Satire is not always funny. Satire can include irony or exaggeration.
Chanelle Helm’s piece, “White People…,” was her satirical list of ways white people can help end racism.
Does she expect people will actually send her money? Or include her in their will? Of course not. Her message was not an appeal for charity. Her message wasn’t literal… it was satirical.
Within that satirical message — as with all good satire — was a core of truth. Helm’s comments weren’t about racism in the white nationalist, KKK, violence-against-blacks sense. Her message was one about economics. It was a message about institutional, generational economic racism that plagues America.
Was her piece inflammatory? It depends on how you read it. I wasn’t offended because I understood her intent.
She’s making her point from the perspective of a black woman, and a leader of a social justice organization focused on equality and equal access to opportunity. In her own way, she’s fighting the same fight as the heroes of the civil rights movement — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., U.S. Rep. John Lewis, James Baldwin and so many more — all of whom pushed for economic equality.
Understand — if you are a white person who didn’t get her message, it doesn’t mean you are bad or a racist. It doesn’t mean you are ignorant. All it means is that you haven’t had the experience to realize what Helm was talking about: generational poverty in the black community.
(Now, of course, we should not ignore the racist responses and death threats Helm has received. To those ends, she’s right… get those people fired. They don’t deserve the anonymity of the internet.)
Generational poverty certainly is not exclusively a black problem. But what social justice warriors — including Helm — are saying is that it’s the same systemic problem that has been around since Emancipation. To quote James Carville, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
The civil rights movement didn’t bring racial equality. Actual equality was not born out of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, or even the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Nor was it realized in the aftermath of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision or the National Guard forcibly integrating an Alabama school.
The path to racial equality is in ending the institutionalized, generational cycle of poverty in black America. It is a cycle created alongside the United States itself.
At every turn, white America may have worked to end inequality, but we wanted it on the cheap — without self-sacrifice. Since slaves were emancipated and then the civil rights movement, America has expected black Americans to just pick themselves up. After all, you’re free — you can vote…
It doesn’t work that way.
If we’re 10 miles into our white American journey, black Americans are only 1.5 miles in. While America has driven the capitalist car for 240 years, black Americans just got their car started in the last 50 or so. And America expects them to accept that they are equal? After all, we gave them equal rights.
Catch up. Be self-sufficient. Work harder. Oh, but we’re going to buy the valuable land, build the nice schools and support the businesses here. We’re also creating a tax code that favors the rich.
This is the message that Helm is sending: Without the land and the wealth created from 240 years of hard work and spoils, black Americans don’t have the same access to opportunity that I and other white Americans have had.
Was she attacking me personally? No. Maybe. Possibly… But it doesn’t matter because her real message is correct.
As a white American, it’s understandable to be defensive. It’s understandable to feel like she’s blaming you. It might feel reverse-racist, inflammatory and even self-defeating. It might feel unsympathetic to the hard work and sacrifices you’ve made for yourself and your family. But that’s not what she’s saying.
Helm is not saying you don’t deserve your wealth. She is saying that if you’re serious about ending racism, start with the racists, but understand that it ain’t happening until there is economic equality — an end to generational poverty in black America.