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SHAUN KING IS A WHITE LIBERAL'S WET DREAM

Many Black folks have the same question, born out of unending frustration: Why do so many white liberals keep supporting Shaun King?

For the past few years, it seems like there’s been a “takedown” of Shaun King published every few months, and each one details the boundless duplicity of one of the most popular writers thriving in the post-Ferguson landscape. Among Black activist circles, King is known as a disingenuous opportunist and grifter prone to intellectual thievery—particularly from Black women—and a profiteer of Black trauma with a cult-like following that allows him to repeatedly start new business ventures and initiatives on a loop while collecting piles of money

King’s theatrics are tired and predictable, and any new information we get about his suspicious activity is unsurprising to most of us at this point, it’s just exasperating. Those of us who have witnessed his narcissism on full display since his emergence as a “prominent voice” following Ferguson are more than willing to give our testimonies and inform others of what we have seen, read, and heard regarding him and how he has maneuvered over the years. 

Still, we encounter his fans—overwhelmingly white liberals—who are steadfast in their support of him, almost religiously so, regardless of how many times and how many different ways we express that he is not our friend, not our spokesperson, not our savior. Many Black folks have the same question, born out of unending frustration: Why do so many white liberals keep supporting him?

To me, it seems to go beyond the obvious and the familiar, which is that white liberals usually don’t really listen to or respect Black folks, nor do they necessarily believe our shared experiences. The major reason that they hold so tightly to him is that the insincere and performative nature inherent to much of white liberalism creates a need and opens a door for someone like Shaun King to easily slip right into. 

What we need to understand about Shaun King’s platform is that Black people are not his intended audience or his concern—it’s white liberals. The ones who damn near salivate over imagery of Black trauma and death.

Well-aware of his sway and the weight of his name, King has used his “authority” to claim undue credit for the work of others and even threaten legal action against young Black organizers for asking questions about his shady fundraising practices and sic his millions of followers on them. At every juncture, he has deployed the kind of vague, circular language that cult leaders, demagogues, and propagandists are infamous for in order to avoid any accountability when Black folks have called him out and in about his unsavory behavior. With his pointed speech, he creates and plays into an “us vs. them” scenario, identifying any dissenters as ill-intentioned heretics attempting to sow seeds of discord and create roadblocks to justice. 

Because he has also been consistently and openly hated by conservatives and white supremacists, he often uses them as a smoke-screen to hide behind. None of the accusations against him can ever be true, because they are nothing more than right-wing “misinformation” campaigns, according to him. Nothing but “lies and negativity” with the sole purpose of crumbling his empire. He knows that he can easily make himself into a perpetual victim, constantly under attack, as a means of deflection because of the documented hatred aimed at him from conservatives. It provides him with a convenient scapegoat of sorts, and it’s why he is known to announce that he has received new “evidence” revealing ongoing conspiracies against him. 

And his followers will not let him fall. They refuse. “No one can ever turn me against you,” they declare proudly in their comments, because they need him and the space he provides for them to perform their ally theater. 

Shaun King is a white liberal’s wet dream. He’s pale, palatable, and safe—and probably not even Black; regardless, white supremacy and colorism are both hard at work as forces that help to keep him afloat. With his many fundraisers and business ventures, he gives white people endless opportunities to throw money at the problem of institutional racism without having to do any real work. His prominence means that he also serves as a convenient figure for them to point to as evidence of their support for “minorities” because they read his work—or at least the tweets and headlines—and share it on social media. He writes in a simplistic way that is easily digestible for white audiences and, for the most part, activates their white guilt without arousing too much white fragility. 

King’s social media presence offers up a particular space—one that caters directly to the white ally who wants to prove their allyship through public digital and virtual performance, even and especially if they do not take any action to tangibly help Black people in the material world.

Perhaps most significantly, he steadily feeds into their appetite for trauma porn to which they can react, again and again, with their feigned shock and awe about the continued dehumanization of Black folks. One of the most consistent charges against him is that he refuses to stop sharing videos of police assaulting and murdering Black people or images of their lifeless bodies. He has been asked repeatedly by Black people to at least provide trigger and content warnings for these shares because seeing them online is traumatic for Black folks and extremely detrimental to our mental health. 

It’s a simple and understandable request, especially for someone who claims to care so much about Black lives, but he will not do it. It’s such a small gesture to show care and help protect our emotional well-being, and he will not do it. The shock and injurious value it provides is too essential to his brand. What we need to understand about Shaun King’s platform is that Black people are not his intended audience or his concern—it’s white liberals. The ones who damn near salivate over imagery of Black trauma and death. The ones who love to share videos and images of racist violence and police brutality in order to prove their outrage, heartbreak, and astonishment at the things that we know to be a part of our daily reality. 

King’s social media presence offers up a particular space—one that caters directly to the white ally who wants to prove their allyship through public digital and virtual performance, even and especially if they do not take any action to tangibly help Black people in the material world. It’s for white “allies” who want to prove that they are not racist, who harbor white savior complexes, who are “progressive and forward-thinking” in trend but not in conviction. It’s not for people who are genuinely committed to anti-racist work and who listen to Black activists when we speak about opportunists like King and how they continue to take advantage and cause harm. 

RECOMMENDED: Enough Of The Disappointing And Violent White Moderate

I expect there will be many more pieces published about King’s antics in the future. There will be many more epiphanies, revelations, and realizations. There will be more investigations into his activities. And there will also be more gaslighting, denial, overstating harm, and perpetual victimhood from King. He’ll go on accusing us of spreading misinformation about him while funds he raised go unaccounted for. He’ll go on creating real harm for people and offering no apology, all while claiming to be under constant attack. And his fans will continue to support him regardless of how much experienced Black activists warn them because performative liberalism will always need a dignitary like Shaun King. 

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Sherronda (she/they) is an essayist, editor, and storyteller writing pop culture and media analysis through a Black feminist lens with historical and cultural context. They often find themselves transfixed by Black monstrosity, survival, and resistance in the horror genre and its many fantastical narratives, especially zombie lore. Read more of their work at Black Youth Project.

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