Race: A power construct of collected or merged differences that lives socially.
I want to begin this episode with a warning: Reading this book, are any other, does not make you an Antiracist expert compared with those who have the lived experiences of racism’s impact.
1. Page 38: find 3 examples of it being a crime for non-whites to be themselves or empower themselves:
- One from the past
- One from the present
- One in which technology is used to enable the racial crime of being non-white
2. Page 40: Do some research and find an example from the time that Gomes de Zurara’ lived from 1410- 1474 that challenge the assertion that “this Black race of people was lost, living ‘like beasts’ without any custom of reasonable beings”.
3. Page 43: list 5 ways racist idea are being used to justify racist policies and to redirect the blame for racial inequalities away from those policies and onto people [look beyond the obvious]. How is technology being used to facilitate racist policies?
Hello everyone and welcome to today’s episode of How to be an Antiracist. So it’s the third episode, which is chapter three of How To Be An Antiracist. I want to start, this is, again, I told you, I’m trying to figure out the format so today is going to be a little different. Well, a lot different.
So today, I want to start with a … some explanation, a little bit of warning, I want to get into the text and there’s actually homework now and then I want to answer a community question, someone sent me an email. So that’s the format that we’ll be taking today and I’ll see how that works and if that feels good to me, if not, I’ll switch it up next week.
So, one of the things, before I start, I want to begin with a warning for whiteness who’s from the #causeascene community. Reading this book or any other does not make you an antiracist expert compared to the lived experiences of the individuals who experience racism directly, that have a direct impact.
I’m seeing a lot of conversations – and it’s not just this book – I am really questioning what role does critical, and I’ll put it in air-quotes, “Whiteness studies” – the role it plays in antiracist work. Because I initially had planned to make White Fragility the next book we read and after doing some thinking I’ve decided that I will not be centering any White authors on this podcast. I definitely see the need and where Whiteness studies fits into antiracist work because let’s be honest, for many White people, understanding this message from another White person is what you need because you won’t listen to me as a Black woman.
And for me, whiteness work, Whiteness studies is a prerequisite for antiracist work. And your antiracist work should be taught or led by individuals who have lived experiences of racism. So I wanted to say that.
Antiracist work should not and cannot center whiteness and that’s why I believe that Whiteness studies, books like, Unpacking your… I forgot the whole title, Unpacking your…I don’t feel like looking for it right now.. Unpacking your whatever it is… and White Fragility. Even Tim Wise’s books I think are critical for beginning the conversation for the pre-schoolwork that most White people need to do because they are completely oblivious to the world around them and it stops there.
The real antiracist work I believe has to be done by people with lived experiences because the one thing I’m noticing is that I’m able to halt, I mean literally halt, trains of thought that you – or arguments that you begin – and I already know where it’s going to lead and it leads to censoring Whiteness. It leads to silencing or questioning the experiences of people who are directly impacted by racism.
And without our stories, the people who are doing whiteness studies would have nothing to gird their work against. Because for you to study whiteness you have to have an understanding of anti-Blackness. So with that said, that’s one thing.
The second thing I wanted to address – and I said this in the first episode is – he doesn’t believe that – he believes that Black people can be racist. And that I had to sit on that for a minute because I wanted to process that. And then, so I wrote – where he says that Blacks can be racist, I say that everyone has a degree of internalized White supremacy and anti-Blackness.
The difference lies in that these internalized beliefs flow only one-way causing harm to other marginalized individuals. Also works within, never against, existing systems of oppression, this power and control always remain in the system and to those who benefit most.
So, I do not believe, that Blacks or any situation where racism is practiced on a group of people that the people who are directly impacted by that racism can be racist because they do not have the systems to flow it the other way. So what they can do is further harm other marginalized individuals and I talked about this before – that Blacks have the paper bag test that if you were darker than a paper bag you were too black for certain sororities, fraternities, any of these kinds of things. So colorism, all those things, are results and strategies of White supremacy and anti-Blackness. So I believe you can definitely discriminate within the race or against other marginalized individuals but because you do not have the power and control, you can never reverse that, you can’t use those same things to impact the lives of White people. So that’s the differentiation I’m going to make and people can disagree with me, and that’s okay. That’s differentiation I’m going to make when it comes to that statement.
