I first heard this expression from an associate five years ago. He was ranting that when he was a part of a corporate entity, he vainly attempted to ‘educate’ his white peers about a lack of diversity of input when crafting advertising campaigns. His former employer had just made a very public faux pas that made the national nightly news. It even raised my skeptical eyebrows. Hearing my agreement with his indignation, he imagined I was on board and went pro-blackety black on me:
“They make these mistakes because there’s no one who looks like us in their boardrooms”. I remained quiet. “There’s no one to speak up and say, ‘hey that’s offensive’”.
Actually, President Obama rendered a version of this in 2013. Following the death of Trayvon Martin, infamously shot by George Zimmerman, the entire country was awash in debate. Blacks, and non-blacks sympathetic to Black issues, saw once again a young black man profiled for ‘suspicious behavior’. On the other side of the argument were those who saw a man tired of crime in his neighborhood, thought himself to be protecting his community, and made a error in judgement. As the argument swirled into every mainstream forum, it became unavoidable that America’s first black President address the issue. He said:
“. . . when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago”.
Fast forward to today, and it seems that every channel I turn to has a news show or cultural program or even simple commercial with a non-white person who uses this rhetorical association gimmick. ‘Looks like me’, or ‘people who look like me’.
What’s really being said is as old as America–people from my racial/ethnic/creed group or tribe.
As rhetorically silly as it is, I’m afraid that is valid until a better more credible expression is tabled.
The argument against prejudice is that it excludes people who may have value, based on their identity. Me, being a science buff, will quote Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of physics: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If whites are excluding people regardless of value just because they do not look like them, then it is also true that blacks are including people regardless of value just because they do look like them.
As the controversy has boiled around the names of military bases, the existence of certain monuments, even sports teams, I’ve heard some whites say: “This was never a problem before . . . why now?” Others have asked, “Where does this end?”
It was never a problem before because ‘people who look like me’ were not allowed in the room when the decision was made. (I would go a LOT deeper on that thought but that is a different essay)
To address the second question, it ends when whites include people who don’t look like them in decision making. Not just kidnapping one person from the group in question, get a wide population sample.
I encountered this with another associate, we are members of a semi-private organization. He explained to me that whenever he saw me at a meeting, “he was comfortable to see someone else who looked like him”.
Friends, make no mistake; this gentleman and I would never pass as relatives.
In our current lexicon, it seems as though every activist/wokester uses it–and it drives me up a wall. It suggests that if we look alike, we all think alike. And conversely that anyone that I do not look like shares no views with me. Anyone who knows me will frustratedly complain I do not think like most of my Black contemporaries. Consistently. You can take that check to the bank and cash it.
Peoples from a common culture will have some across the board similarities. But will they share every opinion on contemporary matters?
“People who look like me” suggests that by one’s mere presence in a decision-making space or part of a governing body, that some sort of list of interests is automatically addressed for whatever their originating group is. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
I hunger for the day when ideas are tabled and argued by the thoughtful, not people who, “look like me”. I grew up in a South Bronx Housing Project with a thousand people who “looked like me”. It was a Ghetto Aristocracy that I still revile. And I’m sure they shared none of my worldview. But according to the wokees, “they look like me” (meaning they represent me and I them).
When looking at a person, tribal identity should be considered. But neither should it be defining.
Extra-tribal engagement should be sought, not dismissed.
But this . . . “People who look like me” — I brand it as a
catchy rhetorical gimmick.
Your opinion? hit reply below
Obama, Barack H. (2013) Remarks by the President on Trayvon Martin The
White House Office of the Press