Birth of a Nation and Black Power
The word ‘black’ is used as a part of regular words and phrases like ‘blackmail’, ‘blacklisting’, and ‘black sheep’, and it is associated with bad things. Thus, considering the perspective, with which ‘black’ is associated, it is no surprise that people automatically reference it with negativity even where race is involved. For centuries, Black people have been considered minor to White. Nowadays, the term ‘minorities’ has been coined as a racial identifier for African Americans or generally non-Whites. In June 1966, the “Match Against Fear”, led by Stokely Carmichael in Mississippi, aimed at “battling segregationist resistors, mobilizing and organizing locals and registering the latter to vote” (Kendi 394). During this rally, Carmichael urged people to stop saying ‘they wanted freedom’, as it brought them nothing, and to start saying ‘Black Power’ (Kendi 395). The term ‘Black Power’ was meant to advocate the disempowered Black majority to rule their own communities. Regrettably, most periodicals condemned the movement as many racists had found it to be aimed at establishing Black supremacy and killing Whites. History knows three groups of racial disagreements. There are the antiracists, who point to racial discrimination, the segregationists, who blame Black people for racial disparities, and the assimilationists, putting the blame on both racial discrimination and Black people for racial disparity. Thus, this paper is going to review the historical view of the racist ideas through the centuries as reflected in Kendi’s book Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.
Statistically, between 2010 and 2012, “Young Black male were twenty-one more times likely to be killed by police than their White counterparts” (Kendi 1). This is without considering the under-recorded racial disparities on female victims. Most Americans are aware of the racial disparities in prisons, access to wealth, and killings in various sectors of American society. Thus, racial disparities are evident where “African Americans own 2.7 % of the nation’s wealth and make up 40% of the incarcerated populations” (Kendi 1).
Segregation made people think that under the right environment, the inferior Black behaviors could be developed. Thus, as Kendi writes, “Jefferson Davis regarded Black people as biologically distinct and inferior to White people” (3). Hence, the assimilationist persuasion for Black people to adopt the White cultural traits prevailed in society. The adepts of assimilationist ideas made these attractive arguments look good, while giving antiracist ideas evil connotations. All this was done in an effort for racists to cover their criminal activities so that they did not look illegal. However, there have been persistent antiracists challenging the assimilationist through giving them the truth hope (Kendi 584).
No simple explanation exists for the racist ideas and their history. However, these ideas have been manipulated over the years, and they have muffled the antiracist reality every time. Consequently, this makes history an unpredictable narrative that speaks of neither about racists fighting with antiracists nor about obvious evil versus good. The idea has always involved three parties, with antiracist against two types of racists at once as evil and good fail and succeed eventually. Thus, segregationists and assimilationists have always worked together to create attractive arguments that seemed good while rewrapping antiracist ideas as bad. In so doing, they hardly confess publicly their racist ideas and policies, thereby helping the shrewdest anti-Black criminals legalize their crimes of slave trade, discrimination, and killings.
Du Bois first noticed racial differences when he was 10. Thus, an incident happened during an exchange of visiting cards when a new comer girl refused to take his card by glancing at him dogmatically. From then on, Du Bois felt a need to compete with his White peers with intensity just to prove that Black people were similar to others. Unfortunately, Du Bois realized that regardless his achievements and those of other young Blacks in school, discrimination continued (Kendi 263). Thus, discriminators relied on “Social Darwinism to the idea that Blacks were losing the racial struggle for existence” (Kendi 263). No matter how hard DuBois tried to sway racism away, he did not succeed. He realized that when Blacks pursued prestigious degrees in the European world, they were considered stupid for doing it, and when they failed, they were thought to lack natural talent. Nevertheless, DuBois did not give up on his belief that American racism could be educated away (Kendi 277). On the other hand, Booker T. Washington encouraged “Black people to publicly focus on the lower pursuits which were more acceptable to White Americans” (Kendi 276). Therefore, Washington reckoned that life should begin at the bottom, not top in order to please a crowd of landowners in Atlanta that asked Black sharecroppers to glorify common labor. However, it was believed that in private, Washington supported empowerment and civil rights of the South.
Another major historical revision that Dubois pushed for was to illustrate that Black Americans were an integral part of the US history (Kendi 267). Du Bois confronted the racist concept of strong Black women and weak Black men since he realized that freedom had created the notion of Black women having better character and adopting civilized norms, thus elevating them to better positioning in society. This made Black men appear benevolent to fault. Despite the numerous disagreements on what Black people were and what they were not, there was a consensus on the Negro problem from scholars of race and racial reformers. This consensus was to uplift suasion on the racist ideas of White people. Interestingly, the strategy was still racist as Black people were made responsible for changing the minds of White racists.