So, I’m going to start getting into the text. And I’m not going to go too deep into the text I’m just going to highlight some notes that I have today. And there’s some homework. So how I did this – certain pages, I wrote the page number – again, if you’re using digital, I don’t know how this lines up so I hope it makes sense.
The chapter’s called “Power” and the first definition – again, I love how he starts each chapter with a definition – is: “Race – A power construct of collected or merged difference that lives socially.”
07:33 So right up under that I put St. Anthony’s vs MLK Middle School, Carbondale vs Prairie View University, and San Diego vs Chocolate City. And it speaks to when I go to page 37, and I wrote in the margin of something I highlighted, being the only.
So, he writes, “In that classroom, on that April day in 1990, my parents discovered that I had entered racial puberty. At seven years old, I began to feel the encroaching fog of racism overtaking my dark body. It felt big, bigger than me, bigger than my parents or anything in my world, and threatening. What a powerful construction race is—powerful enough to consume us. And it comes for us early.
I want to also highlight – I was struggling with this episode because there’s so many things I’ve been witnessing I’ve been trying to figure out how to put it in a way that I could teach this chapter. Right and this one thing, “And it comes for us early” – reminded me of, I don’t know how many of you saw the video of the little Black boy and the little White boy who meet each other – I don’t know why I feel like I’m about to say something in the Bible “On the road to Damascus” – but they meet each other on the street and the run up to each other and they hug each other and everybody’s saying how wonderful that is and oh my God, this is… this is… you know, like, (sighs) I used to, I used to – and I wrote a tweet about it – because I used to think “oh that’s so adorable, that is so cute” until I realized that those situations, those images are often being used now to justify or to dismiss the lived experiences of both of those young individuals because even at their age, they’re being racialized. And they didn’t look more than, maybe, they look maybe less than three, maybe three years old? And those images are used to say “hey, there’s no racism”. We understand that racism is learned but it is learned by a system. It is not about individuals. I wrote this – I used to think stories like these were adorable until I realized that they are often strategically used to silence and gaslight those who challenge the system of White supremacy. This does not invalidate or cancel out the daily harm and our lived experiences.
Because again, Whiteness is seen as, is often seen, no, is demanded that it is seen as the individual. So this individual experience does not negate the lived experiences of a community of people impacted by systems of oppression and racism, harm and hate. And so, when you look at this one thing, it is not indicative or cancels out the fact that even at that age, the world is treating those two little boys very differently. And it will continue to do so. So I wanted to bring that up.
So I go back to my reading.
“But for all of that life-shaping power, race is a mirage, which doesn’t lessen its force. We are what we see ourselves as, whether what we see exists or not. We are what people see us as, whether what they see exists or not. What people see in themselves and others has meaning and manifests itself in ideas and actions and policies, even if what they are seeing is an illusion.”
And this is the thing, and this is why I don’t argue about these things, this is why my default position is all Whiteness is racist by design and can’t be trusted by default. Because “What people see in themselves and others has meaning and manifests itself in ideas and actions and policies, even if what they are seeing is an illusion.”
I’m not going – this is why the whole “prove it to me, show me your data” those tactics are used – you can’t argue with that, because, as he said. Race is a mirage. So, if you don’t take my lived experience as proof enough, there is nothing else I can give you because everything else is a mirage. Everything else is built into systems. No one else is saying “we will create an education system that will advantage White people over everyone else”. That’s not written anywhere.
Or it’s not written anywhere where we can read it. You just feel the impact of the system. So all that going back and forth is something I’m not going to do. “So I do not pity my seven-year-old self for identifying racially as Black. I still identify as Black. Not because I believe Blackness, or race, is a meaningful scientific category but because our societies, our policies, our ideas, our histories, and our cultures have rendered race and made it matter. ” And this is why I call myself Black, I don’t call myself African-American. As I said before, I wouldn’t call myself an American, because that is also supremacist and it ignores that there is a North, South, Central America and “American” becomes the default for the U.S.
I call myself Black because the systems in this country are used against me and so, that’s what I call myself. “I am among those who have been degraded by racist ideas, suffered under racist policies, and who have nevertheless endured and built movements and cultures to resist or at least persist through this madness.”
So, we’re getting to the first question, the first question in our homework. On page 38 it says, “Some White people do not identify as White for the same reason they identify as not-racist: to avoid reckoning with the ways that Whiteness—even as a construction and mirage—has informed their notions of America and identity and offered them privilege, the primary one being the privilege of being inherently normal, standard, and legal. It is a racial crime to be yourself if you are not White in America. It is a racial crime to look like yourself or empower yourself if you are not White.”
