Is "Dear White People" really the best way to have a discussion on race?

Let’s start with a bit of honesty here. I had originally considered titling this piece, “Dear Black People: Be less like Shaun King.” What business does a white guy have beginning an article by saying, “Dear black people” and offering any advice? (Okay… just for full disclosure, let’s just say a majority, kinda sorta white person who at least has always identified as a white person. And if you’re an outraged liberal right now I defy you to tell me I can’t identify as a white person.) The answer is in a frustrating article from social media critic and race expert Shaun King titled, Dear White People: Be More Like Gregg Popovich.

Shaun’s piece isn’t particularly remarkable beyond the title, to be honest. It’s yet another diatribe dealing with the ongoing battle over National Anthem protests in the NFL. And frankly, I’ve written about it enough here that even I’m sick of it. But Shaun, in his usual way, has to veer away from the fundamental issues of appropriate venues for protest and the rules of the NFL and break it down into his standard format. That amounts to the verbal equivalent of a race war. And for his new champion he singles out the very white (and presumably very privileged) Gregg Popovich, head coach of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. Popovich recently issued some scathing remarks about President Trump, as if his objection to players kneeling during the National Anthem were somehow the center of this entire controversy.

This, in King’s book, makes the basketball coach a hero.

Popovich’s statement was remarkable even outside the context of the sports world. Few public figures in American life have called out Trump and those who enable him with the same ferocity.

It seems like Popovich feels he has to say these things — not just because those around Trump won’t, but because he sees African-Americans ranging from Colin Kaepernick to ESPN’s Jemele Hill paying an enormous price in their careers because of Trump and his ilk. Popovich is fully aware that to be black and call out Trump comes with a cost — a cost that being white and calling out Trump does not incur. Trump has still refused to acknowledge or mention either Popovich or the white rapper Eminem — both of whom recently lambasted the president in harsh terms.

Popovich is not wasting his white privilege, but is using it for good — and not just by critiquing Trump, but by promoting essential conversations on race.

There’s something “remarkable” going on here, but it’s not the fact that Popovich decided to take time out of his non-coaching schedule to offer an opinion. It’s the fact that Shaun King feels somehow entitled to lecture the rest of the white people in the country as to how they should react. You’ll note that the coach wasn’t lecturing just people of his own race. He was offering an opinion on a topic of valid, current interest. It was Shaun King who decided that everyone else needed a lecture as to their shortcomings and how we should all be more like Gregg.

Are you starting to see why my publishing an article employing the phrase, “Dear black people” is so ridiculous? It’s because Shaun King, who is at least ostensibly black himself, is equally as foolhardy to do the same in the opposite direction. Do you really think you’re winning the battle of hearts and minds with that sort of flamethrower style prose? Or are you just trying to generate more clicks?

If you really want to heal some of the remaining racial scars in this nation, a good way would be to stop making everything about race. If you want to deal with issues of police interactions with the public, take them on a case by case basis. Weed out the bad apples and be willing to admit when suspects offered law enforcement no other option than to go to extreme measures. And when recruiting people to your cause, start from an acknowledgement that we’re dealing with the fringe of bad behavior in our society and the vast majority of people just want things to be better and for everyone to succeed based on the merits of their efforts, the content of their character and the opportunities of an even playing field. (And there’s no better example of such a literal “playing field” than the NFL, where race is a total non-factor in success.)

Once we stop drawing battle lines based on skin color we can do a much better job of working together to ensure the system operates fairly for everyone. The world is so much more different today than when I was a kid that it’s almost indescribable. I realize I’m looked at as an old, white, conservative Republican, right? But my neighborhood is a rainbow of diversity along racial, religious and sexual orientation lines. Nobody cares. And much of the nation looks like that.

But as long as we have people in the press preaching a message of division, claiming that everything is awful and one “side” has to massively change before anything will improve, all we’re going to generate is more tension. So if we want to treat Shaun King as black and me as white, then any time he comes forward to tell me, “Dear White Person,” I’m going to close my ears. But if he starts saying, “Hey, fellow human. Let’s find some solutions,” then I’ll be more than willing to listen.