White Denial — Bad Apple Edition

There’s a long history of refusing to see systemic racism

Tim Wise


Here’s a headline that will surprise precisely no one: Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor doesn’t believe there is systemic racism in American policing.

You know the drill. We all do by now. Repeat after me:

99.9 percent of our law enforcement officers are great Americans.

As for the others? Robert O’Brien — who, when he isn’t offering advice on national security, apparently tends the trees in a fruit orchard — will gladly explain it to you:

…they’re the few bad apples, and we need to root them out.

This is the mathematics of white denial — a few bad apples in an otherwise pristine barrel of greatness.

A few thoughts.

First, how does Robert O’Brien, or anyone, know the numbers on this subject? Is there a survey to which they can point?

Because I can point to a survey, taken perhaps informally but quite visible to all. It was taken on the streets of Minneapolis last week. It was precisely one question long: What do you do when you see a bad apple, also known as your partner or colleague, grinding his knee into a man’s neck for nearly nine minutes? It’s a question to which we know the…



Tim Wise

Anti-racism educator and author of 9 books, including White Like Me and, most recently, Dispatches from the Race War (City Lights, December 2020)