John S. Blake

“Stop, Children, What’s That Sound?”: Deflection Old as Slavery

John S. Blake examines recent controversy surrounding Glen Allen High School in Virginia and a factual video that is being disputed by Mark Holmberg who argues that racial inequity is behind us. 


Mark Holmberg got himself some serious Confederate cred. His latest comments—concerning the “white privilege” video shown at Glen Allen High School in Virginia—are so diplomatically conservative, they could re-erect the old flag on South Carolina’s Capitol under the cloak of a bright Sunday morning, beneath the hush of still-sobbing AME parishioners. Holmberg writes for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and has a little segment on CBS. He tells us what he thinks. He finishes both his articles and televised segments with, “What do you think?” It’s cute. I’m sure it means something grand to someone. Virginians who still wave their thirteen-starred banners on pickups—draping larger versions of those crossed-striped tapestries along the fronts of their porches—are experiencing an unfathomable solidarity whenever Mark Holmberg injects himself into meaningful discourse on race. He shouldn’t. He really shouldn’t. He should leave topics that require great research and valid historical context to people that actually want to learn and/or teach.

I could respect his views as heartfelt if only they weren’t so racially divisive. If only Mark Holmberg was more supportive of black Virginians. If only he didn’t sound like white, mid-twentieth-century clergy whom Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself had to pen an open letter to in response to their urges for patience, spewing brighter-side rhetoric. But that’s exactly what Mr. Holmberg sounds like. Identically.

Mark Holmberg reminds me of slave masters in every African American slave narrative from Frederick Douglass to William W. Brown to Harriet Ann Jacobs; raising a clean bible, shoving scripture-d hope down black throats in need of justice and human decency, only to get “wait” or “someday” as holy dismissals for the shredded skin on their backs and exhausted spirits as their hands outworked the soil (literally, Virginian slave masters caused soil exhaustion with their greed).

So, here it goes, Mark Holmberg; a list of great things white people have done for blacks:

  1. White people finally, after a few centuries of raping, castrating, lynching, separating black families, redlining black communities, and mass incarceration, allowed black Americans to vote. Yay! It’s been almost sixty years! Way to go.
  2. White people have finally seen the light when it comes to drug addiction, understanding it as a truly compulsive and obsessive disorder that requires compassion and treatment instead of tougher criminal penalties (of course, this comes after a sharp spike into epidemic numbers for whites dependent on opiates, but ….)
  3. White people, after hundreds of years, considered a black man a viable candidate for the presidency. Go white people (even considered him for a second term)! Well, we have undoubtedly arrived.
  4. The new black-actor quota has somehow reached two per sitcom. We are cooking now.
  5. Both Meryl Streep and Bill Clinton have opened the floodgates of truth by confessing that everyone is originally from Africa (no, not ’cause Hillary needs more of the black vote, and no, not ’cause someone pointed out to Meryl the pale ocean of white faces voting on cinematic awards. No! They really did their research, discovered their roots through, sent off their blue blood, and now find themselves in a new, heart-fattening kinship with Nat Turner). Take down the signs and stop protesting! Our jobs are done here, people.

Holmberg is right. Racism is over. All bootstraps should be pulled tight around every black calf. After abolition, slaves put on suits and took over. I’m sure someone read that somewhere.

But what disturbs me about this is: if racism is over and everything is even now, where did white people go wrong? You mean to tell me after a nearly five-hundred-year head start, people of color caught up, economically, academically, and politically? Wow, no wonder we’re in debt? You sure you believe in Capitalism? ’Cause, if you did, there’d be no way in all the Hells of all the monotheisms that those in the lead would allow those in the rear to catch up. Maybe we’re already Socialist? Maybe competition isn’t a white people sport?

Speaking of sports, we should discuss the “white privilege” video that Mr. Holmberg doesn’t care for—this video, he complains, “Ignores how far we’ve come.” This statistically factual, historically accurate flick—shown to Glen Allen High School students during an assembly led by Dr. Ravi Perry—depicts people of color, and a white woman, losing the race for economic prosperity and lifelong success to a white man. Yup, all fiction there. There’s no struggle for intersectional perspectives in our great nation. If one of us makes it, we all do. (Stop laughing.)

