April 13, 2015

No apologies.


On a Wednesday morning a few weeks ago, I woke up after a nonstop day of traveling, working, and maddening problem solving at my day job, to check social media hoping that I would find something to make me smile.

A cute baby pic, an insanely funny cat video or a Republican saying something offensive. But no, lo and behold, blasted all over Facebook and Twitter was a video of Levi Pettit, the SAE frat member who was caught singing the white supremacist battle song, “There will never be a N… at SAE” apologizing with various African Americans in the background.

Pettit, with his preppy blue blazer, $300 haircut, and look of snobbery struggled through a pre-written speech about how he wanted to beg for forgiveness, feeling shame and how he did not know these “words” were hurtful, while the old negro guard stood by and looked as if they supported this farce of amends.


Three things went through my mind when I saw the video: 1. Bullshit, 2. These negroes standing with him must have gotten paid, and 3. I guess Al Sharpton was either not available, or too expensive.

Throughout my life I have never been much of a forgiving person. If someone had done me wrong, I would never forget and hold on to it. Where I get that way of thinking, I do not know. My parents and brother have always been able to accept someone’s faults and move on. Me, no.

I always figured that if someone did you wrong once, they are capable of doing it again, and to move away from that person as quickly as possible. Growing up in the ghetto, this has aided me well. People will take kindness for weakness easily, and will exploit it every chance they get. This could be one of the reasons why I never understood or agreed with parts of the Civil Rights movement.

At that time, we had many Whites openly being racist, denying Black people the ability to gain employment, jobs, sicking dogs, and imprisoning us on the flimsiest, if not bogus, charges. And yet, many of the Civil Rights leaders stressed, “Turning the other cheek” and, “Praying for your enemies.” Logically that does not make sense. Why would you wish someone well or want brotherhood with somebody that wants you dead?

That way of thinking has bled into the way Black people treat racists today. Always forgiving, always saying, “I believe there is a good person inside, they just made a mistake” and accepting whatever fake apology that has been thrown our way.

When the SAE chant video was released a few weeks ago, I wasn’t shocked. Hey this is an all white frat from Oklahoma. Do you think they wouldn’t be saying derogatory things about Black people and other minorities when we are not around? Come on! And lets not forget, this is Oklahoma: home of the first aerial assault in America.

On May 31, 1921 in the Greenwood District, a prosperous Black community nicknamed, “Black Wallstreet “ in Tulsa, whites bombed and burned it to the ground motivated by false attack on a white woman. The bombing of “Black Wallstreet” inspired a song called, “You dropped a bomb on me” by The Gap Band, you might have heard of it. With the long history of racist attacks in Oklahoma, this video should not surprise anyone.

The most troubling aspect of the SAE racist rant is not the young white kids singing along to a song that advocates discrimination and murder of Blacks, but the Black people that stood behind the young bigot, as he delivered a half-hearted apology. Too many times a White or non-Black person will perform a racist act, get caught, come to the Black community with hat in hand, talk with a religious leader or two, say they are sorry, and then we embrace them.

Don’t believe me? Look at the Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin Sony email scandal. Here are two Hollywood executives trading racist emails amongst each other before getting caught. Amy then offers an apology with Rev. Al Sharpton beside her. Or even better yet, Paula Deen! She gets busted using the N word like it is going out of style, makes a video apologizing, and then goes on The Steve Harvey show saying how she has changed. See the pattern? Rinse, wash, repeat. It is the same exercise and we keep falling for it.

When Mel Gibson was outed for being an anti-Semite, did you see members of the Jewish community rushing to forgive him? No, Mel is not going to be standing with Rabbis anytime soon. He is done, labeled, and that’s what I believe we should do.

I believe that much of Black people’s willingness to forgive and desire to forgive is rooted in Christianity. Historically the church has been a major presence in the Black household, and one of the tenants of Christianity is to forgive and seek forgiveness. We want to accept people’s apology because we want to become closer to God, to see the goodness in people, to ultimately become good Christians because that’s what Jesus would do. “These are good White people, they are just ignorant, they don’t know any better.” Of course this also goes back to slavery, but that is another conversation for another time.

A friend and I talked about this issue and he said, “Well where do we go from here? What do we do? How do we move forward?” Normally I don’t have conversations about race with White people. I have always felt most could never understand what it is like to be discriminated against, and most never wanted to know either. But I could see that he was being earnest and honest. So I turned to him and said:

“Stop being a racist. It is that simple. There is no conversation needed. Stop and think about what you are going to say and do before you say and do it. Stop being silent when racist jokes and language is being said. Stop running to apologize to Black folk when you do racist things and don’t mean it. Start calling out racist practices. Start accepting responsibility when you do something racist. Start realizing  that you as a White person benefit from racism/white supremacy. Start working to dismantle the system of racism. That’s what you can do.”

These bigots are only mad because they got caught. This circus act tells racists that they can offend us and all they would have to do is talk to the Black clergy and make a public apology. This also sends a message to our young people that this is the way we should act. That Black people should always accept a weak excuse of, “I did not know the power of words” or, “I was ignorant of how I was acting.” This will affect young Blacks self-esteem and not hold White people’s racist acts accountable.

Recently I spoke at church in San Francisco about race relations, and I said that it’s time for us to get off the fence, to truly embrace brotherhood amongst us all. To the White people that are truly repentant in their racist acts, saying sorry is not enough. There has to be action behind it. Volunteer in an area with low income Blacks, become a mentor to young Black men, speak out at anti-racism events espousing your past and what you have done. Just get out of your comfort zone and help to dismantle the racist system that deploys laws and privileges to benefit some, but hurt others.

Show people that your words and feelings are sincere and that you do want to change not only your ways, but the worlds. I’m not asking you to be John Brown, the famous abolitionist, but if you really care and if you are really sorry, then do something. There is a saying that I learned recently, “I walk it like I talk it.” I just don’t want to be about lip service, I want to be about action.

At this time, I don’t accept Pettit’s apology and probably never will. As I said before, he is sorry that he got caught. To the Black people that were standing before him I say, “I hope you sold your self-respect at a high price.” I hope one day Black people will wake up and just say no to racists looking to redeem themselves in our eyes. We don’t need it and it has never helped us.

Sweet and docile
 Meek, humble, and kind,
Beware the day,
They change their mind

~ Langston Hughes


How Racism Survives.


Author: LeRon Barton

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Flickr/Alpha


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