How to Be An Antiracist Ep. 7

Podcast Description

Culture

Cultural Racist: One who is creating a cultural standard and imposing a cultural hierarchy among racial groups.

Cultural Antiracist: One who is rejecting cultural standards and equalizing cultural differences among racial groups.

Homework

  1. Page 86: Do some research to discover Black communities, outside of Africa that have developed their own African culture i.e. Gullah Island and the Geechee language.
  2. Page 90: Think about the concepts of Blackness (group) and whiteness (individual). What, if anything, has changed about you now that individuals like myself are referring to whiteness as a group?
  3. Page 84: List examples of when you personally imitated Black culture without recognizing it as cultural appropriation and racist

Transcription

00:10

Hello and welcome to today’s episode of “How to Be an Antiracist”. This is episode seven, chapter seven and it’s “Culture”. So I’ll just jump right in and get started with the definition that begins a chapter.

Cultural racist: One who is creating a cultural standard and imposing a cultural hierarchy among racial groups. 

Cultural antiracist: One who is rejecting cultural standards and equalizing cultural differences among racial groups.

00:44

So this is again, in the in the hardback copy, and I’m gonna start with page 81 at the bottom: 

I had neither loved nor hated middle school. But a few months in high school had changed me. I cannot pinpoint what triggered my hatred of school. My difficulty separating the harassing cop from the harassing teacher? A heightened sensitivity to the glares from teachers who saw my Black body not as a plant to be cultivated, but as a weed to be plucked out of their school and thrown into their prison?

That says a lot and I’m just gonna leave that right there. This is a great opening line because well, I guess I’m not gonna leave it right there. Because that is how—whether you want to admit it or not—many of you have… until recently if you’re changing because you’ve never had to have experienced the Black body and I know I’ve experienced it in schools and I’ve seen it before as a school teacher—this is how school systems are set up. So I was propagating—I was complicit in white supremacy.

And then he talks about ebonics and a psychologist, Robert Williams in 1973 to replace racist terms like nonstandard Negro English.

02:11

I could tell you before I even get into this. I often was asked “Where you from? Because you speak this and you don’t speak like that.” And my mom was an English major, and my cousins and my mom on my mom’s side of the family were very highly degreed and educated and perpetual students. But one thing I see now that I definitely see that—I just don’t participate any more is correcting people’s English.

That’s something that has always been something in my household and my, you know, “speak proper English”. And I’m like, “What the fuck is proper English at this point?” To me it was another tool or strategy to keep me quiet, to keep me silenced, to keep me invisible, to keep me small. Because I could have the most profound thought—better than Galileo and Nostradomus and—trying to think of somebody from the past—it’s stuck in my head it’s the one who [Laughs] it’s so funny, because I have the image of the pictures of his airplane and I can’t even think of his name right now because I’m going to say “Leo Da Vinci”, but that is not it.

Okay, whatever. It’ll come to me or it won’t. Somebody will think of it, But please do not email me to tell me who it is because it—again this speaks to “I don’t need correction”.

03:54

But I could havegoing back to the original point—I could have the most profound life-changing, world-changing, world-saving idea. But as a Black person, as a Black woman, if I used the wrong “their” with “they’re” or, “sell” with “cell” or something, my whole idea’s thrown out of the window and discounted because of a grammatical error or a spelling error. And I had many spelling errors. I can’t spell for shit. And I’ve always been ashamed of that, and I just am no longer gonna be ashamed of anything. I just never learned—I don’t—what I hear in my head and what I maybe will write is not the same thing.

Sometimes I don’t hear the pronunciation the way it should be spelled. I hear it differently in my head, so I don’t spell it correctly. And so I used to be ashamed of that, because how could I be considered professional? How could I be considered worthy? If I had to look in a dictionary for words or whatever. And I’m like, “fuck it” at this point. I don’t need your white language. I don’t need any of that. I’m just gonna be me.

05:13

And so this really this chapter really spoke to me about that. So it says: 

Some Americans despised my Ebonics in 1996. In that year the Oakland school board recognized Black people like me as bilingual, and in an act of cultural antiracism recognized “the legitimacy and richness” of Ebonics as a language. They resolved to use Ebonics with students “to facilitate their acquisition and mastery of English language skills.” The reaction was fierce. Jesse Jackson at first called it “an acceptable surrender, bordering on disgrace. It’s teaching down to our children.”

