There is this great fear over the word ‘racist’. Calling someone a racist – now that is just too far. It is often presented as over-dramatic name-calling, a means to smear someone’s name unwarrantedly. This was made clear during the appearance of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and ‘fixer’ who has been convicted on charges of campaign finance violations and perjury, before the House Oversight Committee where he offered a damning presentation of his former boss.
While the hearing itself was full of the typical insights into Trump’s character, his mob-like mentality, his racist thinking, his con-man dealings, it was just that – typical. At this stage, we get it, Trump’s a bad guy. He lies and cheats.
One of the most interesting moments in the six hours of sworn testimony that Cohen gave, came from a heated exchange between two of the politicians at the hearing, Rep. Mark Meadows and Rep. Rashida Tlaib. During his round of questioning, Meadows brought out Lynne Patton, an African-American women who works in the Trump Administration, who stood behind Meadows as he refuted Cohen’s accusation of Trump’s racist nature. Meadows’ argument was awkward and deeply ill-advised, as he talked about the hundreds of times he had spoken to Trump and not heard anything racist come out of his mouth.
When it came to Tlaib’s round of questioning, Tlaib used part of time to object to Meadows’ argument, explaining that ‘just because someone has a person of colour – a black person working for them does not mean they aren’t racist.’ She further stated her objection to the use of a black woman as a ‘prop … [which] is alone, racist in itself.’
And off Meadows went. He talked about his black nieces, his personal friendship with the chairman of the Committee, Elijah Cummings, a black man. And sure, if you have just been called a racist, you’re going to want to clear your name. But this moment symbolises a burden that is often placed on marginalised people. It is often seen as their responsibility to educate others, to teach others on how not to be racist.
Rep. Ilhan Omar has created repeated controversy with her use of anti-Semitic tropes when attempting to criticise the Israeli government. Note, repeated. In an apology after one incident, she tweeted how she was listening and learning from her ‘Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.’
It is not Jewish’s people’s responsibility to educate others on what is anti-Semitism. There are lots of interesting conversations to be had on the nature of anti-Semitism, how to criticise Israel without being anti-Semitic. However, it should at least be excepted that a congresswoman is knowledgable and worldly enough to know when she is straying into anti-Semitic territory. She should not need Anti-Semitism 101 to know when she is in the wrong.
It is not black people’s responsibility to educate others on what is racist. It is on white people to broaden their conversations, their communities, to talk about race and for it not to be a stigmatised topic. And that is easier said than done. But, the burden and responsibility of education should not be on the shoulders of the marginalised. The burden should not have been on Tlaib to raise awareness to the Committee of Meadows’ thick-headed decision and argument. It is not those who are marginalised’s job to be the educator, but instead that of the privileged and those who do not have the same experiences to open themselves up and listen to their surroundings.