While much of white America reckons with Black Lives Matter, others feel marginalized

Armstrong Williams | 6/18/2020, midnight
The recent scenes of largely white crowds across the world demonstrating in support of Black Lives Matter in the wake ...
Armstrong Williams

The recent scenes of largely white crowds across the world demonstrating in support of Black Lives Matter in the wake of George Floyd’s death are reminiscent of another watershed moment in America: the 1960s civil rights revolution, in which white America finally awakened to the plight of Blacks in this country. What followed was an upheaval in American society that forever changed the political landscape.

While many in America see this latest tragedy as grounds for a much needed racial reckoning, some in the white community consider anti-racism protests to be a condemnation and repudiation of white identity. In fact, the liberal media in some instances has attempted to question whether whites deserve to be involved in the conversation at all. An opinion piece published in the Washington Post last week urged whites to “shut-up and listen,” and the author even suggested that the overwhelming social media support on behalf of whites for civil justice was co-opting the Black Lives Matter movement in harmful ways.

Others have questioned whether the backlash against police brutality has marginalized whites while promoting an anti-racism agenda that ignores the progress and promise America has experienced over the course of the post-civil rights era. After all, if whites are so bad, how could white voters have elected a black president—twice?

But the dynamics of alienation are particularly stark among an older generation of whites who see their power and status challenged by an increasingly diverse, gender-balanced power structure in America. And it often comes across in very blunt terms. A recent episode was when a white, retired couple was sitting on their couch, watching the news and discussing the recent events surrounding Black Lives Matter. Unbeknownst to them, one of their phones was broadcasting the conversation over Facebook Live: “I’ve got the emails about how we’re supporting and we need to fix this problem, [expletive] you,” said retired Navy captain and Naval Academy Alumni Board member Scott Bethmann.

Bethmann objected to the fact that organizations felt a necessity to publicly align themselves with Black Lives Matter—even when they themselves had done nothing wrong: “So all the white people have to say something nice to the black [expletive] that works in the office. But the black [expletive] don’t get fired. It’s [expletive]. Management’s going to fire the white people…The white [expletive] can’t say anything; that’s the point we’re making here.”

Bethmann has apologized for the comments. While his use of racial slurs is certainly condemnable, his broader point—that organizations and leaders feel coerced into making a politically correct statement on the controversy du jour—resonates with many whites. Bethmann’s candid comments also reflect a frustration of feeling that his voice will not be heard if he does not agree with the current media narrative.

Even more alarming is the knee-jerk reaction to deface and dismantle Confederate flags and other historical monuments. Symbolically kicking the dead does not solve the problems of racism and police corruption that are very much still alive. Instead, tearing down monuments may only further alienate those who, like the Bethmanns, are successful, politically connected whites in positions of power and influence—and whose assistance will be greatly needed if we are to create additional leadership opportunities for Blacks and other minorities in the military and law enforcement.