The Paranoia Paradox: Why is it so difficult to separate the message from the messenger?

This column appears in the November 16, 2017 edition of Urban Pro Weekly.

Steve Bannon.

His name is a polarizing one. His alignment with President Donald Trump and his alleged ties to white supremacy ensure that his name will always be at the center of some controversy.

Yet here he was recently in Charleston, S.C., with a group of Black business leaders, where he said the following:

“Minority entrepreneurs are the biggest customers of community banks. And you know why they didn’t get recapitalized? Because nobody cares. When it comes time to make the deals, you’re not in the room.”

In short, Bannon said that Black-owned businesses are more likely to rely on local banks — banks which didn’t receive the same bailout opportunities as bigger banks nearly a decade ago.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking: Bannon has an ulterior motive. It is quite possible. That doesn’t make the message any less true.

I choose to describe this dynamic as the “paranoia paradox.” It’s a dynamic where a profound message may come from a questionable source.

Make no mistake about it, I don’t trust Bannon. His policies and ideologies speak for themselves. 

As Louisiana State Representative Cedric Richmond explained when Bannon left the Trump White House in Augusta, “firing Steve Bannon is not enough because the issue of him working in the White House has never only been about him.

“It’s also been about the racist and discriminatory policies he’s helped draft and implement which hurt African Americans and other communities of color.”

A return to harder drug laws? Check.

Muslim ban? Yep. 

A threat to sue universities with affirmative action policies? Noted.

Here’s the thing, though. When I heard Bannon’s comments and that he met with members of the Black business community, I had a singular thought:

“Why aren’t liberals talking like this?”

With all of the turmoil going on in the Democratic party, it really is a sad day when conservatives — no, supremacists — engage your base regarding wealth inequalities.

How it is that an alleged white supremacist can speak with more conviction about the concerns in the Black business community than the party whom Black folks have married themselves — for better or for worse?

Allow me to explain the difference between Republicans (well, Tea Party Republicans) and Dems. Teapublicans, on the whole, don’t want to associate or identify with Blacks — and the current political climate doesn’t inspire any urgency to do so. They are comfortable with using terms such as “Black on Black crime” and “single parenthood” to characterize our people.

Democrats, meanwhile, will pander to you, pray with you and even promote you politically.

There’s just one catch — you can’t speak for yourself with the Democrats. The Dems, in their current neoliberal state, want to speak FOR YOU.

Why is this significant? Because politicians (READ: the establishment) are afraid to say things like BLACK LIVES MATTER. They are slow to explain why the ‘hood looks the same under Democratic leadership as it does under Republican leadership. 

Ultimately, letting a politician speak for you is like letting a corporation speak for you. Why? Because politics are controlled by corporate interests (and money) like never before.

This is why it’s imperative for Black people to not get caught up in party politics. Even further, we can’t dismiss conversation simply because it doesn’t come from the right person from the right party at the right time. We must learn to separate the message from the messenger, because the truth is always in season.

And rest assured, Bannon should be held accountable for this truth. Whenever he pushes policy opposite of this commentary, we should be there to blast him.

Black people, on the whole, are in too precarious of a position to fall victim to the paranoia paradox. 

Like the Good Book says, the truth will make you free.

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