In a profile piece in the most recent issue of The New Yorker, Kobe Bryant revealed his thoughts on a photo tweeted by Miami Heat’s LeBron James in 2012 of the team wearing their hoodies up to show support and demand justice for Trayvon Martin:
“I won’t react to something just because I’m supposed to, because I’m an African-American,” he said. “…we want to advance as a society and a culture, but, say, if something happens to an African-American we immediately come to his defense? …. don’t jump to somebody’s defense just because they’re African-American.”
Given what we know about the case, about Zimmerman’s racist beliefs and intentions, and about the equally racist defense attorney and jury that let him walk, Bryant's comments strike a nerve in the collective consciousness of the thousands of people across the country (and the world) who took to the streets to demand justice for Trayvon Martin.
Bryant’s ignorance and callousness, however, is more than just enraging; it illustrates the extent to which many affluent people of color (and those who aspire to be) have bought into the color-blind delusion. (There are, of course, exceptions. Dave Chappelle and Kanye West are among the most outspoken Black celebrities who regularly call out racism and then end up getting labeled crazy, unstable, or delusional for it.)
Color-blindness – the belief that because racial discrimination is no longer legal we have achieved racial equality, making racism a thing of the past – is incredibly dangerous. Instead of identifying the system (capitalism) and institutions responsible for upholding and perpetuating racism, color-blindness leads to the advocation of a politics of “personal responsibility”, which blames victims of racial terrorism, like Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, for their own murders.
This delusion that we live in a color-blind world is a consequence of the internalized white-supremacy many people of color develop either out of necessity for survival in a white-supremacist, capitalist world, or out of class privilege as Kobe Bryant's case.
While he's certainly not exempt from facing racism, Kobe’s wealth and power afford him the privilege of not having to endure the type of racism and oppression that non-wealthy people of color face everyday. That might explain why, even though Bryant spent 10 years of his childhood living in Italy, which has its own brand of racism (see the recent racist attacks on Cécile Kyenge, Italy’s first Black minister and Kevin-Prince Boateng, former midfielder for AC Milan), he still has such a warped understanding of the American brand of racism. Ours is far more insidious and sophisticated, employing powerful tools like the color-blind delusion and politics of personal responsibility.
Likewise, the fact that the largely white ruling class is more than happy to overlook someone’s race/skin color if it suits their needs makes it easier for them to maintain the status quo.
But hey, Kobe, if you're still confused about why LeBron James and the Miami Heat (and thousands of other individuals) did what they did, Jamilah King of Colorlines puts it this way:
“People didn’t stand up for Trayvon Martin just because he was a black boy, they did it because his death so sharply illustrated the dangers of being a black boy in America.”
Get it now?
Crystal Stella Becerril is a Chicago-based activist, writer, and journalist. She is currently a contributing writer for Socialist Worker Newspaper, Harold Washington College's The Herald, and Red Wedge Magazine where she was also a former editor. She is an undergrad philosophy student at Harold Washington College where her focus is on socialist/Marxist theory and intersectional feminism. Her written work focuses on covering political events and providing context and analysis, developing sociological and materialist perspectives on pop culture, and chronicling her experiences as a Xicana feminist.
Image via blacknews.com