Can whites discuss sensitive Black issues?

By Noble Johns

It’s an aged old issue; can whites discus sensitive Black issues? When a skit from Chris Rock's HBO comedy show was shown in the office of Juvenile Justice Secretary Anthony Schembri, who is white, all hell broke lose from Blacks.

Schembri, was a former head of New York City's jails who was the model for the 1991-1995 offbeat television show ``The Commish.''
However, six Black lawmakers called for the removal of the head of the state's juvenile justice department for showing a video by comedian Chris Rock at a meeting with civil rights activists.

One lawmaker called the Black comedian's 4-minute skit: ``How To Not Get Your Ass Kicked By The Police'' — ``absolutely racist.'' A member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who attended the viewing last July said no one complained.

Rock's tips for young Blacks include driving with a white friend, and turning down loud rap music when pulled over. The video also shows scenes where actors dressed as police pretend to beat up blacks who didn't follow Rock's advice — a driver who jumps out of his car during a traffic stop and starts yelling profanities, and a man who jumps a subway turnstile while smoking marijuana and carrying a gun.

``I found this as being totally and absolutely racist, there's no way around it,'' said Democratic state Sen. Mandy Dawson, who was joined by five other Black lawmakers. What Sen. Dawson meant was that a white person is out of line when discussing sensitive Black issues.

``It doesn't make sense to me to show this type of video under any circumstances to the NAACP,’’ Sen. Dawson said.

Tom Denham, Schembri's spokesman, said the video was part of a discussion on racial profiling. He said Schembri, who is white, previously used it when teaching college courses as a way to open up discussion on profiling.

``The secretary is a very colorful and unusual man and he likes to push the envelope and get people to think about things,'' Denham said, adding the video was never meant to be used to train staff and administrators, as the lawmakers alleged.

``I would like to apologize. I did not mean to offend anyone,'' Schembri said through a spokesman.

William H. Booth, a retired New York City judge and an NAACP member, said he was at the meeting and no one complained about the video. He said Schembri used it as an example of how the media can contribute to attitudes about profiling.

``I've never known him to be prejudiced in any way,'' said Booth, who knew Schembri in New York. ``I don't think he's got a racial bone in his body.''

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