Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, June 12, 2021.
I’m not here either to support or oppose renaming Lee Highway or deferring the question till next month. Rather I’m concerned about the use of symbolism to distract people of color from the real issues confronting them, namely lack of employment and educational opportunity, and social and environmental injustice.
I’m not the only one. In a Fox News interview on 6/24/2020, Robert Louis Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, rejected symbolic justice. He said:
“It’s not going to close the wealth gap. It’s not going to give a kid money to go to college . . . It’s not going to close the labor gap between what white workers are paid and what black workers are paid. It’s not going to take people off welfare or food stamps.
“[These people] have the mistaken assumption that Black people are sitting around cheering for them saying: ‘Oh my God. Look at these white people. They’re doing something important. They’re taking down a statue of a Civil War general who fought for the South.’ In my opinion Black people laugh at white people who do this the same way we laugh at white people who say we have to take the Dukes of Hazzards off TV.
“To me it falls into an attempt by white Americans to assuage guilt by doing things that make them feel good. But you ask those same white people just write a $350,000 check for Black people for the next 30 years. [Then] it goes into are you sure that they’re going to use the money wisely?
“When I see all of this [talk] about changing names, toppling statues, firing professors because they said ‘All Lives Matter,’ it just shows to me that white America is continually incapable of recognizing that Black people have their own ideas and thoughts about what’s in their best interest.
“If you want to decide on statues and treat Black people right, why don’t you get a group of Black people together and say before we go knock down a statue, what do you guys think? Give us the belief that you respect our opinion. . . Ask us if we want you to do that to make us feel better. Or ask everybody write a check for $11,000 starting tomorrow every year for the next 30 years. That’s what would make us feel better.
“That’s what’s missing. To me what white people are doing with the idea that they’re making us feel good is tantamount to arranging the deck chairs on a racial Titanic. It absolutely means nothing.”