“Cosby was a black person’s problem,” the comedian W. Kamau Bell said. “We all had to answer that question: What do we do with his legacy? We haven’t all agreed on that, but you don’t see Bill Cosby anymore, just like you don’t see Ben Carson anymore. Where is he? He’s at home. If black people had rallied around Cosby and Carson, they wouldn’t have gone home.”
I suggested to Bell that the dismissal of both men from public life was something that was broadly determined by people of all races.
He countered: “Plenty of white people may have thought, That’s enough of [Cosby], but if black people had gone, ‘Oh, no, no, no. You may not accept one of our people, but we do not accept you telling our people to go home,’” the outcome would have been different.
This was an impossible thesis to prove, but Bell—who currently hosts a show on CNN exploring race in America—then made an interesting observation:
“With white people,” he said, “it’s the reverse. When Trump does crazy stuff, all my liberal white friends are like, ‘I don’t even say his name!’ like he’s the Candyman or Beetlejuice or something. I’m like, ‘No! You need to say his name and you need to come up with a plan!’ I have white family, and some of them are not Obama supporters. Who is more likely to get someone not to vote for Trump: me or my white family?”
But is Trump really white America’s problem, less than he is necessarily Mexican America’s problem, or Muslim America’s problem? Bell concluded that Trump was, in the end, probably everyone’s problem—but that those best equipped to deal with him were white Americans themselves.
This begged a larger question: Does white America bear the onus of addressing policies that marginalize minorities?
To be sure, white Americans have historically advocated for abolition, participated in Freedom Rides, and led civil-rights marches. But now, in the 21st century, the battle has morphed into something different, with policies less explicitly racial than slavery or Jim Crow (though, as many would argue, no less pernicious). Younger whites who identify as progressive seem to have adopted a vocabulary around racial inequality (see: use of the term white privilege) but are yet to determine the tactics by which to combat it.
Against this backdrop, a few weeks ago, Jack Teter and Kyle Huelsman, two white, self-described Democratic activists in their mid-20s, created a stir when they announced the formation of their political action committee, the Can You Not PAC.
Started “by white men, for white men,” the group’s goal is to discourage white men from running for office—literally, “Bro, can you not?”—with the idea that the many white men flooding the political process have edged out equally worthy (and potentially worthier) female, minority and LGBTQ candidates.
“We’re not saying women, LGBTQ, and people of color can’t get elected without white men sitting a race out,” clarified Teter. “When women run, women win. What were talking about is an inundation of under-qualified white guys.”