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Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Hosts Fireside Chat With Hip Hop Icon Eric B.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. hosts a fireside chat with rapper and producer Eric B. at The Gentleman’s Factory on February 18, 2024, in New York City. | Source: John Nacion / Getty

A couple of videos have recently started floating around the interweb that show Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaking to a room full of Black people about racism. The video clips are actually from Feb. 1, when the Kennedy 2024 campaign kicked off Black History Month by hosting a panel discussion at the Artlounge Collective in the Miracle Mile district of Los Angeles. RFK, who is a Democrat running as an independent in the 2024 presidential race, offered his insight on issues such as environmental racism and medical discrimination, but the part of his lecture (which is, indeed, what it appeared to be) that has drawn new attention on X shows the 70-year-old whitesplaining to Black people that education is the key to making Black people “immune” from racism, and, well—I have some thoughts.

“We’re never going to eliminate racism…We’re hardwired to look for differences in other people and then to essentially practice racism. I don’t think you can change that human nature, but what you can do is you can make kids resilient against it,” RFK said. “The way you do that is by giving them a great education so that they know that they have potential. The other thing is to give them business models, role models and opportunities within their own neighborhood.”

OK, so far, the politician who made headlines for spreading COVID-19 misinformation about lab-grown “bioweapons” that target “African nations” but spare Jewish people hasn’t said anything too unhinged here. I mean, he came dangerously close to going off on a “racism goes both ways” diatribe at the beginning there, and I’m not sure why so many white politicians think Black people need to be told of the importance of education—but whatever, I’ll let that slide.

Then RFK gets into this weird thing where he appears to be trying to equate discrimination he has faced in America as a person of Irish-Catholic descent to what Black people have faced and still face, and, yeah, I need him to be less white.

“I remember crosses being burned when I was a kid…I was called a ‘mick,’ a ‘mackerel snatcher,’ all of these anti-Catholic slurs when I was a kid, but it never bothered me. If someone called me that, I would think, ‘That guy’s got a problem.’ I didn’t think I have a problem,” he continued. “I had a great education, I had a family who loved me, I had role models, my country had confidence in my own future. Those kind of things had no impact on me, and that’s the kid of resilience we want to give Black American children so that they have so much confidence in their own future that when they do encounter inevitable racism, it will bounce off of them…like the Avengers.”

*heavy negro sigh*

First of all, RFK grew up white, well off and in a family full of some of the most well-known and revered elected officials in American history. I need him to stop pretending any discrimination he faced was comparable to what Black people have and still face. (Although, I must admit I’d never heard the anti-Catholic slur “mackerel snatcher,” and now I’m genuinely curious about the origin of that one.) It’s like: Sir, you are rich, white and a Kennedy, so, yes, I imagine anti-Irish Catholic slurs didn’t have much of a chilling effect on you.

Secondly, when it comes to the devastating effects systemic racism has on Black people, racial slurs are really the least of it. If the most discrimination RFK faced was bigots saying mean things to him (unless you’re just willing to take it at face value that the KKK was burning crosses on his family’s lawn), he got light work. Black people, on the other hand, have to deal with actual statistical racial disparities (in housing, employment, education, policing, redlining, etc.) that affect us in ways that can’t be solved by simply shouting, “MORE EDUCATION!”

This leads me to my final point: The idea that education will make Black kids or Black people in general immune to racism is absurd. For example, as important as a good education is, cops don’t check our high school and college transcripts before racially profiling or brutalizing us. It certainly won’t make us the Avengers. (I honestly don’t have the bandwidth to get into the patronizing tone of that reference.)

The truth is, white politicians, regardless of party affiliation, all seem to have the same issue when it comes to connecting with the Black collective. RFK may not have been as superficial, manipulative and egregiously racist as white conservatives are when they try to appeal to us, but the inherent condescension was still there.

Contrary to what many white people appear to believe, Black people already know how important education is. Whether we have equal access to quality education is the issue, and to RFK’s credit, that did seem to be what he was getting at. But the fact that he thinks it would serve as a racism-proof shield for Black peopledespite all of the educated Black people throughout history who suffered the effects of racism their entire lives (many of whom were killed behind it)—only highlights how different the American experience truly is for Black people. 

Two Americas. That’s the core issue whether Black people are sufficiently educated or not.


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