The Beautiful Struggle Against Racism » VSB

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The Beautiful Struggle Against Racism

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My uncle blamed everything on the white man.

Global warming? It was the white man. Drugs destroying the community? Blame the white man. Football team lost? The white man was at fault.

Uncle John was the kind of ghetto philosopher you’d find dropping knowledge in the barbershop. He’d walk in without an appointment and spit knowledge while waiting for a chair to open.

He talked about the way the white man invented AIDS as a way to rid the country of homosexuals. He was convinced that the white man flooded the black community with drugs to undermine the Black Panthers. He thought billiards was a game invented to teach ‘red, black, and yellow’ people to accept oppression. (The game ends when the WHITE ball knocks the BLACK ball off the GREEN table.)

He was convinced he was right. He wasn’t wrong.

While my uncle was incorrect in his assessment that there was a singular white man behind all of these ills, he was right to think that there was something nefarious afoot. He was neither a trained philosopher nor an academic historian, but he had good intuitions. He was unable to name it, but he was talking about white supremacy.

Uncle John said that racism would never go away. It would be here forever. The best we could do was find joy in life and blackness despite the existence of perpetual subjugation. We should fight, he said, but with no expectation of ridding the world of that social evil.

I wonder if Ta-Nehisi Coates spoke to my uncle.

When Between the World and Me was published, many called Coates hopeless. Consider the following passage:

You must struggle to truly remember this past in all its nuance, error, and humanity. You must resist the common urge toward the comforting narrative of divine law, toward fairy tales that imply some irrepressible justice. The enslaved were not bricks in your road, and their lives were not chapters in your redemptive history. They were people turned to fuel for the American machine. . . . Our triumphs can never compensate for this. Perhaps our triumphs are not even the point. Perhaps struggle is all we have because the god of history is an atheist, and nothing about this world is meant to be. So you must wake up every morning knowing that no promise is unbreakable, least of all the promise of waking up at all. This is not despair. These are the preferences of the universe itself: verbs over nouns, actions over states, struggle over hope.

He says it at the end: “struggle over hope.” Coates is not hopeful about the possibility of racial progress in America—but the real question is: why should he be?

When agents of the state kill an unarmed black man or woman, the reaction is predictable: first, there will be outrage. CNN and other media outlets will host town hall meetings (on Fox News it will be all white men with Stacy dash—which means all white), and activists and scholars will answer questions like: “what can be done?” They will then have a conversation about how we need to have a conversation about race. Finally, life will move on until there is another moment of crisis and the pattern will begin anew. We’ve seen this before. We know how the story ends—that is to say, it will never end..

Like well meaning people who want answers to the question “What can be done about race in America?” many expected Coates to end with hope. They wanted a reason to be optimistic. He was accused of being reduced to the pain inflicted upon black life—that his analysis was insufficient because it deconstructed the reality of race in America without offering solutions. To these objections, I disagree. I think his approach was appropriate.

There has been marginal racial progress in America. And because of this marginal progress, black Americans are expected to rejoice and be optimistic. Slavery was abolished, yes, but the abolition of slavery was never the goal. Jim Crow was defeated legislatively, but the end of Jim Crow was not the goal. The goal is, and has always been, equality. That’s it. As Malcolm X said:

You don’t stick a knife in a man’s back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you’re making progress … No matter how much respect, no matter how much recognition, whites show towards me, as far as I am concerned, as long as it is not shown to everyone of our people in this country, it doesn’t exist for me.

‘Better’ is not equality, and reform is not revolution. America is a country founded on the notion that whiteness is superior to all other racial categories and that blackness is the nadir of existence to such a degree that those who inhabit skin kissed by the sun share more with animals than they do with the idea of humanity.

Is it possible for things to get marginally better? Yes, of course. But will those who embody and enjoy the privileges whiteness affords willingly make room for those they have been socialized to see as inferior? Will America come to terms with the fact that reparations and a fundamental change to the structures in this country are needed to right the historical injustices inflicted upon native and black people in this country?

Nah. That’s not happening. There is a better chance of me picking Jiffy over Hotwater Cornbread at Thanksgiving.

Reform of social programs will not correct the racial ills of America in particular and Western Civilization in general. Only revolution will do that, but I am not optimistic about the possibility of that.

There is beauty in the struggle for equality. There is beauty in building community with those who are like-minded. There is beauty in time spent with family and friends. There is beauty in liberating the mind from the chains of white supremacy.

Black people have learned to take what was ugly and find the beauty therein. Give us scraps, and we will make soul food. Enslave us, we will sing Spirituals. Subject us to Jim Crow, and we will invent the blues. Take away funding for the arts in the inner city, we will invent hip-hop.

