Now. I’d like to contrast the stark wake up call that was the murder of Emmet Till with a different depiction of the US in recent years. Granted the piece I’m about to show you was written after the Civil Rights movement but take a second and consider if the Civil Rights movement was truly the sweeping success the US Government would have us believe that it was. Both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were assassinated. Black people are still being killed unjustly. If not by random racist civilians such as in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, then by police, like the case of Breonna Taylor. With all of this in mind I’d like to present you with an article written in 2008 titled: Racism in America is Over (14.2). The article was written by American linguist John McWhorter. The content within is fairly evident from the title. McWhorter posits that “Racism” as a legitimate issue, was no more within the US. This article coincided with Barack Obama’s first term as president. McWhorter writes “Our proper concern is not whether racism still exists, but whether it remains a serious problem. The election of Obama proved, as nothing else could have, that it no longer does”. However, see my earlier points about Black people dying at the hands of police. My point here is best summed up by an excerpt from a Vanity Fair interview with Get Out Writer/Director Jordan Peele: “The movie was written in the Obama era, which I’ve been calling the post-racial lie,” Peele said after a Vanity Fair screening of Get Out at the NeueHouse in Hollywood on October 26. “We were in this era where the calling out of racism was almost viewed as a step back . . . Trump was saying that the first black president wasn’t a citizen . . . There was this feeling like, ‘You know what, there’s a black president. Maybe if we just step back, [Trump] can say his bullsh*t No one cares. And racism will be gone.’ That’s the era I imagined this movie would come out in.” (Peele, Vanity Fair). In short, the Country was convinced that Racism was something that would disappear if we didn’t talk about it. That wasn’t true. Trump’s presidency showed us as much. So then how did we enter what Peal calls “the post-racial lie”?. Well hopefully I can provide some context.
The United States is a fundamentally Racist country. Indeed it’s hard to come to terms with the despicable origins, staggered past and dishearteningly violent present of US American racism. The US doesn’t have a monopoly on Racism, nor did we invent it as much as truly we are a symptom of it. However, in more recent years, the United States Government has chosen to attempt to gaslight not only the US’ Black population but the entire US population into believing that the US is some beacon of peace and hope. This makes the necessary work of being an Antiracist that much more frustrating opposed by a Government that will lie to protect itself. Hopefully this primer can serve as an intro to the duplicitous nature of the US Government and therefore divided nature of the public’s response around racism. There’s no way I could cover everything, but I’ll do my best to make my point. After that, we venture out into the unknown together.
The Post-Racial Lie
A Double Edged Sword
Wikipedia defines intersectionality better than I ever could: “Intersectionality is an analytical framework for understanding how aspects of a person's social and political identities combine to create different modes of discrimination and privilege” (Wikipedia, Intersectionality). Now, an understanding of intersectionality is imperative to being an Antiracist. However, society at large is still coming to an understanding of the exact cross points of intersectionality. I’ll even go as far as to say we have been since the dawn of time. This ignorance has been used against us. For example: the Black Panther party was generally a champion of intersectionality. They were involved with multiple other Race based organizations in Chicago in what was dubbed the Rainbow Coalition (12.4). They were organized, abiding by a simple ten point program (12.3). The Black Panther party though, failed to escape the trappings of sexism and the patriarchy and did not work with Women’s Rights groups. Inversely, the Women’s Suffrage movement was largely racist in that they actively suppressed the Black women involved out of fear that associating with Black women would hurt their validity as a movement. Extending beyond ideas of race for a second, we see this play out today with internalized transphobia within the queer community. Some fear they may delegitimize our movement, so we see instances of icons in the queer community being transphobic. What all of these different forms of exclusion and bigotry share though, is fear. Fear is the enemy. If we are afraid, we are divided and the Government is fully aware of this.Intersectionality - Wikipedia.
Forces at Work
A Glimmer of Hope
Now, personally I tend to be cynical. I tend to observe the worst and overlook the positive. There are some slight glimmers of hope. It does seem that we are progressing in the right direction. This is in large part due to pressure from youth organizations like SNCC or the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. SNCC was radicalized by the Death of Emmet Till and the rhetoric of Martin Luther King (11.4).
Along with other groups like The NAACP and CORE, SNCC was involved in organizing the 1964 Freedom Summer (11.4). Here, there was collaboration between generations of activists. There was an effort made to register people to vote, there was even the foundation of a political party in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. There are groups based on this idea of intersectionality as well. Take for example the Combahee River Collective, a socialist, anti-capitalist, Black, Feminist, Revolutionary group founded in 1974 (12.6). However, it’s worth questioning what exactly it is we’re fighting for. I’ll link to a YouTube video summarizing what I’m about to discuss at length but basically: British Philosopher Isaiah Berlin says there are two types of freedom: positive and negative. We are either “free” from something or “free” to do something. Black Americans have never been free from oppression. Initiatives like the 1964 “Great Society” programming (13.3) seem wonderful until you realize that the freedom being extended was freedom to act white. It also feels that the US government is intent on making this process as degrading as possible. Terms like “Welfare Queen” (homework reading for week 13), for example, have been created to speak negatively about those Black Americans who do try to utilize the systems the government creates “for them”.
Arguably, the most layered form of oppression in all of this is white America’s relationship to Black art. Black pop culture is US pop culture at this point. However, the success of the art is somewhat limited by the lense of oppression. As I understand it, the Harlem Renaissance was an attempt in a sense, to exchange art for cultural respect. This didn’t happen, the US is still largely racist. Modern thinkers have dubbed today as another Black Renaissance (14.7) in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. However, does this art have to be preceded by suffering? It feels to me like White America is now, for the most part, enjoying Black art as if it were our own, without embracing Black people as our own. The respect here doesn’t feel genuine. It feels patronizing. Unfortunately, we’re at a place where that’s still a win. If someone is speaking up to support their brand, they’re still speaking up. It’s just unfortunate that it seems to be so disingenuous.
Malcolm and Martin
We’ve finally arrived at a place where I feel like we’ve built up enough context to address a divide that, it seems to me, is at the root of this entire story. Malcolm and Martin. Self defense and non-violence. Malcolm X was a martyr (11.3). He was rash, un-afraid to speak his mind and until his Declaration of Independence, unapologetic afterwards. Malcolm supported self defense in response to the US’ continued racism. This was in contrast to Martin Luther King Jr's belief in non violence. Dr. King was better liked by the American public and the president as he tended to stir less chaos. In response, Malcolm called Martin and other leaders like him “Uncle Toms'' to indicate what he felt was their reluctance to disavow a system that hated them. It seems that, after the death of both of these leaders, this is still the essential debate. Some feel that Black Americans shouldn’t have to settle for anything, given how disrespectfully and maliciously violent the Government has been towards them. Others feel that settling is necessary if you want to find happiness. I don’t have the answers, but hopefully I’ve provided context. I’ll close with some words from Black American writer Amiri Baraka (12.5). “I am inside someone
who hates me. I look out from his eyes” (Baraka, An Agony. As now).