I grew up in a fairly diverse town in northern Virginia, USA. Some of my first friends were black, and being so young it’s really not anything we noticed—or cared enough to think—about one another. It wasn’t until we got to middle-school and learned that white people were evil and black people were victims that it all changed. Then we sat across from each other at lunch instead of with each other. Then we felt separated, not together like before. Then we developed a sense of racial identity, the black kids more so than the white kids, and fell into our racial cliques.
My experience is far from unique; it’s the experience of most in the west who live in diverse areas.
It is, I’d argue, one of the biggest things separating us today: The way we’re taught about racial discrimination past and the way so many black youth take it personally as if it had happened to them specifically.
Many white people will speak out and tell black people to “get over slavery” or that “Jim Crow never happened to you” and other ways of saying, basically, “Live your own lives; stop living vicariously through people to whom you have no attachment save your skin color.” But these words are typically met with hostility and accusations of racism. But what if it’s a black person speaking the words?
Recently, Dallas Cowboys star wide receiver Dez Bryant spoke on his Facebook page about racial issues in America, suggesting that black people of today need to focus on their own realities, personal responsibility, and stop leaning so heavily on things in the past.
Bryant spoke out in a series of posts, addressing his thoughts on “white Americans and black Americans (racism),” and also a Charles Barkley quote from a few years ago: “We as black people we’re never going to be successful, not because you white people but because other black people.” To which Bryant added, “I hate to admit it but I understand that quote.”
Dez also laid out some of his own experiences stating that he has been racially profiled before and that “not once has it influenced an ill feeling inside me about anyone outside of that issue.” He continued, “Real slavery is different from what’s going on in our world now…we [all] have the opportunity to lead by example.”
Obviously this isn’t well received by all in the black community. There are no shortage of cries of “uncle Tom” and “house negro” and “coon.”
Though there are positive takeaways here. For me, the biggest one: This is the only time the “conversation” about race doesn’t entail white people sitting there silently while black grievance mongers shout at us about how we need to effect one-hundred percent of all change. Bryant’s comments are a breath of fresh air and show us that some individuals in America, black, white or otherwise, truly understand that it’s harmful to harbor negative feelings about an entire race of people based on anecdotal experience, or worse, things you never personally dealt with like slavery or Jim Crow.
Dez Bryant comes across as not only an intelligent young man, but also a fair-minded individual. For anyone of any race, it’s so easy to fall into the trappings of blaming an entire group for slights real or imagined. Not only easy, but also encouraged in today’s world! Just read any Buzzfeed “white people are bad” title; they put out about five a week. Or watch any Decoded episode about all the evil whites in America and how they’re all horrible. Or check out some of the nationalist rhetoric about how blacks are subhuman. And on it goes. It’s very easy to fall into these traps. And especially a young black millionaire, who would find it advantageous to go the Colin Kaepernick route and play the victim for the entire world to see, for some street cred, hats should be tipped in Bryant’s direction for individualism. It may seem like a small feat, but it’s really not. The pressures to be a collectivist, to toe the party line, exist in all walks of life, and intensity significantly once you reach fame. Bryant’s actually risking a lot by simply thinking for himself.
Although Bryant’s words aren’t likely to change very much, they do have that potential. When a black person speaks to these issues, instead of a white person, the words don’t come out as racially driven. They tend to be received as more genuine. And if any young kids out there, black or white, focus on his real message, they may start to get the picture that people are individuals, not groups, and you should judge people as individuals.
For me, I find it fantastic that you can still find people in the world today who view themselves as individuals. This goes for all races! With feminism, Antifa, and other collectivist movements, so many of today’s youth view themselves as part of a group, and they thus label as an enemy the entirety of other groups. This is just messy and antithetical to our species.
It would be great to see sweeping change in the way we view one another as racial groups, but it’s unlikely to happen so quickly. Though as they say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, and Dez Bryant just took a big leap here in my estimation.