Was it? It helps to dig back into the origins of Ebonics. Enslaved Africans formulated new languages in nearly every European colony in the Americas […] In every one of these countries, racist power—those in control of government, academia, education, and media—has demeaned these African languages as dialects, as “broken” or “improper” or “nonstandard” French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, or English. Assimilationists have always urged Africans in the Americas to forget the “broken” languages of our ancestors and master the apparently “fixed” languages of Europeansto speak “properly”. But what was the difference between Ebonics and so-called “standard” English? Ebonics had grown from the roots of African languages and modern English just as modern English had grown from Latin, Greek, and Germanic roots. Why is Ebonics broken English but English is not broken German? Why is Ebonics a dialect of English if English is not a dialect of Latin? The idea that Black languages outside Africa are broken is as culturally racist as the idea that languages inside Europe are fixed.

07:20

So your first homework assignment is: 

Do some research to discover where there are Black communities outside of Africa that have developed their own African culture, languagebasically language. 

And my example that I use is: there’s a community, in South Carolina—well, there’s a part of Georgia and South Carolina—it’s called Gully Island, and they speak a language called “Geechee”. So, find an example and do some research of Black communities that are outside of Africa that have developed their own language. And so, when I’m thinking about when I thought about this question, I really thought about—I didn’t want this to be U.S. specific, cause I know there are a lot of people listening to this podcast around the various parts of the world. And that is also the default—I have to intentionally think about not making the things I say specifically generalized just on the U.S.—because antiracism needs to be a goal for us globally because all of our systems globally are rooted in white supremacy.

So that’s assignment number one. And it should be fun—have some fun with this. Find some places where the people are speaking languages that you never even knew of. Because I didn’t know about Geechee until I actually came back to Georgia—and I grew up here—to listen to some YouTube videos and listen to it. Now what I’m going to tell you though, is please don’t try to imitate them. This is a purely research-based assignment. Not for you to appropriate and start using them in any way.

09:18 

So we will continue: 

African American culture “is a distorted development, or a pathological condition, of the general American culture,” […] [Gunnar Myrdal’s scripture] standardized the general (white) American culture, then judged African American culture as distorted or pathological from that standard. Whoever makes the cultural standard makes the cultural hierarchy. The act of making a cultural standard and hierarchy is what creates cultural racism.

To be antiracist is to reject cultural standards and level cultural difference. Segregationists say racial groups cannot reach their superior cultural standard. Assimilationists say racial groups can, with effort and intention, reach their superior cultural standards. “It is to the advantage of American Negroes as individuals and as a group to become assimilated into American culture” and “to acquire the traits held in esteem by the dominant white Americans,” [Myrdal suggested].

And then [Theodore] Roosevelt said: 

The goal should be to assimilate “the backward race… so it may enter into the possession of true freedom, while the forward race is enabled to preserve unharmed the high civilization wrought out by its forefathers.” 

10:51 

Okay. Then we talk about—we go to the bottom of 84. It says: 

We certainly weren’t imitating anything on the Ave—to the contrary. The wider culture was avidly imitating in appropriating from us; our music and fashion and language were transforming the so-called mainstream. 

And so I wrote a note here about that and put, “All stolen, our clothes, our hips, our lips, our music, our moves, our hair, our walk, our talk, our intellectual property, our work, our movements, our lives. Whiteness has stolen everything from us.” And this is why I say whiteness to me is not original in any way. Everything that I see in mainstream pop culture, or mainstream popular culture, or mainstream innovation, or fashion is from somewhere else. It has appropriated it from another culture—and particularly globally—it has been Black culture. And it has led other communities to also appropriate our culture.

People in Asia don’t like Blacks, but they have a thriving rap and pop culture. People in South America have colorism issues and in India—and yet they still have, you know—I love how he talks about rap here because it was thought to be the thing that was gonna kill the Black total culture as well as our intellect and creativity and all; and has spread—is that the one thing that has spread everywhere in the world; everywhere in the world—and others have appropriated it. And it is Black culture.

12:57

Freshness was about not just getting the hottest gear but devising fresh ways to wear it, in the best tradition of fashion: experimentation, elaboration, and impeccable precision. […]

Jason Riley, a Wall Street Journal columnist, did not see us or our disciples in the twenty-first century as fresh cultural innovators. “Black culture today not only condones delinquency and thuggery but celebrates it to the point where Black youths have adopted jail fashion in the form of baggy, low-slung pants and oversize T-shirts.” […] “If Blacks can close the civilization gap […]” [Dinesh D’Souza once reasoned…] 

That right there says a lot. The fact that it is considered a “civilization gap.” So whiteness is civilized, and there’s a gap between where whiteness is the default of civilization and Blackness is not.

