Whites Get a Pass on Race Issues

By Derrick Z. Jackson

We will know the white media are crossing the great racial divide when they subject white leaders and white readers to the same scrutiny that they do African Americans. In one poll last month, Time magazine asked:

“If Powell were elected president, would it help or hurt race relations?”

“If Powell were elected president, would he pay too much attention to the needs and problems of blacks?”

“If Powell were elected president, would he pay too much attention to the needs and problems of whites?”

After the Million Man March, Time pollsters asked African Americans if Louis Farrakhan is:

“A bigot and a racist?” “Speaks the truth?”

“A good role model for black youth?”

U.S. News & World Report asked last month in a headline: “The right man for the Job? Louis Farrakhan asks black men to take responsibility for their actions.” Newsweek asked if the march was “a step toward black self-help — or a step back to a more divided America?” Newsweek capped its Million Man coverage with the headline: “Can Powell reach them?”

This Farrakhanization of the race question is obscene, given that no parallel debate exists in the white community. African-Americans are badgered to fess up as to whether they view Farrakhan favorably. Powell, who has decided not to run for president, is white America’s black role model.

White Americans are never asked whether white leaders can “reach” white people about white racism. Even the most disgusting of white political figures do not provoke the childish inquiries that surround Powell and Farrakhan.

In 1991, the Gallup Poll did three polls on ex-Ku Klux Klansman David Duke during his failed run for governor of Louisiana. The questions were the usual ones to measure his favorability ratings. Though much of Duke’s anti-welfare, anti-affirmative action, antigovernment agenda is now the rage in Washington, no pollster asked: “Is David Duke a good role model for white youth?”

Even though most of the Republican presidential candidates say they will eliminate affirmative action, no pollster is running around asking white Americans, “If Phil Gramm were elected president, would that hurt or help race relations?” Even though Congress has cut a vast array of social programs that will disproportionately drive African-American and Latino children further into poverty, no one asks, “Does Newt Gingrich pay too much attention to the needs and problems of whites?”

White journalists have grown plump over asking whether Farrakhan is for self-help or separatism. But you never saw any poll asking whether George Bush was a bigot and a racist for running the Willie Horton ad.

What the media have done is exempt white people from central responsibility for building the bridges that will cross the divide.

The media paint Farrakhan as the ultimate bigot. They darkened O.J. Simpson’s face. They blamed Johnnie Cochran for playing the race card. Then, in classic plantation mentality, they begged Powell to bring his mops and pail to clean up massa’s mess.

The great racial divide will be with us until white journalist and pollsters stop widening the canyon with questions and reports that only a separatist could love.