There is beauty in this world. There is no need for despair, but to fight with the eradication of institutional racism and a fundamental dismantling of white supremacy in mind is a fool’s errand. White folks would have to commit to that task, and black people cannot afford to be naïve.

Law W.

Lawrence Ware is a philosopher of race at his day job and writes if the kids go to bed on time. He is a contributing editor of NewBlackMan (in Exile) and a frequent contributor to The Root and other publications. He has been featured in the New York Times and you can sometimes find him discussing race and politics on HuffPost Live and Public Radio International. He is the kind of Steelers fan that enjoys watching the Cowboys lose.

  • Scorpiogoddess??

    The beautiful struggle against blackness. Being black is THE struggle of all the struggles ever struggulated in America, perhaps even globally.

    Nice struggle read.

    • JusticeNotServed

      struggulated… lol awesome

    • Betty’s Babygirl

      “..perhaps even globally”.

      Not perhaps but definitely. Resilients throughout the diaspora struggle. Often at the hands of other Resilients. Always by the systemic oppression perpetrated upon them by wypipo supremacy.

  • pls

    I agree. Racism is a 2520 problem and is up to them to fix it.

    • Kylroy

      Issue being it’s generally not a problem *for* white people, and folks don’t fix problems that don’t affect them.

      • King Beauregard

        Plus it can be hard to see if you’re not constantly exposed to examples of the problem. One might see some particularly egregious examples on the evening news, but to truly understand it, a person would have to be in the middle of it, without the option to walk away once it starts getting uncomfortable.

      • Adrienne_in_MTown

        To me, no one wants to fix anything until they can experience how broken it is. It’s basically not an issue “until it happens me (or someone I love)”. This is the case for all people, and in this instance, white people.

        • LMNOP

          What fascinates and disturbs me is the number of white people with black kids who are kind of indifferent about racism.

          • grownandsexy2

            Until something (heaven forbid) hits home. But I have a met a number of WW with black kids who are very concerned for the first time in their lives. I always think, “welcome to my world.”

      • Sigma_Since 93

        “Issue being it’s generally not a problem *for* white people, and folks don’t fix problems that don’t affect them.”

        When you’re the lead dog, the scenery never changes.

        • Kas

          If you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes.

      • Brown Rose

        Exactly right. An example is the drug crisis hitting White people. When the crack epidemic hit us –naw we were superpredators, monsters without a soul. Now all of sudden we are supposed to see white addicts as human.
        This is why systemic and institutional forces will be difficult if not impossible to change. They can’t see themselves in Black people.

        • Brother Mouzone

          Yep, since meth and the resurgence of hair-ron(Detroit pronunciation) in the 2520 community, now it’s a HEALTH issue and TREATMENT is the focus instead of incarceration….for wypipo that is.

          • Brown Rose

            Yup. Yup. Yup.

      • TeeChantel

        This is true.

      • -h.h.h.-

        so how do you make something that will put a set of people at a tangible disadvantage than they’ve experienced, yet promote it as a tangible benefit?
        just a question to mull over…

        • Kylroy

          I have no goddamn idea.

        • Val

          The Panthers had the answer. They joined forces with poor and oppressed people including poor Whites. So, the answer is that the system doesn’t benefit all Whites equally. They, poor Whites, have just been convinced to be angry at Black folks rather than the White elites who do benefit the most.

          • Kylroy

            If the GOP decides to completely give up on rural America after the Trump fiasco, that could be a very productive endeavor.

            • Hugh Akston

              Before drumpf there was George Wallace

          • Me

            I don’t agree with that strategy. That’s the same strategy white women used to push their suffragist movement that used black advocates while leaving black people in the dust. When spit hits the fan, poor whites will still be leaps and bounds ahead of blacks of all socioeconomic backgrounds. I wouldn’t allow them to piggy back on a movement for blacks.

            • Val

              Except we’re the ones who would be leading the movement.

              • Me

                That doesn’t mean we can’t get screwed by our own movement. “Allies” have screwed us over many times. From voting rights to affirmative action to housing, etc. We become the martyrs, they enjoy the spoils.

                • LMNOP

                  The Black Panthers were definitely brought down by the government, not by “allies” and other marginalized groups. But it’s true that programs started by the Black Panthers help poor white people to this day. Free breakfast is obviously the classic example, but there are a lot of other things too.

                  • Me

                    That’s what I meant. Not that “allies” would take down our movement, but that when the going gets rough, they’d sit by and benefit off our hard work but won’t lift a finger to defend us against the system. That to me is worse than outright oppression. It’s treason, and that happens to us too often IMO.

