Thursday, April 14, 2011

Of Black Pride and White Prejudice Part Two: The Problem on the Planet is White People; You Want Freedom You are Gonna Have to Kill Some Crackers!

Is racism first and foremost a sin of the heart or is it a force that shapes social structures and works to reinforce and legitimate the power and domination of one group of people over another?

The first installment of the Black Pride and White Prejudice series explored the Implicit Association Test and the divergent responses of the test takers to their results. White folks were visibly upset and/or in denial that they demonstrated a strong preference for white people. By contrast, the African Americans who took the test were quite proud that their results demonstrated a deep and abiding belief that black is indeed beautiful and good.

In my classes and workshops I show students a series of videos such as the one above--which was a non-story generated by Fox News in order to play to its racially resentful and anxiety driven audience--as well as the now much discussed clip of the New Black Panther Party "intimidating" white voters in Philadelphia. Because a picture is worth a thousand words, these examples are particularly useful because at first glance they are clear demonstrations of "black racism." Students--be they black, white, brown, or other--roll their eyes and offer anticlimactic shrugs: Of course the people in these videos are racist, look at what they are saying about white people! Imagine if a white person said such things, there would be an outcry!

But once more to power--and its absence by either the New Black Panther Party or Professor Kamau Kambon. Do unpleasant words equate to racist deeds and acts? Moreover, does the political theater of the New Black Panthers or the Black Israelites constitute a real threat to the individual or collective life chances of white Americans?

To paraphrase the movie Kinsey, a bargain was made with the triumph of the Civil Rights movement that in multicultural, pluralist America, racism would be everyone's sin or it would be no one's sin. This introduced a logic where an absurd new speak with its "reverse racism" and "white oppression" could be introduced into the collective lexicon without so much as a shrug. In fact, the Age of Obama was ushered in with a momentous speech on race in which the soon to be President equated black victimization by white supremacy with white resentment at having to be forced to make some small amends for this most basic sin at the heart of American democracy.

Ultimately, I would suggest that our efforts to apply "the golden rule" to interactions across the color line fail in a most way because a vast disparity in social privilege, wealth, and opportunity has created a system in which the premise underlying the principle (that there is some equivalence of position and expectation of behavior on the part of the agents involved) is upset. Or stated differently, the roll reversal game does not apply here. And yes, despite the protests of some, there are indeed things that can be said by people of color to white folks across the boundaries of the color line that are not at all equivalent when said in reverse.

Once more to the reality that just like White people, black and brown folks can be prejudiced, bigoted, mean spirited, or the like...but they can not be racist in this country and at this point in time.

The privilege that is Whiteness is also an ironic burden. White folks have the unique position of being able to actualize prejudicial thoughts and deeds because they live in a society which provides them the motive, means, and opportunity as a group to shape their psychological projections into a concrete thing.

While some may label the New Black Panthers and Black Israelites of the world bigots, they do not have the power to transform their verbal darts into real blows of power which for my dollar is one of the key litmus tests that separates white racism from black intolerance.

Are my boundaries for dividing black prejudice from white racism set too high, or are they in fact too low?


Plane Ideas said...

I think you are on point ..I would like to note that often Black folks reactions to white racism is defensive and not a reaction of racial parity ..Again Black folks don't have that clout yet our displays are often token petty acts of prejudice and bigotry..

I was once told even the town hobo in the wild wild west called the town's only doctor ( a Black doctor) a nigger imagine that an arrogant privledged illiterate white hobo with that audacity..WTF

chaunceydevega said...

I love that hobo analogy. I am adding that one to the mental Rolodex.

Vesuvian Woman said...


This world is made of balance. The yin and yang of our acceptance/tolerance of each other is imbalanced.

Insert todays news ; )

Anonymous said...

Frightening. My son's mother is a white woman.

fred c said...

Interesting talk about the power imbalance, and certainly true. I can listen to King-Not-A-Slave-Name without feeling particularly threatened, but if some similarly unbalanced White person says the same thing in reverse it is definitely threatening to Black folks. If one person says something, it's a good bet that lots of people are thinking it. In terms of the comparison, one "lot of people" is small and powerless; the other is large and greatly empowered.

If I shared my comments about Black Racism (minus the killing part), I'd just be brown-nosing so I'll skip it. Suffice it to say that I am most favorably impressed with the great accomplishments of American Blacks, and not just in sports and entertainment. I'd be insufferably pleased with them if it were me, to paraphrase Mr. Spock.

Anonymous said...

That's so much bullshit. Of course blacks can be racist. Of course non-whites can be racist. Racism has nothing to do with power. It's a set of views.