Some readers challenged assertions in two recent columns that whites continue to pursue dominance in our society. But an incident a few weeks ago shows that the pursuit of privilege remains a primary goal of white people.

Two columns I previously wrote on race relations left a couple of readers perplexed.


They questioned my assertion that whites continue to pursue dominance in our society. The readers didn’t agree that whites intentionally undercut efforts made by black people to overcome racism.


A manufactured controversy by conservative groups a few weeks ago, however, demonstrated how far whites will go to maintain their privileged status. They grossly distorted the work of a renowned academic by labeling him yet another one of President Barack Obama’s radical past acquaintances.


Derrick Bell was a legal scholar who promoted Critical Race Theory. As a law student at Harvard University in 1990, Obama introduced Bell during a rally promoting greater diversity among the school’s faculty. Conservative groups grabbed various quotes Bell made over the years, and an instant presidential crisis was born when a video of the rally was made public.


Bell, who died last year, once talked about a woman he worked with in Mississippi. Biona MacDonald and others were carrying out a court order to integrate their schools in 1964, under intense intimidation by local whites.


When Bell asked her what kept her going, MacDonald told him, “I can’t speak for everyone, but as for me, I am an old woman. I lives to harass white folks.”


Some conservative websites used this quote and others, completely without context, to paint Bell as fomenting racism. Here is another angry black man that Obama has hidden in his past, they implied.


Anyone with half a brain would understand what MacDonald meant by this. She dedicated herself to confronting white supremacy and upholding herself with dignity. She refused to play the role of a second-class citizen in a racist society.


As Bell also made it his mission to challenge white supremacy, what does it say about those who now feel so threatened? Have they tipped their hand that dominance is the very thing they seek to maintain?


Asserting one’s humanity in the face of tremendous risk is something to be commended, not vilified. This incident says more about all the whites who feel threatened by black people standing up for their rights than it does about either Bell or Obama.


Jerry Moore is the opinions editor for Suburban Life Publications near Chicago. Contact him at (630) 368-8930 or jmoore@mysuburbanlife.com. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer.