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June 2013
15

Black People Cannot End Racism Alone

It is obvious that many Whites believe that not even racism, but race itself is something that has nothing to do with them, as if White is not also a “race.” On racism, many will refer to it as “your cause” when speaking to someone Black, as if racism does not involve Whites at all. Also, there are Black people who think that we alone can end racism, or should at least ignore it. Not ignoring it is deemed “making excuses” and “not taking responsibility” by exceptional Black people (such as the Obamas) using bootstrap theory arguments to appease Whites. Whites conveniently do not have to “take responsibility” for racism though Black people are supposed to “take responsibility” for the ways racism impacts our lives, while simultaneously not mentioning racism being there in the first place.

It is not only Black people shrouded in exceptionalism (via money, power and/or platform) who make these arguments though. I have heard it from other Black people, especially Black men. They often suggest that the following will end racism: Black “unity,” Black self-esteem, Black women obeying Black men, and Black people “reconnecting” to Africa. While some of these matter and others are ridiculous and imply intraracial oppression and fetishism based on ahistorical and monolithic perceptions of an entire continent, none of the four will end racism. None. Below are two examples of Black men attempting to make this argument; one benevolent and one disgusting. Both wrong. (On the former, the author of the essay where the argument was posted replied.)

On an essay on Still Furious and Still Brave, Black/Non-Black Divide and The Anti-Blackness of Non-Black Minorities, a Black man left this comment:

I don’t believe anyone has to confront their anti-black prejudice until we wage an all out war on black self hate. In my opinion half the battle is lost individually and as a group by our own lack of self-respect. These (other) groups that are mentioned almost all have a homeland or native culture that they relate very closely to. They often conduct business among themselves and often create many businesses based on their culture or language. The fact is that many of them will never be white but they don’t hold that against themselves (at least not in many contexts). Black Americans, North, South, Central and Caribbean tend to be divided linguistically and culturally in ways that prevent us from working together as effectively as we could. One of the biggest problems is that we have allowed ourselves to become isolated from that which we all have very much in common. AFRICA. In spite of these cultural and linguistic differences we all have many common forefathers due to the nature of the slave trade. Until we learn to embrace our Africaness and our African heritage with pride and the understanding that as Africans we are in no way inferior to anyone else. I really believe that all people of African descent in this Hemisphere should refer to ourselves as American-Africans, at the same time understanding that there are at least 200 million of us here. We also need to fully understand that none of the wealth that exists here today would have even been possible without us. We have to stand united in rejecting any ill treatment that people want to subject us to. We needn’t worry about prejudice if we build and protect own communities and teach our children that they are not their own worst enemies. Once we do this (others) will understand that we can be allied with and if not (it’ll be their loss).

This is an example where zero accountability is assigned to Whites or to any people of colour who adopt anti-Black racism. He presents other minorities of colour as “model minorities” and this is often used to dehumanize them and oppress Blacks. Though this example does not invoke how Black men dominating Black women will eradicate racism (the next one does), it does invoke unity, self-esteem and “reconnection” to Africa as answers. I find it interesting that he mentioned “we needn’t worry about prejudice if we build and protect own communities.” This is so passionately ridiculous because it ignores the role of racism in destruction of communities. Has he never heard of Black Wall Street? Rosewood? The idea that Black collectivism can make racism a non-factor is denial through ignorance. Thankfully, the author of the post, @phuzzieslippers then replied:

Black self-hate is a direct result of the same processes that cause anti-black prejudices from other groups, i.e. white supremacy. Saying that we must address ourselves first excuses the other participants in this system and blames black people for problems that we didn’t cause. And we MUST disavow this American belief that Africa is the key to our freedom, that our commonality is rooted in Africa. It’s not. Africa is a HUGE place, the third largest continent in the United States, with literally thousands of languages and cultures; it’s vast. Even though we believe that we should be connected there because of the transatlantic slave trade, the fact is that even most African slaves were only taken from a very small segment of the continent. Black Americans, regardless of region, will probably have much more in common with each other than two randomly selected African ethnic groups. We can’t refuse to give Africa and Africans the dignity they deserve by re-imagining their homes to fit our stylized idea of what they should be. It’s not fair to them because it denies them the recognition of uniqueness that they deserve, and it’s not fair to us because it fails to give us credit for forging ahead and establishing a strong Black American culture.

