Home » achille mbembe » racism isn’t a black & white problem; it’s an american problem

racism isn’t a black & white problem; it’s an american problem

If only racism was relegated to the KKK, NFL or the Jim Crow era!

Sadly, it isn’t. It is instead America’s core issue, the one big thing we simply cannot resolve because it is at the core of many of our lingering problems since it is institutionalized in a number of economically, educationally and socially disadvantageous ways: education, housing, justice etc. It has had a long run since the Jim Crow era which led to conditions for African-Americans that were inferior to those provided for white Americans. Jim Crow laws followed the 1800–1866 Black Codes, which had previously restricted the civil rights and civil liberties of African-Americans with no pretense of equality. The recent high-profile deaths in the killings in Ferguson and Beaver Creek etc are reenactments of civil war in USA, and testify that the constant need to assert black humanity is ongoing, unfinished, unending because we’ve built a country on its denial. The brutality and injustice displayed at the hands of police officers have exposed the sharp differences about race relations among people in the USA, and created some deep chasms, uncomfortable spaces and memories. The facts – of the plague of white cops who kill black or colored – are sickeningly repetitive and impose a psychological tariff on black minds.

We have made progress since that Jim Crow era and we do have one of the most advanced systems of gains in civil rights. Today, hospitals care for both blacks and whites, we drink out of the same fountains, bathe in the same pools, black and white babies are born in the same hospital, blacks and whites are marrying and using the same bus or toilets, and we can even assert affirmative action that many countries in the first world cannot do. But complacency must not prevent us from moving forward. We should not be disinterested in justice if an innocent man on death row is black. We should notice when injustice affects people different from us. We should be aware that we have a system that treats someone better if they’re rich and guilty than poor and innocent; a system that makes minorities feel contaminated, dirty, and worthless. The blame game must stop, too. We may not call ourselves racists, but when we accept a system that acts out in racist ways, what does that make us? The challenge is not a small number of twisted white supremacists, but something infinitely more subtle and complex: people who believe in equality, but who act in ways that perpetuate bias and inequality.

The race question is not black and white, but runs along generational, socio economic and geographical lines. Blacks and other minorities have fought shoulder to shoulder, won medals for USA in and out of wars, and have even become persons of high standing. They fight wars cross-racially, but a racist divide greets them at home. When it comes to race, blacks & other minorities and whites stand divided.

Our nation was built on the rule of the law, but the law is incomplete. Sometimes it seems to be a law according to the white imagination. It is racially skewed where black or colored lives don’t carry the same right as white lives. Grand juries don’t rule on guilt or innocence or on intentions or remorse; but ONLY on whether there’s enough evidence to try a case. Evidence for blacks and others take on colors when it comes to blacks and other minorities. Racism cannot be over when arguments of defense in court today include “the gun was used by accident instead of a taser” (to kill Oscar grant in Oakland California) or “the victim was in possession of weaponized concrete” ( as in the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida) or ” the possibly imperiled young woman at the front door in the dead of the night was a menace in need of immediate extermination” (as in Renisha Mcbride’s case in Michigan) or “thug music was too loud” (Jordan Davis murdered in Jacksonville Florida) or john Crawford killed in Walmart ( he licked up an air rifle off the shelf and someone called cops who shot him dead. Why were air rifles on Walmart shelf if not for customers to try, touch, inspect before buying?). Is Walmart seeing through colored filters like the law?

It is not a figment of the imagination when we hear or read that the judicial system is rigged towards minorities: it is an insane judicial system gone awry that tells a minority women to quit a PhD and get a job when she asks for child support from a white man. It is a deranged system that tells innocent people they’re “fucking drunks” and arrests them if an accident occurs and if they dare to remind the police officers that their duty is to protect and serve. It is a system which makes minorities prove their innocence; telling them they are not “innocent, but proven guilty” instead of “guilty, until proven innocent, to which their white counterparts are entitled.

Recently, Nicholas Kristof opened up space for this race conversation in a series of articles in the NY times in 2014 which are eye opening on the subject of racism in America. Aptly titled “When whites just don’t get it” the general gist of his writings was talking about racism, and not keeping quiet about it. Such articles are much needed because racism isn’t yet entombed. It is everywhere, staring minorities in the face constantly, sometimes at point blank as we’ve been seeing. We can’t convince ourselves that racism is buried if a black mother still has to say “thank god my son didn’t run!” upon leaving his upscale home to find police outside. Or, “Don’t shoot me! I’m not armed” which seems just another version of “Am I not a man and a brother?” and with killings of women “Ain’t I a woman?”

Why aren’t we talking about racism when we have enough color in America to make race part of our conversation? Obama and family; Erich Holder /1st black Supreme Court, Henry Gates, du Bois, Oprah, di Blasio’s family etc. And lately some intellectuals from behind their desks have taken to the streets or voiced out via social media: Cornel West was even arrested in Ferguson; Achille Mbembe is talking and boycotting conferences and coming out on social media.

We live in a world that believes in healing and therapy. Therapy for old memories, therapy for bad memories, therapy for abuse, therapy for trauma, therapy for changing or reversing past trends and habits to create a better present and by extension, a better future. What is the therapy for blatant racism, and the less publicized forms of structural racism which continue to be expressed in everyday ways throughout the United States?

We will continue to have the “peste noire” of race as long as people do not own their racism or confront belief their systems. We need to give voice to our own racism. Name it. Claim it. Transform it. Like Obama did when Henry Louis Gates Junior (the Harvard “race” intellectual) was arrested: they had beers at the White House. Or like we did with homosexuality, and made it accepted, by ALL, so that those who had been suffering injustices for long are now free to be who they are. Can we say the same for Blacks?

The struggle of how Black people view themselves versus how white society will see them is an internal one, shared by many racial minorities in America. The white majority may never have to deal with this, but it shouldn’t exempt them from talking about it; it is not racist to talk about it to bring about change, but it is racist to NOT talk about it and keep it inside. Talking about our ongoing racial inequality could only create awareness, the first step to healing. Time to stand up for racial progress, because other progresses have been made while racism still stands, waiting in the shadows of American progress. Time to stamp out all forms of racism because, for the whole progress to matter racialprogressmatters.

racism everywhere




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