The resounding chorus among many Black people is a denunciation of West and a rebuke of Irving. Yet, in non-Black spaces, Black people must navigate relaying their critiques while not perpetuating anti-Blackness baked within criticisms of West and Irving.
And that is not all Black people have to navigate.
It shouldn’t be demanded of Black people to abandon individuals like West and Irving for their views. Nor should our stance against forms of hate be made a pre-condition for acknowledging Black humanity—as the scales of justice remain unbalanced. Amongst ourselves, we are able to rebuke while leaving the door open for reconciliation and repair without dehumanizing.
It’s because we operate amongst ourselves with an understanding of what it means to be Black in the United States.
However, we also operate within the constraints of a social structure that is unlike our governing structure. Anti-Black violence takes various forms in this social structure, which descends from a white settler colonial project. The institutions were created and maintained by white people. So when speaking on West and Irving within a traditionally anti-Black social structure, we are mindful.
West and Irving should be rebuked for recklessly disregarding the power of their influence and platform when sharing their own beliefs that could very well be used to justify acts of violence against a group of people.
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But concern over the appropriation of our rebuke to either reinforce anti-Black hate or give whiteness a cover is a valid concern.
This conversation lands, as many like these do, on the spectrum of black and white. Ashkenazi Jews, although representing 80 percent of the world’s Jews, aren’t the only Jewish people. However in the U.S., Jewish people are identified as white people—the majority identify as white on the U.S. census.
Therefore, these conversations may start as speaking out against antisemitism, but they morph into opportunities to charge Black people with anti-white or reverse racism, which is a myth. That reframing allows for making antiracism conditional. The question becomes, if you want racism to stop why are you racist to white people?
If antisemitism was a real concern, critics of West and Irving would speak against antisemitic/anti-Black discrimination against Ethiopian Jews in Israel, for example.
But because Black people speak out against anti-Black racism—we should and we must—we are made to feel obligated to address all other racial/ethnic injustices, to either rebuke and renounce or forgive and forget.
That explains former NFL quarterback Michael Vick “choosing” to forgive former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper for calling a Black person the N-word to further justify his worthiness of forgiveness for fighting dogs. It’s why President Barack Obama denounced the out-of-context sermon of Rev. Jeremiah Wright to prove to white voters that a Black man was worthy of being president of the United States.
It’s why there’s criticism of NBA players for failing to speak out against Kyrie Irving.
To be clear, we (Black people) call out all injustices quite often. For example, Black people have long called out West and his harmful speech. Sarah Silverman found that out. But I don’t remember any words against West’s “slavery was a choice” rant. I don’t remember anyone calling on other NBA owners to rebuke and repudiate Robert Sarver or Donald Sterling, but I digress.
Unfortunately, Black people are put in this position to navigate all this when such matters come up. Add it to the tax of being Black in America.
Rann Miller is the director of anti-bias and DEI initiatives as well as a high school social studies teacher for a school district located in Southern New Jersey. He’s also a freelance writer and founder of the Urban Education Mixtape, supporting urban educators and parents of students in urban schools. He is the author of the upcoming book, Resistance Stories from Black History for Kids, with an anticipated release date of February 2023. You can follow him on Twitter @UrbanEdDJ .