                  • Mary Burrell

                    Affirmative Action helps white women

                    • grownandsexy2

                      Yep, they’re the primary beneficiaries but maybe this fact eludes them as the face of AA is always a black face. Maybe that’s why white women (especially) are so against it. They drank the Kool-Aid that says we live in a color blind society and blacks no longer need AA. Becky on the job wanted to comment on AA as if it were just about race until I pointed out it’s more than that and she stands to disproportionately benefit from it.

            • I feel this…

            • Kas

              Call me old and jaded (because I am), but I long ago realized progress and allies come in shades of grey.

          • -h.h.h.-

            how do we do that if we aren’t speaking the same language?

        • esa

          “Power concedes nothing without a demand,” Frederick Douglass observed.

          you promote it as a tangible benefit by instituting consistent deficits in the shape of public shaming + social and economic sanctions. undermining public image, status & money is the only way to move the needle in this country.

          • -h.h.h.-

            hi esa! hope you’re ok!

            i dunno tho…shaming someone into working for another’s benefit can only last but for so long, and eventually lead to a level of “eff this” (or maybe this is my experience lol)

            • esa

              hey hey ~*~

              to clarify: public shaming is part of a larger campaign to bring about social and economic sanctions. consider it the publicity/marketing wing of a movement to shut down the profitability of the section of the system under attack.

              for example: institute a campaign to shame the corporations using prison labor, so that their names become connected to slavery openly, while boycotting their products until they divest of all prison labor contracts.

    • raul

      I get lost on how exactly that’s supposed to work. How many POC are really interested in hearing a white person’s opinion on race let alone their solutions to the problem?

      • King Beauregard

        White people need to listen, and be serious in taking direction on what to do. Any white progressive should be willing to do the former, and any white ally should be willing to do the latter.

        • Brown Rose

          Not to be dismissive but good luck with getting white progressive to listen. I have seen too many ally’s balk when they actually had to do some heavy lifting.

          • King Beauregard

            Yeah I know. I still have an axe to grind with the Left after Netroots Nation. Exactly how is single payer, or Social Security, or whatever other cause more significant than BLM?

            • Kylroy

              I will repeat myself: “Issue being it’s generally not a problem *for* white people, and folks don’t fix problems that don’t affect them.”

        • TeeChantel

          Do you think white folks can listen to understand, though? I mean, a big part of listening is being able to understand the other party. I might be a bit pessimistic but I doubt white folks can/will understand what blacks and other POC have lived through or experienced.

          • Val

            I think they understand. It’s not really that complicated. It was them standing there inflicting the pain. I think feigning ignorance is a strategy.

            The real question is are they willing to do the work required to dismantle White Supremacy? And all indications say no.

            • King Beauregard

              This is a big question to put on you, but, how does one dismantle White Supremacy? I don’t ask to be flippant, but because I don’t see that many places to even start.

              The one thing any white person can do is, when they find themselves among whites who feel comfortable with slurs or otherwise speaking ill of blacks, make it socially awkward. Dare to be the jerk who doesn’t just let it go. When the other guy says “All Lives Matter’, take a minute to explain to them that white victims tend to get the support of the system while black victims have to fight the system. That kind of thing.

              But beyond that … if you’ve got ideas, I’m listening.

              (Someone here recommended I need to get involved with a local black organization, and full disclosure, I haven’t done that yet. My life’s been a mess lately, is all the excuse I’ve got. Will it ever be sufficiently un-messy for me to have time to get more actively involved? That’s a test of my character and integrity, I guess.)

              • Val

                You’re talking about ending racism. That’s different from dismantling White Supremacy. You dismantle it by taking apart its mechanisms. For instance; American police are a mechanism of White Supremacy. One can’t reform police, police forces must be dismantled and then reconstituted as agents of the people rather than agents of White Supremacy.

                So, one by one you have to dismantle these systems; finance, government, etc. Whether or not some White folks call us the n word is not really the issue.

                • King Beauregard

                  … … … I have a lot more questions (the word “how” comes up a lot) but I think I see what you mean. Rather than bombard you, one more question, is there a name or site you would recommend for further elaboration?

                  • Val

                    VSB! Seriously, stick around, the folks here have lots of knowledge. As for books, anything on revolution. It doesn’t have to be specific to White Supremacy. At the core all righteous revolutions are the same. But, you can always study the words of Malcolm X.

                    • King Beauregard

                      I do like it here I have to admit: a lot of very smart people who are helping me expand my brain-space, and I appreciate it.

