black lives matter protests

Carlo Allegri/Reuters

“We need to talk.”

Those four words send chills down the spine of everyone who ever hears them. The phrase is a universal red flag that signals when you are about to hear bad news. “We need to talk” is the preamble to your girlfriend revealing that she has fallen in love with her co-worker Dave from accounting who “listens to her” and buys her flowers for her 6-month anniversary. “We need to talk” is what doctors say before they swallow, sigh, and give you a cancer diagnosis. “We need to talk” is never a good thing.

The phrase, “America needs to have a conversation about race” should conjure up a similar set of heebie-jeebies.

Cable news anchors never dig up the phrase unless something terrible happens. When Barack Obama’s pastor was accused of preaching “Black Liberation” gospel, they said America was in need of an honest exchange about race, but on January 20, 2009, as Americans collectively patted ourselves on the back during the inauguration of the first Black president, no one cared about conversations. The media repeated the phrase every night during the Trayvon Martin trial, but after George Zimmerman walked free, no one bothered to set a date and time for the discussion.



On Thursday, in the heavy shadow of the lynchings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, combined with the attack that left five policemen dead in Dallas, President Obama will host a historic town hall meeting entitled, “The President & The People: Race in America.” Half the country is already rolling its eyes, saying this will only incite anger, while others applaud his efforts to bring about unity because we need to… you know.

But no one ever wants to have a “conversation about race” until Black blood spills. Until Black anger rises. Until Caucasians start getting jittery because they can feel the collective Black side-eye. The pleas for this mythical conversation are non-existent or muted until dark-skinned mothers are lowering caskets into the ground.

The truth is, WE don’t need to have a conversation about race—White America does.

It’s not as if Black people are taking advantage of their great schools, higher paying jobs and greater access to opportunity and wondering why Whites can’t catch up.

Black people are never not having a conversation about race. Go to a Black barber shop, beauty salon or church. The subject of race relations in America always comes up. Every Black person in America has a well-formulated, personal opinion and solution to the race problem. There are Black organizations, events and groups in cities around the country trumpeting the conundrum of America’s racial divide. Black America has been having a conversation about race since 1555.

The problem is—the other side is not listening.

When President Obama spoke at the funeral for the victims of the shootings in Dallas, he wondered, “If the divides of race in America can ever be bridged. We wonder if an African American community that feels unfairly targeted by police and police departments that feel unfairly maligned for doing their jobs, can ever understand each other’s experience.”

As if we haven’t tried.

Perhaps there is no greater indicator of this country’s unwillingness to have this conversation than the Black Lives Matter Movement. There is a pervasive belief among some groups that “Black Lives Matter” is some combination of the KKK and ISIS. They refer to them as a “terrorist group” or the “tan Klan.”

This is a great example of why so many believe there is a need for the phrase #BlackLivesMatter in the first place. It is not just to remind them; it also serves to reminds us. Black America is like Dave’s new girlfriend—we understand the frustrations when no one listens. Instead, they plug their ears and paint the movement and the phrase as “anti cop.” When asked if they can point to a violent act by a member of the Black Lives Matter movement, there is an eerie quiet. Even blaming the attack on Dallas police officers on Black Lives Matter is like accusing Club Pulse of facilitating the Orlando nightclub attack because that is where the victims were located. The vilification of Black Lives Matter is simply a means to avoid the conversation about the deaths of Black men and women. Convincing a sliver of the population (pronounced “wyt pee-pull) that words of affirmation about the importance of Black lives is a heinous anti-cop sentiment might be the greatest conversational dodge of all time. It is a stall tactic. It is a boondoggle

They don’t want to have a discussion about race; they just want Black people to shut up and sit down. If they didn’t mean it that way, they’d ask to join the conversation already in progress.

The next time you hear, “We need to have a conversation about race”—you should gird your loins for what follows. It is just like “we need to talk”—a preface to deliver some bad news, or an anesthetic for Black America to make them hope for an actual dialogue before they lull us to sleep while we’re waiting for the inevitable “not guilty” verdict.

They don’t want to talk about race. Aside from the constant discourse between Black people and other Black people, there will never be a conversation about race. If America hasn’t opened an honest, two-way dialogue about race in the 241 years of her existence, she’s probably not going to do it tomorrow either.

Plus, we’re tired of talking, anyway.


Michael Harriot has contributed to Deadspin, VerySmartBrothas, theRoot as well as his own daily blog NegusWhoRead. He also hosts The Black One podcast and tweets at @michaelharriot



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