So my first question is I need you to find 3 examples of it being a crime for non-whites to be themselves or empower themselves. And I have a bit of criteria for you, because I don’t want these to be… I want you to do some work. Many of you are lazy as fuck and I want you to do some work. So, it’s in three parts, the first assignment is to find 3 examples of it being a crime for non-whites to be themselves or empower themselves. So first example has to be from the past, your second example has to be from the present, and your third example has to be one in which tech is used to enable the racial crime of being non-white.
So let me say that again (repeats)
Alright, and so it says “It is one of the ironies of antiracism that we must identify racially in order to identify the racial privileges and dangers of being in our bodies. ” And so I wrote a little note, this is a problem with “we’re all one race” this is the people who don’t see race, “race doesn’t exist” – biologically we know it doesn’t exist but the systems that are in place make it exist. “…because race is fundamentally a power construct of blended difference that lives socially. Race creates new forms of power: the power to categorize and judge. elevate and downgrade. include and exclude. Race makers use that power to process distinct individuals, ethnicities, and nationalities into monolithic races.
So, this is how White people they would like to be “I’m Italian, I’m Irish, whatever” but when you talk about Blacks you didn’t, you don’t care to figure out where we’re from even if we’re not even from the U.S. – you could be from the Caribbean, you could be from South America, you could be from anywhere, but they lump us all into being Black. But Whiteness doesn’t like to be a monolith and that’s why I always contrast Whiteness against Blackness.
Because I’m trying to create a balanced, as balanced an equation as I can in these instances. Then on page 39, “the first global power to construct race happened to be the first racist power and the first exclusive slave trader of the constructed race of African people.” So he gets into what he does best, and if you haven’t read his book, Stamped From the Beginning, it’s a history book.
And so he gets into the history of how, basically, race became – because people think race came first – race did not come first. The economics came first and the justification of the economics to enslave individuals, to justify that, race was created.
So, it’s just basically on 40 it just talks about, I highlighted this, “despite their different skin colors and languages and ethnic groups” – I’m going to mispronounce this – “Zurara blended them into one single group of people, worthy of enslavement.” So very early on, and this was in 1444, so very early on race was used to justify enslavement of people and so it says “from the beginning, to make races was to make racial hierarchy… Once a race has been created, it must be filled in — and Zurara filled it with negative qualities that would justify Prince Henry’s evangelical mission to the world. This Black race of people was lost, living ‘like beasts, without any custom of reasonable beings.'”
This is another reason that I challenge missionary work – because a lot of missionary work is rooted in assimilation where it sees that people are not inferior but that there is something wrong with them and we need to get them more civilized, which is making them to adhere to White customs.
At the bottom of this, I love how I come back to this, this reminds me of Whiteness changed from Irish, Italians, English – because everybody was their ethnicity until Whiteness shifted to include them.
The next thing I highlighted was:
Both racist constructions normalized and rationalized the increased importing of the supposedly ‘strong’ enslaved Africans and the ongoing genocide of the supposedly ‘weak’ Indians in the Americas.” So, for question two, it’s going to come from the reading on page 40, do some research and find an example from the time that Gomes de Zurara’ lived from 1410- 1474 that challenge the assertion that “this Black race of people was lost, living ‘like beasts’ without any custom of reasonable beings”.
I need you to go back and look at history and I want you to find a challenge to this – that Black, the Black race of people were lost, living ‘like beasts’. And there are historical challenges to this and I want you to do that work.
And then I highlighted: Prince Henry’s racist policy of slave trading came first—a cunning invention for the practical purpose of bypassing Muslim traders. After nearly two decades of slave trading, King Afonso asked Gomes de Zurara to defend the lucrative commerce in human lives, which he did through the construction of a Black race, an invented group upon which he hung racist ideas. This cause and effect—a racist power creates racist policies out of raw self-interest; the racist policies necessitate racist ideas to justify them—lingers over the life of racism.
And so, question three in your homework, create a list of 5 ways racist ideas are being used to justify racist policies and to redirect the blame for racial inequalities away from those policies and onto people. Look beyond the obvious. I don’t want you to, I don’t want you to look for examples of what’s happening at the border, that’s very obvious. I want you to do some work. Because these are your blind sides. If people aren’t, if we aren’t explicitly Whiteness, things you don’t see it. So I want you to see it. And the second part of this is: how is technology being used to facilitate racist policies?
And then I’m going to end with this: “The root problem… has always been the self-interest of racist power. Powerful economic, political, and cultural self-interest… has been behind racist policies.” Then it says.. “then produced racist ideas to justify the racist policies of their era, to redirect the blame for their racial inequities away from those policies and onto people.”
So let me go through your homework again and then I’m going to read the question that came into me. So your homework is three things – From page 38: find 3 examples of it being a crime for non-whites to be themselves or empower themselves. So you need one example from the past, one example from the present, and one example in which tech is used to enable the racial crime of being non-white. Number 2 is from page 40: and I want you to look for an example, from the period of from 1410- 1474 that challenges the assertion that “this Black race of people was lost, living ‘like beasts’ without any custom of reasonable beings”. And your third assignment is from page 43, list 5 ways racist ideas are being used to justify racist policies and to redirect the blame for racial inequalities away from those policies and onto people. Again don’t look for the obvious. And I want you to share, figure out some examples that talk about how technology is being used to facilitate racist policies?
Okay. So now I’m going to get into… it’s a pretty long email so I’m just going to read some of it and talk through it. “Hi, I read How to Be An Antiracist last week and I’m following along on your podcast. I have a few questions I thought you might be willing to address regarding assimilation. Before I ask, I wanted to thank you for opening yourself up to questions like this. You spoke about the emotional burden that people of color take on in educating White people so I was hesitant to email and wouldn’t have if you hadn’t mentioned it at the start of the podcast. This email is also long, so if you haven’t got the time for it, I understand. 26:39 When reading that chapter, I thought about the comment you made during your Write/Speak/Code talk about how Black women have to put a lot of energy into revising professional emails to make sure that they don’t offend White women.”
And in parentheses, “Similarly, as a White woman I get frustrated that corporate culture norms developed around a predominantly Black culture” End of parentheses.
There may be a lot more to that than assimilation. But it seems likely that assimilation is part of the problem. First, I wanted to ask if you think that’s a fair link to make or if I’m unfairly simplifying the problem.”
Yes, you are unfairly simplifying the problem. White women or women in corporate spaces are having to do some of the same work, or it may feel similar, but what your question or your belief negates is intersectionality. And so this is why I challenge often that White women are not tech because when Whiteness is in the room, Whiteness is centered. So even though you’re a White woman who is frustrated by the culture of norms of patriarchy, that’s the only thing that you focus on, this is why White feminism is so harmful for women of color, particularly Black women, because it tries to force us to focus on only one part of our identity – and that is our gender – when our race, as we are learning, for many of us is a bigger issue than our gender. So it is very much an unfair simplification of the problem because you really do not understand – if you have to ask this question – what I really meant.
What I mean is – and every Black woman can tell you – that even if she is your supervisor, your manager on the job, and she has to correct you in something you’ve done. The amount of emotional labor it takes to just craft an email is beyond burdensome. So once you get this email, if you feel that it is in some way hurtful to you, it becomes about your feelings. And we try to be as objective, and we spend so much time taking out any subjective part of this email and you still receive it as subjective about your feelings because you are centering your Whiteness. This goes to, again, why I challenge, challenge, challenge all of this. And I’m going to be. And I don’t do absolutes. And so I’m going to do an absolute here until someone can give me a process, an objective process for measuring this compassionate empathy thing that is going on in our space right now. Because what I see are opportunities for people who are targets of harm to continue to be targets of harm while these individuals who are supposed to be given the benefit of the doubt, to assume somebody’s intentions are good, causes me harm while they figure their shit out.
And that is not acceptable. Developing compassion and empathy are skills. It’s not something that happens overnight. Just like with any skill, you have to go out and practice it. And you will make mistakes. So even in your efforts to be compassionate and empathetic, people will be harmed. And I just, that’ is just not acceptable to me. you do that on your own, you figure it out. And so that’s the first part of her question.
So the next one is: “Second, I wanted to ask if there was a way for White women and men to signal that it is okay to not” – and she put that in caps – “do the extra round of email revisions that you are talking about without being overtly racist”
It’s not about being overtly racist. The fact that you say “don’t do that”, it’s still, you’re in the power structure. But that doesn’t change the system. See this again, this is where I keep coming back to.
