Monday, March 19, 2007

Black racism

''Black people can never be racists.''

True as I think it is, this has to be one of the most incorrectly stated, most obscured and counterproductive phrases ever used. I first heard this line used by a black scholar on my campus a few years ago. He was attempting to point out the idea that; contrary to Webster’s definition; racism was prejudice + power. In others words, members of a dominant social group (individually or collectively) possessing prejudiced beliefs and the institutional power to systemically oppress a group of people based on that prejudice. Since black folks possess no such power, it would be pretty reasonable to conclude that racism is a hat that we can never wear. I was so impressed by that perspective of racism, that I began using it as my mantra. In fact, in an argument that I recently had with a white guy, I made reference to that line.

Why the hell did I do that?

After a firestorm of relentless debate, it was communicated to me (forcefully) that racism was an experience that was felt by my white brothers and sisters as well as by blacks. He attempted to lambaste me based on his assumption that I was somehow implying that black folks possess no ability to be racist as he defined it (prejudice based on race). He took the argument a step further by suggesting that -- in reality -- I was ignorant as to what racism truly meant.

Let it be known that while I fervently believe that black folks; or any other folks who are marginalized in this society do not possess institutional power to enforce bigotry, I will never again say that “black can’t be racists”. What I’ve learned from making such a declaration (which is what I hope black scholars will also pick up on) is that our definition of racism; prejudice + power (as solid as it is) will never be fully comprehended by everyone in the dominant culture. If anything, that contention is more likely to generate controversy and opposition than it would be in enlightening people. That’s the sad reality. But it is reality nonetheless.

So, I’d like to examine racism from another angle. I’m going to allow whites to declare that blacks can, in fact, be racist. If it puts your mind at ease, I'll say that black can be racists, bigots, prejudiced…whatever term makes you happy. Since black folks are apart of humanity (and therefore just as susceptible to human flaws), I’ll concede that we can practice some of the same lunacy against different people as whites can. There, I said it.

With that said, allow me to also note that it's an insult to logic to imply that there are similarities between ‘racism’ that whites face from blacks and the reciprocal. This, to me, is the idea that gets lost in the conversations of black scholars and which seems to get casually dismissed by ever-so-defensive whites. Collectively, blacks who practice 'racism' (again, I’m using this term synonymously with bigotry, prejudice, etc as opposed to how I define it.) possess far less of an ability to do serious damage to whites than whites who commit racism against blacks. Let’s keep it real here. Besides that, blacks don’t have nearly the historical track record of racism as do whites. I’m sorry to say, but these are irrefutable facts -- backed by history -- which silence the incessant implications (at least I think they’re incessant) that black racism has somehow dented our country’s consciousness in a way proportionate to white folks. I simply don’t buy it. History doesn’t seem to either.

If a black person is practicing ‘racism’, I have no problem with him/her being called out for it. What bothers me is when black ‘racism’ is somehow labeled as a barrier to the rights and livelihoods of White America. I mean, if it’s such a hindrance to White America, then show me the studies that prove how whites have been systematically oppressed. Show me the numbers to support how whites on a wide level have been robbed of equal housing rights, health care access, employment opportunities, judicial rights, voting privileges, etc. By the way, using the whole "Affirmative Action denied 'qualified white student X' admission into a college or a job" story doesn’t quite compare to the racist practices that we face. They are in no ways similar.

While I'm challenging people to produce proof of the affects black racism, I can produce hoards of data supporting institutional racism against blacks. These data, by the way, are not a product of pro-black establishments who have a chip on their shoulder. No. I’m talking about analyses produced by federal agencies, colleges, research institutions, and even from media reporting. Interestingly however, even in the face of clear and obvious examples of institutional powers wielded by those in the dominant culture, I still find that many whites simply can not see (or refuse to see) beyond the lines.

I guess it makes sense that the levels of white racism be ignored by folks in the dominant culture. It has to be ignored. Otherwise, they won’t have any leverage in equating the ‘racism’ they claim to face to the racism that we actually do face.

Comedian Chris Rock once said that there’s a white, one-legged busboy somewhere who wouldn’t trade places with him…and he’s rich. Sure, they’d want Rock’s money and his fame. But they wouldn’t want to be him; as a black man. To put it another way: if you had the choice to be a white person dealing with black racism or a black person dealing with white racism, what would you choose? I’m pretty sure I already know the answer.

