Shaun King And Why We’re So Quick To Believe White Folks
As I write this, activist Shaun King’s name is trending on Twitter…nationwide. If you are unfamiliar, with all the incidents of police brutality plaguing our nation, King has been a voice within the Black Lives Matter movement. And he doesn’t just have swift Twitter fingers, he’s about that work in real life as well.
King was also set to launch a new organization called the Justice Coalition, which seeks to end police brutality in this country by forming policy teams and launching an additional website to tell the true stories of how police brutality effects its victims.
But he’s not trending because of these new initiatives. He’s trending because people want to know if he’s really Black like he claims to be. They want to know if he’s “the next Rachel Dolezal.” And we all know how she dominated the news cycle for a good two weeks.
Breitbart, a right-winged, conservative news aggregation site named after its founder, Andrew Breitbart, alleged that King, who has said he has a White mother and a Black father, not only lied about being bi-racial. They claim he lied about his ethnicity to get a scholarship to Morehouse from Oprah Winfrey. They also claim he lied about being in a car accident and being attacked by racists during his high school years in rural Kentucky.
Breitbart claims to have obtained a copy of his birth certificate that seems to list a White man as his father.
The story blew up from there. You know folks love to have the tea. And in their quest to join the hashtag or unearth a scandal, many never even took the time to consider the source.
As a journalism major we were taught to question everything. When I was interning for a copywriter at MSNBC, she told me, “If your mother tells you she loves you, get a second opinion.” That’s the mindset we were trained to adopt when attempting to process new information.
Today, when I heard that it was Breitbart that was trying to call Shaun King a liar, I immediately doubted the notion. Not so much because I question everything I hear and read. Admittedly, I’ve become more and more lax on that front, but because I know the recent history of the publication.
For those who were paying attention to the news during the summer of 2010, you may remember Breitbart was the same publication that infamously cost Shirley Sherrod her job with Department of Agriculture.
Breitbart obtained excerpts from a speech Sherrod gave at the at an NAACP event. The site chopped and screwed the video and painted Sherrod as a racist. When in actuality, her speech warned people not to let their personal prejudices stand in the way of helping someone and developing quality friendships.
But everyone trusted Breitbart. Instead of watching the whole video for themselves, the story spread like wildfire. FoxNews led the way and then a New York CBS affiliate picked it up and then the Atlanta Journal Constitution. By that afternoon, Sherrod received numerous emails from government officials asking her to submit her resignation. The NAACP stepped forward saying they condemned her remarks. And her superiors told her The White House requested that she resign immediately.
And it was all a lie, for nothing. A conservative, White publication said something was true, put up a few video clips and a Black woman, who wasn’t even given the opportunity to tell her side of the story, lost her job because of it.
In all honesty, the Shaun King receipts seem plausible, just like the Sherrod receipts did five years ago. A White man on your birth certificate is pretty convincing.
But Breitbart is something like a MediaTakeout for conservative White folks. The story looks good on the surface, but when you do your own investigation, it’s bullshit. And for whatever reason, their rumors don’t just stir up drama and kick up mess, they cause emotional and psychological damage. Sherrod lost her job and was publicly shamed by her people and the government. At the end of the day everybody looked like fools, had to issue apologies, including The White House, and Breitbart, the site and the man, likely reveled in the exposure and visits to their website.
Judging by the way the story about Shaun King took off, their credibility didn’t even suffer.
And that is the very problem King is fighting against. We talk about Black Lives mattering and having value. But when it’s our word against a White man’s we discover we’re still less credible, inferior. It’s devastating when people, particularly Black people, are so ready and willing to believe something just because a White man said it.
I know I’ve referenced this before, but the same thing happened when Barack Obama was running for President. Black folks wanted to vote for him but didn’t think he stood a chance of winning. But when he took Iowa, when they saw that White folks were cosigning him, then all of a sudden we felt comfortable to support our own.
Y’all, we don’t need the White man’s cosign anymore.
And we need to question the coverage of Black people on all media platforms, particularly when the only time Black people are mentioned is when someone is attempting to discredit us.
By now you might be wondering did Shaun address his racial makeup. He did, via his Twitter page.
Later, another Twitter user posted this picture as a response.
If you can’t tell that that’s a Black man, then I’m going to need you to just click out and have a nice day.
It was a friend of King’s who offered a bit more explanation about his background on Facebook. You can read the whole thing here; and you should, but this part seems to be of particular importance.
And to question his race? Since the third grade, Shaun has had to deal with whispers as to his racial make-up. Whispers that no adult helped him deal with or process. Yes, that includes his mother.
Shaun got called “Nigger” just as much, if not more, than myself or any of my black friends and family while growing up in Versailles. Do you think an 8 year old would volunteer for that type of treatment? A funny colored, wavy haired child just trying to navigate life? To have anything from racial slurs to cups full of dip-spit (chewing tobacco) hurled at you from confederate flag covered pick-up trucks? And then 20 years later have some right wing assholes question whether it ever happened and go as far as to call you a fraud and try to de-bunk years of social justice work that you’ve put under your belt?
We grew up in a town where white mothers were constantly dis-owned by their families for having relationships and making children with black fathers. Where even into the 2000’s, the racial identities of mix-raced children were a taboo topic. Shaun was a direct victim of that. 20 years later, much progress has been made in my town of Versailles, but we are proving we have much further to go if people from my home town don’t speak the fuck up.
Honestly, at first I was wondering why he didn’t just explain explicitly. But this made it clear for me. He doesn’t owe us his story. He’s not another Rachel Dolezal trying to get shine by identifying with an oppression she willingly adopted. He’s about this life.
And it’s a shame that instead of riding for Shaun like he’s been riding for us, we were quick to start making memes, questioning his work and retweeting a story that was meant to undermine and distract from the very issues that are killing us.
I don’t believe in supporting unscrupulous people simply because they’re Black, but when White folks start going hard against Black revolutionaries, we should question the source, the motives and make sure the receipts check out.