Black Suffering and White Reassurance

bow down

As I mentioned in my previous article, Black people currently live in perilous times. Statistics detailing unemployment, education, mass imprisonment, police brutality, mental and physical health, and poverty all bear witness to this fact. As if these societal issues weren’t enough to contend with, some members of our own community take curious positions that enable our oppressors to continue their mischief in good conscience.

For example, I’ve heard the following comments from some Black folk concerning police brutality:

  • “Some Black police officers participate in police brutality and some whites are attacked by police, so police brutality is race-neutral (not based on race).”
  • “Some Black people are just as racist as some whites, so we need to stop being hypocritical.”
  • “Police are just doing their job. Most of the Black people that get harassed by police are committing crime, being rowdy, or dressing like thugs.”

I will not address these misleading claims, as I’ve already done so at length in several of the 200+ articles I’ve written on this blog. However, I am compelled to raise a few important points.

In the name of my ancestors who endured unimaginable and unjustified cruelty while laboring to build this country, I challenge white supremacy, it’s architects, promoters, beneficiaries, and those who collaborate with it. This latter group includes Black folk that are so obsessed with placating/reassuring whites, that they trivialize or dismiss white brutality and Black suffering.  It’s one thing to provide balanced and nuanced commentary. Ignoring centuries of history and contemporary occurrences is another thing altogether. Doing this to soothe and accommodate white guilt and denial is unacceptable, cowardly, and traitorous. Simply put, sparing your white spouse, co-worker, or friend’s feelings does not take precedence over the suffering of Black people for centuries. If you need to lie to keep someone’s friendship or soothe their feelings, that’s a “friendship” you don’t need! Stop buckdancing to win others’ approval. Tell the truth and shame the devil! Or as Mari Evans put it in her poem, “Speak Truth to the People,”

Speak the truth to the people
Talk sense to the people
Free them with honesty
Free the people with Love and Courage for their Being
Spare them the fantasy
Fantasy enslaves
A slave is enslaved
Can be enslaved by unwisdom….

In conclusion, we must understand that the objective of social justice demands truth and accountability. I’d like to leave you with an excerpt of James Baldwin’s penetrating essay, “White Man’s Guilt.” Perhaps it will demonstrate how no amount of defending, apologizing  or otherwise excusing white naivete or brutality will help white folk confront and resolve their fear, guilt or denial. These are things they must do for themselves:

“…I concluded long ago that they found the color of my skin inhibiting. This color seems to operate as a most disagreeable mirror, and a great deal of one’s energy is expended in reassuring white Americans that they do not see what they see.

This is utterly futile, of course, since they do see what they see. And what they see is an appallingly oppressive and bloody history known all over the world. What they see is a disastrous, continuing, present condition which menaces them, and for which they bear an inescapable responsibility. But since in the main they seem to lack the energy to change this condition they would rather not be reminded of it. Does this mean that in their conversation with one another, they merely make reassuring sounds? It scarcely seems possible, and yet, on the other hand, it seems all too likely. In any case, whatever they bring to one another, it is certainly not freedom from guilt. The guilt remains, more deeply rooted, more securely lodged, than the oldest of fears.

And to have to deal with such people can be unutterably exhausting for they, with a really dazzling ingenuity, a tireless agility, are perpetually defending themselves against charges which one, disagreeable mirror though one may be, has not really, for the moment, made. 0ne does not have to make them. The record is there for all to read. It resounds all over the world. It might as well be written in the sky. One wishes that – Americans–white Americans–would read, for their own sakes, this record and stop defending themselves against it. Only then will they be enabled to change their lives.

The fact that they have not yet been able to do this–to face their history to change their lives–hideously menaces this country. Indeed, it menaces the entire world.”


Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and protest. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” 

Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at

2 thoughts on “Black Suffering and White Reassurance

  1. Brilliant as always brother. It truly is a peculiar situation to find the victim seeking to not only forgive the perpetrator of offenses, but also going several steps further in seeking to comfort and defend them from well-earned criticism.

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