What If We Told White People the Truth?

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been thinking about that time eight years ago when Eric Holder said that, when it comes to discussions about race, we are still a nation of cowards.

He went on to say:

If we are to make progress in this area, we must feel comfortable enough with one another and tolerant enough of each other to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.

Holder gave that speech less than a month after Barack Obama was sworn in as our 44th president, while he was still in the honeymoon phase of popular support. Perhaps that would have been a good time to have such a conversation. But other than the horror expressed at Holder’s suggestion that we were a nation of cowards, nothing much came of it.

Since Trump was sworn in, we’ve been forced to talk about racism quite often because so much of it is emanating from the White House. These last few days haven’t been the exception, but the rule for how things have been going these last nine months.

However, given that the president directed his racism at people involved in professional sports this time, it has opened the door to hear from some people on the topic that we might not have listened to in the past. One of those yesterday was San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. Apparently, if you follow professional basketball , it might not have come as a surprise that “Pop” could speak on this issue so knowledgeably and forcefully.

At about the 2:00 minute mark in that video, Popovich suggests that talking about racism will make white people uncomfortable, but that has to happen in order for things to change. He goes on to say that white people have no clue what being born white means—it’s like starting at the 50 meter mark in a 100 meter dash. Obviously, that kind of talk made some people uncomfortable.

I wish there were a forum where Popovich could have responded to that. It might have sounded something like this:

Immediately after the election we heard a lot about how Democrats need to show empathy for Trump’s white supporters. I both understand and agree with that advice. But many of the people who made that suggestion would say that all Popovich and Bill from the “Hey White Guys” video just did was make them uncomfortable. Bingo! There is no getting around that. To do otherwise is to enable and infantilize them. If we’re ever going to get over being a nation of cowards, it’s time to grow up and speak the truth.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.