One of the many problems that come with dealing with the fallout from ingrained, institutionalized racism isn't just knowing who your allies on the other side of the color line are, but whether or not you can trust them to not backstab you for their own gain or to score points with their own.
That's the problem W. Kamau Bell faced during his recent appearance on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher:
Mr. Maher started off the segment with Mr. Ryan’s recent comments about inner city poverty and the cultural dynamics that perpetuate such cycles. The HBO host then asked if Mr. Ryan was simply making an honest observation or something motivated by racial ill will.Note that this comes on the heels of Paul Ryan's recent pontification on "inner city" individuals. And Mr. Bell's response?
Comedian W. Kamau Bell intimated that some sort of racial malice was involved.
“You can’t blame the people living in the inner cities, blacks and latinos, for not having jobs where there are no jobs in the inner cities. You can’t blame them when the schools suck, the hospital sucks, there’s no grocery store, all of their fathers are in jail,” Mediaite reported. The panel’s fellow left-leaning guest agreed.
Then the “Real Time” host tricked his guests, saying: “Let me read something else. Here’s something else Paul Ryan said. He said: ‘When it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can’t be bothered. They’re sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader — they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper.’ Oh wait, that wasn’t him. That was Michelle Obama. Michelle Obama said that.”
The camera showed Mr. Bell stunned, at which point Mr. Maher turned to the audience and said: “Hushed silence! […] Is something less true if a white person says it about black people?”
“We talk to each other differently than when we talk to [white people],” Mr. Bell responded.
Which goes on to illustrate yet another problem that comes with dealing with ingrained, institutionalized racism: a sometimes deliberate lack of understanding by white American liberals of how black Americans see the problems before them, how white conservatives and the unreconstructed see them and a failure to recognize context.
The First Lady's statements come from a place of genuine concern and understanding of the problems black Americans face in the inner city.
Paul Ryan's statements come from a place of malice towards and a vocal disdain of said black Americans, for the benefit of his unreconstructed supporters and constituents.
Listening to Ryan's aired commentary, I'm reminded of Oklahoma state representative Sally Kern's similar assessment of black Americans and other minorities, this time laced in that sugary, patronizing "bless your little heart" tones that struggle to pass for feigned concern. Wondering why Negros just can't seem to get themselves together remains quite the national pastime.
Meanwhile, Bell didn't get bamboozled so much that he was caught flatfooted behind what was essentially a betrayal by someone he thought was on the same page. He tried to brace himself for getting sucker-punched by someone looking to score points by unearthing a "black leftist racist" on his show, presumably for whatever shock value that'd get him...and he still "got slept."
He was so shocked that he couldn't articulate why it was disingenuous of Maher to treat those two statements from two ideologically different people of different backgrounds as one and the same, or better yet, as vindication for anyone looking to tar and feather black liberal thinkers and commentators as somehow more racist than their white counterparts. As I've found out myself, talking about racism among such people invites accusations that it's you who's the "real racist," as the best way to "end" racism is to stop talking about it, even if it involves conversation on how to resolve it.