BLAZE-ing Prattles: Reflections on White Rage and the Beauty of Black Truth

Perhaps it’s too easy.

Indeed, it might even be considered a waste of valuable energy to respond to the childlike ventilations of Tomi Lahren. Oh wait, you’ve never heard of Tomi Lahren? That’s probably because the 23-year old host of her own show on Glenn Beck’s Blaze Network is the host of her own show on Glenn Beck’s Blaze Network, and as such is about as important to the national political dialogue as Glenn Beck. Which is to say that 2010 called and would like its relevance back.

That said, just because it might be a bit too effortless to address Lahren’s most recent rant — one in which she whitesplained racism to actor and activist Jesse Williams, in response to Williams’s brilliant speech at the previous week’s BET Awards — doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthwhile endeavor. First, Lahren’s videos (like the one where she demanded that Beyonce spend less time critiquing police misconduct and more time lecturing her husband, Jay-Z, about his past as a drug dealer) are watched and loved by millions of other white people. So even if you’ve never heard of her, and even if you find the nonsensical effluent that occasionally sprays from her lips anything but persuasive, rest assured that others have and do. She is an all-too-typical white archetype, given to feeding others exactly that for which they hunger. As such, responding to her insipid ruminations is about far more than Tomi Lahren alone. And besides, let’s face it, sometimes, low-hanging fruit is all there is to pick, especially when it comes to white conservatives holding forth on the subject of race.

In any event, Lahren’s sophomoric screed (no offense to actual sophomores) was so littered with putrescent bilge that one hardly knows where to begin. First, she took a gratuitous swipe at the BET Awards themselves, noting with a sense of only the most thinly-veiled disgust that they were “very black,” and making sure to pose as a courageous truth-teller for having revealed this bombshell. As Lahren put it, conjuring that rare combination of implied victimhood and aspirational toughness that white reactionaries have nearly perfected: “Oh, but can I say that? What with my whiteness and all?” And then, naturally imagining a fascistic No! from the big bad black people who have all but eradicated free speech for whites like herself (putting aside her high-paying gig with Glenn Beck), she answers these imaginary but no doubt scary Afro-totalitarians by saying, in her best martyr voice, “Well, too damned bad.”

In other words, Tomi Lahren wants you to know that she is a real badass who is, a) not afraid to point out the blackness of the BET Awards (as if this divulgence might somehow be alarming to the participants or could perhaps manage to shame them) and, b) prepared to admonish those who would attend or even defend such a thing. Because let’s be honest: even though she didn’t say it, it is hardly a stretch to visualize the bilious thought bubble forming above her head as she spoke. You know the argument, having likely heard it made by a deranged uncle at Thanksgiving, or perhaps by Stacey Dash: “If we had a white entertainment network, they would call it racist!” Boo-yah! Bet ya never thought of that did you, black people?

Yes, of course, because we are apparently dealing with the world’s oldest fifth grader, no offense to actual fifth graders.

Poor Tomi, likely incapable of grasping the obvious: namely, that we do have white entertainment networks; we have several in fact, and she works for one (however relegated to the fever swamps of the right-wing internet it might be). That we don’t call them that — even as they put forward mostly white images and shows that appeal to white people, and feature actors, producers, directors and spokespersons who are overwhelmingly white — only suggests the power and taken-for-granted normativity of the white narrative. In other words, when your stuff is considered normal, you don’t have to designate its racial origin or even comprehend that it has one. White literature isn’t white, it’s just literature. White art isn’t white, it’s just art. Only that which deviates from the norm gets racialized in the public imagination, even as the norm is every bit as racialized in reality.

Given her apparent incapacity to comprehend this most basic of truisms, one can only speculate as to the profundity of Tomi Lahren’s next eureka moment. Perhaps she will soon regale us with her analysis as to why racial profiling is not racist, and marching around with posters showing President Obama as a witch doctor with a bone through his nose (as happened at many a Tea Party rally), is not racist, and calling most Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers is not racist, but Black History Month is. So too the NAACP, the section in the bookstore for African American history, and that shelf (however small it may be) for black hair care products at the CVS or Walgreens. There is no explicitly white hair care section after all!