…”if Blacks can close the civilization gap, the race problem in this country is likely to become insignificant.”

So yeah, just regard the fact that the civilization gap—that thought is rooted in white supremacy.

14:14

“Civilization” is often a polite euphemism for cultural racism.

[…]

I loved being in the midst of a culture created by my ancestors, who found ways to re-create the ideas and practices of their ancestors with what was available to them in the Americas, through what psychologist Linda James Myers calls the “outward physical manifestations of culture”. […]

Culturally racist scholars have assumed that since African Americans exhibit outward physical manifestations of European culture, “North American Negroes… in culture and language” are “essentially European”, [to quote anthropologist Franz Boas.] “It is very difficult to find in the South today anything that can be traced directly back to Africa,” [attested sociologist Robert Park] “Stripped of his cultural heritage,” the Negro’s reemergence “as a human being was facilitated by his assimilation” of “white civilization,” [wrote sociologist E. Franklin Frazier] “The Negro is only an American, and nothing else,” [argued sociologist Nathan Glazer] “He has no values and culture to guard and protect.” [In final analysis,] “we are not Africans,” Bill Cosby [told the NAACP]. 

It is difficult to find the survival and revival of African cultural forms using our surface-sighted cultural eyes. Those surface-sighted eyes assess a cultural body by its skin. They did not look behind, inside, below. Those surface-sighted eyes have historically looked for traditional African religions, languages, foods, fashion, and customs to appear in the Americas just as they appear in Africa. When they did not find them, they assumed African cultures had been overwhelmed by the “stronger” European cultures. [..] It is this “deep structure” that transforms European Christianity into a new African Christianity, with mounting spirits, calls and responses, and the Holy Ghost worship; it changes English into Ebonics; European ingredients into soul food. The cultural African survived in the Americans, created a strong and complex culture with Western “outward” forms “while retaining inner [African] values,” [anthropologist Melville Herskovits avowed]

16:46

And then this first sentence… 

I just loved being surrounded by all those Black people. 

…and that’s just why I talk about my chocolate city. I can travel the world—and I thought I would—before I started studying all this and unpacking this. I could have lived around the world, but I would have been miserable and not known why I was miserable. I would have blamed it on myself. I would have said “Oh, there’s something—you need to just, you know, basically assimilate. You need to figure out the culture”. And now I recognize, it’s the fact that—it is that fact—I would have not been myself and so I can go to anywhere in the world. But I don’t want to stay—I’ve said this before—I like being in my chocolate city. I love the fact that I can walk, I can drive to the gas station where I can go get gas; I can go get groceries; I can go shop anywhere in my city; and I see Black people as the majority. I love that or—not even as the majority—just abound. That we’re out and about living our lives.

And it’s not some anomaly that when I see a Black person in another city or when I’m in another country, we give each other that look—like I say—you know, that look that says, “I see you. I recognize you and I value you.”

18:02

And  I remember doing that specifically, and I was having a meeting at Google when I was in San Francisco. We were in the cafeteria having breakfast and all these people were walking past. The person I was talking to was a white woman; with all these people walking past. And as soon as this Black woman walked past, it was like a magnet ‘cause I wasn’t even paying attention. But my head immediately looked up—I immediately looked up—and we made eye contact. And we gave each other that nod and I went back to what I was doing. But then I had to stop in my conversation because I wanted this white woman to understand what just happened because she was totally oblivious to it.

I’m like, “I just want you to know what just happened” and she had not even recognized it, because again, we’re invisible, whether you want to admit it or not. And this speaks to a live that I did recently about—this is getting off on a tangent, but so what? it’s my show—about the fact that feminism is not only—I saw it as white feminism as being the issue—which means that—white feminism by my definition is when women are in the room, it is agreed upon that we will only talk about the thing that we have in common, which is being women.

And so the gender issue becomes the thing we talk about it and we don’t handle anything else, but for myself and women like me, the majority of time it’s our race that is the issue that we—you can’t tackle one, we have to check on them both.

