In light of the tragic shooting of Michael Brown, I’ve been troubled by the notion that a monolithic entity called “Black America” or “the black community” still exists in the 21st century—if it ever existed at all. Moreover, I think that it is simply dangerous for the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson to be allowed to act as if they speak for all black Americans. They don’t, but the media and our first black president perpetuate this insidious myth.
America has obviously made tremendous progress since the days of Jim Crow, Bull Connor, and voter intimidation at the polls. We have our first black president in Barack Obama, who immediately chose Eric Holder to be our top law enforcement officer. People of color serve at the highest levels of business, academia and politics. Still, without question, there is inequality in our country today. And does racism still exist in certain aspects of our society? Unfortunately, of course, the answer is yes.
But the civil rights era is over, and the idea that there’s still some separate Black America out there is as unproductive as it is inaccurate. The tragedy that took place in Ferguson should have allowed for a meaningful opportunity for everyone in this country to talk about race from an individual perspective. Instead, people who inflame racial tensions to suit their own political ends have helped polarize this nation further, leading to a continued “us” versus “them” idea of race that doesn’t do justice to our more complicated reality.
Case in point: the spectacle of Brown’s funeral on Monday. The day the young man should have been laid to rest in peace and dignity served as a political pep rally that underscored the false narrative that something called the black community is crying out for justice in light of the shooting. NBC News was happy to play into this fantasy in their coverage of Brown’s funeral by offering: “The crowd of 4,500 was brought to its feet by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the activist…who said Brown’s killing was a wakeup call for the black community and the entire nation.”
In his remarks, Sharpton noted: “All of us are required to respond to this. We can’t have a fit. We have to have a movement.” A movement? We need to have an impartial call for calm minds to search for the facts, not a kangaroo media court looking to convict a white police officer. We need to take a deep breath and push back on the destructive idea that white police officers hate blacks and want to shoot them.
Those in the grievance industry are always looking to make a buck off racial strife, and it’s time we stopped listening to them. Be honest: When you first heard about the tragic shooting, did you not think to yourself that the likes of Jackson and Sharpton would be along shortly with a bullhorn in one hand and a collection jar in the other?
We will never live up to our national motto of E Pluribus Unum until we stop hyphenating Americans and seeking to classify our fellow citizens based on race, ethnicity and gender. Six years into the much-ballyhooed presidency of our first post-racial president, race relations in America seem more polarized than they have in decades. Why is this the case?
For a president who made his race a defining (and admirable) aspect of his run for the Oval Office, Obama has shied away when he could have led on matters of race, while injecting himself in ways that have been divisive rather than helpful. Think: “Cambridge Police acted stupidly,” or “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin.” In the case of Ferguson, the president sat on the sidelines for too long as rioters and other criminals descended on the community, looking for “justice” as they stole and damaged the property of local residents.
And then of course there’s the company that Obama keeps and, by extension, legitimizes. That he and his senior advisers would turn to Sharpton—perhaps the most racially inflammatory figure in contemporary America—for advice on race relations is beyond troubling. Politico reported over the weekend that Sharpton is the de facto liaison for the White House regarding the shooting in Ferguson. Couldn’t they have found a less polarizing figure?
We will continue to make strides forward in the United States on matters of race by focusing on what brings us together rather than what divides us. So it’s time to reject the notion of the existence of a Black America or White America. There’s one America, and it functions best as a melting pot. Likewise, it’s time to extinguish the flames of racial animosity by turning away figures like Sharpton and Jackson, who claim to speak for every black American and profit from the idea that we are two countries divided by race. Instead, let’s start listening to people who want to bring us together, and try to speak for all of us.