By Niko Wagner | Contributing Writer
Support Black business. Black power. Black is Beautiful. Black girl magic. Black Lives Matter. Say it loud: I’m Black and I’m proud!
All of these phrases have 2 things in common. First, they were all coined with the intention of uplifting and supporting the Black community. Second, they were all written off as racist rhetoric. The reasoning for this assumption is that behavior associated with being pro-black has always been interpreted by some as being anti-white. Considering that the definition of racism is not even applicable in situations like these, one major implication that results from this misinterpretation is that the intended message is skewed and demonized. Hopefully, we can clear some things up here. Let’s explore the reasons why expressing pro-Black values is not only non-discriminatory but most importantly why it is absolutely necessary.
- Define Racism
Before we get into the main dish, let’s nibble on some basic knowledge appetizers. According to Mirriam-Webster, the official definition of racism is as follows:
- a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles”
In other words, racism has to do with not only the belief that a certain race is superior but using that belief as a political regulator to keep the power structure flowing in favor of the self-proclaimed “superior race”. Racial inequities in American institutions are not byproducts of racism, they are the very pillars that have kept the system of oppression up and running since 1776. When our founding fathers were crafting their dream country, keeping the Black population subjugated was openly discussed as one of the most important details, and all legislation (including the constitution) was drafted accordingly. Generations later we still observe this method of institutional racism operating the same way with just a few stylistic differences. Modern politicians and institution personnel routinely take measures that blatantly target Black communities: voter suppression, waiving environmental protections in Black neighborhoods, redlining & gerrymandering, heavily criminalizing Black activity leading to disproportionate Black incarceration, delegating less funding for education to Black majority schools, workplace discrimination, and too many others to list. Racism is more than believing one race is better, it provides the political tools and societal support to enforce that belief as if it were a fact. Therefore, because Black people don’t have the political or socio-economic means to oppress the vast majority of white people, Black people can be prejudicial towards white people, but not racist.
“You know, it’s not the world that was my oppressor, because what the world does to you, if the world does it to you long enough and effectively enough, you begin to do to yourself.”
– James Baldwin
- Internalization of white supremacy and Anti-Blackness
Any concept that has spent hundreds of years being infused into society, generation after generation, will inevitably become second nature. In fact, the greatest triumph for an oppressor is to indoctrinate their subjects until they whole-heartedly subscribe to the oppressor’s belief system. When a society defines itself as consisting of an inferior and a superior people group (the oppressed and the oppressors) a type of mentality emerges called Manichean psychology. Dr. Hussein Bulhan, author of “The psychology of oppression”, visits this phenomenon and says:
“The Manichean psychology permeates the prevailing values and beliefs. The oppressor identifies himself in terms of the sublime and beauty while depicting the oppressed in terms of absolute evil and ugliness.”
It is this psychology that perpetuates discrimination on the basis of perceived character and it is especially dangerous because studies show that both Black and non-Black demographics endorse an image of Black life that is generally less favorable while equating white norms and white family structure to the ideal “American dream”. Some of these associations are especially harmful, for example, the perception that African Americans are naturally more dangerous or inclined to criminal behavior creates everyday consequences like Black folks being followed around in stores, disproportionate traffic stops, higher incarceration rates, and an unbelievable incidence of unarmed police shootings and murders, to name just a few.
As it relates to the Black community, colorism (discrimination on the basis of skin tone) is a phenomenon birthed from the internalization of white supremacy. DK Bivens from Racial equity tools touches on this subject, “internalized racism often (results) in different cultural and ethnic groups being pitted against each other for the scarce resources that racism leaves for people who do not have white privilege. This can create a hierarchy based on closeness to the white norm”. The hierarchy Bivens references is the concept of colorism, and as she mentions, status is determined by one’s proximity to Whiteness. Colorism exemplifies the ways in which Black America has internalized the pro-white/Anti-Black standard because even within our own communities we prefer features and skin tones that distance us from our African ancestry and move us closer to white norms. European derived physical attributes are often sought after and praised within the Black community and on the surface, we say it’s because these features are attractive, however, the vast majority of Black Americans are unaware that internalized white supremacy is the reason we perceive these features to be more attractive than our own.
