Kathy Rae. Ohhhh. Kathy Rae.
For those who may not be familiar, Kathy Rae was a viewer of the local CBS affiliate in Atlanta, who wrote a letter to anchorwoman, Sharon Reed, after an on-air discussion about the Atlanta mayoral election and the impact of shifting racial demographics played a part in the race. Reed is a Black woman.
Kathy Rae’s letter to Reed stated she should be fired from her job for “race baiting” by her comments about the Atlanta mayoral election. Kathy Rae concluded her letter by saying Reed is what she considers “a Ni**r not a black person” and went on to say “you [Sharon Reed] are what’s wrong with this world”.
Reed read Kathy Rae’s letter on air during a broadcast a few days after receiving it. Her response to Kathy Rae’s comments were a masterclass in classy clapback. Take a look here:
The internet exploded with support for Sharon Reed and outrage at Kathy Rae. And rightfully so. Kathy Rae’s letter was disgustingly rude and completely racist. Sharon Reed’s decision to let those words speak for Kathy Rae rather than try to engage Kathy Rae further for some kumbaya moment was the right thing to do. It’s time to stop normalizing supremacist action by giving them platform to clean up their words and actions. Reed owed Kathy Rae nothing — and that’s exactly what she gave her.
Kathy Rae isn’t alone in her views or behaviors. There are whole legions of White people who think they have the right to classify Black people as “good” or “bad” — or as Kathy Rae put it, a Black person or a N-word — based solely on their experience of the person. If their experience with a Black person is positive, they are a good Black person. If their experience with a Black person is not positive, they are dehumanized and labeled bad.
The decision on what is positive or negative almost always seems to center on the Black person’s deference to the White person’s privilege as superior. Anything that doesn’t make them feel comfortable in their Whiteness is labeled bad and the Black person is completely rejected as a human being. They are reclassified to a permanent place of lesserness because of a difference of opinion.
We seem to blame social media for this. We think the anonymity of user handles and emails addresses have created racists and given them a platform to spout their nonsense.
The truth is they were always there and technology has given them a broader, easier space to come out to play.
Our response in our personal lives should be like Reed’s. Let the words and actions of racists speak for themselves. Do not engage them in arguments. Do not invite them to bigger public forums to hash things out. Do not excuse their racism because of their generation or geographic location or any other superfluous reason. Our job is not to cajole ignorant White people out of their views with our intelligence and niceties. Leave them alone in their ignorance and move on to something more important and productive in the fight for equality and justice.
However, if you decide to make time to set a few ignorant people straight along the way, that’s OK too. While I loved the restraint and classiness Reed showed in her response, I would’ve been just as OK if she’d let Kathy Rae have it with a barrage of insults of her own. I get that combating ignorance with ignorance, anger and sarcasm doesn’t lead to the understanding we need.
However, I also get that telling someone who’s been attacked the appropriate way to respond isn’t acceptable either. In fact, telling a Black person who has been called the N-word or who was unlawfully stopped by police or who was profiled in a business or who suffered any other kind of unjust violence against them … telling a person the proper way to behave in that situation makes you no better than Kathy Rae. Because it basically says “keeping calm” makes you a good Black and having any other reaction makes you a N-word.
Stop requiring Black people to behave and react in ways that maintain the supremacy and privilege of Whiteness in order to be considered worthy of success and voice.
Stop being like Kathy Rae.
Cuz not everyone is going to be like Sharon Reed.