Now why do you think that is?

- ACL

26 "Insiders" spoke their mind. Join in...:

The H.C. said...

Hey Dre,
I appreciate you that you acknowledge that racism sweeps both ways. As someone who's been on the receiving end, I can tell you power takes many forms, even if it is only at the moment. When there are ten to your one there is power there whether you want to admit it or not. Having said that, I agree the power experienced by whites exists on a different level. While ten black guys can easily exert power over one white guy, they can't hold him back from getting ahead in life, so it truly is a different animal. One thing I find white people don't understand is the feeling of living in a "White World". Having been in a 90% black school, I can at least somewhat relate. You feel that you have to bend to their culture if you want to fit in at all. Most white people will never know that feeling, therefore it's hard for them to understand. As far as you Chris Rock reference, I've seen many articles on the changing of the U.S. Census to include a Multiracial catagory. All of them site the suprise of finding most mixed black and white people claiming themselves as "Black", how do you validate that with Chris' statement? Site; http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D04E1DA1E3AF937A25750C0A9679C8B63&sec=health&spon=&pagewanted=2

Greeneyes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greeneyes said...

Andre~ My Green-eyed handsome man .
This is a really touchier topic , people have to be careful of what they say that in some way it may cause an issue to arise and therefore misunderstandings or crumpled feelings .I do feel the ladle of the pot moving around and around on this one!!!
I have been lucky enough to have grown up within cities that are multiracial and ones that are not a mixture so to speak . I have seen racism thrive in both and it has been from different groups , racism is wrong from any angle . I never once would think that it is just as hard for whites VS Black ,but I have no experience at being anything other than what I am, colourblind . I personally do not care what race a person is , and certainly do not have any hatred , or racism in my heart for anyone ,that said , I do not know what it would be like to be you , and I feel I would not be able to say whether it is harder for one as apposed to another . I know from History that racism has been a tremendous barrier in peoples lives ,hopefully that all changes .
I am not naive, I know it exists and lives in the hatred of mankind , I just wish it did not .

Will Luongo said...

I don't know about this one legged bus boy, but if I were into trading places with people, I would trade with Chris Rock in a heartbeat.

I do have some interesting stats on this matter though that I will put on my blog tomorrow.

I also have other thoughts, but I want to read it again when I have more energy. I just flew in from Chicago and boy, are my arms tired!

Not really, we rode a train.

Anonymous said...

Slavery is over, segregation has been abolished, the Civil Rights movement made its mark. It's time for black people to finally recognize the strides that have been made; rather than continuously focusing on some perceived racism.

Besides that, how do you explain black coalitions, scholarships, clubs, etc? If there were all-white organizations and institutions, people would cry racism!

It had to be said.

Andre said...

Hello all,

I'll get back with each of you soon. I'm a little swamped at work right now...

Will Luongo said...

I have spent a lot of time thinking about my response here because I want it to be clearly understood, without stepping on anyone's toes, so to speak.

The problem with this relative definition of racism (white racism is worse than black racism) is that it very quickly defeats itself if you follow it through to the natural conclusion after looking at more facts.

The Rwandan government exercised the worst form of racism possible: Genocide. This was racism by blacks, against blacks. Black people in power even.

So to say that because the white people have not suffered enough to constitute a problem compared to their american black brethren is to say that because black people in America are not experiencing genocide they are ok.

I think this is fairly obviously not a desirable mind set for black people in America.

So I come back to the same point that it seems I always do in these discussions: Racism is wrong, regardless of which race is fashionable to defend at the moment.

Which kind of racism would you rather have? White on black racism in America or black on black racism in Rwanda? They are both evil and need to be eliminated, to be sure. But the same is true no matter who is in power.

Joslyn said...

HC,

I really appreciate you comments. I think that you're one of the few who TRULY understands!

I've read your blog before about what you experienced growing up in a Black school and it literally brought me to tears, because I remembered seeing that to some other White kid in my school.

