Wendi C. Thomas, a black journalist that has written for such media outlets as the Charlotte Observer, the Indianapolis Star and the Nashville Tennessean, was recently asked by what she called a "white man in Memphis" if blacks would riot if Barack Obama should lose the upcoming general election. The question made her angry, and I can't blame her for that anger. But, after a brief flash of sanity, Thomas turned the tables and went on to decide that it will be whites, rather, that will riot if Obama wins, not blacks if he loses.
At first Thomas had the absolute right answer for that "white man from Memphis." She wrote at TheRoot.com that ascribing to "blacks" the actions of rioting from some blacks is not a logical exercise. Even if some blacks rioted after an Obama loss, it is illegitimate to decide that all 40 million blacks in America would agree with that lawlessness. Who could disagree with this sensible comment?
Riot because we didn't get our way? Please. Black people have more than their share of experience with disappointment and dashed dreams. (See: King, Martin Luther; Evers, Medgar; Chaney, James.) Matter of fact, I'd go so far as to say we're experts in making the best out of a losing hand.
The reply to the curious white gentleman: "No! There is no reason to believe black people will riot if Obama does not win."
This is a great response to an absurd question. In fact, when viewing all the riots that have happened throughout America's history, blacks have proven to have no more penchant to rioting than any other ethnic group. Whites rioted in New York during the Civil War to avoid the draft during which several blacks were murdered. Irish immigrants have rioted at points in American history. German immigrants have, as well. Catholics have been the victims of riotous attack, government the target, and blacks have been a target, too. There have been draft riots, labor riots, anarchist riots, race riots and anti-war riots. And let us not forget the riots perpetrated in the 60s by the odious "counter-culture," filled with mostly well-to-do white kids, on college campuses across the country. To be sure, blacks have been the criminals in riots that have erupted after sports victories in such cities as Chicago and Detroit and these may be most fresh in people's minds -- especially for the senselessness of it all -- but it just cannot be said that blacks are more apt to riot than anyone else for any reason. History is clear; nearly every race, color and creed has rioted at one time or another in this country. We have had equal opportunity rioting, for sure.
But then Wendi C. Thomas allows her inner racist to show its ugly head. After saying that blacks should not be feared she uses against whites the same illogic that her "white man from Memphis" used to posit that blacks could riot.
But soon after getting this man's e-mail, I started to wonder if he was on to something, if he had noticed what I had: a seething, barely constrained, ugly anger and frustration that makes good riot fuel. The kind of anger that prompts people to shout "Kill him!" and "Off with his head!" at rallies. The kind of hatefulness that would prompt a man to bring a stuffed monkey with an "Obama" sticker on the toy's head to a campaign event.
That kind of group-fueled nastiness must surely beg the question: Will white people riot if Obama wins?
First of all, Thomas obviously doesn't keep up with the news. The claim that someone said "kill him" at a McCain rally has been debunked by the Secret Service, no less.
Secondly, if she so easily imagines that whites will riot in the event of an Obama win, why is it so hard to say that same for blacks if he loses? Who can doubt that there is just as much hatred for whites in the black community (Farrakhan, Sharpton, Jackson, Malcolm X, Huey Newton) as she intimates that there is for blacks in the white community?
And there is at least one example that one might use to wonder about the possibility of blacks rioting. It's certainly sensible to use the OJ trial as a perfect basis upon which to wonder if blacks might riot after an Obama loss, for instance. After all, the prevailing opinion about OJ among blacks in the US was that he was "innocent" merely because they were tired of "their kind" being targeted by the police, not because OJ was actually innocent. The fact that so many black Americans were willing to absolve OJ of murder because they felt they were being kept down as a group was astounding for its "seething, barely constrained, ugly anger and frustration," wasn't it?
But, riot over OJ? It didn't happen any more than anyone should truly believe it will happen over Barack.
Unfortunately, Thomas seems to worry using the same outlandish, fear-based assumptions aimed at whites that she decries when aimed at blacks.
If the polls are accurate—and Obama wins—will these few angry white people make good on their oral declarations? And will those who stood by them silent, join them? With dreams deferred, can angry whites do what Langston Hughes taught us—to let it fester like a sore, even to let sag like a heavy load? Or will the dream of a perfect streak of white men in the White House, if deferred, cause white people to explode?
Might they torch stores and overturn cars? Or worse, will angry whites take out their disgust on black people by, say, denying loans, or jobs or housing? Burned-out stores and cars, that's unsettling. But the damage angry whites could inflict if they really go off—that's scary.
OK, let's play. I gave two examples of blacks "seething anger." OJ was one and the illegitimate rioting after sports events was a second. What historical evidence can Thomas show for white conservatives to have rioted or came near to such in the recent past?
In truth, there isn't any.
Thomas offers not one single compelling reason to wonder as she does, "Will angry white people riot if Barack Obama wins the election?"
The plain fact of the matter is that there should be no more fear of blacks as a group rioting if Obama loses as there is to worry that whites will riot if he wins. The lawless actions of individual idiots from either ethnic group aside, there is no social unrest at such fever pitch as to imagine there will be wide spread riots in either case.
Further, Wendi C. Thomas is herself wallowing in the same sort of racist thinking as she scolded that "white man from Memphis" for indulging in.
(Photo of Wendi C. Thomas from the Memphis Commercial Appeal)