Sunday, August 02, 2015

Our Lives Matter Without Being Color-coded

These are not easy words to write. Contrary to many progressives, I did not find the Black Lives Matter disturbance at the Netroots Nation conference to be positive or beneficial. I think progressive groups need to hold their own events and not interrupt each other's events for their own agenda. I don't think the Black Lives Matter people would be as considerate as the Netroots Nation people to being interrupted by Climate Change activists or Save the Whales activists. 

Specifically, I am bothered by the demand "Say it, just say it: Black Lives Matter." To me the "Black Lives Matter" name itself is racist. I know that many of my friends and fellow travelers in progressive directions don't understand me when I say this. There is the perception that only "white" is racist because it is inherently "white supremacist," while "Black Lives Matters" can't be racist because they are not arguing for "black supremacy," only for black respect. I totally get this argument as it is the current version of the "Black is Beautiful" and "Black Power" movements of my youth, yet at the same time I totally reject this argument, now as I did then, as a basis for believing in a “black race.” A view doesn't have to be "supremacist" to be exclusive, while any exclusivity in identity between one group and another is the seed of what becomes group supremacy and racism when the categories are racial.  

I can identify with the frustration shown in this video. I can appreciate the sense of wanting to control a space as a group identified as people of African ancestry when one's whole life has felt like it has existed in a space controlled by people of European ancestry. But the seeds of racism are clearly present within that small and temporary, but racially defined, space. 

To me any argument that affirms the existence of either a "white race" or a “black race” as a separate race is an argument for racism.  The reason is that “black” or "white" is not a club, not a religion, or any other social category that a person can join voluntarily, and it is not a biological category like male and female that one should be assigned to involuntarily (as we have seen how such assignment can cause so many problems for transgendered people).   So to look at people/ourselves and assign them/us into color-coded categories of “race” is the essential activity of racism, whether or not one puts one’s own color on the top of the preferred scale. In my worldview, humans simply cannot identify as color-coded categories without calling our identified color "us" and all other identified colors "them." 

When "us" and "them" become fixed into a determinative group identity, then conflict and fighting between the groups is inevitable. "Black" and "white" are just variations on the theme of "us" and "them," but it is more pernicious than many forms of "us" and "them" because the categories are perceived as "natural" and "biological" with a real biological basis for the negative projections about the "them."

As I see it, the terminology of “black and white” was created by white supremacists using a white racist frame. The entire social construct of a “black race” and a “white race” was created by white supremacists. If we use the language, categories, and framing created by white supremacists, then it only reinforces the social frame of reference and cultural fiction that races even exist in the first place. There is no "white race" and no "black race" (just like there are no brown, yellow, and red races) except as a social fiction originally created by people who called themselves "white" for the very purpose of creating a justification for their supremacy as a group: the group they created and labeled “the white race."  To me, the person who identifies themselves as “white” or “black” is a person whose mind has already been colonized and brainwashed by the false and erroneous notions of white supremacy. 

The following table of a Johari window is how I have come to see my predicament of trying to articulate my perspective.
In the table, I am in Group 3. I accept that there is institutional racism but I don't accept that there are races. The Black Lives Matter people, and the many other progressives supporting them who identify as “white” or another color, are in Group 1 that accepts both that there is institutional racism and that there are races. To me, as a Group 3 person, to accept that there are races as a fact (and not a mere fiction whose time has come and gone) is the sure-fire way to continue and maintain institutional racism. To a Group 1 person, it is my view that is the sure way to continue and maintain institutional racism, because it is inconceivable to that perspective that a person can both deny the existence of race while accepting the existence of, yet opposing, institutional racism.

So while in Groups 1 and 3 we agree that there is institutional racism and that such institutional racism is pernicious and pervasive, we have a fundamental disagreement about what is the appropriate response to that institutional racism.  So if someone demands that I say “Black Lives Matter,” I do not take that demand lightly, but also I do not take as friendly, because to me there are really no “black lives,” and trying to force me to adopt the view that there is a “black race” is the work of the very same institution of white supremacy that is behind the institutional racism of today.  Based on some reactions I get, this nuance is almost impossible for the Group 1 person to perceive.

This difference between the perspectives of Group 1 and Group 3 does not even begin to address the problems in communication arising from considering the Group 2 and Group 4 people in society who do not accept that there is institutional racism, whether or not they accept or reject the idea of race as a real thing.  However, in addressing the question of institutional racism with a person who does not believe it exists, we should still bear in mind whether their denial is from the standpoint of believing in race (Group 2) or not (Group 4), because it will determine how we should approach each person in discussion. The same logic and arguments will not be received the same by the two different groups.

Obviously there is a lot more I could say about this issue that involves the arguments regarding the institutional racism with its built-in "white privilege" that we are confronted with every day, especially when seeing the institutional racism at work in and through the entire system of law enforcement in this nation.

Also there is much to be said about how to actually address institutional racism and stop it. How are we going to overcome our own mental slavery to the very idea of race?   How are we going to liberate ourselves from our own erroneous conceptualizations about humanity and our place within the human family?

But I will leave it here for now on the point that for those of us who oppose institutional racism, we need to see each other's views on the notion of race itself and learn to talk with each other about those differences if we are going to work together and be successful at ending institutional racism. 
Any comments?

1 comment:

Adrienne Lauby said...

This is interesting, Gregory. To me, it's necessary to use the categories in order to talk frankly about the culture we live in. I realize that race is a cultural construction but it is so deep in our culture that to talk without saying "I'm black or I'm white or I'm brown" means we won't be able to talk easily about many very obvious things.