Thank you for contiuing to spread your knwoledge and experience with a genuine and loving heart, as it is refreshing to see someone who allowed the difficult things and experiences in life to make them better, rather than bitter.

:)

Andre said...

@ HC: 'Sup Hipster? I checked you out on youtube. I was pretty impressed, brotha. Minus the ridiculous shades, your presence on the show was something to behold.

Now to your point: I think you have to be careful on how you define 'power'. The 'power' that ten black men may possess over you hardly equates to institutional power that whites -- as a race -- have over blacks. You pointed that out yourself.

I can appreciate your experiences; being a white Emersonite in the 50's (or 60's, or 70's. Whatever. You get the point...). But you still can't discount the fact that -- regardless of your upbringing and your current status, your 'whiteness' still carries with it unimaginable privilege. That's the most important point.

To speak to your second point (the Chris Rock statement and your article): In response to demographic confusion caused by multiracial folks identifying themselves as "Black", a "multiracial" field was finally added to more and more identifiers. Still, much of racial identity -- I think -- is a product of upbringing, how people relate to their multiracial parents, and whether or not their physical appearances (hair texture, facial attributes, etc.) are perceived as dead giveaways of their racial "mix".

@ Greeny: Hey, my green-eyed love. I think that being 'colourblind' (I love how everyone spells color with a "u" except for us silly Americans) is counterproductive to understanding race relations. Dr King's 'dream' was that none of us be JUDGED by the color of our skin. But recognizing/appreciating/celebrating racial identity is much different than dictating actions (especially bigoted, prejudiced, and oppressive actions) based on race. Being 'blind' to race -- I think -- is being blind to history and ancestry. I suppose this is why race has always been complicated.

Thanks, as always, for your comments.

@ Anonymous: Even if slavery is over and segregation (allegedly) is a thing of past (you might think twice about that if you stopped by Flint, MI), the after-effects of these times have not been absolved. I mean, when you have IRREFUTIBLE facts showing how some American enterprises are directly connected to racist institutions, you have your proof.

I'm sorry to say, but that "perceived racism" of which you're speaking is something that you will NEVER experience yourself (assuming that you're white). You can't experience it. So, all you're left with is an interpretation of racism; fueled by the privilege you have in this society. I've said it once, I'll say it a thousand times: the white card you carry has privileges. My black card has to be paid on every month.

"Besides that, how do you explain black coalitions, scholarships, clubs, etc? If there were all-white organizations and institutions, people would cry racism!

Uh. They call it the Republican Party.

@ Will: I have no argument when you referenced the atrocities taking place in Darfur. But I wasn't talking about worldwide racism. I'm referring to AMERICAN racism. Using an argument laced in moral relativism won't make people turn a blind eye/deaf ear to the blantant acts of discrimination that continue to permeate our society. Before we can focus our attention on the crisis in Darfur, the tsunami in Indonesia (as you cited in a previous discussion) or one of many worldwide problems, we need to have our shit here in the State inline. If nothing else, it lends our nation a certain degree of social credibility towards being committed to EVERYONE. None of our problems/conflicts are less pertinent; even if they are less oppressive and tragic.

@ Jos: Once you get passed the "conservative" part of him, HC's a great source of knowledge.

He's even cooler in person.

Thanks guys for your comments.

The H.C. said...

Hey Dre,
"50's,60's"??? Man, that's cold. Lot's of folks said to lose the shades and show off my baby blues but I'm still nervous about being completely "out" as my mouth sometimes goes faster than my brain. More to the point, even though I defend the other side, I do understand the difference and it is large. The disadvantage of being black is something white people can never fully comprehend

The H.C. said...

Thanks Joslyn,
Your comments made my day! I'm printing them out and putting it on my fridge with all my grandkids finger-paintings. (It may not sound like it, but it's a huge honor no one else ever got.)

Will Luongo said...

Andre: "None of our problems/conflicts are less pertinent; even if they are less oppressive and tragic."

This is actually my point exactly. My experiences and HC's experiences as white victims of racism are no less pertinent, even if some may argue they are less oppressive and tragic.

And by the way, I know black republicans.

Greeneyes said...

Andre ~ My Handsome green eyed KING
You started it !you used the L word , I am now spell bound LOL .

...getting back to my comment .....

