Ibram X. Kendi. How To Be An Antiracist. One World, 2019. (305 pages)
I continue to lament the misuse and misappropriation of justice concepts by pundits and fundamentalists for their self-justification in various culture wars. The root of this delinquency is perhaps a misunderstanding, some willful and others unintentional, both insufficient and counterproductive. I am buoyed in this cultural moment as books like Kendi’s have been selling well, but that fact will mean nothing if the content and vision they promulgate is not lived, as well.
How To Be An Antiracist is a clear, articulate, insightful, and incising explication of the concept of “antiracism,” why the word is important, what it means, and what other aspects of ourselves need to be informed by this principle. It is personal, profound, and full of cultural explication, elucidating the ways in which racism has pervaded all the various categories of our societies. More than that, and perhaps most compelling, is that Kendi writes as a “cultural cartographer,” mapping out not only where we’ve been and where we are, but using those well-travelled roads of racism as navigation tools to show the way forward, boldly starring the destination. It is a profound redemption, a brilliant imagination, and admittedly a difficult road, but one that can be traversed successfully.
Perhaps my favorite chapter was “Failure,” in which Kendi evaluates current justice efforts and frameworks with a critical lucidity that is necessary for true justice work to be accomplished. For example,
Incorrect conceptions of race as a social construct (as opposed to a power construct), of racial history as a singular march of racial progress (as opposed to a duel of antiracist and racist progress), of the race problem as rooted in ignorance and hate (as opposed to powerful self-interest)—all come together to produce solutions bound to fail. (201)
If the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice, it is because minds and voices like Kendi’s are weighing heavily to bend that curve.
MY RACIST INTRODUCTION
Racist ideas make people of color think less of themselves, which makes them more vulnerable to racist ideas. Racist ideas make White people think more of themselves, which further attracts them to racist ideas. (6)
At no point was this cycle interrupted by a deeper analysis of my own specific circumstances and shortcomings or a critical look at the ideas of the society that judged me–instead, the cycle hardened the racist ideas inside me until I was ready to preach them to others. (6)
I didn’t realize that to say something is wrong about a racial group is to say something is inferior about that racial group. I did not realize that to say something is inferior about a racial group is to say a racist idea. I thought I was serving my people, when in fact I was serving up racist ideas about my people to my people. (7)
This is the consistent function of racist ideas–and of any kind of bigotry more broadly: to manipulate us into seeing people as the problem, instead of the policies that ensnare them. (8)
Denial is the heartbeat of racism, beating across ideologies, races, and nations. It is beating within us. (9)
What’s the problem with being “not racist”? It is a claim that signifies neutrality: “I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.” But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” It is “anti-racist.” What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an antiracist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an antiracist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of “not racist.” The claim of “not racist” neutrality is a mask for racism. … “Racist” is not–as Richard Spencer argues–a pejorative. It is not the worst word in the English language; it is not the equivalent of a slur. It is descriptive, and the only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it–and then dismantle it. The attempt to turn this usefully descriptive term into an almost unusable slur is, of course, designed to do the opposite: to freeze us into inaction. (9)
* * *
The common idea of claiming “color blindness” is akin to the notion of being “not racist”… (10)
The good news is that racist and antiracist are not fixed identities. We can be a racist one minute and an antiracist the next. What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment, determines what–not who–we are. (10)
RACIST: One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.
ANTIRACIST: One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.
If we don’t do the basic work of defining the kind of people we want to be in language that is stable and consistent, we can’t work toward stable, consistent goals. … To be an antiracist is to set lucid definitions of racism/antiracism, racist/antiracist policies, racist/antiracist ideas, racist/antiracist people. To be a racist is to constantly redefine racist in a way that exonerates one’s changing policies, ideas, and personhood. (17)
What is racism? Racism is a mar-(17)riage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalizes racial inequities. (18)
Racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing. … Racial equity is when two or more racial groups are standing on a relatively equal footing. (18)
A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups. An antiracist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial equity between racial groups. … There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. (18)
Focusing on “racial discrimination” takes our eyes off the central agents of racism: racist policy and racist policy makers, or what I call racist power. (19)
You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘You are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you ahve been completely fair.” – President Lyndon B. Johnson
In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way. And in order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently. – Justice Harry Blackmun, 1978
The most threatening racist movement is not the alt right’s unlikely drive for a White ethnostate but the regular American’s drive for a “race-neutral” one. The construct of race neutrality actually feeds White nationalist victimhood by positing the notion that any policy protecting or advancing non-White Americans toward equity is “reverse discrimination.” (20)
A racist idea is any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way. Racist ideas argue that the inferiorities and superiorities of racial groups explain racial inequities in society.
The blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind. – Thomas Jefferson
Racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas. Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas. (20)
* * *
There may be no more consequential White privilege than (21) life itself. White lives matter to the tune of 3.5 additional years over BLack lives in the United States, which is just the most glaring of a host of health disparities, starting from infancy, where Black infants die at twice the rate of White infants.
We are surrounded by racial inequity, as visible as the law, as hidden as our private thoughts. The question for each of us is: What side of history will we stand on? A Racist is someone who is supporting a racist policy by their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea. An antiracist is someone who is supporting an antiracist policy by their actions or expressing an antiracist (22) idea. “Racist” and “antiracist” are like peelable name tags that are placed and replaced based on what someone is doing or not doing, supporting or expressing in each moment. These are not permanent tattoos. No one becomes a racist or antiracist. We can only strive to be one or the other. We can knowingly strive to be an antiracist. Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination. (23)
We have all been programmed to respond to the human differences between us with fear and loathing and to handle that difference in one of three ways: ignore it, and if that is not possible, copy it if we think it is dominant, or destroy it if we think it is subordinate. But we have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals. – Audre Lorde, 1980
2. DUELING CONSCIOUSNESS
ASSIMILATIONIST: One who is expressing the racist idea that a racial group is culturally or behaviorally inferior and is supporting cultural or behavioral enrichment programs to develop that racial group.
SEGREGATIONIST: One who is expressing the racist idea that a permanently inferior racial group can never be developed and is supporting policy that segregates away that racial group.
