All I Have To Do Is Stay Black And Die (or…The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intent)

So…over the Facebook wires yesterday came this…..

The UU Congregation of Atlanta is moving. And in their information gathering, a survey was created. This was the first question. What was your first thought when you saw that question just now?  Mine was, “Did somebody not proofread this?”

In the discussion of this survey question yesterday on social media, those of us who said that the question was problematic were told that we didn’t understand the context of the question; what this question was intended to gauge reactions to possible gentrification. And, because a person of color was involved in writing the survey, we should assume the good intentions of all involved.

ok my white liberal friends, here’s something you need to know; there are only two things  in life I have to do…..stay black and die.

Why are people of color always asked to assume the good intentions of white people (or their agents, whether they are white or a person of color)? Asking people of color to assume good intention from white people is asking them to ignore the whole of American history. And it is asking people of color to do something that, let’s be honest, most whites don’t do; assume the good intent of people of color regarding anything.

W.E.B. DuBois said in ‘The Souls of Black Folk’:
Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half- hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.

No matter the intent of the writer of the question, let’s be clear what this question assumed. This question assumed that people of color (and the neighborhoods they live in) are problems. No amount of assuming good intent will change the definition of the word “undesireable”. No amount of assuming good intent will change the fact that Atlanta has the history that it has.

The road to hell truly is paved with good intentions. Assuming the good intentions of white people has done nothing but get people of color killed.

So please…stop telling people of color to assume good intent.

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3 thoughts on “All I Have To Do Is Stay Black And Die (or…The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intent)

  1. I’ve been reading your blog for a while and admiring you in a lurker way, so it is a little embarrassing to introduce myself this way: I am the president of the congregation that did this survey.

    Assume good intentions is baked into our congregational culture–it is literally in our covenant of healthy relations. This year we are planning to look at our covenant and related policies with an anti-racist lens. (This is important work that has now become urgent.) We’ve come to understand that our current policies and practices unfairly distribute emotional work to marginalized people and we want to rework it so that our ways of caring for one another are more equitable.

    I want to thank you for highlighting the danger of “assume good intentions”. While I am grateful that our senior minister’s response to this situation did not invoke the phrase, I suspect that our analysis of what has happened will find that it plays a role in how the survey was implemented and executed. We assumed that people would read it with our intentions in mind instead of the meaning of the words on the screen. I believe that a good deal of the work we will do to revise our covenant will be an examination of the role good intentions should play in healthy relations.

  2. There is a tad too much othering and shoulding for everybody–II suggest white folk read the memoir of Clarence Thomas–he no cotton up to privileged whites thinking they can help black folk–its just like the standing on the side of love campaignin reaction to the shoot out at the Knoxville church shooting back in 2008

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