Angela Davis was raised with antiracist ideas so when she went to the first grade, she was surprised by the inequities of lunchtime. When she saw children without enough food sit and watch others eat, she offered her food to the hungry children (Kendi 277). Davis grew to detest the assimilationist ideas around her and decided she would never harbor the desire of being White. While studying at Brandeis University, Davis was an activist, but she was alienated by White campus activists who thought she was not worth becoming equal to. Nonetheless, Davis found outlets in the lectures of people like James Baldwin and Herbert Marcuse. However, what surprised her most was realizing the way Black people had internalized the racial inferiority imposed by White supremacy.
When the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, it “opened floodgates for new racist ideas to pour in” (Kendi 385). Even though a clear legislation against open and obvious discrimination was in place, private policies that still discriminated Blacks were active. An example was seen in the Northern cities, where segregation and blockbusting still existed as well as racial inequalities in housing, wealth, and education. Back then, the continued loss, experienced by Black people due to racial discrimination, was presumed to be their fault. However, Malcom X challenged the Civil Rights Act by insisting that failure of the government to enforce existing laws made it impossible for all other laws emanating from the civil rights bill unenforceable.
Malcom X’s empowerment philosophy of self-determination, international unity, and cultural pride gained many admirers as well as enemies. Unfortunately, in February 1965, “Malcom X was gunned down by some of those enemies at Harlem rally” (Kendi 389). Malcom X was honored by antiracists even more after the recordings of his speeches had begun to circulate. Moreover, his autobiography opened more minds against racism as he had condemned half-truths fed in racial progress (Kendi 390). Furthermore, Malcom X maintained that White people became racist from the economic, social, and political environment that influenced their psychology and not because they had been born racist.
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In Kendi’s epilogue, various questions have been raised concerning the election of the first Black US president (8). It would be interesting to know the outcome of the election if the circumstances that favored the election of Barrack Obama had not been in place. Chances are, racism would still have played its part in selecting the President. Evidently, the USA was yet to be post-racial, as it was seen in January 2009, when “an Oakland transit cop killed twenty-two-year-old Oscar Grant as he lay face down with his hands cuffed behind his back” (Kendi 498). Moreover, Obama had himself given an NAACP speech of how African Americans would need a new mindset to conquer the internalized limitations. Interestingly, the criticism towards Blacks had no effect on post-racialists, but the criticism on a single White person had them agitated.
To make matters even more interesting, Michelle Alexander of Ohio University released a book in 2010, exposing “racial discrimination at every stop in in the criminal justice system from the lawmaking to policing to who comes under suspicion, to who is arrested to who is judged guilty and jailed” (Kendi 500). Furthermore, even after leaving jail, Black people were exposed to a new form of discrimination in sectors of employment, public benefits, housing, and education.
Racial reformers have been known to request White Americans to improve the lives of Black people by sacrificing their privileges (Kendi 503). However, any antiracism reconstruction in the USA is often bound to bring most material benefits to White people. Furthermore, it has been found that it is during antiracist movements that more Whites thrive. Thus, the trend is that of connecting generosity to antiracism and selfishness to racism, when in reality, people want altruism.
Meanwhile, Black people have taken on uplift suasion as a way of helping themselves against racism, but the strategy has failed, as racist Americans have despised Black Americans who defy racist laws and uplift themselves. Consequently, Black people have been unable to sway away racist policies and ideas. Thus, according to Kendi, Black people should stop being responsible for other Americans’ racist ideas and start being their imperfect selves around everyone (504). Alternatively, law makers can decide to stop racial discrimination and champion antiracism, but they are afraid of repercussions from voters and campaign donors. Moreover, Americans with the power to build post-racial society should become stern on racism as well (Kendi 507).
Evidently, Black people have been considered minor to White people for many years. But the anti-racist rally led by Stokely Carmichael in Mississippi aimed to battle segregationist resisters and to register locals to vote. Thus, during the rally that the term ‘Black Power’ gained popularity and it was used to advocate the disempowered Black majority to rule their own communities. In history, three major groups of racial disagreements have existed - antiracists, segregationist, and assimilationists. No simple explanation exists for the racist ideas and their history. However, these ideas have manipulated many over the years and have muffled the antiracist reality every time. Some people, like Du Bois, thought of ways of ending racism but they failed to convince their White counterparts. Du Bois, for example, believed that American racism could be educated, while Angela Davis grew to detest the assimilationist ideas around her and decided that she would never want to be White. Other people, like Michelle Alexander of Ohio University, exposedracial discrimination in the system of criminal justice. Therefore, to resolve the problem of racism, Kendi proposes that Black people should accept themselves and their imperfection around everyone, while law makers should decide to end racial discrimination and champion antiracism.
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