vast majority of liberal Americans, black and white.  Dellums, too, expects the mostly black protesters in Oakland to act as children.  The best he can do is “hope” he’s wrong.  This is the most invidious form of paternalistic racism.  And, it has the most insidious results.  Is it any wonder that the black community in Oakland lives down to expectations, rioting twice already over this one issue and, quite likely, preparing to riot again tonight? 

One of the most important steps in solving the problems of the inner cities is expecting more from those who live there. So long as even their own leaders treat them like children, that is how they are likely to act.  I’m sure Dellums doesn’t think of himself as a racist against his own race.  But, so long as he “hopes” the members of his race act responsibly, instead of challenging them to do so, that is exactly what he is.  It’s shameful.  And sad.  And, as long as the rank and file black community members allow so little to be demanded of them and demand so little of themselves, nothing will change.