The liberal, then, is one who sees 'both sides' of the issue and shies away from 'extremism' in any form. He wants to change the heart of the racist without ceasing to be his friend; he wants progress without conflict. Therefore, when he sees blacks engaging in civil disobedience and demanding 'Freedom Now,' he is disturbed. Black people know who the enemy is, and they are forcing the liberal to take sides. But the liberal wants to be a friend, that is, enjoy the rights and privileges pertaining to whiteness and also work for the 'Negro.' He wants change without risk, victory without blood.
The liberal white man is a strange creature; he verbalizes the right things. He intellectualizes on the racial problem beautifully. He roundly denounces racists, conservatives, and the moderately liberal. Sometimes, in rare moments and behind closed doors, he will even defend Rap Brown or Stokely Carmichael. Or he may go so far as to make the statement: 'I will let my daughter marry one,' and this is supposed to be the absolute evidence that he is raceless.
But he is still white to the very core of his being. What he fails to realize is that there is no place for him in this war of survival. Blacks do not want his patronizing, condescending words of sympathy. They do not need his concern, his 'love,' his money. It is that which dehumanizes; it is that which enslaves. Freedom is what happens to a man on the inside; it is what happens to a man's being. It has nothing to do with voting, marching, picketing, or rioting - though all may be manifestations of it. No man can give me freedom or 'help' me get it. A man is free when he can determine the style of his existence in an absurd world; a man is free when he sees himself for what he is and not as others define him. He is free when he determines the limites of his existence. And in this sense Sartre is right: 'Man is freedom'; or, better yet, man 'is condemned to be free.' A man is free when he accepts the responsibility for his own acts and knows that they involve not merely himself but all men. No one can 'give' or 'help get' freedom in that sense.
In this picture the liberal can find no place. His favorite question when backed against the wall is "What can I do?" One is tempted to reply, like Malcolm X did to the white girl who asked the same question, "Nothing." What the liberal really means is, 'What can I do and still receive the same privileges as other whites and - this is the key - be liked by Negroes?' Indeed the only answer is "Nothing." However, there are place in the Black Power picture for "radicals," that is, for men, white or black, who are prepared to risk life for freedom. There are places for the John Browns, men who hate evil and refuse to tolerate it anywhere."- James Cone, Black Theology and Black Power, 28.
Cone's words about what accounts for true radicals reminds me of a clip I saw a few days ago of Cornel West on Bill Maher where another panelist accused him of offering mere "beautiful soundbites" in his rejection of American corporate greed. West nearly jumped over the table when he replied, "It is not a soundbite when I give my life for it!"