Evidently, the video really upset an elderly white man who called it racially divisive. I trust him. After all, his generation knows exactly what that would look like. No, not like water-hoses/police-dogs divisive, silly. This is more like hurt-feelings divisive. As in, I-don’t-appreciate-our-society-throwing-my-advantages-in-my-face divisive. You know, reality stuff.

Mr. Holmberg thinks the school is a punching bag. I agree, but the beatings are from white people who aren’t fans of social change. Again, nothing in the video shown was inaccurate. But Mark Holmberg just wishes we’d all “Remember the Titans.” No, not the part where someone threw a brick through the black coach’s window. No, not the part where the white school board plotted to fire the black coach. Not even the part where white game officials were cheating to force a Titans’ loss. Just the part where everybody won. All I see—in any “journalistic” works by Mr. Holmberg—is a feeble attempt at deflection. I have adolescent daughters. I know deflection when I smell it.

Holmberg interviewed Ravi Perry. Holmberg writes Perry up as a “self-described scholar-activist.” Here’s the problem with that: Ravi Perry is actually Dr. Ravi Perry, a Brown University graduate and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Virginia Commonwealth University. Dr. Perry is also the President of the National Association for Ethnic Studies. There’s no need for Dr. Perry to “self-describe.” He is, in fact, a scholar and an activist—as opposed to Holmberg who is a self-described journalist. Dr. Ravi Perry’s activism, commentary, and oratory has been featured in media outlets such as CNN, Huffington Post, Politics Daily, the National Journal, MSNBC, National Public Radio, and the Washington Post. (*insert #BOOM here*)

When Holmberg asks Dr. Perry if there’s any need for Perry to apologize for showing high school students the “white privilege” video, Dr. Perry says there’s nothing to apologize for, and he’s right. Why would any teacher apologize for teaching, especially if the lesson is factual and necessary? Dr. Perry is trying to do what a plethora of African Americans have tried for centuries—to show white people the damage of systemic racism. As far back as Phillis Wheatley’s first published poem, all the way to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Holmberg would like you to believe black people simply continue to throw slavery in white faces (perhaps that’s the reason the Henrico school board banned the video from ever being shown on public school grounds). It’s a diabolical tactic to relieve his readers/viewers of any recent acts of atrocity to focus on. Holmberg doesn’t want you and I to focus on police brutality, unless we are willing to frame it in hate for all cops. Silliness. Holmberg doesn’t want you and I to really come to an understanding about the effects of nearly fifty decades of cheating and any true application of an apparatus to establish a retroactive balance. Instead, he’s content with his Confed-cred. He’s settled in with his comfort. He wants you to know that black people just like to complain. They live for it. They have nothing better to do; holding up traffic in Chicago, playing dead in the streets, wasting time in all those prisons for nonviolent offenses. They’re all drenching the streets of Richmond with slave-tears, passed down generation after generation.

White people are in the clear. White people have done remarkably well; no longer telling themselves and others that black boys in hooded sweatshirts are “thugs,” concerning themselves solely with making things right. Yup, their side of the globe is all swept up. We’re good. A scholar and activist like Dr. Perry, with his degree from the halls of Ivy and his statistical facts, is just full of it. Black people are always complaining about assassinated Civil Rights leaders, black youth adorned in police-issued bullets, and being called “nigger” while strolling the hallways of their predominantly white schools. There’s no need whatsoever to show white students how the cards have been systematically stacked against their counterparts of color. We should all just get along. Chins-up, get mops for the blood, take crap for another century or two, and hope—read our bibles and hope—for something better in the afterlife. All is well. My bad.


John S. Blake

John S. Blake is a cisgender, African American writer, poet, activist, and youth advocate originally from New York City. He’s currently studying African American Studies and English, with concentrations in Gender/Sexuality, Sociology, and Creative Writing, aiming for his Masters in Education at Virginia Commonwealth University. He facilitates creative writing and intersectionality workshops nationwide.

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