After taking her swipe at blackness in the abstract, Lahren then pivoted to her real source of upset: Williams’s powerful oration regarding the value of black lives and the need for continued struggle to secure those lives and the rights that make them worth living, And so, Lahren was incredulous at Williams’s mentioning of Tamir Rice — the 12-year old child killed by a Cleveland officer while playing with a toy gun two years earlier. For Lahren, mentioning the killing of Rice, who was shot by an officer previously found to be emotionally unfit for service in another community, proved Williams was “anti-police” (unlike, say, the white guys at the Bundy Ranch who pointed real weapons at law enforcement, lived to breathe another day, and were defended by the entirety of the right-wing) and part of the “war on cops.”

Of course, in truth — and despite the horrific shooting of five Dallas officers shortly after this essay was originally published — there is no actual “war on cops” in this country. Before the one-day killing spree of an individual sniper in Dallas, the number of police feloniously killed on the job had remained near historic lows as had been the case in 2015 as well). And whatever “war” on cops can be said to exist, it should be noted — but Lahren won’t — is not being waged principally by black folks, let alone persons affiliated with Black Lives Matter. Indeed, before the Dallas tragedy, more than 7 in 10 persons who had shot and killed officers this year had been white men.

As for Williams’s mentioning of Tamir Rice, Lahren naturally ignored that Rice was playing with a toy gun just like white boys all over America do, without fearing they might be mistaken for 20-year old adults brandishing actual weapons (as happened in Rice’s case).

She also ignored that Ohio is an open-carry state, in which Rice, had he actually been the 20-year old man police thought him at first to be, would have had every right to possess and display an actual weapon anyway.

She neglects to mention that the officer in question clearly lied about the incident, claiming to have issued multiple warnings to Rice to drop his “gun,” before Rice pointed it at him, unaware that video evidence would demonstrate he hadn’t the time to issue even one warning before opening fire, let alone several.

To propose that even a shooting as blatantly unjust as this was legitimate suggests that there is virtually nothing an officer could do to a black person and not receive a free pass from Tomi Lahren and her compatriots. Not Rice’s killing, and not any of the horrific examples of brutality that preceded it within the same rogue police department. In mocking Williams’s comments about unarmed black folks shot by police, she notes that even if their unarmed-ness is “literally accurate” (a concept sometimes referred to simply by its other name: true), it’s not for “lack of trying,” since some of those cases involve attempts by black men to reach for an officer’s gun. How this fact has any relevance for Rice’s case, or the others Williams mentioned — in which no attempts to commandeer a weapon or harm an officer occurred — Lahren leaves to the imagination. For her, if some black people have assaulted or tried to kill cops, then even those blacks who do no such thing will just have to understand when cops kill them, as will Jesse Williams. And to criticize the killing of black people, even when those black people are posing no threat to the officers (as with Rice, John Crawford III, Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Amadou Diallo and others) means you must hate police. But rationalizing the death of black children, she would like you to know, most assuredly does not mean you hate black people. Just in case you might be so silly as to think it did.

When Williams notes in his speech that black folks will continue to demand their rights, Lahren becomes apoplectic. What rights, she inquires, do blacks not already have? In other words, those battles have been won, and if Jesse Williams and other black folks don’t realize that, then they are obviously delusional, lacking the superior insight into the black condition possessed by the likes of Tomi Lahren. That Lahren fails to understand the difference between having rights in theory, and actually enjoying them in practice, speaks to her own lack of imagination as well as a blinkered understanding of history. After all, black folks had the right to equal protection of the law, at least in theory, right after the passage and ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868. Likewise, their right to vote was thought to be secured by the 15th Amendment from 1870 forward. But I suspect that even Lahren will allow that those rights, extant though they supposedly were, were not exactly enjoyed in practice by the nation’s African American population. Surely they covered that whole Jim Crow thing, even in her South Dakota high school and at some point during her undergraduate experience at UNLV. Surely she can grasp that the civil rights movement was about getting the government to keep its promises. That she can’t fathom the same government falling down on the job again and thus, requiring the continued pressure of activists to do the right thing — even as she and other conservatives suggest the government is incompetent in virtually every other endeavor — is stunning. Apparently, Lahren and her ilk would like you to think that the government does a fine job of securing rights for black people, even as it can’t manage to do much else right.