ANTIRACIST: One who is expressing the idea that racial groups are equals and none needs developing, and is supporting policy that reduces racial inequity. (24)
Americans have long been trained to see the deficiencies of people rather than policy. … We are particularly poor at seeing the policies lurking behind the struggles of people. (28)
Assimilationist ideas are racist ideas. Assimilationists can position any racial group as the superior standard that another racial group should be measuring themselves against, the benchmark they should be trying to reach. (29)
Black self-reliance was a double-edged sword. One side was an abhorrence of White supremacy and White paternalism, White rulers and White saviors. On the other, a love of Black rulers and Black saviors, of Black paternalism, On one side was the antiracist belief that BLack people were entirely capable of ruling themselves, of relying on themselves. On the other, the assimilationist idea that Black people should focus on pulling themselves up by their baggy jeans and tight halter tops, getting (30) off crack, street corners, and government “handouts,” as if those were the things partially holding their incomes down. (31)
White people have their own dueling consciousness, between the segregationist and the assimilationist: the slave trader and the missionary, the proslavery exploiter and the antislavery civilizer, the eugenicist and the melting pot-ter, the mass incarcerator and the mass developer, the Blue Lives Matter and the All Lives Matter, the not-racist nationalist and the not-racist American. (31)
White people have generally advocated for both assimilationist and segregationist policies. People of color have generally advocated for both antiracist and assimilationist policies. The “history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,” to quote Du Bois–the strife between the assimilationist and the antiracist, between mass civilizing and mass equalizing. In Du Bois’s Black body, in my parents’ Black bodies, in my young Black body, this double desire, this dueling consciousness, yielded an inner strife between Black pride and a yearning to be White. My (32) own assimilationist ideas stopped me from noticing the racist policies really getting high during Reagan’s drug war. (33)
History duels: the undeniable history of antiracist progress, the undeniable history of racist progress. … The White body defines the American body. The White body segregates the Black body from the American body. The White body instructs the Black body to assimilate into the American body. The White body rejects the Black body assimilating into the American body–and history and consciousness duel anew. (33)
| The Black body in turn experiences the same duel. The Black body is instructed to become an American body. The American body is the White body. The Black body strives to assimilate into the American body. The American body rejects the Black body. The Black body separates from the American body. The Black body is instructed to assimilate into the American body–and history and consciousness duel anew. (33)
| But there is a way to get free. To be antiracist is to emancipate (33) oneself from the dueling consciousness. To be antiracist is to conquer the assimilationist consciousness and the segregationist consciousness. The White body no longer presents itself as the American body; the Black body no longer strives to be the American body, knowing there is no such thing as the American body, only American bodies, racialized by power. (34)
RACE: A power construct of collected or merged difference that lives socially.
But for all of that life-shaping power, race is a mirage, which doesn’t lessen its force. We are what we see ourselves as, whether what we see exists or not. We are what people see us as, whether what they see exists or not. What people see in themselves and others has meaning and manifests itself in ideas and actions and policies, even if what they are seeing is an illusion. Race is a mirage but one that we do well to see, while never forgetting it is a mirage, never forgetting that it’s the powerful light of racist power that makes the mirage. (37)
| So I do not pity my seven-year-old self for identifying racially as Black. I still identify as Black. Not because I believe Blackness, or race, is a meaningful scientific category but because our societies, our policies, our ideas, our histories, and our cultures have rendered race and made it matter. (37)
Some White people do not identify as White for the same reason they identify as not-racist: to avoid reckoning with the ways that Whiteness–even as a construction and mirage–has informed their notions of America and identity and offered them privilege, the primary one being the privilege of being inherently normal, standard, and legal. It is a racial crime to be yourself if you are not White in America. It is a racial crime to look like yourself or empower yourself if you are not White. I guess I became a criminal at seven years old. (38)
Race creates new forms of power: the power to categorize and judge, elevate and downgrade, include an exclude. (38)
* * *
Race…means descent. … Therefore, it is said that a man, a horse, a dog, or another animal is from a good or bad race. – Jean Nicot, Trésor de la langue française.
Linnaeus positioned Homo sapiens europaeus at the top of the racial hierarchy, making up the most superior character traits. “Vigorous, muscular. Flowing blond hair. Blue eyes. Very smart, inventive. Covered by tight clothing. Ruled by law.” He made up the middling racial character of Homo sapiens asiaticus: “Melancholy, stern. Black hair; dark eyes. Strict, haughty, greedy. Covered by loose garments. Ruled by opinion.” He granted the racial character of Homo sapiens americanus a mixed set of attributes: “Ill-tempered, impassive. Thick straight black hair; wide nostrils; harsh face; beardless. Stubborn, contented, free. Paints himself with red lines. Ruled by custom.” At the bottom of the racial hierarchy, Linnaeus positioned Homo sapiens afer: “Sluggish, lazy. Black kinky hair. Silky skin. Flat nose. Thick lips. Females with genital flap and elongated breasts. Craft, slow, careless. Covered by grease. Ruled by caprice.” [cf. Carl Linnaeus, Systema Naturae.] (41)
This cause and effect–a racist power creates racist policies out of raw self-interest; the racist policies necessitate racist ideas to justify them–lingers over the life of racism. (42)
BIOLOGICAL RACIST: One who is expressing the idea that the races are meaningfully different in their biology and that these differences create a hierarchy of value.
BIOLOGICAL ANTIRACIST: One who is expressing the idea that the races are meaningfully the same in their biology and there are no genetic racial differences.
An antiracist treats and remembers individuals as individuals. (44)
I do not use “microaggression” anymore. I detest the post-racial platform that supported its sudden popularity. I detest its component parts–“micro” and “aggression.” A persistent daily low hum of racist abuse is not minor. I use the term “abuse” because aggression is not as exacting a term. Abuse accurately describes the action and its effects on people: distress, anger, worry, depression, anxiety, pain, fatigue, and suicide. (47)
| What other people call racial microaggressions I call racist abuse. (47)
With racist teachers, misbehaving kids of color do not receive inquiry and empathy and legitimacy. We receive orders and punishments and “no excuses,” as if we are adults. The Black child is ill-treated like an adult, and the Black adult is ill-treated like a child. (48)
Biological racists are segregationists. Biological racism rests on two ideas: that the races are meaningfully different in their biology and that these differences create a hierarchy of value. (49)
Global outrage after the genocidal eugenics-driven policies of Nazi Germany in the mid-twentieth century led to the marginalization of biological racism within academic thought for the first time in four hundred years. Biological racism—curse theory, polygenesis, and eugenics–had held strong for that long. And yet marginalization in academic thought did not mean marginalization in common thought, including the kind of common thinking that surrounded me as a child. (52)
What that means is that modern science has confirmed what we first learned from ancient faiths. The most important fact of life on this Earth is our common humanity. – William Jefferson Clinton’s Remarks on the Completion of the First Survey of the Human Genome, June 26, 2000.
cf. Nicholas Wade, A Troublesome Inheritance. … Wade made the case that “there is a genetic component to human social behavior.” This connecting of biology to behavior is the cradle of biological racism–it leads to biological ranking of the races and the supposition that the biology of certain races yields superior behavioral traits, like intelligence. (53)
People are born with ancestry that comes from their parents but ar assigned a race. – Dorothy Roberts
When geneticists compare these ethnic populations, they find there is more genetic diversity between populations within Africa than between Africa and the rest of the world. Ethnic groups in Western Africa are more genetically similar to ethnic groups in Western Europe than to ethnic groups in Eastern Africa. Race is a genetic mirage. (53)
| Segregationists like Nicholas Wade figure if humans are 99.9 percent genetically alike, then they must be 0.1 percent distinct. And this distinction must be racial. And that 0.1 percent of racial distinction has grown exponentially over the millennia. And it is their job to search heaven and earth for these exponentially distinct races. (53)
cf. Ken Hham, One Race One Blood
Race is a mirage but one that humanity has organized itself around in very real ways. Imagining away the existence of races in a racist world is as conserving and harmful as imagining away classes in a capitalistic world–it allows the ruling races and classes to keep on ruling. (54)
| Assimilationists belive in the post-racial myth that talking bout race constitutes racism, or that if we stop identifying by race, then racism will miraculously go away. They fail to realize that if we stop using racial categories, then we will not be able to identify racial inequity. If we cannot identify racial inequity, then we will not be able to identify racist policies. If we cannot identify racist policies, then we cannot challenge racist policies. If we cannot challenge racist policies, then racist power’s final solution will be achieved: a world of inequity none of us can see, let alone resist. Terminating racial categories is potentially the last, not the first, step in the antiracist struggle. (54)
To be an antiracist is to recognize the reality of biological equality, that skin color is as meaningless to our underlying humanity as the clothes we wear over that skin. To be antiracist is to recognize there is no such thing as White blood or BLack diseases or natural Latinx athleticism. To be antiracist is to also recognize the living, breathing reality of this racial mirage, which makes our skin colors more meaningful than our individuality. To be antiracist is to focus on (54) ending the racism that shapes the mirages, not to ignore the mirages that shape peoples’ lives. (55)
ETHNIC RACISM: A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between racialized ethnic groups and are substantiated by racist ideas about racialized ethnic groups.
