As a young Black man in America with a Bachelor’s degree in Africana Studies, I have experienced, researched, and studied certain topics of racial disparities in our country. It is without question (for most) that inequalities certainly exist in this country between races, socially, economically, politically, and in the education and prison systems. The reasons for these differences are always in debate, but that is a conversation for another day.
What I would like to discuss today is the “up in arms” feeling some of my White friends seem to feel when I take time out of my day to speak specifically to my Black and Brown people in an attempt to uplift and progress a group of people who are currently at the bottom of the systems in which they live. Now, in that long sentence, I am clear to state the reasons for which I do not include my White friends, right? It is not because I hate White people or that White people do not count in my eyes. It is because White people, as a racial category, are NOT at the bottom of the systems that control our society, so including them in that conversation seems quite unnecessary. If we are in a conversation about how to get more hiring of, and equal pay for, women, it would be a bit strange to say, “But don’t forget about men! They deserve to get hired and get paid well too!” Wouldn’t that seem unnecessary? Seeing as how men are the ones getting hired and receiving more pay than women, it would seem redundant. That is in no way saying that there ARE NOT men out there without a job, but within the context of the conversation, it becomes a pointless addition.
Over the past two years, I have made many Facebook posts that speak about coming together as a whole, how everyone is created equal, how we should judge people for the content of their character rather than the color of their skin (that one may sound familiar!), and so on. In those posts, I have been speaking about EVERYONE in hopes of creating a holistic worldview of all people coming together. But, every now and then, I will make a post that speaks specifically to my Black and Brown people. And this is where some of my White friends (and probably many more that chose not to comment) take issue. Therefore, I would like to address this in a way that ties THREE separate instances together for a clear understanding.
Scenario #1 took place about a year or two ago. I made a Facebook post, in which I said,
“Black women, you are BEAUTIFUL!”
Harmless statement, right? Apparently not. Many of my White female friends did not seem to appreciate the fact that they were left out. Two of my friends specifically commented or sent a personal message that said, and I paraphrase, “Why do you have to just talk about Black women? ALL women are beautiful!” And to that I say, I AGREE! ALL women are beautiful! The context that informed my post made it unnecessary to include White women at that moment. How did this happen? I went searching for a song called “Beauty” on the internet by typing it into Google. The song did not pop up as quickly as a few images of White women did. I decided to click on the “search more images” link. And guess what popped up? ONE-HUNDRED pictures of White women, most blonde, some brunette, and a few red-heads. This was sprinkled with one picture of Halle Berry and one picture of Beyoncé. So I asked myself, when a little Black girl goes to her computer and types in a Google image search for “beauty”, does she see a reflection of herself? The answer is, undoubtedly, no. So then the question becomes, WHERE do Black girls see positive, beautiful images of themselves?
In history books? Well, Mona Lisa is perceived as beautiful while Black women in history have a short page described as African slaves. So, no, not in history books.
On television? Well, Black girls and women can flip through the channels for positive images of themselves but Black women on tv is rare. And if you exclude BET and reality shows about Basketball and Hip-hop, that number goes down tremendously. [Please note: I am resisting my urge to denounce those types of shows in order to stay on topic]
Maybe in magazines? Well, Maxim’s HOT 100 list of 2012 hosts a nice list of very attractive specimens. How many were Black women? Five. Yes, that is a 5% representation of beauty on a list where even Louis Griffin from the animated tv show Family Guy made the list along with other “hot” White women.
I ask, where exactly do Black women and Black girls see positive images of themselves? Pretty much nowhere. So, because of all these things (that are clearly not an issue for White women), I made a Facebook post stating that BLACK WOMEN are beautiful. Can there be a moment in time where, considering the context of my words, I exclude White people from a conversation in order to specifically uplift and promote positivity that is lacking in the Black community?
Scenario #2 took place about two weeks ago. I made a Facebook post, in which I said,
“Hungry… So I’m supporting my people at this Black-owned restaurant. Hope it’s good!!! Yall know about the ‘Around The Way’ app, right? Tells u where some of the Black-owned businesses are near u!!! Download and support your people!”
And, of course, one of my White friends had something to say. His comment was, and I quote, “Am I wrong by coming away with a hint of racial bias in this post? Shouldn’t we be supporting good business and good people?” And to that I say, I AGREE! We should be supporting good business and good people. My sentiment is NOT that we should only go to Black-owned businesses, even if their food tastes horrible and the service is bad JUST because they are Black. That would be silly. But here was my reply:
“In the black community, there is a lack of MANY things. Education, wealth, political power, etc. In all of these instances, there must be a pro-active, intentional attempt to rectify this issue. Now, if I started a college for Black people because Black people were being systematically rejected from other institutions and not being given an education, it would be seen as a positive move, though some would consider it “bias”. Now of course, historically Black colleges really exist in this country and were founded for those very reasons. So try to see it from the lens in which it is intended. Which is, because Black people as a collective unit in this country lack economic power, one way to help rectify that is to make sure our dollars are being spent in black-owned businesses. If a Black family attempts to open a small business like a restaurant, but I keep passing by to go to McDonald’s everyday, there will never be any economical power or wealth for Black America, which can translate to lack of education, political power, etc.
