“What more do black people want? They complained about slavery – we abolished it. They complained about oppression in the 60’s – we made sure there was no more of it. Then they started bitching about how America has never had a black president – we gave them Obama. Now they’re trying to make it look like we’re intentionally depriving them of money and fame. I mean, come on, people! You’ve got drug dealers, you’ve got rap and hip-hop singers, you’ve got just as much money as white people, and not to mention, your numbers are growing. It seems to me like we ought to be complaining about you, not the other way around!” Palin fumed.
When I first read these comments, I couldn’t find words to express my sentiment. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that one can go to the “easy” explanation and say Bristol Palin is crazy, or she’s ignorant, or even that she’s a racist. And, perhaps each of these is probably true. But, I decided to think more about Bristol Palin’s remarks and attempt a more complex and nuanced analysis.
Whereas Bristol Palin’s remarks are repulsive to many of us, I fear that Bristol Palin’s remarks resonate with and represent the concerns that many White Americans do feel. In my previous blog (Reflections on Martin Luther King, JR and President Obama), I argued that Donald Trump and Marco Rubio’s popularity could be understood as tapping into the sentiment among working class White Americans that the United States has become a land they don’t recognize, one in which opportunities are becoming increasingly available to Black and Brown people and less available to them.
Bristol Palin’s statements reflect an even deeper sentiment: that not only are opportunities evaporating for Whites, but that White resent this changing landscape because they already feel like they have done enough to right the wrongs of slavery and the Jim Crow era and that Blacks continue to press for me. The old “give them an inch they’ll take a mile” adage.
And, though I could take Bristol Palin’s statement point by point and offer evidence to refute each, see our book African American Families: Myths and Realities, instead I’ll offer a broader stroke comment. Bristol Palin and millions of Americans who subscribe to her beliefs, are really expressing a resentment based on their sense of entitlement. Like parents who get angry when the kids complain about what is prepared for dinner and threated them that they should feel lucky they have a plate full of nutritious food to eat and they are admonished to feel grateful, millions of White Americans believe that Blacks should feel grateful to them for what they have been given; as Bristol Palin noted: “we” abolished slavery and “we” ended Jim Crow segregation and “we” gave them Barack Obama. And, OK, so I said that I wasn’t going to nit pick her with data, Blacks should feel grateful for all of these things despite the fact that the unemployment rate for Blacks is twice that of Whites, that Black men are ten times more likely to go to prison than White men, that 50% of Black children are born into poverty, and that despite a Black president, Blacks are significantly under-represented in every occupation that is prestigious and lucrative, including as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, as college professors, or as US Senators—there are currently no Black US Senators.
Blacks, Bristol Palin seems to suggest should, like a child eating dinner, be grateful for what “we” have given them. And, not ask for more than “we” believe they deserve. It’s almost as if to say, “you can’t have everything!”
And, of course, never mind that fact that unlike the parent who cooked the unwanted dinner, its not White’s who dismantled slavery or Jim Crow segregation, these institutions were dismantled on the backs of Black people while the majority of Whites did everything they could, including establishing and fighting for the Confederacy, to prevent the dismantling of these systems.
So, this is really more like the child cooking a meager meal while the parent actively sabotaged the attempt—by not going grocery shopping, hiding the pots and pans, and even turning of the gas—and then telling the child whose efforts have produced an inferior meal to be grateful for what they have been given.
I’d suggest Bristol Palin go back to school and learn a bit more history, but then again, I’m afraid that’s where she developed these kinds of beliefs to begin with.
Finally, its probably not ignorance that led to Bristol Palin’s developing this ideology, its white privilege…the profound and unchallenged ability not only to control the circumstances—the abolition of slavery or the cooking of the meal– but to shape the narrative as well.