19:39

But then I had a profound learning—new reckoning with my soul—during an interview that will be airing soon, where I recognize and realize that it’s not just the fact that gender or womanhood is the issue, it’s the fact that whiteness does not see me—a Black woman—as even a woman. So that—I’m still kind of grappling with and trying to figure out: where does that take me? Where do I do? Where does my work go? With this new understanding that feminism, in no form—because it’s currently rooted in white supremacy—would ever honor me as first Black, and as a actual woman. And however I choose to define a woman, I am always “an animal”, “a beast”, something “below whiteness”. So that’s my little tension on that.

20:40

So I’ll get back to this, on page 88:

“By reinforcing the stereotypes that long hindered Blacks, and by teaching young Blacks that a thuggish adversarial stance is the properly ‘authentic’ response to a presumptively racist society, rap retards Black success,” [linguist John McWhorter once claimed.]

So that was what a linguist said about rap. And as I just said, rap has taken over the freaking world.

I opposed racist ideas that belittled the cultures of urban Black people, of hip-hop—of me. I sensed that to ridicule the Black cultures I knew—urban culture, hip-hop culture—would be to ridicule myself. 

At the same time, though, as an urban Black Northerner, I looked down on the cultures of non-urban Blacks, especially Southerners, the very people I was now surrounded by. 

[…]

When we refer to a group as Black or white or another racial identity—Black Southerners as opposed to Southerners—we are racializing that group. When we racialize any group and then render that group’s culture inferior, we are articulating cultural racism. 

22:00

So your homework assignment number two is: think about the concept of Blackness as a group—as you know, we’re always grouped together—and whiteness as an individual.

So what, if anything, has changed about you now that individuals like myself are referring to whiteness as a group? And let me explain why I used whiteness as a group: because whiteness is—as its position in white supremacy—is the opposite of Blackness. And since for me, it is a way to put it on this—to measure it at the same rate. To make the terms as equitably as possible.

So if Blackness is gonna be a group, then whiteness is gonna be a group. Some would say, “well, if whiteness is individuals then Blackness should be individuals.” That’s not how white supremacy works. So it would be great if I could do that, but going that route—as we often see—does not work because every time Blackness tries to stand up for itself as an individual, it becomes “not all this” and “not all that”, or “why are you saying this about that?”, “why are you making that about you?” and this, that, and the other; so I want to make them, put them on the same playing field and pull them back a bit. So—I’m trying to think of the word for what I’m trying to say here—and take out some of the subjectiveness of it and make it very objective, that’s what I want to say.

So when I say Blackness as a group, I’m also saying whiteness as a group because it makes them both very objective, equals.

All right. So, again, your homework is to think about the concepts of Blackness as a group and whiteness as a group. What, if anything, has changed about you now that people like myself are referring to whiteness as a group? 

24:12 

And then I want to… so on the last page, it says:

Whoever creates the cultural standard usually puts themself at the top of the hierarchy.

We need to think about that, because we all do it. If you’re able to buy Gucci, Versace, Louis Vuittons, all this—and because that’s the cultural—you know, that’s what you see a lot in the hip-hop or pop culture. Those people who are able to aspire—and not only to aspire—to acquire those things? The culture makes them at the top of the hierarchy, where those people who get the knockoffs are considered “less than”. So we need to think about those in all kinds of ways. 

“All cultures must be judged in relation to their own history, and all individuals and groups in relation to their cultural history, and definitely not by the arbitrary standard of a single culture,” [wrote Ashley Montagu.] […] To be antiracist is to see all cultures in all their differences as on the same level, as equals.

25:16

And that’s why I do Blackness. So I just answered my own thing. That’s why I do the Blackness equals whiteness. The same thing. 

When we see cultural difference, we are seeing cultural difference—nothing more, nothing less.

All right, so that’s the end—oh, I’m sorry. You have another homework assignment. [Laughs] It is:

List examples of where you personally—this is you, personally not your sister, your brother, your uncle, your aunt—imitated Black culture without recognizing it as cultural appropriation and racist. 

It happens so frequently that I really want you to dive into times when you’ve done this. No judgment. You know, this is you and your assignment alone. But think about it—I need you to be honest with who and what you’ve done—and think about that. So, I’m gonna close this episode out. If you have any questions, comments, concerns, you can email them to podcast@hashtagcauseascene.com. Thank you and have a great day.

How to Be An Antiracist Ep. 7

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