Yesterday on facebook, a girl I know posted a status update about watching the first part of the premier of Anderson Cooper’s pilot study revisiting the “doll test,” showing how young children (black and white) start to internalize racialized identities and negative ideas about others of different races (or their very own). A mini convo follows on girl’s facebook page with a few other folks chiming in about also watching said special.
Then this black guy who I do not know comments, pondering on whether the black and white children’s negative assumptions about people of color–especially the linkages of black people–to crime and fear were in fact justified. He then proceeds to link this outta timing* theory to slavery because since we as black people HAD to be rebellious to become free, maybe it is kind of socially and genetically encoded in us and that’s why black people tend to be criminals, therefore people will assume as much.
Buh wha’ de jail is dis I hearin’?
I don’t know which was worse, the fact that he has clearly internalized some fucked up notions about black people—and himself and criminality. The fact that he attempts to rationalize this notion. The fact that he attempts to rationalize racist stereotypes that young kids have internalized about people that just happen to look like you—and for not much else. So anyone with dark skin (even as a cartoon drawing) must automatically be categorized as ugly, evil, stupid and certainly criminal**. And you can attempt to rationalize this as a black person with no contextualization whatsoever and without even batting an eyelash?
More problematically, he seemed to have no qualms about actually postulating these notions publicly. I certainly like to think that I read a lot about race—I live it too, in America, as a black West Indian, whether I want to or not, every day—but yet I have never been confronted with a black person espousing such fuckedupness about race in America in front of my face. I was truly amazed at the lack of connectivity in his worldview, the ease with which he appeared to swallow his own racial script and spit it out on facebook.
Damn man. It was a classic ‘Houston, we have a problem’ moment. And full of utter racefail everyblastedwhere.
So, of course, I had to step into the discussion.
The following is a transcript of said exchange.
Girl’s status yesterday night: “Watching CNN, This is an interesting special on how kids view race- Tune in!”
Guy says: “so do you think the negative stereotype is justified since there seems to be a larger percentage of blacks (all ages) in ‘trouble’ compared to whites? do you think its part of the ‘black DNA’ to fall into trouble since most of our ancestors technically had to ‘break the law’ to obtain freedom and equality in America? i meant to ask you this a while-ago :)”
I say: “uh, there is no “black DNA”–race as we know it is a social construct. with very real imaginings nevertheless, and its goal is to uphold privilege for a select few. but it’s still a social construct and the construct then frames much of what we ‘see’ or THINK we see. blacks get “in touble” more because of institutionalized racism & unjust laws overwhelmingly (like disproportionate sentences for an arrest with crack vs. a similar or even smaller amount of powdered cocaine & several studies show that for a same or similar crime, black and latino men are disproportionately sentenced longer on average than white defendants AND sentenced to death at higher percentages). they are profiled more and thus also arrested more frequently.
there is no historical ‘black DNA’ behind all of this. second of all, you cannot “break” an already unjust and inhumane “law”– if you want to call slavery and jim crow that.”
Guy says@ me: “- i agree, those unjust law were not laws. and i kno technically there is no ‘black-DNA’ but even tho the rebellion of our forefathers was necessary to obtain liberation, could that rebellion have been passed down thru generations to manifest itself today in our society? when you picture someone running from the police- what skin color does the police have and what color is the offender? up until the civil rights movement, blacks were rebels with a cause- freedom and most who got involved in illegal activities including drugs, probably did so bc opportunities for education and advancement were limited. today, the number of opportunities available have increased, but not the number of blacks taking advantage. seems like more and more choose to break the law today- not to obtain freedom, but just bc… maybe a lack of guidance from the previous generation or maybe bc of the luxuries we have today (as a result of others sacrifices) have made us soft, lazy or feel a sense of entitlement.”
I say (an epistle): ” ‘when you picture someone running from the police- what skin color does the police have and what color is the offender?’ it depends on what i knew about the situation if anything. i have no fixed imagination on certain kinds of hypothetical racial scenes–which is kind of how it should be. if i thought i always did, i would challenge myself daily on it or try hard to. if one ALWAYS racializes that scenario that you proposed to me as always only occuring ONE way–then that’s a huge problem. can’t you see why? (AND you don’t even question why you think this way?)
it is very easy to INTERNALIZE racial scripts that are fed to us in society. black people are not inherently more criminal compared to anyone else, we are not inherently more likely to be that “someone” running from the police–just because. why would anyone presume so? where do you think they’d get that idea from? we are not a monolith either. and even still, if i thought that way (and i don’t) i would be careful not to always enable that image inside my mind.
as to opportunities, sure, on paper certain laws were certainly decriminalized like legal discrimination based on skin color (re: jim crow), brown vs. board of ed. etc. and this is all technically illegal BUT it still happens. did you see that study that proved a white man EVEN with a felony is more likely to be hired than a black man for the SAME job with no priors. a laquita WITH a bachelor’s will be less likely to get a call to interview than a jane with none–for the same position. i have a friend with a degree and working on a masters with a very “white” looking name and apparently, ‘sound’. she has some fun stories about the blatant shock and awkwardness on faces when she shows up for an interview in her field as, *gasp* a black woman. how are there soooo many opportunities when the structural forces haven’t truly changed and negative racial assumptions haven’t been eradicated? this notion about blacks NOW being more criminal than before is bunk. and intellectually lazy.
in fact, i take it you watched the cnn special. so what happens when a young child who is already prone to negatively stereotyping people of color easily (in cartoon drawings), especially black ones–grows into an adult? and has to decide about hiring one or whether to profile them as a criminal at first glance? constructs of race (good or bad ones) prove HARDER to dismantle the older someone gets, NOT easier as some people want to think and hope. and it takes active engagement, work and you have to want to think otherwise and challenge deeply rooted ideologies, images, media influences etc. constantly.
true equality is a long, arduous, difficult ON-GOING process. it did NOT end with the civil rights movement either. no one should be sitting on their laurels thinking so either–it’s VERY easy to fall into that trap. people of color who think so, truly missed the other memos and it would do us all well to remember that they are still circulating. i know plenty people of color who are not complacent. just because the hose and the dogs aren’t set on you, doesn’t mean shit is totally alright and some of us KNOW this. you are talking about a social system in place that fought systematically (literally in some cases) tooth and nail to not relinquish power, to not extend full inclusivity and equal access for all kinds of people. there is real fear behind that. and now the clubhouse is wide open and a free for all? seriously?
i am saying that there are structural systems firmly in place that make things harder for people with no privilege from the jump–that’s real. not entitlement. this woefully flawed american notion of individualism–that if people just did x, y, z all the time, they could have it all–doesn’t work as well for people of color in an already flawed system–then THEY get blamed and pathologized for it and the institutionalized inequities don’t ever get dismantled.
you need some racialicious in your life i think. here’s one of the main reasons why so many black people are in jail:
[inserted relevant racialicious links here]
oh, look! according to someone at harvard law (plus the authors of bell curve etc) black people are genetically and intellectually inferior too! so we are all predisposed to a lowly existence. and tons of people apparently agree in the media and elsewhere!
my point is true equality, true and lasting change would involve all of those instances and ideas cited above being radically dismantled and affected. a system that even conceives of stopping to consider me being genetically inferior and/or predisposed to crime and other social ills because of my levels of melanin isn’t going to easily give me a chance to shine. why would it care to?
there is still MUCH work to be done.”