                      I was just doing a quick Googling on civilian police review boards, but I live Cleveland and we’ve got one and it’s utterly worthless. So the trick is to rebuild a police force from the ground up so as to reduce institutional injustices, while somehow preventing them from reasserting themselves (or at least having mechanisms to counter that tendency). The best bet, it seems to me, would be to try to have police who live in the areas they patrol, but dang if I know how to pull that off. So instead maybe some sort of neighborhood civilian liaisons whom the police are obligated to … and that’s where I run out of ideas.

                    • Val

                      At some point having them live the communities they ‘serve’ would be a good thing but that should come after police forces are broken up and there are new police on the job.

                    • King Beauregard

                      Coincidentally I just bumped into this article, about how Richmond CA turned its police department around:

                      http://washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/novemberdecember-2016/top-cop/

                      It tracks with some of what I suggested, but even more with what you said. The most important sentence in the piece is possibly this: “it’s easier to get new people in a department than it is to get a new culture in a department.”

                  • Brother Mouzone

                    THE ISIS PAPERS- FRANCES CRESS-WELSING

                • LMNOP

                  @kingbeauregard:disqus See THIS is what I mean by burn it down.

                  Remember we talked about dismantling white supremacy the other day, and you said it would be like fighting the ocean? But it’s not, it’s systematic, one thing at a time. And that is part of what props white supremacy up, the idea that it’s like a force of nature, an insurmountable obstacle. It’s a huge part of American society, of course, but it was systematically put in place, and it can systematically be torn down.

              • brothaskeeper

                “My life’s been a mess lately.”

                Join the club. We got t-shirts. There is no parsing the struggle. If you join, you get all of it. If you don’t, you get none of it. Just know that we are here to edify you in multiple ways, shapes, and forms. Many are the afflictions of the righteous.

            • LMNOP

              It’s completely willful ignorance. Most people who aren’t sociopaths should be able to at least try to understand another person’s experience.

          • King Beauregard

            I think the more important thing is whether they’re willing to be allies in good faith. I should be super clear BTW that I’m white and so I’m speaking from a certain bubble, and while I know there’s things I don’t understand I probably don’t really understand how much I don’t understand. But being willing to take direction cuts through a lot of that.

            • Scorpiogoddess??

              Could give a phakk about good faith allies.

          • grownandsexy2

            And maybe most importantly, they don’t care.

      • pls

        We don’t need their opinions on race, we already know those are all wrong. Just fix it, and by Fix it I mean all the old white men should just kill themselves so they as a people can start over from the scratch with the rest of us. jk but not really.

    • grownandsexy2

      But they won’t.

  • Val

    “…no matter how much recognition, whites show towards me, as far as I am concerned, as long as it is not shown to everyone of our people in this country, it doesn’t exist for me.”

    New Black folks need to have that forcibly tattooed on their forearms.

    • grownandsexy2

      My dad used to say ain’t none of us free until we all free.

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    • fedup

      I tend to agree, but also feel there is a large contingent of the “gently-used” class of Black folk that this really needs to go out to. Those that like to play respectability politricks. Those that like to lift up the achievements of the few to chastise the rest of us. Those are the folks to whom I think this letter should be addressed, with a CC to the newbies.

      • Val

        I hear you. But, I think that New Blacks tend to side with the oppressor while respectability folks generally have their hearts in the right place, Clarence Thomas and other Black Republicans excepted, but are just too stubborn and set in their ways to acknowledge that everyone doesn’t have bootstraps to pull up.

        • Kylroy

          TNC made a distinction between Black Republicans, who exist primarily to assure whites that their racism isn’t racism, and Black conservatives, who think trying to reduce racism is hopeless and want the Black community to focus it’s efforts elsewhere.

          • fedup

            “…Black conservatives, who think trying to reduce racism is hopeless and want the Black community to focus it’s efforts elsewhere.”

            I can get with that. However, I am a socialist liberal, so I can’t get down with a Republican’s capitalistic strategy of advancement (wherein some version of trickle down economics is the vehicle for lifting up the rest). But do Black people need to start focusing attention elsewhere (as in the same type of community building that created Black Wall St., and countless other functional and thriving communities)? Hail yeah.

    • Straight up, Ole colorblind ayus dummies.

    • Betty’s Babygirl

      FACTS! Resilient’s energy needs to be focused on how we relate to one another in order to find common ground. Seeking equality is akin to Don Quixote chasing the windmill.

  • LMNOP

    I need to read “Between the World and Me,” and that paragraph doesn’t seem hopeless to me so much as deeply respectful of the lives and struggles of people who were enslaved.