As Lahren looks around, she sees a nation that has adequately vouchsafed equal rights and need not bother with doing anything more. The fact that black folks have been disproportionately subjected to unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policies in places like New York (policies that virtually every conservative in America has defended, despite their utter inability to uncover wrongdoing in about 90 percent of cases), fails to move her. Even the Office of the Inspector General of the NYPD now admits that the department’s policies known as “broken windows policing” (cracking down on minor violations of the law in the hopes of deterring more serious offenses) not only had little if any impact on crime rates, but was disproportionately used against, and thus, negatively impacted communities of color. In other words, equal protection still isn’t. But to Lahren, black folks have no business complaining.

That blacks continue to be arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated disproportionately for drugs, even though whites use, possess and deal illegal narcotics at roughly the same rates as African Americans, does nothing to inspire a rethink from Lahren when it comes to the rights black folks presumptively enjoy. Indeed, as many as 160,000 blacks are arrested each year for drug possession who wouldn’t be — and 160,000 whites are not arrested who would be — if the nation’s drug laws were enforced equally based on mere rates of violations. But to Lahren, such inequalities in enforcement of the law are but a trifle, hardly worthy of critique, let alone indignation.

So too, Lahren is undisturbed by the way in which even the right to vote is being attacked by those of her political persuasion, and in a way that would disproportionately impact people of color. To wit, states imposing photo ID requirements for voting, even though such policies are unnecessary to address an entirely fictional voter fraud problem, as there have only been 31 cases of in-person voter fraud in the last 15 years in the entire country.

Likewise, cutbacks in early voting which are calculated to suppress black turnout, as even many of these schemes’ authors have readily conceded. Or literally targeting minority-majority precincts for closure altogether, and for the same vote-suppressing purpose. So even as her own side works diligently to endanger the rights of black people, and rationalizes the suppression of those rights by law enforcement and political officials, she denies that it’s happening and accuses Williams (and really the vast majority of black people who agree with his position) of being irrational. Because it wouldn’t be at all racist to believe such a thing as that!

Perhaps the most bizarre moment came next, when Lahren responded to Williams’s insistence that those without a proven track record of critiquing anti-black oppression should stop criticizing those who are trying to make things better. In other words, don’t critique the movement for liberation if you yourself haven’t a history of being a part of that movement. As her head nearly rotated on its axis, Lahren reminded Williams that actually whites do have a history of speaking out against the oppression of black people. And then, as her only example she conjured the memory of whites who fought in the civil war to end enslavement. Oh and of course she made a point of noting that the people who fought to maintain slavery were Democrats, because naturally, political parties of the present are exactly the same as their namesakes from a century-and-a-half earlier, and Abraham Lincoln is more relevant to the modern Republican Party than Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms, or, ya know, Donald Trump. The hubris of this position, wrapped as it is in irony and enveloped in a fine coat of mendacity is almost more staggering than the mind can take in.

First, Lahren’s insistence that “our white ancestors” fought to free the ancestors of black Americans was delivered in such a way as to imply that she is still waiting on a thank you. So, the fact that millions of whites owned slaves or lived in slave-owning families, thereby benefiting from the arrangement, and millions more defended that system for generations doesn’t matter in the present, or so white conservatives tell us; and blacks descended from those who were held as chattel are owed nothing. But the fact that some whites ultimately fought in the war that ended slavery matters a great deal, and those descended from said soldiers are owed something: namely the undying gratitude of Jesse Williams, and the right to therefore, by virtue of their ancestors’ sacrifice, critique modern-day struggles for racial equity, even if they themselves have done nothing to advance those struggles. Of course, the fact that about ten percent of the Union military was comprised of black soldiers fighting for their own liberation — and the fact that only a history of slave rebellion, resistance, and the black-led abolitionist movement ultimately forced the confrontation in the first place — mean nothing to Lahren apparently. Blacks are free in her mind because white people decided to make it so.

Second, Lahren’s argument contains the seeds of its own negation. She claims whites fought to end slavery, but by definition (and her own acknowledgment) half of whites did exactly the opposite. Those fighting for the confederacy were fighting to maintain that system, so at best the history of white people standing against black oppression is a decidedly mixed bag. Interestingly, and as a side note, Lahren apparently forgot the modern conservative narrative about the civil war and the Confederacy, which is that neither were really about slavery at all, but rather “state’s rights.” Which means that if the far-right of which Lahren is a part is correct (they aren’t of course, but play along) the Union soldiers weren’t fighting to end enslavement after all, and so now her one example of whites standing up against black oppression is out the window altogether. She had one job, and she blew it.

