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Yes, wealthy black Americans experience racism and get to protest. Here's why.

We shouldn't even have to talk about this, but here we are.

Yes, wealthy black Americans experience racism and get to protest. Here's why.
Colin Kaepernick last played for the San Francisco 49ers. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images.

Colin Kaepernick, still unemployed and blacklisted by the NFL, has received a range of critiques from sports pundits, Twitter users, and the NFL audience for using his platform as a famous athlete to speak out against police brutality.

There is a problematic line of thought that continues to resurface in these conversations: Black Americans who are wealthy or noted intellects — so-called "privileged" black Americans — have no business talking about the reality of race.

It's a familiar critique. When Beyoncé used her Super Bowl 50 performance to pay homage to the Black Panthers, critics went wild. Not only did they inaccurately equate the Black Panthers to a terrorist group, they couldn’t fathom how a wealthy black woman could feel the need, much less have the desire, to comment on racist practices through art.  


Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images.

Often criticized for not speaking more directly about race, President Barack Obama also faced an insurmountable amount of racist attacks and vitriol in office. Yet, when he did speak on fraught relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve, pundits lashed out him for "dividing the nation."

Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.

The idea that a black person gaining privilege means they then relinquish First Amendment rights is a racist, dangerous fallacy. And it's about as un-American as it gets.  

Acquiring wealth, becoming educated, or reaching a higher societal class should not require black people to abdicate their right to speak about their experiences and to speak for disenfranchised communities.  

Conflating prosperity with freedom is not only false, it indicates that laws that give Americans freedom of speech — and the right to protest — only apply to certain groups. When we do that, we invoke classism, racism, and silence marginalized voices. Black people from all groups — wealthy or poor, famous or unknown, young or senior — have all been criticized at various points in history for speaking on injustice and black experiences. Perhaps it’s not the status that bothers these pundits, but rather the skin tone of those speaking out and their audacity to do so unapologetically.  

The nation’s history with attacking privileged advocates for justice is lengthy.

Booker T. Washington, a black scholar and leader, spent his life fighting racism and injustice and working to change a lynch-hungry South. He died with more than $1.5 million in his estate and used his finances to fight inequality and increase educational opportunities for black America. Madam C.J. Walker became more vocal about race and injustice as her wealth grew and she raised money for organizations like the YMCA and the NAACP’s anti-lynching campaign. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most educated, well-known leaders of our time, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a globally known pastor, and was assassinated at 39. Oprah, one of the wealthiest women in recent history, wasn’t able to buy a handbag in Switzerland because the shop owner thought she couldn’t afford it. Despite this experience and others like it, she has worked tirelessly to amplify the work of black film directors, writers, and artists.  

Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images.

Upper-class black Americans experience racism and inequality regularly.

Their privilege does not eliminate that experience. In using their platforms, well-known voices have the power to do meaningful acts in struggling communities and to be role models for young activists, writers, and thinkers.  

By allowing black leaders to be human and to speak out against injustice, we make space for people who regularly experience racist practices and injustices and may not have the funds to create an organization or the access to education usually required to hold office. We give a voice to the women who were sexually assaulted or raped by a police officer and weren’t believed until years later. We give a voice and value to the professor stopped on the way home for being a black male in the "wrong" neighborhood. We give a voice and value to the countless number of black teens followed around in stores in malls because they’re immediately seen as threats or as humans that need to be disciplined because of their skin.

Black people have a right to practice their American freedoms. It's time America listens to them.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less