ETHNIC ANTIRACISM: A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between racialized ethnic groups and are substantiated by antiracist ideas about racialized ethnic groups.
The fact is, all ethnic groups, once they fall under the gaze and power of race makers, become racialized. (62)
To be antiracist is to view national and transnational ethnic groups as equal in all their differences. To be antiracist is to challenge the racist policies that plague racialized ethnic groups across the world. To be antiracist is to view the inequities between all racialized ethnic groups as a problem of policy. (64)
…immigrants and migrants of all races tend to be more resilient and resourceful when compared with the natives of their own countries and the natives of their new countries. Sociologists call this the “migrant advantage.” As sociologist Suzanne Model explained in her book on West Indian immigrants, “West Indians are not a black success story but an immigrant success story.” As such, policies from those of Calvin Coolidge to Donald Trump’s limiting immigration to the United States from China or Italy or Senegal or Haiti or Mexico have been self-destructive to the country. With ethnic racism, no one wins, except the racist power at the top. As with all racism, that is the entire point. (67)
BODILY RACIST: One who is perceiving certain racialized bodies as more animal-like and violent than others.
BODILY ANTIRACIST: One who is humanizing, deracializing, and individualizing nonviolent and violent behavior.
Blacks must understand and acknowledge the roots of White fear in America. There is a legitimate fear of the violence that is too prevalent in our urban areas. By experience or at least what people see on the news at night, violence for those White people too often has a Black face. – President Bill Clinton, October 15, 1995, the same day as the Million Man March. – https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4716448/user-clip-clinton-speech (https://www.c-span.org/video/standalone/?c4716448/user-clip-clinton-speech)
Never again should Washington put politics and party above law and order. – President Bill Clinton, September 13, 1994.
Most inner-city children grow up surrounded by teenagers and adults who are themselves deviant, delinquent or criminal … A new generation of street criminals is upon us–the youngest, biggest and baddest generation any society has ever known. – John J. DiIulio
(cf. EJI’s “The Superpredator Myth, 20 Years Later”)
But crime bills have never correlated to crime any more than fear has correlated to actual violence. We are not meant to fear suits with policies that kill. We are not meant to fear good White males with AR-15s. No, we are to fear the weary, unarmed Latinx body from Latin America. The Arab body kneeling to Allah is to be feared. The Black body from hell is to be feared. Adept politicians and crime entrepreneurs manufacture the fear and stand before voters to deliver them–messiahs who will liberate them from fear of these other bodies. (76)
Black people are apparently responsible for calming the fears of violent cops in the way women are supposedly responsible for calming the sexual desires of male rapists. If we don’t, then we are blamed for our own assaults, our own deaths. (76)
In other words, researchers have found a much stronger and clearer correlation between violent-crime levels and unemployment levels than between violent crime and race. (79)
But that does not mean low-income Black people are more violent than high-income Black people. That means low-income neighborhoods struggle with unemployment and poverty–and their typical byproduct, violent crime. (80)
Antiracists say Black people, like all people, need more higher-paying jobs within their reach, especially Black youngsters, who have consistently had the highest rates of unemployment of any demographic group, topping 50 percent in the mid-1990s. (80)
| There is no such thing as a dangerous racial group. But there are, of course, dangerous individuals like Smurf. THere is the violence of racism–manifest in policy and policing–that fears the Black body. And there is the nonviolence of antiracism that does not fear the Black body, that fears if anything, the violence of the racism that has been set on the Black body. (80)
CULTURAL RACIST: One who is creating a cultural standard and imposing a cultural hierarchy among racial groups.
CULTURAL ANTIRACIST: One who is rejecting cultural standards and equalizing cultural differences among racial groups.
It helps to dig back into the origins of Ebonics. Enslaved Africans formulated new languages in nearly every European colony in the Americas including African American Ebonics. Jamaican Patois, Haitian Creole, Brazilian Calunga, and Cubano. In every one of these countries, racist power–those in control of government, macadamia, education, and media–has demeaned these African languages as dialects, as “broken” or “improper” or “nonstandard” French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, or English. Assimilationists have always urged Africans in the Americas to forget the “broken” languages of our ancestors and master the apparently “fixed” languages of Europeans–to speak “properly.” But what was the difference between Ebonics and so-called “standard” English? Ebonics had grown from the roots of African languages and modern English just as modern English had grown from Latin, Greek, and Germanic roots. Why is Ebonics broken English but English is not broken German? Why is Ebonics a dialect of English if English is not a dialect of Latin? The idea that BLack languages outside Africa are broken is as culturally racists as the idea that languages inside Europe are fixed. (83)
Whoever makes the cultural standard makes the cultural hierarchy. The act of making a cultural standard and hierarchy is what creates cultural racism. (83)
| To be antiracist is to reject cultural standards and level cultural difference. Segregationists say racial groups cannot reach their superior cultural standard. Assimilationists say racial groups can, with effort and intention, reach their superior cultural standards. (84)
“Civilization” is often a polite euphemism for cultural racism. (85)
I hated what they called civilization, represented most immediately by school. I loved what they considered dysfunctional–African American culture, which defined my life outside school. My first taste of culture was the Black church. Hearing strangers identify as sister and brother. Listening to sermonic conversations, all those calls from preachers, responses from congregants. Bodies swaying in choirs like branches on a tree, following the winds and twists of a soloist. The Holy Ghost mounting women for wild shouts and basketball sprints up and down aisles. Flying hats covering the new wigs of old ladies who were keeping it fresh for Jee-susss-sa. Funerals livelier than weddings. Watching Ma dust (85) off her African garb and Dad his dashikis for Kwanzaa celebrations livelier than funerals. (86)
Surface-sighted people have no sense of what psychologist Wade Nobles calls “the deep structure of culture,” the philosophies and values that change outward physical forms. It is this “deep structure” that transforms European Christianity into a New African Christianity, with mounting spirits, calls and re-(86)sponses, and Holy Ghost worship; it changes English into Ebonics, European ingredients into soul food. The cultural African survived in the Americans, created a strong and complex culture with Western “outward” forms “while retaining inner [African] values,” anthropologist Melville Herskovits avowed in 1941. The same cultural African breathed life into the African American culture that raised me. (87)
“That every practice and sentiment is barbarous, which is not according to the usages of modern Europe, seems to be a fundamental maxim with many of our critics and philosophers,” wrote critical Scottish Enlightenment philosopher James Beattie in 1770. “Their remarks often put us in mind of the fable of the man and the lion.” In the fable, a man and lion travel together, arguing over who is superior. They pass a statue that shows a lion strangled by a man. The man says, “See there! How strong we are, (90) and how we prevail over even the king of beasts.” The lion replies, “This statue was made by one of you men. If we lions knew how to erect statues, you would see the man placed under the paw of the lion.” Whoever creates the cultural standard usually puts themself at the top of the hierarchy. (90)
All cultures must be judged in relation to their own history, and all individuals and groups in relation to their cultural history, and definitely not by the arbitrary standard of any single culture. – Ashley Montagu in 1942
To be antiracist is to see all cultures in all their differences as on the same level, as equals. When we see cultural difference, we are seeing cultural difference—nothing more, nothing less. (91)
BEHAVIORAL RACIST: One who is making individuals responsible for the perceived behavior of racial groups and making racial groups responsible for the behavior of individuals.
