In my generally happy marriage, there is one thing my musician husband does that drives me insane. Whenever I discover a new song or band I love and share it with him, he shrugs his shoulders, nods his head and tells me "it's OK." Then, a couple days later, one of his bandmates will tell him about the same song or band and he will go bonkers over it. "Have you heard this?" he'll say to me. "It's so good!" to which I just clench my teeth and shoot daggers at him with my eyes.
I had a similar, albeit much more augmented, reaction to Donald Trump during the Republican debate a couple of weeks ago. A lot of people on that stage made a lot of ridiculous comments, but when Donald Trump said, "If it weren't for me, you wouldn't even be talking about illegal immigration," I wished I had literal eye daggers that could somehow enter the TV, travel through the cable signal and knock that stupid smirk off his face. (And for the record, no, I wasn't bleeding from my wherever.)
His statement is completely unfounded, of course. PolitiFact.com did an analysis of immigration media coverage, and the issue came up just as much before Trump's bigoted "rapist" comments as it did after. Still, Trump is under the delusion that he is responsible for shaping the immigration debate. Nevermind the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country, or the hundreds of immigrant rights organizations, like Charlotte's Latin American Coalition, who have been screaming at the top of their lungs about the need for reform, or the thousands of dreamers who have marched and participated in acts of civil disobedience to bring awareness to this issue. Those brave, bold actions, mostly undertaken by persons of color, are irrelevant — even if they were directly responsible for recent executive actions by President Obama on immigration. After all, did you hear there's a rich white dude saying crazy shit about Mexicans?
I wish I could chalk this up to Trump's extraordinarily inflated sense of self, but it's a phenomenon that plagues more than just pompous, orange-hued men with terrible hair. The idea that an issue isn't really important unless a white person is talking about it spreads across party lines and personality types.
The backlash from Bernie Sanders' supporters over two African American women interrupting his speech in Seattle last week is an acute example of this. These are some of the most liberal, progressive people in our country, yet they were heckling two members of the #blacklivesmatter movement for speaking candidly and emotionally, from personal experience, about racism in our society.
"Bernie is on their side," Sanders' supporters say about #blacklivesmatter. "He understands their struggle and they are attacking and alienating him with these interruptions."
So, let's get this straight; Bernie Sanders can talk about institutionalized racism and the school to prison pipeline and police brutality and his supporters will cheer and chant and get pumped up about the brighter future he wants to create for America. Black women representing #blacklivesmatter can address the same crowd with personal testimonials of institutionalized racism and the school to prison pipeline and police brutality and get heckled. That's some major dissonance right there.
In one of my favorite recent Daily Show pieces, Jessica Williams, a black female correspondent, hires a "helper whitey" to help her navigate the world after realizing that everything she says is either ignored or misinterpreted by white people. Her white friend essentially serves as a translator for her, repeating her words, verbatim, while being white. Everything Jessica says is ignored and the white guy's words, which are actually Jessica's words, are heeded. It's a hilarious bit, but also incredibly sad because it's true.
Yes, you can make the argument the #blacklivesmatter activists were heckled not because they are black, but because they hijacked the mic from Sanders. But wouldn't you have done the same if it was the only way to get folks to actually listen to the words coming out of your mouth?
Imagine for a second that we actually listened to the stories, experiences and concerns of people of color without requiring them to take extraordinary measures. How many solutions might we have found? How many lives might have been saved?
Just like the quality of music on my husband's iTunes would be exponentially improved if he actually took my suggestions seriously, our country would thrive if we stopped this practice of selective hearing.