Rutgers Professor: White People Are “The Face Of The Oppressor”

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After making headlines earlier in the year for her rant about “A**hole God” and “White Supremacist Jesus”, Rutgers Professor Brittney Cooper is back at it again, with another op-ed on Salon. This time, she rants about the Sandra Bland tragedy, and how all white people are the “face of the oppressor”.

White power. Black submission. It’s the oldest trick in the white supremacist handbook. The officer might think he wanted Sandra Bland’s respect. But what he really wanted was her fear. And the fact is: He is entitled to neither. She did not owe him either her respect or her fear. When his white maleness and his badge didn’t elicit the first, he used the power of that badge to compel the second.

There is a way that white people in particular treat Black people, as though we should be grateful to them — grateful for jobs in their institutions, grateful to live in their neighborhoods, grateful that they aren’t as racist as their parents and grandparents, grateful that they pay us any attention, grateful that they acknowledge our humanity (on the rare occasions when they do), grateful that they don’t use their formidable power to take our lives.

When we refuse gratitude, they enact every violence — they take our jobs, our homes, refuse us respect, and kill us. And then they demand that we be gracious in the face of it.

Black gratitude is the prerequisite for white folks to treat us like human beings. But in my faith tradition, we define grace as “unmerited favor,” as undeserved, unearned. And it is God’s grace toward us that compels our gratitude toward God. Not so in a culture of white Supremacy. In a culture of White Supremacy, White people get to be God without grace. Black people must give all the grace and act grateful for opportunities to do so. If we stumble on the wrong day with the wrong white person, we pay for it with our lives.

White people resist seeing themselves in the face of the oppressor. That mirror reflection is almost too much to bear. I get it. So then they resent the person that holds up the mirror. But let me just say as directly as I can: White people must begin to see themselves in the faces of the mostly white police officers who keep committing these atrocities against Black and Brown people. This will not stop until you recognize that you are them. These officers are your brothers and sisters and aunts and cousins, and sons and daughters and nieces and nephews, and friends, and church members. You are them. And they are you.

It’s a hard truth. It’s a truth that will infuriate each and every white person that floats through life on the cloud of individuality, fooling themselves into thinking that the assumptions, presumptions and privileges of growing up white in a white supremacist society somehow missed them, while touching an alarmingly large number of people who look just like them.

Dr. Cooper has a Ph.D. in American Studies from Emory University and is an assistant professor of “Women And Gender Studies” and “Africana Studies” at Rutgers University.

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