BEHAVIORAL ANTIRACIST: One who is making racial group behavior fictional and individual behavior real.
The truth is that I should be critiqued as a student–I was undermotivated and distracted and undisciplined. In other words, a bad student. But I shouldn’t be critiqued as a bad Black student. I did not represent my race any more than my irresponsible White classmates represented their race. It makes racist sense to talk about personal irresponsibility as it applies to an entire racial group. Racial-group behavior is a figment of the racist’s imagination. Individual behaviors can shape the success of individuals. But policies determine the success of groups. And it is racist power that creates the policies that cause racial inequities. (94)
| Making individuals responsible for the perceived behavior of racial groups and making whole racial groups responsible for the behavior of individuals are the two ways that behavioral racism infects our perception of the world. In other words, when we believe that a racial group’s seeming success or failure redounds to each of its individual members, we’ve accepted a racist idea. Likewise, when we believe that an individual’s seeming success or failure redounds to an entire group, we’ve accepted a racist idea. (94)
Although black civil rights leaders like to point to a supposedly racist criminal justice system to explain why our prisons house so many black men, it’s been obvious for decades that the real culprit is black behavior. – Jason Riley, 2016.
Every time someone racializes behavior–describes something as “Black behavior”–they are expressing a racist idea. … Just as race doesn’t exist biologically, race doesn’t exist behaviorally. (95)
Abolitionists–or, rather, progressive assimilationists–conjured what I call the oppression-inferiority thesis. In their well-meaning efforts to persuade Americans about the horrors of oppression, assimilationists argue that oppression has degraded the behaviors of oppressed people. (96)
The latest expression of the oppression-inferiority thesis is known as post-traumatic slave syndrome, or PTSS. Black “infighting,” materialism, poor parenting, colorism, defeatism, rage–these “dysfunctional” and “negative” behaviors “as well as many others are in large part related to trans-generational adaptations associated with the past traumas of slavery and on-going oppression,” maintains psychologist Joy DeGruy in her 2005 book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. (Some people believe, based on misleading studies, that these trans-generational adaptations are genetic.) (97)
Black individuals have, of course, suffered trauma from slavery and ongoing oppression. Some individuals throughout history have exhibited negative behaviors related to this trauma. DeGruy is a hero for ushering the constructs of trauma, damage, and healing into our understanding of Black life. But there is a thin line between an antiracist saying individual Blacks have suffered trauma and a racist saying Blacks are a traumatized people. There is similarly a thin line between an antiracist saying slavery was debilitating and a racist saying Blacks are a debilitated people. The latter constructions erase whole swaths of history: for instance, the story of even the first generation of emancipated Black people, who moved straight from plantations into the Union army, into politics, labor organizing, Union leagues, artistry, entrepreneurship, club building, church building, school building, community building—buildings more commonly razed by the fiery (97) hand of racist terrorism than by any self-destructive hand of behavioral deficiencies derived from the trauma of slavery. (98)
* * *
The use of standardized tests to measure aptitude and intelligence is one of the most effective racist policies ever devised to degrade Black minds and legally exclude Black bodies. We degrade Black minds every time we speak of an “academic-achievement gap” based on these numbers. The acceptance of an academic-achievement gap is just the latest method of reinforcing the oldest racist idea: Black intellectual inferiority. The idea of an achievement gap means there is a disparity in academic performance between groups of students; implicit in this idea is that academic achievement as measured by statistical instruments like test scores and dropout rates is the only form of academic “achievement.” There is an even more sinister implication in achievement-gap talk—that disparities in academic achievement accurately reflect disparities in intelligence among racial groups. Intellect is the linchpin of behavior, and the racist idea of the achievement gap is the linchpin of behavioral racism. (101)
But what if, all along, these well-meaning efforts at closing the achievement gap have been opening the door to racist ideas? What if different environments lead to different kinds of achievement rather than different levels of achievement? What if the intellect of a low-testing Black child in a poor Black school is different from—and not inferior to—the intellect of a high-testing White child in a rich White school? What if we measured intelligence by how knowledgeable individuals are about their own environments? What if we measured intellect by an individual’s desire to know? What if we realized the best way to ensure an effective educational system is not by standardizing our curricula and tests but by standardizing the opportunities available to all students? (103)
The lack of resources leads directly to diminished opportunities for learning. In other words, the racial problem is the opportunity gap, as antiracist reformers call it, not the achievement gap. (103)
* * *
As long as the mind thinks there is something behaviorally wrong with a racial group, the mind can never be antiracist. As long as the mind oppresses the oppressed by thinking their oppressive environment has retarded their behavior, the mind can (104) never be antiracist. As long as the mind is racist, the mind can never be free. (105)
| To be antiracist is to think nothing is behaviorally wrong or right—inferior or superior—with any of the racial groups. Whenever the antiracist sees individuals behaving positively or negatively, the antiracist sees exactly that: individuals behaving positively or negatively, not representatives of whole races. To be antiracist is to deracialize behavior, to remove the tattooed stereotype from every racialized body. Behavior is something humans do, not races do. (105)
Whenever we say something just feels right or wrong we’re evading the deeper, perhaps hidden, ideas that inform our feelings. But in those hidden places, we find what we really think if we have the courage to face our own naked truths. (106)
COLORISM: A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequities between Light people and Dark people, supported by racist ideas about Light and Dark people.
COLOR ANTIRACISM: A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between Light people and Dark people, supported by antiracist ideas about Light and Dark people.
I had no idea my light eyes embodied the latest form of “colorism,” a term coined by novelist Alice Walker in 1983. The post-racial beauty ideal hides colorism, veils it in euphemism. Colorism is a form of racism. To recognize colorism, we must first recognize that Light people and Dark people are two distinct racialized groups shaped by their own histories. Dark people—the unidentified racial group of darker skins, kinky hair, broader noses and (109) lips—span many races, ethnicities, and nationalities. (110)
Colorism is a collection of racist policies that cause inequities between Light people and Dark people, and these inequities are substantiated by racist ideas about Light and Dark people. Colorism, like all forms of racism, rationalizes inequities with racist ideas, claiming the inequities between Dark people and Light people are not due to racist policy but are based in what is wrong or right with each group of people. Colorist ideas are also assimilationist ideas, encouraging assimilation into—or transformation into something close to—the White body. (110)
To be an antiracist is to focus on color lines as much as racial lines, knowing that color lines are especially harmful for Dark people. When the gains of a multicolored race disproportionately flow to Light people and the losses disproportionately flow to Dark people, inequities between the races mirror inequities within the races. But because inequities between the races overshadow inequities within the races, Dark people often fail to see colorism as they regularly experience it. Therefore, Dark people rarely protest policies that benefit Light people, a “skin color paradox,” as termed by political scientists Jennifer L. Hochschild and Vesla Weaver. (110)
To be an antiracist is not to reverse the beauty standard. To be an antiracist is to eliminate any beauty standard based on skin and eye color, hair texture, facial and bodily features (113) shared by groups. To be an antiracist is to diversify our standards of beauty like our standards of culture or intelligence, to see beauty equally in all skin colors, broad and thin noses, kinky and straight hair, light and dark eyes. To be an antiracist is to build and live in a beauty culture that accentuates instead of erases our natural beauty. (114)
ANTI-WHITE RACIST: One who is classifying people of European descent as biologically, culturally, or behaviorally inferior or conflating the entire race of White people with racist power.
