A white woman recently accused me of being racist. She and I are affiliated with the same school and it was based on our respective approaches to this school that she accused me. It is the first time, at least to my knowledge, I have been accused as such. The dictionary definition of a racist is a person who believes that “race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” She did not confront me directly, so I am not sure which part of this double barreled definition she thinks I embody. Surely she cannot think, that in this day and age, I believe one race is inherently superior to others, so she must think I am guilty of racism definition 1(a).
If I thought that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities I would be trapped in several boxes of futility. My parenting would be in vein. The potential of my daughter would be predetermined. Her blackness would be the determinant of her personal traits and mental and physical capacities. The infrastructure of love and support that my wife and I provide her would be insignificant against of the weight of her black-based capacities. Our love for her, designed to launch her human potential, would be futile.
Another problem I would have as a racist is related to my own identity. There is no doubt that in the American legend, black men are little more than physical species of minimal mental capacity – creatures trapped by our color. As a racist I would have limited identity options. I could believe the color-based definition of myself or I could challenge it and prescribe another color-based set of attributes to black men that suited me better. I am not a physical specie of minimal mental capacity. If I accepted the American legend I would be an anomaly from the definition or somehow not black. If I challenged the American legend, even to prescribe a different color-based set of characteristics, I would have to be reflective. I would have to recognize that the prevailing color-based definition of me as a black man doesn’t fit. The very act of doing that would disqualify me as a racist.
I suspect her accusation was prompted because I am not shy about talking about race. Race is undoubtedly correlated with several social conditions in the United States, particularly in education. The correlation between black men and education is almost universally negative in the U.S. If I were racist I would subscribe to the idea that it is because of our blackness that we are destined to poor academic performance and underachievement. Clearly I do not believe that.
It may be that she is trapped in that box of futility where racism doesn’t offer comprehension of black men who don’t fit the legend. It is a possibility.