Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Benevolent Racism and the Co-Optation of the Black Lives Matter Movement

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Benevolent Racism and the Co-Optation of the Black Lives Matter Movement

Article excerpt

Abstract

Our central aim in this paper is to address how recent efforts to discredit the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLMM) can be fruitfully conceptualized as examples of what Esposito and Romano (2014) have termed "benevolent racism." Benevolent racism breaks from the usual frame of de-racialization that characterizes other forms of post-civil rights racisms, whereby racial inequity is dodged, defended, or justified behind a facade of color-blindness and racial neutrality. Benevolent racism operates through a seemingly race-conscious frame that acknowledges and ostensibly condemns a system of White privilege and racial inequity, but does so in ways that legitimize and reinforce racist attitudes, policies and practices in the name of "benevolent" aims--i.e., in the name of uplifting the Black community. Drawing from this concept, we show how many critics of BLMM inadvertently perpetrate benevolent racism by co-opting many of the race-conscious demands of this movement (i.e., valuing the lives of Black people) while subverting its aim to promote racial justice. Specifically, critics 'claims that BLMM has weakened policing, ignored Black on Black crime, and overlooked the so-called "abortion epidemic" in the Black community is also a call for attitudes, practices, and policies that, whether intended or not, ultimately hurt Black communities in the name of "saving Black Lives." We conclude with a brief statement about the importance of challenging benevolent racism in efforts to promote a transformative racial justice movement.

Introduction

The persistence of racial inequity and injustice in what a large segment of the U.S. population has considered a "post-racial" era under an African-American president has, particularly within the last five years, re-energized long-standing calls for color-conscious activism. As noted by Darryl Lorenzo Wellington (2015, p. 18), the "various setbacks, frustrations, and strange twists" that took place in the years following Obama's first presidential election have inspired calls for "peering more honestly" into racial matters in the United States. This call to veer the country into a more candid dialogue about race and confront the racial status quo is at the heart of the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLMM).

As witnessed during the protests and uprisings in various U.S. cities, those associated with the BLMM seek to challenge the de-valuation of Black lives, which is most clearly manifested in the systemic violence inflicted on Blacks and other people of color that too often goes unnoticed and unchallenged. Contrary to what the mainstream media has typically stressed, the violence in question is not limited to the extrajudicial killings of unarmed Black people by the police and vigilantes, but also encompasses various, and often less blatant, forms of violence that are commonly state-sanctioned. Examples of this violence include (among many others): the system of mass incarceration that disproportionately affects Blacks, compromises the integrity of Black families, and puts African-American children at risk of various emotional and behavioral outcomes (e.g., Alexander, 2010; Miller, 2007); the system of racialized punishment (the so-called "school to prison" pipeline) that permeates the U.S. school system, even among elementary school children (Rocques & Paternoster, 2011); the gentrification of low-income minority communities and displacement of residents (e.g. Kirkland, 2008); the fact that low income minority communities are exposed to more air pollution than other communities (e.g., Jones et. al., 2014); and the impact of racism and discrimination on the mental health of Blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities (e.g., Kwate & Goodman, 2015). The BLMM is therefore an indictment of these and various other patterns of racialized violence and inequity, as well as an affirmation of Black people's humanity, contributions to society, and "resilience in the face of deadly oppression" (Black Lives Matter, 2015). …

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