Black people were only 11 percent of registered voters but comprised 44 percent of the purge list. (124)
A total of 179,855 ballots were invalidated by Florida election officials in a race ultimately won by 537 votes. (124)
The fact was that Black people delivered enough voters to win, but those voters were sent home or their votes spoiled. Racist ideas often lead to this silly psychological inversion, where we blame the victimized race for their own victimization. (125)
White people became devils to me, but I had to figure out how they came to be devils. I read “The Making of Devil,” a chapter in Elijah Muhammad’s Message to the Blackman in America, written in 1965. Muhammad led the unorthodox Nation of Islam (NOI) from 1934 until his death in 1975. According to the theology he espoused, more than six thousand years ago, in an all-Black world, a wicked Black scientist named Yakub was exiled alongside his 59,999 followers to an island in the Aegean Sea. Yakub plotted his revenge against his enemies: “to create upon the earth a devil race.” (125)
| Yakub established a brutal island regime of selective breeding—eugenics meeting colorism. He killed all Dark babies and forced Light people to breed. When Yakub died, his followers carried on, creating the Brown race from the Black race, the Red race from the Brown race, the Yellow race from the Red race, and the White race from the Yellow race. After six hundred years, “on the (125) island of Patmos was nothing but these blond, pale-skinned, cold-blue-eyed devils—savages.” (126)
Months before being assassinated, Malcolm X faced a fact many admirers of Malcolm X still refuse to face: Black people can be racist toward White people. The NOI’s White-devil idea is a classic example. Whenever someone classifies people of European descent as biologically, culturally, or behaviorally inferior, whenever someone says there is something wrong with White people as a group, someone is articulating a racist idea. (128)
The only thing wrong with White people is when they embrace racist ideas and policies and then deny their ideas and policies are racist. This is not to ignore that White people have massacred and enslaved millions of indigenous and African peoples, colonized and impoverished millions of people of color around the globe as their nations grew rich, all the while producing racist ideas that blame the victims. This is to say their history of pillaging is not the result of the evil genes or cultures of White people. There’s no such thing as White genes. (128)
To be antiracist is to never mistake the global march of White racism for the global march of White people. To be antiracist is to never mistake the antiracist hate of White racism for the racist hate of White people. To be antiracist is to never conflate racist people with White people, knowing there are antiracist Whites and racist non-Whites. To be antiracist is to see ordinary White people as the frequent victimizers of people of color and the frequent victims of racist power. (129)
We must discern the difference between racist power (racist policymakers) and White people. (129)
White racists do not want to define racial hierarchy or policies that yield racial inequities as racist. To do so would be to define their ideas and policies as racist. Instead, they define policies not rigged for White people as racist. Ideas not centering White lives are racist. Beleaguered White racists who can’t imagine their lives not being the focus of any movement respond to “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter.” Embattled police officers who can’t imagine losing their right to racially profile and brutalize respond with “Blue Lives Matter.” (130)
And yet racist power thrives on anti-White racist ideas—more hatred only makes their power greater. When Black people recoil from White racism and concentrate their hatred on everyday White people, as I did freshman year in college, they are not fighting racist power or racist policymakers. In losing focus on racist power, they fail to challenge anti-Black racist policies, which means those policies are more likely to flourish. Going after White people instead of racist power prolongs the policies harming Black life. In the end, anti-White racist ideas, in taking some or all of the focus off racist power, become anti-Black. In the end, hating White people becomes hating Black people. (131)
History tells a different story. Contrary to “the mantra,” White (131) supremacists are the ones supporting policies that benefit racist power against the interests of the majority of White people. White supremacists claim to be pro-White but refuse to acknowledge that climate change is having a disastrous impact on the earth White people inhabit. They oppose affirmative-action programs, despite White women being their primary beneficiaries. White supremacists rage against Obamacare even as 43 percent of the people who gained lifesaving health insurance from 2010 to 2015 were White. They heil Adolf Hitler’s Nazis, even though it was the Nazis who launched a world war that destroyed the lives of more than forty million White people and ruined Europe. They wave Confederate flags and defend Confederate monuments, even though the Confederacy started a civil war that ended with more than five hundred thousand White American lives lost—more than every other American war combined. White supremacists love what America used to be, even though America used to be—and still is—teeming with millions of struggling White people. White supremacists blame non-White people for the struggles of White people when any objective analysis of their plight primarily implicates the rich White Trumps they support. (132)
White supremacist is code for anti-White, and White supremacy is nothing short of an ongoing program of genocide against the White race. In fact, it’s more than that: White supremacist is code for anti-human, a nuclear ideology that poses an existential threat to human existence. (132)
cf. The Iceman Inheritance by Michael Bradley; The Isis Papers by Frances Cress Welsing; The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy by Lothrop Stoddard.
POWERLESS DEFENSE: The illusory, concealing, disempowering, and racist idea that Black people can’t be racist because Black people don’t have power.
cf. Chris Rock, Bring The Pain
Quietly, though, this [powerless defense] shields people of color in positions of power from doing the work of antiracism, since they are apparently powerless, since White people have all the power. This means that people of color are powerless to roll back racist policies and close racial inequities even in their own spheres of influence, the places where they actually do have some power to effect change. The powerless defense shields people of color from charges of racism even when they are reproducing racist policies and justifying them with the same racist ideas as the White people they call racist. The powerless defense shields its believers from the history of White people empowering the people of color to oppress people of color and of people of color using their limited power to oppress people of color for their own personal gain. (140)
| Like every other racist idea, the powerless defense underestimates Black people and overestimates White people. It erases the small amount of Black power and expands the already expansive reach of White people. (140)
When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. – Carter G. Woodson
The recorded history of Black racists begins in 1526 in Della descrittione dell’Africa (Description of Africa), authored by a Moroccan Moor …converted to Christianity, and renamed…Leo Africanus. (144)
cf. A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes, 1657; The American Negro, William Hannibal Thomas; Up From Slavery, 1901, Booker T. Washington.
To color police racism as White on the pretext that only White people can be racist is to ignore the non-White officer’s history of profiling and killing “them niggers.” (147)
CLASS RACIST: One who is racializing the classes, supporting policies of racial capitalism against those race-classes, and justifying them by racist ideas about those race-classes.
ANTIRACIST ANTICAPITALIST: One who is opposing racial capitalism.
…the word “ghetto,” as it migrated to the Main Street of American vocabulary, did not conjure a series of racist policies that enabled White flight and Black abandonment–instead, ‘Ghetto” began to describe unrespectable Black behavior on the North Broad Streets of the country. (152)
cf. Dark Ghetto, Kenneth Clark
When a policy exploits poor people, it is an elitist policy. When a policy exploits Black people, it is a racist policy. When a policy exploits Black poor people, the policy exploits at the inter-(152)section of elitist and racist policies—a policy intersection of class racism. When we racialize classes, support racist policies against those race-classes, and justify them by racist ideas, we are engaging in class racism. To be antiracist is to equalize the race-classes. To be antiracist is to root the economic disparities between the equal race-classes in policies, not people. (152)
Oscar Lewis introduced the term “culture of poverty” in a 1959 ethnograpy of Mexican families. (153)
cf. The Conscience of the Conservative, Barry Goldwater, 1960.
