Not All Snakes are Poisonous, But Every Snake Bites:
An Exploration of “Not All White People”
A cousin of mine recently traveled to Austin, Texas to partake in their Annual Community March commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy. Upon returning, her excitement about the entire trip was uncontainable, with the community march serving as an essential highlight. In response to her raving about how successful it was, I felt obliged to ask: “How so?” She responded with a laundry list of achievements, headlined by the diverse assortment of groups who were represented at the commemoration. Those she mentioned included: the visually-impaired, members of America’s indigenous population and–to both her surprise and mine, although for different reasons–white people.
And so began the seed of our disagreement.
Her prideful tone of voice, along with her specification of the white presence as a marker of “success,” helped me to realize that my cousin was overjoyed by their attendance. I will simply state that I did not share in her delight. In fact, I felt unmistakably shaken and disheveled by the very notion that white people were present at the event. If memory serves me correct, I recall voicing that to her verbatim, which made her quite upset. After a brief, but noticeably awkward pause in conversation, she irritably retorted, “not all white people are bad,” a six word story that carries greater significance than many of us realize. After an equally brief, but more calculated pause, I challenged her by inquiring, “How are we supposed to know the difference?”
June 17, 2015
Dylann Roof, playing the role of a peaceful attendee, murders nine African-Americans during their weekly prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina. One of the victims was then United States Senator, Clementa C. Pinckney. Upon his capture the next morning, the arresting officers treated Dylann to Burger King.
March 3, 1991
Four LAPD officers –Stacey Koon, Theodore Briseno, Timothy Wind and Laurence Powell–are covertly videotaped while they savagely beat Rodney King following a high-speed chase. By its conclusion, King had sustained fifty-five baton strikes, a fractured skull, and damage to his internal organs. Three surgeons operated for five hours to save his life. All four LAPD officers were acquitted by a jury of their peers.
May 31, 1921
One of the most violents acts of white supremacy in recorded history takes place in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, more commonly known as “Black Wall Street.” On May 30, 1921, a 19-year old Black male, Dick Rowland, is accused of assaulting a 17-year old white woman, Sarah Page, in an elevator. Shortly after his arrest, Tulsa’s white residents began organizing to lynch Rowland, but Greenwood District’s Black residents took up arms in his defense. White aggression exploded at the courthouse and tactically moved towards Black Wall Street where they began burning property and murdering Black people indiscriminately. Numerous survivors reported witnessing bombs dropped and rifles fired overhead from military aircrafts. In just 24 hours: 191 businesses, 1,256 homes, a church worth $80,000, and incalculable Black lives were destroyed. A compensation suit was filed by five elderly residents in 2003, but to this day the United States Supreme Court refuses to hear their appeal.
The first Europeans sail down the coast of West Africa looking for a faster trade route to India, ultimately stopping at what is now Sierra Leone. They disembarked their ships to vast agricultural systems, fascinating technological advancements and a welcoming African society. They only saw resources, gold and slaves.
Despite volumes of irrefutable evidence worthy of its day in court, asserting that “all” white people are bad is simply ludicrous.
However, rebutting knowledge of the historical and continuing planet-wide destruction that white people have wrought with the statement, “Not all white people are bad,” does not eradicate their devastation. Nor does it improve our present condition as victims of white supremacy.
Not all snakes are poisonous, but every snake bites. As an act of survival, humans have studied snakes thoroughly enough to know which might kill us and which won’t. History teaches us that Black people are similarly unsafe around white people, if not moreso in comparison to venomous snakes. White privilege is the bite that allows us to be murdered without consequence in the form of lynching, police brutality and looting of our resources. White privilege is also the bite that only leaves puncture wounds in the form of job discrimination, gentrification and outright denial.
I will leave you with a quote by figurative and literal freedom fighter, Muhammad Ali, from an interview in 1971,
“So now I’m gonna forget the 400 years of lynching and killing and raping and depriving my people of freedom, justice and equality … And I’m gonna look at two or three white people who are trying to do right, and don’t see the other million trying to kill me?”
I imagine Mr. Ali would be disappointed to know that nearly 50 years has passed, but his question remains as relevant as it was the moment it parted ways from his lips. The other million are still trying to kill us.
Kwesi does not have many white friends. Kwesi does not care if you think he is a reverse racist. Be like Kwesi.