I may not be as articulate as you are so excuse me if I am / was not clear ........
my quote of being coloUr blind means something entirely different than what I believe you perceived it to be ,
My feeling of coloUr blind is that it makes no difference to me what coloUr ones skin is NOT taking away their heritage or race or anything about them ,especially ones History . Just meaning that I feel we are all human and I see us as equal (the world may not )but I do , seeing all people equal does not remove any identity , race or other factor weighing in what makes a person who they are . you are right that race is a complicated , every soul on this planet has markers that make them who they are ,I do not think seeing all races as equal is removing any differences , I just do not feel negative towards anyone because they are different than me in any aspect ,,, that does not remove their individualism making them a blank slate !

...................................
;0)

Andre said...

@ HC: Dude, you've gotta stop getting so indignant about your age. I'm old as hell and I'm taking it like a champ.

By the way, anybody who freely refers to himself as a "Hippie" has likely climbed the age ladder. Wear your old age proudly.

At any rate, I'm glad that we can meet in the middle on this topic. I often fear that the very mention of racism; within the context of black and white relations; will generate more anger and inflammation than positive and healthy discourse. Then again, I'm not suprised with you. We've been at each other's throats a lot. That's what makes you so...uh...chuckalicious.

@ Will: Let me go on the record by saying that even when I have a huge problem with moral relativism when it comes to race, some people I know (i.e. you and Hippie) have experiences that truly speak to the idea that even White Americans can be devoid of some privilege that comes with being white. People like you, I think, set the learning curve when it comes to examining race in America. But it's the larger group; the group who can somehow use the same term "racism" to describe a bad service at a black restaurant as they could with years of slavery and oppression; who are the letdowns.

It's not until Whites realize how much privilege and greater access they have in this society; compared to minorities that we'll have true progress in this country.

@ Greeny: LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE...

*chuckle*

Now getting to your point: Please believe me when I say I wasn't trying to call you out (pretty please; with sugar on top...). I was only making a point that many white liberals (and more recently white conservatives) rely on insipid and politically-correct concepts as a veil to casually dismiss the real problems at hand. They tend to qualify their ideals by using prefaces like "Well, I'm not racist, but..." or "I don't see race...". To me, it's more than race that they "don't see."

The world needs more green-eyed people, wouldn't you say?!

Greeneyes said...

Andre~ My Green eyed King !

All is well in the land of The green eyed people again TEE HEE
I LOVE the extra love love love , (Blushing with hot cheeks,thinking ,,,,,,,,)


I am back ,

As far as my comment , I do not downplay anyone's history etc and am not in a bubble as to the fact that the way things are slanted in the struggle of life due to racism ,I could go on and on but will spare you, and as far as more Greeneyed people in the world , maybe you and I can help with that , tsk tsk , I am so naughty
LOL ;0) SHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Love love love !
Greeneyes
LOL.

Will Luongo said...

Andre: But surely the people who can "somehow use the same term "racism" to describe a bad service at a black restaurant as they could with years of slavery and oppression" do not represent an entire race?

Isn't the blanket representation of a few bad white americans racism? Isn't it bigotry and wrong?

I don't know any white people that say that bad service in a black restaurant is the same as slavery, and I know a fair number of white people.

I don't even think I've gotten bad service at a black restaurant. I've had tons of bad white servers though. It doesn't mean all white people are bad wait staff.

"It's not until Whites realize how much privilege and greater access they have in this society; compared to minorities that we'll have true progress in this country."

This couldn't be more wrong. It is not until both sides stop making racial judgments that we'll have true progress.

For example, I don't care if a president is white or black. I don't care if the president is male or female. I personally don't even care if they were born in America. I care about character, integrity, and values.

I no more judge a person by their skin color than I do their eye color. This means I don't say: that white guy must be privileged, or that black guy must be oppressed, or that latino must be a gangbanger.

I guess I am trying to say this: Someone has to grow up first. Someone has to stop making racial judgments and blanket statements and stereotypes. I am a person working towards the solution. Are you?

Will Luongo said...

In another note:

If we have no genocide, don't we have our shit more in line than Rwanda?

If we have FEMA trailers and Indonesia doesn't, doesn't that mean we have our shit more in line than Indonesia?