Third, really? When the best and only example you can come up with for whites doing the right thing by black people is over 150 years old, and even then only involves a small portion of white people anyway (those union soldiers who were fighting with the goal of abolition in mind), you might want to rethink the act of talking. If that is what you think constitutes a serious record of critiquing black people’s oppression, you might want to look up the definitions of the words, “serious,” “record” and “critique.” Methinks the lady doth make Williams’s point for him, and verily so.

Bottom line: most white people have never spoken up against anti-black racism. Most never raised their voice for abolition, or against segregation. Most never joined any movement for racial equality or justice. Indeed, more than a history of opposing black oppression, most whites have a history of denying that it was even happening. So, for instance, in 1963, far from joining the civil rights struggle, nearly two-thirds of whites told Gallup pollsters that black folks were already treated equally in America in regard to housing, jobs and schooling. And in 1962, nearly nine in ten whites insisted that black children had just as good a chance for a high quality education as white children did. In short, most whites not only failed to critique the oppression of black people; rather, most white people didn’t even see that oppression as real and saw no need for the civil rights movement to even exist! In other words, Tomi Lahren is keeping with a long and ignoble tradition of white denial and utter cluelessness when it comes to race. There is no reason to suspect that she is any less deficient in her abilities of discernment than her predecessors.

The cluelessness then veers into the comically vile as Lahren comes to the end of her rant by asking Williams whether he feels like a victim, and whether black people in general do. Apparently, Lahren got Williams confused with white people like Abigail Fisher, the thoroughly mediocre white girl who claimed to have been a victim of “reverse discrimination” at the University of Texas. And this, even though the year she was rejected (supposedly on behalf of less qualified black and brown folks), there were 42 whites with lower grades and scores than her who got in, and only five people of color with lower grades and scores who did; and even though there were 168 black and Latino kids with grades and scores equal to or better than Fisher who also were rejected but didn’t decide to sue like whiny-ass entitled brats as a result.

No, it isn’t blacks who parade like victims; it’s white people. And not just Abby Fisher, but white people more broadly, ignorantly claiming as we so often do to be the victims of dreaded “reverse racism,” and taxes for black and brown welfare recipients, and brown-skinned immigrants, and minority scholarships and the Chinese government, and Muslims looking to impose Sharia on us, and Black Lives Matter activists, and President Obama for imposing a tax on tanning salons (obviously racist!) and even the attempt to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, which Rep. Steve King wants you to know is totally racist and victimizes a noble white guy like Andrew Jackson, whose own racism we should overlook of course.

Ultimately, Tomi Lahren is symptomatic of a larger white pathology that has long eaten away at the fabric of America. It is, as Carol Anderson puts it in her recent and brilliant book, the default position of white rage, which has welled up whenever black folks have asserted themselves, demanded equal treatment and justice, suggested that such things were lacking at that moment, and put forward an unapologetic, unbowed, unafraid blackness. How dare they insist that our perceptions are wrong, we proclaim. How dare they remind us of the broken promises and the empty platitudes.

When black folks asserted themselves during Reconstruction and fought for equal rights, white folks insisted everything was fine already: after all, we got rid of that slavery thing, so what more do you want? When black folks moved North in search of opportunity during the great migration, white southerners actively tried to block their exit with violence and legal chicanery, and white northerners attacked them in one after another racial pogrom. How dare they stand up for themselves and suggest that anything was wrong with the opportunity structure as it already existed! When black folks demanded an end to separate and unequal, white folks like my maternal grandmother just couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. After all, “everyone had always gotten along just fine before that Dr. King had to go and stir things up.”

My grandmother was ignorant in the purest sense of the word, and while she should have known better, one can at least argue that at the time, her exposure to black reality was heavily circumscribed by limited media and the racial isolation she had always known. But for Tomi Lahren, who lives in the present era and has access to a little thing called Google, there can be no such excuse. Her ignorance is actively groomed and deliberately nurtured, as is the ignorance of large segments of white America. That Jesse Williams, not to mention the Black Lives Matter movement, have quite obviously disturbed their slumber — our slumber — is nothing if not necessary.

And beautiful.

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