It’s a phrase that has long been applied to anyone who points out racism and institutionalized racial inequality in the United States—whether it’s a teacher who acknowledges that black lives matter, a protester demanding that the Confederate flag be removed from a public building, or President Obama making a statement after the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin. The term is “race baiter,” and writer and director Matthew Cooke has had enough of it.
With “Race Baiting 101,” an 11-minute-long history- and fact-packed video, Cooke breaks down the origin and the effect of America’s habit of dismissing and demonizing black people who demand equality. He takes us to the birth of the United States and the roots of a three-tiered caste system that some folks may not realize exists: black folks on the bottom, poor white people just above them, and wealthy white people—what the Occupy Wall Street movement called the 1 percent—on top.
Cooke wrote in an email to TakePart that he decided to create the video after noticing people online and on the news using the term “race baiting.” People are “being tricked into thinking that acknowledging racism or raising it as an issue is divisive. I thought that was profound. They have really got these people duped. And it made me feel strongly to address it,” he wrote.
Sometimes in discussion about race in America, people say their ancestors didn’t own slaves
or were immigrants who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps
, and that black folks should simply work hard and do the same. Cooke busts those myths with anecdotes of the true story of the U.S., many of them culled from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States
(Cooke is a big fan of the book).
What makes Cooke’s video especially noteworthy is that he shows how both lower-income whites and blacks have been manipulated and affected by the myth of social mobility. At one point, Cooke shows an image of a newspaper clipping with a headline declaring that the majority of public school children in the U.S. are living in poverty
—both black and white kids.
He details how a lack of jobs and a lack of access to excellent public schools, as well as the prison industrial complex
described by Michelle Alexander in her book The New Jim Crow
, aren’t just disenfranchising black folks. White lives are being destroyed too, but thanks to a belief in race baiting, low-income white folks may believe that as long as they’re better off than black Americans, everything is all right.
But Cooke believes there is a solution. “When we ally ourselves with a movement that’s been asking to just acknowledge for four-odd centuries how overdue it is to say just three words, ‘black lives matter,’ then united we are a power that will shake the masters to their core,” he says in the video.
Cooke’s not alone in believing that we need real action that fosters racial equality in the U.S. A survey released Wednesday by Pew Research Center found that nearly six in 10 Americans believe the U.S. “needs to continue making changes to give blacks equal rights with whites,” and half of Americans view racism as a big problem in society, up from 26 percent in January 2009.
He also wrote that he hopes people who watch the video will “recognize that acknowledging racism does not equal being racist. I hope they feel like saying ‘all lives matter’ in response to ‘black lives matter’ is like saying ‘all houses matter’ and turning a firehose on the house NEXT to the house on fire.”
Above all, Cooke believes, we can’t dissolve our racial divisions without justice and love. “Let’s start applying love to the wounds inside of us so we can heal. And when I say love, I mean real love. Like real money, social programs, mental health clinics, addiction centers, great schools, green jobs…. Stop using mass incarceration as a catch all for every social ill, allowing it to pick up where Jim Crow left off,” he wrote. “We need this conversation. America needs this. In our souls we need it.”