When Refusal to Worship Whiteness Is Called "Racism"

Terry Young, Jr. I Race & Ethnicity I Commentary I May 2nd, 2014

Anyone who knows me now or has known me knows that I celebrate black culture-music, film, books, television etc-and history. I put on for black folks. Always have and don't see it changing anytime soon. Moreover, I am more interested in black empowerment and uplift than I am "diversity." While I do have non-black friends and associates, have been romantically involved with white people and non-black people of color and also consume art not made by black artist, I do not view that as a form of "progress." They are simply things and people that I like. Me going to a bar with a white friend, dating a white guy or putting on a Madonna song does nothing to decrease the black prison population, lower the rate of breast cancer among black women or to close the wealth gap. In a nutshell, there are bigger fish to fry.

Recently, I have engaged in conversations with people who conflate my refusal to privilege with disdain or "racism" towards whites. A very good friend of mine(who is black) questioned how progressive I was and went on a swan song about how I need to move out of the south because I don't view fraternizing with white people as compulsory (even though I am open to such bonds if they arise naturally) and because I value African American culture. It was almost as if she felt love for my own culture meant the automatic degradation of white people. In a much more ridiculous conversation with a young man who I recently met-who is also black-I was accused of being a "black supremacist" (a concept that I can't even think about with a straight face) because I said that it is more important for the black community to become empowered and educated-not just formally-than it is to seek assimilation. To him, wanting to solve problems within my community and to foster self-love among my fellow African Americans is equivalent to white supremacists-the extreme ones-wanting to wipe out anyone who doesn't look them. He then went on to assert that, since there were no black owned multi-million dollar companies (a lie that a quickly shut down), we needed white people to teach us how to be "successful." He also made the assertion that we have to "show people how to treat us."(I can never express how much I hate the idea that people of color have to take full responsibility for ending racism, and that people who do perpetuate white supremacy do so simply because they don't know how to recognize the humanity of others.) Even in the face of contrary evidence, this person still was crestfallen by the fact that-though I have no interest in subjugating them-I do not make white people the center of my universe.

What is interesting is that, often times, "diversity," when talking to black people and other people of color, is a euphemism for the worship of whiteness. That is, when we are told by other black people, or in some cases non-blacks, that we need to be in a more "diverse" environment, what is really meant is that we need to be around more white people. For example, I recently had a conversation with an African American college student who said that because she was "mixed"-even though both of her parents are black-that she wanted to be in an entirely white sorority at her university because she valued diversity. I was perplexed, at the very least. Often evoked in these conversations about "diversity" and mandatory integration of every single entity (whether those who comprise it are receptive or not) is the "I have a dream" speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. What these individuals do not understand is that though Dr. King spoke of racial harmony in this speech, that was never the driving purpose behind his work or the civil rights movement in general. People were not being water-hosed and attacked by dogs to gain the right to hold hands and sing Kumbaya with whites. People were not getting their homes and churches bombed, being hosed and getting attacked by dogs in order to gain membership into white country clubs or to be initiated in to white sororities and fraternities. The civil rights movement was about voting rights, jobs, education, and the right not to be dehumanized. That being said, the mere existence of black/white friendships and relationships is not the manifestation of the vision that those who fought so bravely on the frontlines had in mind. To suggest such is to dishonor each and every one of their legacies.

Also interesting is the fact that white people are not burdened with this compulsory "diversity." No one asks white people if they voted for Mitt Romney because he was white. The viability of white musicians is not measured by their ability to "crossover" to audiences of color. White people are not told that they are "racist" for celebrating their family heritage and commemorating historical events involving people from their ethnic and/or racial background. Whiteness is, in many ways, looked at as default. Thus, it's not alarming when white people don't have books by black authors in their library or when white people choose to join majority white social clubs. Toni Morrison speaks about this phenomenon in this interview. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4vIGvKpT1c)

In a nutshell, people who subscribe to white supremacy need to understand some things. Rejection of said ideology does nothing to harm whites, nor does it do anything to harm people of color. Moreover, the concept of reverse racism-much like heterophobia, misandry, bigotry against Christian etc-is a fallacy used to make those who are invested in actual racism feel better. That is not to say that people of color cannot be rude or mean to white people because they are white. However, even that is not the same thing as loving blackness and rejecting the idea that the white man's ice is colder . When my beloved Ja'naiyah and Jalen-my niece and nephew-grow up, it is more important to me that they are well educated, good people and able to be themselves authentically than it is that they have white besties. The latter is cool if it happens, but not essential.