That was the benevolent example; here is the more disgusting example. There is a man who has been harassing me online since February. He makes new accounts (thirteen so far) every few weeks to harass me from them. He posted this comment to one of my essays:

Negro b*tches quality-of-life, will continue to flounder when they do not support the negro male counterpart. I am all for racism & police oppression if I can put a black b*tch in her proper place. When you don’t invest in your men to be leaders fo rthe black collective, the Trayvon’s & Troy Davis’ will continue to happen. And I am here for it. We need a black patriarchy. Until then, f*ck black women and their fight to be sl*ts. Good day.

This man suggests that Black women who fight intraracial oppression is why a racist man murdered Trayvon Martin. The fear of holding White men accountable is not new for some Black men; one blamed Black women for The Onion’s attack on Quvenzhané—not the organization themselves, not racism (and misogynoir) in the media etc. The idea that racism is caused by Black women not obeying Black men is promoted here and is common. While not every Black man will lace this belief with such misogynoirist language and hateful nonsense as above, many hold this belief at its core.

While Black unity (and I do not think this is heterosexual Black men dominating Black heterosexual women, Black LGBTQ people and Black children, as the former enter their quest to mimic patriarchal White men) matters in terms of supporting each other for growth, development, and in the fight for justice, this alone will not eradicate racism. It can help our interpersonal lives improve with a sense of connectedness. But Whites as individuals and racism as institutional, systemic and structural are still culpable. Besides, many themes of “unity” do not allow true humanity for Black people, but are shaped by respectability politics and hopes for White approval. These unity themes rarely allows intraracial critique for fear of the White Gaze. We cannot prove worthiness of our humanity through unity when we are dehumanized via racism because we are Black, not because we are not “collective” enough.

While Black self-esteem is critical in rejecting White supremacy and fighting racism and its manifestation in almost every sphere of life, as well as it being critical to the well-being of Black people individually and culturally, Black self-esteem alone will not end racism. Whites as individuals and racism as institutional, systemic and structural are still culpable.

As much as some Black men refuse to critique White supremacy and racism—and will not historically examine how this impacts Black families, and in many cases cannot even articulate what “obedience” or “submission” is without invoking White supremacist gender tropes, the politics of respectability or Eurocentric notions of family—and continue to blame Black women’s supposed “deviance” or “pathology” as to why we face racism collectively, the reality is many Black women are patriarchal and come from patriarchal families (for which men do not have to physically be present in, in order for said family to be patriarchal). They are abused, hurt and still oppressed by race (in addition to other identities). More Black women accepting intraracial patriarchal domination will not end racism.  Whites as individuals and racism as institutional, systemic and structural are still culpable.

While some Black people view Africa as a monolith as many Whites do (though for different reasons; for Black people it is a reaction to White supremacy and an attempt to reject it by idolizing Africa as a monolithic place where all Blacks have a history of royalty and a place without war or pain until the Transatlantic Slave Trade; for Whites it is White supremacy itself and being taught to view it as a “country” not a multi-faceted continent), the truth, as alluded to above is that “we can’t refuse to give Africa and Africans the dignity they deserve by re-imagining their homes to fit our stylized idea of what they should be.” When Black Americans or western Blacks in general do this to Africa, it is disrespectful and ignores what Black culture was created here, in America, despite slavery. Despite it. There is excellence and culture right here. And it still has connections to specific places, time periods, languages, and cultures in Africa, but not monolithically so. Even so, knowledge of Africa will not end racism. Whites as individuals and racism as institutional, systemic and structural are still culpable.

To suggest that Black people can end racism alone could only be true if Black people perpetuated racism and benefited from racism alone. It does not matter how many times some Black people declare “we are our own worst enemy” (another “let us let Whites off the hook” declaration) because all of the self-esteem, unity, patriarchal domination of Black women and fantasies about Africa in the world are not going to unravel racism. Racism does not exist because Black people are flawed and as some sort of punishment until we reach a perfection that no one else has to reach. All humans are flawed. Thus, Black people have to be willing to examine the realities of racism without creating pathology-oriented intraracial excuses as to why it exists and remedies that will not work. Truthfully, many Black people, especially Black men, assert these four “solutions” because they’re at least something that Blacks can possibly control (though the irony is that racism still impacts their proposed “solutions” no matter how much they want to ignore its role) and because most history reveals that we have little reason to believe that Whites will do the work to end racism. The reality of racism involves Whites (even if certain individual ones aren’t racist, per se). Institutions. Structures. Systems. It has to be examined for what it is. Any conversation about racism that does not include, well…racism, is insufficient.

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