This stereotype of the hopless, defeated, unmotivated poor Black is without evidence. Recent research shows, in fact, that poor Blacks are more optimistic about their prospects than poor Whites are. [cf. Carol Graham Happiness for All? Unequal Hopes and Lives in Pursuit of the American Dream (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017).] (155)
Poor Blacks are much more likely to live in neighborhoods where other families are poor, creating a poverty of resources and opportunities. Sociologists refer to this as the “double burden.” (158)
I keep using the term “anticapitalist” as opposed to socialist or communist to include the people who publicly or privately ques-(160)tion or loathe capitalism but do not identify as socialist or communist. I use “anticapitalist” because conservative defenders of capitalism regularly say their liberal and socialist opponents are against capitalism. They say efforts to provide a safety net for all people are “anticapitalist.” They say attempts to prevent monopolies are “anticapitalist.” They say efforts that strengthen weak unions and weaken exploitative owners are “anticapitalist.” They say plans to normalize worker ownership and regulations protecting consumers, workers, and environments from big business are “anticapitalist.” They say laws taxing the richest more than the middle class, redistributing pilfered wealth, and guaranteeing basic incomes are “anticapitalist.” They say wars to end poverty are “anticapitalist.” They say campaigns to remove the profit motive from essential life sectors like education, healthcare, utilities, mass media, and incarceration are “anticapitalist.” (161)
In doing so, these conservative defenders are defining capitalism. They define capitalism as the freedom to exploit people into economic ruin; the freedom to assassinate unions; the freedom to prey on unprotected consumers, workers, and environments; the freedom to value quarterly profits over climate change; the freedom to undermine small businesses and cushion corporations; the freedom from competition; the freedom not to pay taxes; the freedom to heave the tax burden onto the middle and lower classes; the freedom to commodify everything and everyone; the freedom to keep poor people poor and middle-income people struggling to stay middle income, and make rich people richer. The history of capitalism—of world warring, classing, slave trading, enslaving, colonizing, depressing wages, and dispossessing land and labor and resources and rights—bears out the conservative definition of capitalism. (161)
To love capitalism is to end up loving racism. To love racism is to end up loving capitalism. The conjoined twins are two sides of the same destructive body. The idea that capitalism is merely free markets, competition, free trade, supplying and demanding, and private ownership of the means of production operating for a profit is as whimsical and ahistorical as the White-supremacist idea that calling something racist is the primary form of racism. Popular definitions of capitalism, like popular racist ideas, do not live in historical or material reality. Capitalism is essentially racist; racism is essentially capitalist. They were birthed together from the same unnatural causes, and they shall one day die together from unnatural causes. Or racial capitalism will live into another epoch of theft and rapacious inequity, especially if activists naïvely fight the conjoined twins independently, as if they are not the same. (163)
SPACE RACISM: A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to resource inequity between racialized spaces or the elimination of certain racialized spaces, which are substantiated by racist ideas about racialized spaces.
SPACE ANTIRACISM: A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity between integrated and protected racialized spaces, which are substantiated by antiracist ideas about racialized spaces.
cf. Afrocentricity, Molefi Kete Asante, 1980
In my first course with [Ama] Mazama, she lectured on Asante’s contention that objectivity was really “collective subjectivity.” She concluded, “It is impossible to be objective.” (167)
[via: Everything is intersubjective.]
Just as racist power racializes people, racist power racializes space. The ghetto. The inner city. The third world. A space is racialized when a racial group is known to either govern the space or make up the clear majority in the space. A Black space, for instance, is either a space publicly run by Black people or a space where Black people stand in the majority. Policies of space racism overresource White spaces and underresource non-White spaces. Ideas of space racism justify resource inequity through creating a racial hierarchy of space, lifting up White spaces as heaven, downgrading non-White spaces as hell. (169)
Resources define a space, resources the conjoined twins divvy up. People make spaces from resources. (172)
On an intellectual level, I know that Black people have been denied equal access to capital, training, and physical space. But does that inequitable treatment excuse bad service? – one young Black writer, Blavity, 2017
Does not good service, like every other commodity, typically cost more money? How can we acknowledge the clouds of racism over Black spaces and be shocked when it rains on our heads? (173)
| I felt Black was beautiful, but Black spaces were not? Nearly everything I am I owe to Black space. Black neighborhood. Black church. Black college. Black studies. I was like a plant devaluing the soil that made me. (173)
Whenever Black people voluntarily gather among themselves, integrationists do not see spaces of Black solidarity created to separate Black people from racism. They see spaces of White hate. They do not see spaces of cultural solidarity, of solidarity against racism. They see spaces of segregation against White people. Integrationists do not see these spaces as the movement of Black people toward Black people. Integrationists think about them as a movement away from White people. They then equate that movement away from White people with the White segregationist movement away from Black people. Integrationists equate spaces for the survival of Black bodies with spaces for the survival of White supremacy. (175)
What really made the schools unequal were the dramatically unequal resources provided to them, not the mere fact of racial separation. (176)
* * *
After Brown, the integrated White space came to define the ideal integrated space where inferior non-White bodies could be developed. The integrated Black space became a de facto segregated space where inferior Black bodies were left behind. Integration had turned into “a one-way street,” a young Chicago lawyer observed in 1995. “The minority assimilated into the dominant culture, not the other way around,” Barack Obama wrote. “Only white culture could be neutral and objective. Only white culture could be nonracial.” Integration (into Whiteness) became racial progress. (178)
Think about the logical conclusion of integrationist strategy: every race being represented in every U.S. space according to their percentage in the national population. A Black (12.7 percent) person would not see another until after seeing eight or so non-Blacks. A Latinx (17.8 percent) person would not see another until after seeing seven or so non-Latinx. An Asian (4.8 percent) person would not see another until after seeing nineteen non-Asians. A Native (0.9 percent) person would not see another until after seeing ninety-nine non-Natives. White (61.3 percent) Americans would always see more White people around than non-White people. They would gain everything, from the expansion of integrated White spaces to Whites gentrifying all the non-White institutions, associations, and neighborhoods. No more spatial wombs for non-White cultures. Only White spatial (178) wombs of assimilation. We would all become “only white men” with different “skins,” to quote historian Kenneth Stampp in 1956. (180)
Antiracist strategy fuses desegregation with a form of integration and racial solidarity. Desegregation: eliminating all barriers to all racialized spaces. To be antiracist is to support the voluntary integration of bodies attracted by cultural difference, a shared humanity. Integration: resources rather than bodies. To be an antiracist is to champion resource equity by challenging the racist policies that produce resource inequity. Racial solidarity: openly identifying, supporting, and protecting integrated racial spaces. To be antiracist is to equate and nurture difference among racial groups. (180)
GENDER RACISM: A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between race-genders and are substantiated by racist ideas about race-genders.
GENDER ANTIRACISM: A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between race-genders and are substantiated by antiracist ideas about race-genders.
