Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Black Man's (and Woman's) Burden: Making White People Comfortable in Discussions on Race (Part 1)

Tell me, when are we going to be able to put our burden down? Because it is HEAVY carrying white people in discussions of race.

And the "fault" for that is not all on one side; no, we all bear a little bit of that burden. However, as in most comparisons in this country using racial indicators, African Americans -– as usual –- end up carrying a disproportionate load. Below are some of the primary reasons why:

· White people in this country do not see the breadth and depth of their generational privilege, if they see it at all (and most do not).

Just as most of us take for granted on a day-to-day basis the very air we breathe to live, white people seem not to be willing or able to see the day-to-day white privilege -– the concrete benefits of access to resources and social rewards and the (group) power to shape the norms and values of society which whites receive, unconsciously or consciously, by virtue of their skin color in a racist society -- that smoothes and soothes life's rough edges for them in so many instances.

The "merit" mythology that has been an Amerikkkan justification through generations of enslavement; Black Codes; Jim Crow; and now James Crow, Esq., has been firmly entrenched in the hearts, minds, and spirits of most whites (and many African Americans, for that matter).

To deny that most basic of Amerikkkan beliefs –- that if you work hard enough and "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" you can succeed -- and the corresponding racist view that African Americans are in the "situation" they are in because they have not -– is to, apparently, have your world shaken to the core.

So oftentimes when stating the reality of white privilege, African Americans hear these "comebacks" from whites: "but what about Oprah Winfrey? And Bob Johnson? And all those Black sports millionaires? What about them? And now you have 'a Black' running for president! What more do you people want?"

Alas, "justice" seems too hard a concept to grasp when you're talking about the reality and manifestation of white privilege.

· White people in this country see themselves as "good people" who have nothing to do with oppression.

One way in which this country dismisses and denigrates its institutional –- federal, state, locally, and commercially sanctioned oppression of Africans and their descendants -- culpability regarding the Amerikkkan Apartheid under which whites as a group flourished is to associate oppression with "fringe groups" like the KKK while maintaining a willful blindness to the ways in which the dominant group's acceptance of this country's philosophical "norms" enable and promote racist philosophy and resulting institutional manifestations.

For example, most people, white or other, have never heard of the "Black Tax" (that extra amount of money African Americans pay when making major purchases such as cars, houses, etc., and which is apparent in indicators such as health, among others) the "Black Tax" still exists today and economists -- such as former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Andrew Brimmer -- estimate that "Black Tax" "soft" discrimination costs African Americans more than $10 billion yearly (through the wage gap, reduced social security and other government benefits, etc.). Other economists put losses resulting from the "Black Tax" in the trillions annually.

Thus institutional racism is allowed to flourish -– and is seen as "business as usual" and "normal" -- while the citizenry who want to remain willfully ignorant are supported and rewarded in doing so.

And while African American and white groups can both choose to be willfully ignorant, the impact of that decision is different for each of the two groups: whites continue to benefit and African Americans continue to bear the cost.

· White people do not recognize their group identity.

White people see themselves as "individuals" only and accuse African Americans and others of practicing "group identity politics" while ignoring their own and the ways in which they practice it.

For example, by promoting and advancing racism/white supremacy as individual "hate" and "ignorance" while downplaying and whitewashing the hundreds of years of institutional Amerikkkan Apartheid, individual white people in this country are allowed and encouraged to maintain the fiction that racial oppression has nothing to do with them . . . that they should be seen as individuals, not members of a dominant group whose parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and children have/will have unearned privilege by being a part of that group at the expense of African Americans and other people of color who are not accorded "honorary white" status in this society.

· White people are afraid of African American "anger" and of being "called out" regarding their role in the racial politics of oppression practiced by their racial group.

Time and time again, white people want to be kept "comfortable" in discussions of race. They want to be assured that they will not be "attacked" (read: questioned, challenged, and made uncomfortable). And any visible sign of anger from African Americans often shuts down discussions as most white people react to that anger by making it -- and their own discomfort and hurt feelings -– "the issue" as opposed to examining the root cause of the anger being expressed.

In other words, they fall back into a fear of an "angry Black man" or an "angry Black woman."

No one would question the appropriateness of a rape victim's anger; no one would question the appropriateness of the anger of someone who was a victim of a violent crime; no one would question the appropriateness of anger people may have at senseless life tragedies.

Yet the anger of African Americans is seen as whining, having a "victim mentality," making excuses, or being "stuck in the past."

The anger of African Americans is never seen as being a valid response to multigenerational grievous crimes against humanity but as a stubborn obstacle to a goal that many white people see as critical to "race relations moving forward": forgiveness.

Witness the reason why the great Nelson Mandela is lauded in the West: because he "forgave" his jailers and focused on reconciliation instead of justice. Witness the way that this country holds up one speech by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while ignoring just about everything else he has said on racial justice, oppression, and white Amerikkka's -– including liberal white Amerikkka's -– role in perpetrating oppression and the plantation dynamic (in which whites are seen as the major "actors" and leaders and African Americans are seen as the good lieutenants or in an "assistant leader" role). Witness the way Malcolm X -– if he is mentioned at all by white Amerikkka -– is compartmentalized as the unacceptable, "pre-Mecca Malcolm" and the "post-Mecca Malcolm," who is acceptable because he is seen as being more open to engaging whites as "individuals" (having seen white Muslims for whom the practice of Islamic religion was more important than the practice of white supremacy) instead of primarily by their group identity as racial oppressors.

Forgiveness, reconciliation, and "healing" become the holy trinity for race relations in Amerikkkan society for whites as a group as they -- and some African Americans and other people of color -- practice collective amnesia regarding the critical factor that precedes the three: Justice.

Moving Forward,


Next Post: The Black Man's (and Woman's) Burden: Making White People Comfortable in Discussions on Race -- African American Collusion (Part 2)

*Thanks to my BARN/WARN network for the definition!

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