She asked “Wait, why can’t Black people racist?” I scrunched my eyes shut in annoyance whilst feeling the backs of glasses lift just a smidgen above my ears. I thought so clearly what is this basic ass 100 level question, not remembering that I was in a 200 level class. Immediately, I disengage and worry about the mind map I have due for the same class and how I wish I could already speak conversational portuguese. Vaguely, I see that rather than black voices responding to her, which were me and my friend, white women who who were currently taking Discourses of Whiteness responded by saying “Well the way we talk about it in class, is that individuals can’t be racist only systems are. People can be prejudice.” Although so familiar, the definition and explanation seemed oddly unsatisfying.
I, too, had taken the class just last semester where I had grown increasingly annoyed with white silence where every person of color has did and said all but write them an invitation to speak. Indeed, it was such a performance, it could have been a theater thesis. However, I think the definition was just as unsatisfying then as it was in that classroom, because it sounded and felt like someone who didn’t want to be called a racist or be a unique white oppressor. No, it sounded like it is much easier to take on the label of racist if you can equally call the traditionally oppressed racist too in order to diminish the pain, trauma, and violence you have caused. I walked out of the class annoyed, but the very next day I had to begin to question my reaction and most of what I knew. Then again, if I don’t question what I know, why am I doing this work?
I had a meeting with my advisor about Black Feminism and she asked me a question I thought I knew so easily. ] I was surprised by own theoretical and ideological contradictions. She asked what would I call call a lighter skin man who says he doesn’t want to date darker skin girls. “ A colorist,” I quickly responded and immediately found an error, because as my advisor pointed out, colorism is rooted in racism. So sure about myself, I knew her answer wasn’t surprising but I realized how my immediate label of colorism rather than racist was directly in conflict with my recent dissatisfaction with people not seeing racist links. But something was definitely incomplete about calling this fictional guy (but all too real) a racist. This lighter skin man likely has been affected and socialized by institutional racism that has taught him anti-blackness, but by the same token haven’t white people also been damaged? The thought unsettled me. The idea of treating white oppressors merely as victims too seems incomplete in addressing positionality and understanding exactly who has to reopen wounds to convince the world of racism. Not white people.
Rather than thinking by myself I took my dilemma to the Anti-Racism Coalition. Although uncomfortable with my peer’s thick boredom with the topic or perhaps perplexed minds, I landed upon a few things. Race(ism) specifically refers to a persisting system based on the prejudice and discrimination of race. The key word really is persisting. There has never been such system that has so systematically discriminated against white people based upon their whiteness alone. It doesn’t matter whatsoever if race is socially constructed, the reality is all too real. Next is that coupled with my dissatisfaction in not speaking truth, I remembered that racism is also rooted in the system of white supremacy. So perhaps the conversation should not have been divided between calling someone a racist or prejudice, but rather a larger conversation about white supremacy and racism.
I know that many people fear that with the misuse of racism and racist, the word will lose it poignant value, but that is truly the indicator of a sickness if the world grows to normalize the label of racist and white supremacist. What I begin to think is that people of color and white people can be socialized to hold whiteness superior and effectively become white supremacists. Racism should indeed be reserved for systems because even if a so called successful black light skin man perpetuates racist attitudes due to white supremacy instilled in his mind( *cough* Juan Williams *cough*) they will gain no real advance or benefit. A so called successful person of color who perpetrates racist violence, symbolic or otherwise, will only be successful as long as the system allows. Ze is and will never be free without actively decolonizing and deprogramming their mind. Material benefits is not freedom or success because it will not protect you as person color. The most disturbing and saddest lie the world tells people of color is that material benefits, light skin, class, and status will protect them. Sad and destructive indeed. If that were true, the world would have already been ours with the many things we have created and invented only to be used for profit by the same violent hands that put humans in chains.
So the answer to my advisor is , I think, that sadly the lighter skin man is white supremacist, corrupted and damaged by institutional racism. In addition, he is being used as a black body to propagate white supremacist and racist propaganda. Racism is embodied in the plethora of corporations that are meant to procure and protect wealth and capital for a select few white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied men.
Lastly, I know that by calling the young woman's question “basic” I created a hierarchy of knowledge and consciousness... but some questions can be googled. With knowledge in mind, some may say that my knowledge and consciousness is a power and privilege and perhaps the narrative of privilege should be inverted. To that, I disagree. The knowledge I gain has never given me power but has rather left me in a state of hopelessness. Power is rooted in the destructive urge to colonize, exploit, and stand on the heads and bodies of those you other. So no, this knowledge is not my power but it shall be my salvation.
"I shall enjoy the fruits of my labor if I get free today"- Kendrick Lamar