Or do we need to have utter perfection before the rest of the people in the world matter?

Andre said...

@ Greeny: Only you could take one of the more controversial posts I've had in a while and turn it into a flirting session.

I like. I like. *evil grin*

Andre said...

@ Will:

"Andre: But surely the people who can "somehow use the same term "racism" to describe a bad service at a black restaurant as they could with years of slavery and oppression" do not represent an entire race?

Of course not. No person or group of people can represent an entire race. But, if you want to delve a little further into that one, we can. The phenomenon of how hip-hoppers, thugs, and criminals have somehow come to define Black America can be debated. But that's another topic for another day...

"Isn't the blanket representation of a few bad white americans racism? Isn't it bigotry and wrong?"

Again, of course I believe that applying blanket statements to an entire collection people is wrong and ignorant. If it were OK to do that, then it would be safe to say that I love rap and fried chicken; both of which I actually don't like.

"I don't know any white people that say that bad service in a black restaurant is the same as slavery, and I know a fair number of white people.

I don't even think I've gotten bad service at a black restaurant. I've had tons of bad white servers though. It doesn't mean all white people are bad wait staff.
"

The bad service/racism line I used was only a hyperpole. It was a pretty bad one, but you get the point. But just in case my point got lost in my hyperbolic statement (which wouldn't be the first time); I was pointing out how many whites (see? no generalization...) attempt to counter the outcries of institutional racism by somehow attempting to deflect blame back on the "victims" (so to speak); by citing cases of individually racist activites that blacks allegedly commit against them. That -- to me -- is comparing apples to lima beans.

"This couldn't be more wrong. It is not until both sides stop making racial judgments that we'll have true progress."

Uh...no. Well, actually you're sort of correct. When members of the dominant group can't see or don't care to see the position of power and privilege they're in, it's easy to dismiss the outcries of those in the marginalized groups. Asking questions like "Why are blacks still complaining about school segregation that ended 40 years ago"; while in a state-of-the-art, carpeted, multi-million school doesn't carry much weight.

In response, we blacks folks DO need to start taking more personal inventory with our shit. Instead of blaming "the white man" for all of our problems, effort needs to be made move forward; in spite our past. We need to mobilize our communities, capitalize on our economic and political gains, and elevate our children. But to expect for the trauma of the past to be over just because that part of the past is over (to some extent anyway), is unreasonable. A soldier's memory of a war doesn't die jsut because the war itself is over.

For example, I don't care if a president is white or black. I don't care if the president is male or female. I personally don't even care if they were born in America. I care about character, integrity, and values.

If this is true, then great for you. But let's be honest here: this sentiment isn't NEARLY representative of the entire population. It's not even close. While many claims of racism by blacks are likened to 'the boy who cried wolf', lots of it isn't. Racist acts can be committed just as easily with a smile and a handshake as they can with a noose and white sheets.

I no more judge a person by their skin color than I do their eye color. This means I don't say: that white guy must be privileged, or that black guy must be oppressed, or that latino must be a gangbanger.

Again, terrific. Now if you can only get the other 300 million people in this country to share the same views, I can delete this post...

I guess I am trying to say this: Someone has to grow up first. Someone has to stop making racial judgments and blanket statements and stereotypes.

No argument there. This cuts across all races. Great point.

I am a person working towards the solution.

If your solution is to say "I don't see color", I think it's time for you to try another route. It didn't work for politicians. It won't work for you either.

Are you?

Indeed, I am sir. Indeed, I am.

Andre said...

@ Will (again):

"In another note:

If we have no genocide, don't we have our shit more in line than Rwanda?

If we have FEMA trailers and Indonesia doesn't, doesn't that mean we have our shit more in line than Indonesia?
"

Relatively speaking, yes. But when you have some people in this country wealthy enough to rent multi-million dollar yachts for fun or to spend $37,000 a year on "designer water" to wash your hair versus people living on streets and eating from trash cans, there is something fundamentally wrong with that picture.

"Or do we need to have utter perfection before the rest of the people in the world matter?"

"Utter perfection" is not the same as equity and fairness. Let's make that clarification now.