My parents did not strictly raise me to be a Black patriarch. I became a Black patriarch because my parents and the world around me did not strictly raise me to be a Black feminist. (183)
[The] immediate goal of the Negro woman today should be the establishment of a strong family unit in which the father is the dominant person. – Ebony magazine
Racism had “clearly” and “largely focused” on the Black male, sociologist Charles Herbert Stember argued in his 1976 book, Sexual Racism: The Emotional Barrier to an Integrated Society (184)
“How about: Are you willing to submit one to another?” [dad] asked. | Ma nodded. She liked the sound of “one to another,” integrating the Christian concept of submission with feminist equity. (186)
…Frances Beal, who audaciously proclaimed in 1968, “the black woman in America can justly be described as a ‘slave of a slave,'” the victim of the “double jeopardy” of racism and sexism. (187)
In discussing the experiences of Black women, is it sexism or is it racism? These two concepts narrowly intertwine and combine under certain conditions into one, hybrid phenomenon. Therefore, it is useful to speak of gendered racism. – Philomena Essed
cf. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color”, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw
Feminist efforts to politicize experiences of women and antiracist efforts to politicize experiences of people of color have frequently proceeded as though the issues and experiences they each detail occur on mutually exclusive terrains. Although racism and sexism readily intersect in the lives of real people, they seldom do in feminist and antiracist practices. – Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw at the Third National Conference on Women of Color and the Law in 1990.
Racist (and sexist) power distinguishes race-genders, racial (or gender) groups at the intersection of race and gender. Women are (188) a gender. Black people are a race. When we identify Black women, we are identifying a race-gender. A sexist policy produces inequities between women and men. A racist policy produces inequities between racial groups. When a policy produces inequities between race-genders, it is gendered racism, or gender racism for short. (189)
| To be antiracist is to reject not only the hierarchy of races but of race-genders. To be feminist is to reject not only the hierarchy of genders but of race-genders. To truly be antiracist is to be feminist. To truly be feminist is to be antiracist. To be antiracist (and feminist) is to level the different race-genders, is to root the inequities between the equal race-genders in the policies of gender racism. (189)
Gender racism is behind the thinking that when one defends White male abusers like Trump and Brett Kavanaugh one is defending White people; when one defends Black male abusers like Bill Cosby and R. Kelly one is defending Black people. (190)
| Male resistance to Black feminism and intersectional theory has been similarly self-destructive, preventing resisters from understanding our specific oppression. The intersection of racism and sexism, in some cases, oppresses men of color. Black men reinforce oppressive tropes by reinforcing certain sexist ideas. For example, sexist notions of “real men” as strong and racist notions of Black men as not really men intersect to produce the gender racism of the weak Black man, inferior to the pinnacle of manhood, the strong White man. (190)
| Sexist notions of men as more naturally dangerous than women (since women are considered naturally fragile, in need of protection) and racist notions of Black people as more dangerous than White people intersect to produce the gender racism of the (190) hyperdangerous Black man, more dangerous than the White man, the Black woman, and (the pinnacle of innocent frailty) the White woman. No defense is stronger than the frail tears of innocent White womanhood. No prosecution is stronger than the case for inherently guilty Black manhood. These ideas of gender racism transform every innocent Black male into a criminal and every White female criminal into Casey Anthony, the White woman a Florida jury exonerated in 2011, against all evidence, for killing her three-year-old child. White women get away with murder and Black men spend years in prisons for wrongful convictions. After the imprisonment of Black men dropped 24 percent between 2000 and 2015, Black men were still nearly six times more likely than White men, twenty-five times more likely than Black women, and fifty times more likely than White women to be incarcerated. Black men raised in the top 1 percent by millionaires are as likely to be incarcerated as White men raised in households earning $36,000. (191)
QUEER RACISM: A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between race-sexualities and are substantiated by racist ideas about race-sexualities.
QUEER ANTIRACISM: A powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to equity between race-sexualities and are substantiated by antiracist ideas about race-sexualities.
cf. Studies in the Psychology of Sex (1897)
Queer antiracism is equating all the race-sexualities, striving to eliminate the inequities between the race-sexualities. We cannot be antiracist if we are homophobic or transphobic. (197)
I am forever grateful that the Black graduate-student discourse was ruled by queer Black feminists instead of by patriarchal Black male homophobes. They were my first role models of Black feminism, of queer antiracism, of antiracist feminism. They met my homophobic patriarchy and forced me to meet him, too. (200)
ACTIVIST: One who has a record of power or policy change.
To understand why racism lives is to understand the history of antiracist failure—why people have failed to create antiracist societies. To understand the racial history of failure is to understand failed solutions and strategies. To understand failed solutions and strategies is to understand their cradles: failed racial ideologies. (201)
| Incorrect conceptions of race as a social construct (as opposed to a power construct), of racial history as a singular march of racial progress (as opposed to a duel of antiracist and racist progress), of the race problem as rooted in ignorance and hate (as opposed to powerful self-interest)—all come together to produce (201) solutions bound to fail. Terms and sayings like “I’m not racist” and “race neutral” and “post-racial” and “color-blind” and “only one race, the human race” and “only racists speak about race” and “Black people can’t be racist” and “White people are evil” are bound to fail in identifying and eliminating racist power and policy. Stratagems flouting intersectionality are bound to fail the most degraded racial groups. Civilizing programs will fail since all racial groups are already on the same cultural level. Behavioral-enrichment programs, like mentoring and educational programs, can help individuals but are bound to fail racial groups, which are held back by bad policies, not bad behavior. Healing symptoms instead of changing policies is bound to fail in healing society. Challenging the conjoined twins separately is bound to fail to address economic-racial inequity. Gentrifying integration is bound to fail non-White cultures. All of these ideas are bound to fail because they have consistently failed in the past. But for some reason, their failure doesn’t seem to matter: They remain the most popular conceptions and strategies and solutions to combat racism, because they stem from the most popular racial ideologies. (202)
| These repetitive failures exact a toll. Racial history does not repeat harmlessly. Instead, its devastation multiplies when generation after generation repeats the same failed strategies and solutions and ideologies, rather than burying past failures in the caskets of past generations. (203)
…when racist Whites see Black people conducting themselves admirably in public, they see those Blacks as extraordinary, meaning not like those ordinarily inferior Black people. (204)
I represent only myself. If the judges draw conclusions about millions of Black people based on how I act, then they, not I, not Black people, have a problem. They are responsible for their racist ideas; I am not. I am responsible for my racist ideas; they are not. To be antiracist is to let me be me, be myself, be my imperfect self. (205)
…success, apparently, does not matter when a strategy stems from an ideology. Moral and educational suasion focus on persuading White people, on appealing to their moral conscience through horror and their logical mind through education. But what if racist ideas make people illogical? What if persuading everyday White people is not persuading rac-(205)ist policymakers? What if racist policymakers know about the harmful outcomes of their policies? What if racist policymakers have neither morals nor conscience, let alone moral conscience, to paraphrase Malcolm X? What if no group in history has gained their freedom through appealing to the moral conscience of their oppressors, to paraphrase Assata Shakur? What if economic, political, or cultural self-interest drives racist policymakers, not hateful immorality, not ignorance? (206)
If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union. – President Abraham Lincoln, August 20, 1862.
