Thursday, August 18, 2011

Accused of Being Racist

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.

kamau

2 comments:

luvlife0702 said...

fascinating that when i read your title i thought someone accused you of thinking black people were superior. funny how you took the other route. perhaps the cost of not being jamaican (we cannot ever perceive the possibility that we would not be head cook and bottle washers of all humanity:).

That definition is not the only one of racism as you know and i doubt that talking about race is what did it for her but it would be fascinating to know why she said what she said.

But if perhaps we stick with that definition of racial predeterminism, there is an argument that should we think that race (as in black men) determines their experience then it suits your definition even though it is not their inherent blackness but its social implications that are the issue.

i teach race and ethnicity. i get called racist a lot. for all kinds of interesting reasons, all of which make perfect sense subjectively. in fact, i learn a lot about myself from understanding how that person is seeing me in that moment.

that said, i have no qualms with them because in a world full of racism you'd simply have to be intellectually, emotionally and psychologically immune to not be 'racist' (in all its permutations) at some point.

that dear friend is the cost of being human in a racist USA.

luvlife0702 said...

and by the way, all of your blog simply implies that you need another conversation with her. if its the first time this has happened to you it gets you nowhere to make assumptions about what she is thinking. it would be really good to know. and to have the discussion that too many people avoid. 'getting to know you.... getting to know all about you...." More of that and so much less misunderstandings would happen and somuch more understanding and thus peace.

i know how much you love peace:)