Let’s take a look at Black hair as an example. In the grand scheme of how racism affects Black experiences, hair seems like a trivial non-issue – making it a great example to demonstrate just how deeply we’ve engrained white supremacy into every nook of Black life. Only recently a few states passed laws making it illegal to ban natural afro hairstyles in the workplace, however, in most states, the practice is still perfectly legal. We’ve been conditioned to view Afro hair as undesirable and unkempt. Traditional styles like locs or braids are deemed unprofessional – simply because they do not conform to white norms. It’s not just at the workplace, many little Black girls get introduced to chemical relaxers and/or flat irons around toddler age, instilling the belief that straightened hair is better than afro hair at a wildly impressionable age. Growing up I remember my cousins watching me receive praise from relatives for my ‘pretty hair’ – which had a loose wavy texture at the time due to a relaxer. I also watched the same relatives tell my naturally kinky-haired cousins they couldn’t come outside with that “nappy mess on your head”. In 6th grade, I mustered the courage to wear my natural hair out to school and was rushed with questions and comments, some genuine but most of them ill-intentioned. Finally, my teacher came and handed me her hair tie, asking me to go to the bathroom to ‘contain’ my big hair because it was too distracting. At this, the classroom erupted into laughter. The first job I had, my boss habitually ignored my requests for a visor uniform hat, instead, demanding I fit my thick curly hair through the small opening of a baseball cap. Styles like box braids and twists were prohibited. One time I raised the issue and told her how I had to cut my hair out of the velcro after every shift – she dismissed me with no reply, walking away laughing. The next time I raised the issue she revealed why she hadn’t obliged my requests: “What should I do about it? I can’t have customers seeing all that fluff sticking out of a visor, it makes people uncomfortable. Maybe if you straightened it?”
Brief anecdotes couldn’t possibly scratch the surface, but they exemplify the subtle and nuanced ways in which we are spoon-fed white supremacy – in small digestible doses. Neo-racism and modern white supremacy is not bold in its display, it presents itself in a constant bombardment of derogatory comments, images, and microaggressions that come from trusted entities like government institutions, our teachers at school, our bosses at work, and even from the people who love us, because our family members received and internalized the same harmful messages when they were growing up too.
Many of us are familiar with the doll test I’m sure, where young Black children were shown pictures of dolls ranging from ivory white to dark Black and were asked questions like,” which is the pretty doll? The ugly doll? The smart doll? The bad doll”, etc. The test was initially designed to demonstrate the harmful effects racism has on a Black child’s psyche. The study has been recreated several times and always has the same results. Both Black and white children associate negative traits with the black doll and positive ones with the white doll. Young children are the ideal subjects for such an experiment, as they are cognizant enough to internalize the racially charged messages they are exposed to but are also innocent enough to admit that their assumptions are based solely on skin color. In a 2010 recreation, a young caucasian girl was asked why she thought the white doll was smart/pretty/good and she replied, “because it looks like me”. Adversely, she believed the Black doll was the bad/ugly/not smart doll: “because she’s a lot darker”. While it truly is heart-warming to see a young girl affirming a positive image of herself, it’s also heartbreaking that this notion of instilling self-love early on is a privilege far too many young Black children live without. What does it say of the self-esteem of Black children when they associate negative traits with the dolls that look like them? Margaret Beale Spencer, the psychologist running the 2010 experiment concluded, “we are still living in a society where dark things are devalued and white things are valued”. Spencer also mentions that these ideas regarding race don’t much evolve as the children get older. General disesteem toward an entire people group is not something we grow out of. It must be addressed head-on and without hesitation if there’s hope of extinguishing the internal need to adhere to eurocentric values, as well as the expectation for us to do so by non-POC. Reclaiming and owning our collective Brilliance, out loud and unapologetically, is the only way to overwrite generations of programming and replace it with a sense of pride and positivity around being Black.
- Dismantling the Narrative & The Equilibrium Effect
The stronghold over the Black narrative is 400 years in the making and quite frankly, if there’s any hope of delivering America from this deprecating thought pattern, we cannot cater to the comfortability of those who oppose the message. Change can only grow in space cleared by discomfort. Unapologetic or ‘extreme’ Black pride is not extreme at all, but necessary to combat hundreds of years of conditioning, oppression, and the generational trauma that’s been passed down as a result of the two. When it comes to pro-Blackness vs. white supremacy, the idea is that when these contrasting ideologies are introduced they might create an equilibrious effect; an inundation of words and images of Black excellence would work to offset the persistent stream of testaments to Black inadequacy. Unlike the rhetoric associated with white pride, Black pride does not cultivate anti-white, Black supremacist hate groups. Think of it as a sliding scale: Because Whiteness is already the standard of what is good and right, white pride leans towards reinforcing this notion by vilifying non-whites and breeding intolerance. Adversely, as Black people have been historically regarded as society’s undesirables, Black pride works only to lift the psyche up out of the gutter of misinformation it’s been condemned to – so we might consider ourselves worthy of the same American experience that our Caucasian counterparts are accustomed to.
The Black pride movement is profoundly more complex than it seems on the surface. It’s a coping mechanism and a remedy for the injurious thoughtforms that sustain the Black-inferiority complex. It is not inclusive to other races, not even to other POC. Although America has a history of oppressing just about anyone who is not a straight white male, the historical and systemic context in which white supremacy has been, and is still being forced upon the Black psyche is unmatched, with effects that are extensively apparent in our everyday lives. Black pride is a form of Black agency and a powerful form at that. By embracing Black heritage and culture we are collectively transforming the world’s image of what it means to be Black. If we are to achieve real lasting change, We cannot afford to be polite or apologetic in our self-efficacy. Keep screaming Black pride from the rooftops. We must be our own biggest advocates – because If not us, then who?
DK Bivens article –
Doll test article –