For many years it was the theory of most Negro leaders…that white America did not know of or realize the continuing plight of the Negro. …the ultimate evil was stupidity. … Accordingly, for the last two decades, we have striven by book and periodical, by speech and appeal, by various dramatic methods of agitation, to put the essential facts before the American people. Today there can be no doubt that Americans know the facts; and yet they remain for the most part indifferent and unmoved. – W.E.B. Du Bois, June 26, 1934
Moral and educational suasion breathes the assumption that racist minds must be changed before racist policy, ignoring history that says otherwise. Look at the soaring White support for desegregated schools and neighborhoods decades after the policies changed in the 1950s and 1960s. Look at the soaring White support for interracial marriage decades after the policy changed in 1967. Look at the soaring support for Obamacare after its passage in 2010. Racist policymakers drum up fear of antiracist policies through racist ideas, knowing if the policies are implemented, the fears they circulate will never come to pass. Once the fears do not come to pass, people will let down their guards as they enjoy the benefits. Once they clearly benefit, most Americans will support and become the defenders of the antiracist policies they once feared. (208)
To fight for mental and moral changes after policy is changed means fighting alongside growing benefits and the dissipation of fears, making it possible for antiracist power to succeed. To fight for mental and moral change as a prerequisite for policy change is to fight against growing fears and apathy, making it almost impossible for antiracist power to succeed. (208)
We convince ourselves we are doing something to solve the racial problem when we are really doing something to satisfy our feelings. (210)
What if instead of feelings advocacy we had an outcome advocacy that put equitable outcomes before our guilt and anguish? What if we focused our human and fiscal resources on changing power and policy to actually make society, not just our feelings, better? (210)
We do not have to be fearless like Harriet Tubman to be antiracist. We have to be courageous to be antiracist. Courage is the strength to do what is right in the face of fear, as the anonymous philosopher tells us. I gain insight into what’s right from antiracist ideas. I gain strength from fear. While many people are fearful of what could happen if they resist, I am fearful of what could happen if I don’t resist. I am fearful of cowardice. Cowardice is the inability to amass the strength to do what is right in the face of fear. And racist power has been terrorizing cowardice into us for generations. (212)
As racist ideas intend to make us ignorant and hateful, racist terror intends to make us fear. (213)
When we fail to open the closed-minded consumers of racist ideas, we blame their closed-mindedness instead of our foolish decision to waste time reviving closed minds from the dead. When our vicious attacks on open-minded consumers of racist ideas fail to transform them, we blame their hate rather than our impatient and alienating hate of them. When people fail to consume our convoluted antiracist ideas, we blame their stupidity rather than our stupid lack of clarity. When we transform people and do not show them an avenue of support, we blame their lack of commitment rather than our lack of guidance. When the politician we supported does not change racist policy, we blame the intractability of racism rather than our support of the wrong pol-(213)itician. When we fail to gain support for a protest, we blame the fearful rather than our alienating presentation. When the protest fails, we blame racist power rather than our flawed protest. When our policy does not produce racial equity, we blame the people for not taking advantage of the new opportunity, not our flawed policy solution. The failure doctrine avoids the mirror of self-blame. The failure doctrine begets failure. The failure doctrine begets racism. (214)
What if antiracists constantly self-critiqued our own ideas? What if we blamed our ideologies and methods, studied our ideologies and methods, refined our ideologies and methods again and again until they worked? When will we finally stop the insanity of doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result? Self-critique allows change. Changing shows flexibility. Antiracist power must be flexible to match the flexibility of racist power, propelled only by the craving for power to shape policy in their inequitable interests. Racist power believes in by any means necessary. We, their challengers, typically do not, not even some of those inspired by Malcolm X. We care the most about the moral and ideological and financial purity of our ideologies and strategies and fundraising and leaders and organizations. We care less about bringing equitable results for people in dire straits, as we say we are purifying ourselves for the people in dire straits, as our purifying keeps the people in dire straits. As we critique the privilege and inaction of racist power, we show our privilege and inaction by critiquing every effective strategy, ultimately justifying our inaction on the comfortable seat of privilege. Anything but flexible, we are too often bound by ideologies that are bound by failed strategies of racial change. (214)
The most effective protests create an environment whereby changing the racist policy becomes in power’s self-interest, like desegregating businesses because the sit-ins are driving away customers, like increasing wages to restart production, like giving teachers raises to resume schooling, like passing a law to attract a well-organized force of donors or voters. But it is difficult to create that environment, since racist power makes laws that illegalize most protest threats. Organizing and protesting are much harder and more impactful than mobilizing and demonstrating. Seizing power is much harder than protesting power and demonstrating its excesses. (216)
Racism is both overt and covert. It takes two, closely related forms: individual whites acting against individual blacks, and acts by the total white community against the black community. We call these individual racism and institutional racism. The first consists of overt acts by individuals….The second type is less overt, far more subtle, less identifiable in terms of specific individuals committing the acts. – cf. Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America, Charles Hamilton, Kwame Toure
In the way people have learned to see racist abuse coming out of the mouths of individual racists, people can learn to see racial inequities emerging from racist policies. All forms of racism are overt if our antiracist eyes are open to seeing racist policy in racial inequity. (221)
| But we do not see. (221)
A similar bond exists between implicit bias and post-racialism. They bond on the idea that racist ideas are buried in the mind. (221) Because they are implicit and unconscious, implicit bias says. Because they are dead, post-racialism says. (221)
Policymakers and policies make societies and institutions, not the other way around. The United States is a racist nation because its policymakers and policies have been racist from the beginning. The conviction that racist policymakers can be overtaken, and racist policies can be changed, and the racist minds of their victims can be changed, is disputed only by those invested in preserving racist policymakers, policies, and habits of thinking. (223)
Racism has always been terminal and curable. Racism has always been recognizable and mortal. (223)
Pain is usually essential to healing. When it comes (236) to healing America of racism, we want to heal America without pain, but without pain, there is no progress. (237)
What if we treated racism in the way we treat cancer? (237)
Saturate the body politic with the chemotherapy or immunotherapy of antiracist policies that shrink the tumors of racial ineq-(237)uities, that kill undetectable cancer cells. Remove any remaining racist policies, the way surgeons remove the tumors. Ensure there are clear margins, meaning no cancer cells of inequity left in the body politic, only the healthy cells of equity. Encourage the consumption of healthy foods for thought and the regular exercising of antiracist ideas, to reduce the likelihood of a recurrence. Monitor the body politic closely, especially where the tumors of racial inequity previously existed. Detect and treat a recurrence early, before it can grow and threaten the body politic.
But before we can treat, we must believe. Believe all is not lost for you and me and our society. Believe in the possibility that we can strive to be antiracist from this day forward. Believe in the possibility that we can transform our societies to be antiracist from this day forward. Racist power is not godly. Racist policies are not indestructible. Racial inequities are not inevitable. Racist ideas are not natural to the human mind. (238)
Racism is not even six hundred years old. It’s a cancer that we’ve caught early. (238)
But racism is one of the fastest-spreading and most fatal cancers humanity has ever known. It is hard to find a place where its cancer cells are not dividing and multiplying. There is nothing I see in our world today, in our history, giving me hope that one day antiracists will win the fight, that one day the flag of antiracism will fly over a world of equity. What gives me hope is a simple truism. Once we lose hope, we are guaranteed to lose. But if we ignore the odds and fight to create an antiracist world, then we give humanity a chance to one day survive, a chance to live in communion, a chance to be forever free. (238)