Secondly, if the U.S. wants to have it's ego stroked by trying to cement a legacy of humanitarianism around the world, super. I'm all for outreach and for international aid. Incidentally, I also agree that -- compared to modest standards of living, most 'foreigners' would love what we call poverty here. But that doesn't make our poverty any more desirable or any less justified; especially when you have people make cajillions for playing ball, acting, and operating businesses that crush the little man.

A song I once heard said "Sweep around your own front door before you sweep around mine." Simply put, straighten up your own spot before you go around trying to save the world.

Will Luongo said...

Andre:
"When members of the dominant group can't see or don't care to see the position of power and privilege they're in, it's easy to dismiss the outcries of those in the marginalized groups."

Well, I don't want to beat around the bush (no pun intended). Do you consider me to be a person in power and privilege above and beyond the fact that I am an American? Also, do you consider me to dismiss the outcries of the marginalized?

"Asking questions like "Why are blacks still complaining about school segregation that ended 40 years ago"; while in a state-of-the-art, carpeted, multi-million school doesn't carry much weight."

Although I've never said this,I think it does bear weight, but let me explain why before you respond (in your head. Or Inside Andre's head. Pun intended this time).

Things are not yet right. Some black people today are fighting civil rights battles. These are the battles that need fighting today, not the victories (partial or otherwise) of yesteryear. So black people were marginalized once. Are they being marginalized now? Yes. These are the issues, not segregation. Segregation isn't the main issue obstructing black people from developing right now. What is? (I am not being a smartass here. We really need to figure this out, and work past it)

"Again, terrific. Now if you can only get the other 300 million people in this country to share the same views, I can delete this post..."

I am very much working on it. I will vehemently argue until I die that that is the best outcome.

"If your solution is to say "I don't see color", I think it's time for you to try another route. It didn't work for politicians. It won't work for you either."

I see color, I never said I didn't. I just said it doesn't matter.

"Indeed, I am sir. Indeed, I am. "

Then join me in fighting the good fight. It is not solely the black oppressed that need representation from the privileged (read that, all Americans). Poverty respects no race, nor does hunger or unemployment. Even in America.

"But when you have some people in this country wealthy enough to rent multi-million dollar yachts for fun or to spend $37,000 a year on "designer water" to wash your hair versus people living on streets and eating from trash cans, there is something fundamentally wrong with that picture."

I agree (to some extent). But is the problem with white people or is it rich people? Is it rich vs poor or black vs white?

If we need to get our shit together (sweep our porch as you say) then we need to see that the struggle of black people are oppressed isn't most important because they are black; it is because they are people. Oppressed people need representation. Saying anything else dehumanizes black people, which isn't a position I am willing to take.

KC said...

I see both sides of this argument. As a matter of fact, I don't even think that your viewpoints (Andre's and Will's) are truly all that different. Rather, it appears that they are mere extensions of one another.

KC said...

Will, I think I should clarify one thing however. "Privilege" doesn't necessarily grant you (a white man) access to the nation's kingdom and all of it's riches. Whites are not exempt from being inpoverished. As you pointed out (and I agree) poverty knows no race.

But 'privilege' in another sense is the social favor that comes with being a member of dominant culture; irrespective of your status in society. Even if it doesn't always show up in the economic sphere, it can show up in other ways (i.e. a black youth and white youth go into a store together. The black youth is perceived a thief while the white youth is above suspicion). Sometimes its the subtle things that spell out white privilege.

Will Luongo said...

kc: The problem with your argument is that in the area I live I am not the dominant culture, plain and simple.

Where I grew up, white people made up less than 43 percent of the population.

Where I work, white people make up less than 14 percent of the population.

I do not experience this other privilege you speak of either. When I go to a store, (a store run by white people no less) I am ignored. I don't think it is race as much as the fact that most 20 something males in Flint don't spend money on things other than radios.

And this goes without saying that white really isn't a single culture as much as an amalgamation of cultures.

Will Luongo said...

kc: I didn't want to seem like I was leaving out a pertinent fact: I now live in the Flint cultural center, which is 48% white, 45% black.

Will Luongo said...

I also messed up the math. The correct numbers are:

I grew up: 28% white, 66% black
I work: 12% white, 84% black.

Sorry about the mistake.