MAXWELL:  Sick of white liberals’ “understanding’

10/22/1997 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


I cannot speak for my brethren, but I am one black man who is tired of the insufferable “understanding” of white liberals _ the group claiming to comprehend the black man’s condition.

Such “understanding” is as harmful to our well-being as our own bad behavior. Moreover, their well-intentioned but naive assessments of our problems and their empathy have aided in producing generations of social engineering that has rendered many blacks intellectually and ethically impotent and unemployable.

White liberals should demand of blacks the same positive values and high standards that they demand of themselves and other select groups.

Like other people, blacks also need honesty, thrift, self-reliance, cleanliness, studiousness, sobriety, punctuality, calmness and, of course, cold introspection to prosper.

My wariness of white liberals has returned as St. Petersburg residents, especially whites, struggle with the significance of last year’s riots, which wrenched the city out of its complacency about race relations. Sadly, this kind of communal soul-searching produces high levels of guilt and sentimentality, both of which encourage many liberals to make the felonious appear heroic; the law-abiding, villainous.

Many “understanding” white liberals have, for example, joined blacks in excusing the behavior of TyRon Lewis, the 18-year-old black motorist who, after disobeying direct police orders, was shot to death last Oct. 24, sparking the worst race riots in the city’s history.

These same liberals are vilifying Officer James Knight who, perhaps fearing for his life, shot Lewis. I am not suggesting that Lewis should have died. I suspect, though, that many whites condemning Knight would be much less “understanding” of Lewis if he had been a white man.

A white motorist, after all, should have known better than to challenge a cop whose adrenaline was flowing, whose pistol was drawn and pointing at his chest. Alas, Lewis, a black male, knew no better.

This is paternalism at its most contemptible. It also pervades public education, where many “understanding” white teachers force white students to work hard but let black students _ viewed as victims of a culture of poverty _ do little or no work.

Several years ago, I visited my son’s school after he and a white kid had fought in class. When I arrived, my son was in the back row of the classroom, his head on his desk. “Why wasn’t Dustin taking notes like the other students?” I later asked the teacher, a white woman in her mid-30s.

She merely shrugged, her expression suggesting an “understanding” that turned my stomach. I reminded her that she was professionally obligated to push my son as hard as she did her white students. I told the principal the same thing. He, too, was despicably patronizing.

I also am sick of white liberals who, while living in their gated cul-de-sacs and rarely setting foot in the black ghetto, claim to “understand” the dynamics of crime among blacks. These same whites value the rights of black thugs more than those of frightened, law-abiding property owners. These same whites tie the hands of police officers working the most dangerous streets in the ghetto.

Some of these same whites even claim to “understand” why black males gun down one another.

White liberals also “understand” pregnancy among black girls _ those “poor dears” who are ignorant of contraception and so starved for love that they fly into the the arms of older black men. These lechers impregnate more than half of their young conquests.

For sure, white liberals “understand” the sociology that contributes to widespread drug and alcohol abuse among blacks. They “understand” black males who lack the gumption to polish their shoes and join the unemployment line like everyone else.

How often have I heard some white, born and reared in a suburb, idealize poor blacks and excuse their self-destructive behavior?

As a practitioner in the workplace, I am especially troubled when white liberals blindly accept black mediocrity. How often have I seen “understanding” whites protect unqualified blacks whose poor performance often taints the fine work of truly qualified blacks?

Few things are more insulting than being a member of a group that is “understood” to the point of being routinely forgiven our misdeeds.

All that said, I wonder sometimes if I am not being too harsh on white liberals. Perhaps they are good people who simply do not know what the hell they are doing.