Those who claim America is a post-racial society are also more likely to accept an offer to climb snow-capped mountains in Florida. Any measure, of public education, the criminal injustice system, poverty, etc., shows that White privilege and its cohort, racism, remain prime barriers to Blacks receiving full justice and equality.
Sadly, Blacks are not yet among President Obama’s priorities which doesn’t augur well for their attaining the support they expected, need and deserve. In his second inaugural address, the president singled out gays, immigration reform and seniors for special consideration; it seems Black people are not a part of the chosen few.
Today’s column revisits an earlier one offering alternative analyses and strategies for the daunting challenges facing the Black community in the 21st century.
America continues its dance around the reality of White privilege and race. Frankly , Blacks are often partners in the dance, albeit for vastly different, but equally fallacious reasons. Clearly, Whites downplay the primacy of race but maintain race-based power under the bogus guise of America as a melting pot. And for many Blacks, downplaying race is a misguided attempt to assimilate. On the color continuum, however, it’s still the closer to white, the better, rendering assimilation an exercise in futility. Race matters a great deal in America.
The late Derrick Bell’s penetrating analysis is a primer on the implications of the continuing significance of race. His observations and conclusions shed light on seldom discussed aspects of an extremely complex issue. Bell argued that racism is so ingrained in American life that no matter what Blacks do to better their lives they will not succeed as long as the majority of whites do not see their own well-being threatened by the status quo. He reminded us that Blacks in bondage managed to retain their humanity and faith that pain and suffering were not the extent of their destiny.
He also insisted America’s veiled dogma of race-based progress fails those who have been marginalized: Blacks, the poor and others whom the myth ignores must call for national action that incorporates their experience. They must find inspiration in the lives of oppressed people who defied death as slaves and freed men, insisting on their own humanity despite society’s consensus that they were an inferior people. He argued Blacks can only de-legitimatize racism by “accurately pinpointing it as the center, not the periphery in their own lives, the lives of whites and all others.”
Bell maintained Blacks must first acknowledge (at least to themselves) that their actions are not likely to lead to immediate or transcendent change.”…. Only then can that realization lead to public policy less likely to worsen their condition, and more likely to remind the nation that they are determined to constantly challenge its power.”
Professor Adolph Reed raises provocative questions on the need for greater unity in combating racist policies, especially because of the developing state of the “Black community.” He argues that a cohesive Black collective is a myth, necessary after the Civil War to present a semblance of unity. The leadership class defined specific Black interests, named themselves leaders and was assumed to be so by whites, a phenomenon that is still with us.
According to Reed, egalitarianism appealed to both the civil rights movement and capitalism because it actually raised no questions about capitalism. Rather, it stressed the immorality of racism and segregation and how they were obstacles to economic progress. But Black opposition was integrated into the system in a way that strengthened, not challenged it. Reed’s suggestions for remedying the situation include breaking Black elites’ traditional control over ideas in the Black community, critiquing so-called Black agendas in order to transcend Black leaders serving their own interests exclusively and recognizing the diverse interests in Black communities.
Dr. Cornel West’s Nihilism in Black America is a corollary to his seminal essay, Race Matters.” In it, he points out that Blacks initially struggled against racism in the enslaved circumstances of a new world and argues that (apart from racism), the major enemy of Black survival in America is the loss of hope and absence of meaning. He maintains the genius of Blacks’ forbearers was to create powerful buffers to counter “the demons of helplessness, meaningfulness and lovelessness,” adding, “…Black people have always been in America’s wilderness, in search of a promised land…but many Blacks now reside in a jungle with a cut throat mentality devoid of any faith in deliverance or hope.”
All three scholars forcefully articulate the need for Blacks to debunk internalized myths that white privilege and race are no longer significant factors in their lives. They also agree the need for Black unity is at the heart of all efforts to internalize the positive core values and strengths of our forbearers. Despite massive denial, race matters and Blacks must shed the twin burdens of victimization and futile dependence on others. This requires renewed commitment and courage—prerequisites for dealing with the magnitude of change necessary to make social justice a reality and increase Black people’s political power.
If race really didn’t matter, Blacks could join right wingers and ride smugly off into the proverbial sunset.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org