It’s not about individuals. These conversations are not about individuals. It is about systems that allow this to happen. It’s about the systems that communicate even though it’s not in writing, it communicates to these Black women that this is the standard operating procedure. Because if you don’t do this, there will be consequences to it. So a White manager, or White man, male or female can say these things but I’m not going to believe that. Because yes, it might work on your team. But what if I have to write an email to someone above you, an equal, a peer next to me or even someone below me – and they don’t have that same understanding or given me that same – then I again, am put in harm. So it’s not about you as an individual. It’s about changing the systems.
“And so, my last question, I’m afraid, may reveal how far behind I am in thinking about these issues. But I hope you will take it in the spirit of trying to learn and improve. In your talk at Write/Speak/Code and some of your tweets, you spoke about how words like aggressive or intimidating are applied to Black women unfairly. I’m wondering if this an issue of biased perception or this is an issue of assimilationism. As an example, you and I had a brief interaction at the conference and I was quickly intimidated by your demeanor. In your opinion, is the problem that I’m applying levels of interpretation to your actions so that as perceived by my biased White brain these actions are intimidating or is the problem that there is a different set of cultural norms and I’m expecting you to assimilate? Or is there a third option that I identify racism underlining both of those articulations of the problem but I don’t know what the antiracist answer is?”
It is the third option. A lot of this goes back to what I said. Aggressive and intimidating. You really look at the definitions of these words – and this is why I define words when I talk – if my behavior, how you interpret my behavior – if that’s, so this is a thing where people argue intention and impact. So this is why also I’m not looking for equality. And this is why I had a conversation with someone about a part of the reading how we have to discriminate, how there’s a level of discrimination that has to happen against Whiteness in order to do antiracist work and here’s an example of that. Because, aggression and intimidation, if you felt that when you encountered me, those are your issues, not mine. And this is the problem. you feeling intimidated is something you need to work on. If you look at the definitions. What I said was clear, I did not – and this is what I do – I’m very clear about what I say, because I don’t want to be misinterpreted, I don’t give a fuck about civility, so if you did or said something and I challenge it, I’m not thinking about your feelings. I don’t care about your feelings. Those, your feelings are your responsibility. For Black women, our feelings have always been about our responsibilities plus your feelings are our responsibility.
What I’m saying is: your feelings are no longer our responsibility. So, you’ll call us threatening… all of this goes back to … and White people don’t want to deal with this.. but it goes back to what I just talked. Making us, casting us in narratives that make us beasts and animals and gorillas and these things. That what intimidation and aggression is. When you say those things, particularly in a work environment. Particularly if I’m just having a conversation and you feel intimidated because of your shit? What you’re doing is promoting those ideas that I am an animal. I am somebody that needs to be controlled. And when you do that, you dehumanize me and then you can easily justify the racist harm that happens to us. And we see it in how criminal justice and how police treat White people can go shoot up a church, a synagogue or a school and they are apprehended without incident. And a Black person, stopped at a traffic light, walking down the street, or whatever, and they are killed. Because the system enables Whiteness to cast us in roles of animals – which need to be controlled – and how you deem it appropriate to control that animal is justified by the system.
So if you don’t like the answer I just gave, and not just speaking to the person who wrote this, I need you all to think about that. Your feelings, your emotions are yours. If you can’t deal with them, you need to go to counseling. You need to do whatever you need to, because your feelings are no longer my responsibility. This is why: fuck civility.
Because civility is optional for white people and it is the expected behavior for people of color and Black people in the United States because it is how you control us. I will no longer be controlled by whiteness.
So, if you have any questions, please send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Again, I’m trying out this format, so please give me some feedback about what you feel about adding some homework. You know, I’m an educator I have to, it’s like, the reading is not enough for me, for you, I need you to do some research. Because Whiteness is ignorant by design. You don’t know your history, you don’t know history period. Also, one thing I wanted to suggest is that I saw that some of the sponsors, the women have gotten together to start a book club. And they’re working together as they listen to the podcast. So maybe that would be beneficial to you. So with that, I say, thank you and have a wonderful day.
How to Be An Antiracist Ch. 3
Listen to more great #causeascene podcasts
Originally posted on August 19, 2018 I will begin this post as I begin each talk, with a list of my credentials because there’s always
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