    • Val

      I agree, especially when he says, “The enslaved were not bricks in your road, and their lives were not chapters in your redemptive history.” And I think he’s speaking about Black folks struggles in general in the past and present.

    • JusticeNotServed

      “I need to read “Between the World and Me””

      yes you do. though i personally enjoyed the beautiful struggle more.

    • kingpinenut

      I bought two copies…I’ll send you one.

      It’s a wonderful book and sits next to my James Baldwin books.

  • [Insert Creative Name Here]

    I dunno about global warming and the football team losing but “Drugs destroying the community?”

    I’m with Unc. Definitely the white man!

    • grownandsexy2

      Yep, drugs definitely took a toll. He was right about that.

  • cakes_and_pies

    It’s a two-edged sword. When we find the beauty in the struggle, they just take the sword out and stick it in another spot. Then we become the scary negro who seems to persevere though everything and they keep inflicting pain because we rose above it.

  • fedup

    “…his analysis was insufficient because it deconstructed the reality of race in America without offering solutions. To these objections, I disagree. I think his approach was appropriate.”

    Pretty sure I had this EXACT same conversation with someone on here about the film 13th just last week (or was it the week before?). I agree, and my stance remains the same.

  • Sigma_Since 93

    The real issue at the moment is level setting expectations about the speed of change. When we look at history and Dwights, obtaining long lasting impactful change required violence and leverage. When change came, you could see clear and measurable differences.

    When WE look at change, it is given to us in small bites similar to compound interest. Were looking for 20% return on our investment but we’re given 3.5%. For those who have lived long enough, they can see improvement. For those who are new to the struggle, that 3.5% is an insult. Are we looking / expecting change to be swift and noticeable or will we be content to see slow improvements?

  • Brooklyn_Bruin

    Now we wanna Hotep?!!?!

    *dons bedazzled kufi*

    Black folks like Sallie Mae executives. We know they owe us, but they ain’t paying.

    Scrape up what little we got and get out of this business

    • brothaskeeper

      Nice kufi!

  • Brown Rose

    I pretty much ascribe to the notion that racism is not a relic. Its a living breathing entity that will always exist here. It may move and shift, but the outcome is still the same. its not about reveling in victim status, its understanding the reality of the fact that Blacks are needed as the very detritus that keeps this entire edifice afloat. To actually consider us as viable and worthy of equality would be to crush what it means to be white.

    My only concern is that making diamonds when you are given coal dust has a breaking point. We’ve been balancing those balls in the air for few good centuries and we are still faced with people who despise Black people. Short of finding an oasis like Coates did in France, it seems the rest of us are tasked with continuing to fight the zombie hordes until the end. That sounds pretty exhausting.

    • Val

      I agree except France is no oasis.

      • Brown Rose

        Well for certain Black Americans–who are famous or celebrated in some way–it can be. Coates won’t be treated like an Average African from the Ivory Coast.

        • Val

          True but he won’t be treated like a White person either. Being treated better than another oppressed group isn’t an oasis, it’s just another form of oppression.

          • Kylroy

            I’d bet his money, celebrity, and American accent manage to ensure he *personally* is treated quite well. I trust TNC to see beyond himself and realize that his escape is not a global solution, but lots of other folks don’t take as wide a view.

            • Val

              Meh, Oprah got the regla Black treatment in Paris, so…

              • Kylroy

                How’s her French?

                • kingpinenut

                  She Black…do it matter?

                  • Kylroy

                    How well you speak the native language somewhere will definitely affect how you’re received.

                    Again, I’m not arguing the French aren’t racist – I’m saying that an individual can largely insulate themselves from that racism with the right combination of intellectualism, money, and fame. And TNC seems to have nailed it.

                    • kingpinenut

                      He will have his ninja moment in France believe me….

                    • Kylroy

                      Quite possibly. What he has to say about it could prove enlightening.

                    • orchid921

                      I don’t disagree with this AT ALL. But I should note that Coates speaks French and there is nothing they love more than an American who won’t take the easy way and speak English.

          • Janelle Doe

            tell them Val!

          • Michelle

            And if enough reg’la Black people start migrating over to France for citizenship status, we will be treated with the same as our African brothers and sisters eventually, in my opinion.

      • kingpinenut

        Where there are white folks…there is racism.

        We all got prejudice of some kind.

        White folks just systematically make *everyone* but themselves suffer

      • Nikki Jeremy

        Also we forget the damage French colonialism has done to POC around the globe.

      • Kas

        I’m always surprised when people think France is an oasis.

        • LMNOP

          Right, like do you follow current events AT ALL, even as casually as a Trump supporter? Because then it should be clear to you France is no oasis.

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