Academic journal article Social Justice

Beyond Black/white: The Racisms of Our Time

Academic journal article Social Justice

Beyond Black/white: The Racisms of Our Time

Article excerpt

LET ME BEGIN BY ADMITTING THAT I HAVE AN AXE TO GRIND. A BELL TO TOLL, A grito to shout, a banner to wave. The banner was fashioned during 10 years in the Black civil rights-human rights movement followed by 10 years in the Chicano movimiento. Those years taught that liberation has similar meanings in both histories: an end to racist oppression, the birth of collective self-respect, and a dream of social justice. Those years taught that alliances among progressive people of color can and must help realize the dream.

Such alliances require a knowledge and wisdom that we have yet to attain. For the present, it remains painful to see how divide-and-conquer strategies succeed among our peoples. It is painful to see how prejudice, resentment, petty competitiveness, and sheer ignorance fester. It is positively pitiful to see how often we echo Anglo stereotypes about one another.

All this suggests that we urgently need some fresh and fearless thinking about racism at this moment in history. Fresh thinking might begin with analyzing the strong tendency among Americans to frame racial issues in strictly Black-white terms. Do such terms make sense when changing demographics point to a U.S. population that will be 32% Latino, Asian/Pacific American, and Native American -- that is, neither Black nor white -- by the year 2050? Not to mention the increasing numbers of mixed people who incorporate two, three, or more "races" or nationalities? Don't we need to imagine multiple forms of racism rather than a single, Black-white model?

Practical questions related to the fight against racism also arise. Doesn't the exclusively Black-white framework discourage perception of common interests among people of color -- primarily in the working class -- and thus sustain White Supremacy? Doesn't the view of institutionalized racism as a problem experienced only by Black people isolate them from potential allies? Doesn't the Black-white definition encourage a tendency often found among people of color to spend too much energy understanding our lives in relation to Whiteness, obsessing about what the White will think? That tendency is inevitable in some ways: the locus of power over our lives has long been white (although big shifts have recently taken place in the color of capital) and the oppressed have always survived by becoming experts on the oppressor's ways. But that can become a prison of sorts, a trap of compulsive vigilance. Let us liberate ourselves, then, from the tunnel vision of Whiteness and behold the colors around us!

To criticize the Black-white framework is not simply a resentful demand from other people of color for equal sympathy, equal funding, equal clout, equal patronage. It is not simply us-too resentment at being ignored or minimized. It is not just another round of mindless competition in the victimhood tournament. Too often we make the categories of race, class, gender, sexuality, age, physical condition, etc., contend for the title of "most oppressed." Within "race," various population groups then compete for that top spot. Instead, we need to understand that various forms and histories of oppression exist. We need to recognize that they include differences in extent and intensity. Yet pursuing some hierarchy of competing oppressions leads us down dead-end streets where we will never find the linkage between oppressions or how to overcome them.

The goal in reexamining the Black-white definition is to find an effective strategy for vanquishing an evil that has expanded rather than diminished in recent years. Three recent developments come to mind. First is the worldwide economic recession in which the increasingly grim struggle for sheer survival encourages the scapegoating of working-class people -- especially immigrants, especially those of color -- by other working-class people. This has become so widespread in the West that a Klan cross-burning in London's Trafalgar Square or on Paris' Champs Elysee doesn't seem hard to imagine. …

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