So yes, in a way it is a racial bias. But is not meant as exclusionary to other races, but rather an inclusion of Black businesses. This is because Black America is at the bottom of the list when considering wealth. If you were to say,”I’m going to try and only support white-owned businesses”, that would be racially bias AND prejudiced and even racist. And this is not a double standard. The difference is that, keeping dollars in white hands helps to systematically keep an unequal balance of power in the sector of White America, as history shows has always been the case. On the other hand, keeping dollars in Black hands helps to rectify social, political, and economic injustices. If that doesn’t make sense I can continue, but let me know. And no hard feelings bro. It’s all love!”
See, I am sure that my one White friend who chose to comment was not the only White person who saw my post and thought what he thought. In fact, I have a White female friend who has told me that there are many of my posts she simply chooses not to comment on that she may find offensive, simply to keep away from combative arguments (and hundreds of Facebook notifications thereafter). But I ask, can there be a moment in time where, considering the context of my words, I exclude White people from a conversation in order to specifically uplift and promote cooperative economics and economic power that is lacking in the Black community?
In Scenario #3, which happened this week and prompted this lengthy article, I have got into a debate with some of my White friends who have felt left out when discussing ways to uplift my Black and Chicano/a students. As a high school teacher in Watts (Near South Central Los Angeles and Compton), my post said,
“My Mexican, Latino, Latina, Chicano, Chicana, Hispanic friends… I need your help. I am trying to find a civil rights leader and quote to post on my wall and want to know who a good person to post up is. I have Malcolm X posted but don’t want my other non-Black students to feel excluded for not including a leader they can relate to. Any suggestions?”
And soon after that, as you may have guessed, my White friends jumped in. One friend, whom I love dearly, even offered a White person to post on my wall, reason being, it would be nice for White students to see. Now firstly, clearly NOT what my post was asking. But, considering the way I worded my post, there could me a perception that I left White people out. I informed her though, that there WERE NO WHITE STUDENTS in my classroom. But she persisted anyway and said, “Well then, so your other students see that us White folks fought for civil rights too!”
So let me get this straight. For a group of Black and Brown students who don’t even exist in the last 100 years of their history book text EXCEPT for the civil rights movement (in which they get a dedicated page and a half), you want to make sure they know, “Hey, White people fought for civil rights like Black and Brown people did, too! Don’t forget about them!” The conversation continues as follows:
“I’m positive that my students see White faces in their English classes, history classes, government classes, and teachers’ faces. I’m asking for something they can RELATE to based on their racial make-up”
“White faces that have been taught as people against them i.e. political leaders… show them a different side!”
I had no idea what curriculum teaches Black and Brown kids about White people AGAINST them in our k-12 education, but I decided not go there and simply replied,
“I will not be putting White faces up in my room. I will be putting up faces that are a reflection of my students. My goal is to increase their self-respect, self-worth, and personal pride. Not to show them the ‘other side’ of White America. Not to say that is not a good lesson to learn, but that is NOT my goal.”
And to this, one of my White friends told me that it sounded like I was saying “F*ck all White people!” How on earth did anyone get that from what I said? There is a context from which my words are rooted, which some White people cannot seem to wrap their heads around. But when Black and Brown kids go through school and learn about GREAT WHITE MEN year after year, there is a sense that Black and Brown people did nothing important or worthwhile, while White Americans continue to keep our nation great. Many minority students are reflected poorly in the media and begin to internalize that negativity, creating a lack of self-worth and community pride. Minority students begin to feel this sense of resentment for their own community because greatness never seems to associate itself with their reflective people. I ask, can there be a moment in time where, considering the context of my words, I exclude White people from a conversation in order to specifically uplift and promote leadership and greatness that is lacking in the Black and Brown community?
This Facebook conversation continued of course, for another 50+ comments. Neither side has yet to come to a full agreement. I don’t foresee such an agreement in the near future either. And to be fair, I do have White friends who completely understand and agree with me, as well as Black people who just don’t get it. But what I do hope is that people will begin to understand the difference between exclusion and inclusion under certain contexts.
To only speak of Black women when talking about beauty may seem exclusionary. But, under the context stated, it is clear that White women are already synonymous with America’s perception of beauty. So, to specify that BLACK WOMEN are BEAUTIFUL, within this context, only serves to include Black women in the concepts of beauty in this country.
To only speak of Black businesses when going out to eat and searching for food may seem exclusionary. But, under the context stated, it is clear that White-owned businesses are flourishing while Black-owned businesses are dying. Black-owned businesses are generally in Black communities in which Black people drive past on their way to White-owned establishments like McDonalds. So, to specify that PEOPLE SHOULD BE SUPPORTING BLACK-OWNED BUSINESSES, within this context, only serves to include Black business in a world where White businesses are already flourishing in this country.
To only speak of Black and Brown people when considering what faces to post on my classroom wall may seem exclusionary. But, under the context stated, it is clear that White faces have been promoted as great to Black and Brown students for years. Minority students already perceive White Americans as “the most high” authority figures outside their home more than any other race. The perceived White supremacy that is internalized by minority students makes it necessary for them to see themselves reflected in a positive light, without someone coming along and saying, “But don’t forget about the White race, we are still pretty damn great!” So, to specify that BLACK AND BROWN STUDENTS SHOULD SEE THEMSELVES REFLECTED WHEN GREATNESS IS TAUGHT by putting them on my wall, within this context, only serves to include a group of people that have long been excluded in teachings of Great American people.
And isn’t an all-inclusive society what we all want? I think me and my White friends all have the same common goal. We just differ on the steps we think are necessary toward reaching that common goal.
(And to the White friends of mine I talked about in this piece, and all those who read my Facebook posts and didn’t speak, I love you. It’s all good!)