All black Americans are racist. Well, at least 99%.
When your life is shaped by the colour of your skin it is very hard not to see the world in terms of race. In fact, to be race-blind under such circumstances would be unwise.
Some say blacks cannot possibly be racist because they lack power like whites to use their prejudice, their feelings about race, to hurt others. They do not control the police, banks, courts or newspapers. Racism is prejudice backed by power.
But blacks do have power. Not the power to affect complete strangers in large numbers like whites do, but they still have the power to hurt others.
You see that in hate crimes against whites and Asians, for example.
But most of their prejudice and hatred is turned inward. Whatever hatred blacks direct against whites and Asians it is nothing compared to the hatred they direct against themselves.
They live in a white world which tells them over and over and over again that they are no good. In a thousand little ways. As advertisers know, if you hear something enough times you begin to believe it. It is how the mind works.
So at one level most blacks are proud of being black and know they are just as good as whites. And yet at another level, deep down, there is that shame and hatred and doubt about anything black, laid there since childhood by American society.
This comes out in a hundred ways, directly and indirectly. In the self-destruction of drugs and drink. In broken marriages and broken homes. In young men full of promise who suddenly throw it all away. In feelings about light skin and dark skin – colourism. In the way many black women feel about their hair and their beauty. And, yes, in the use of the n-word: I do not care who says it, that word is still poison.
Because this sort of racism works from the inside it can be worse than the racism that comes from the outside directly from whites.
If you ever saw Kenneth Clark’s Doll Test it is heartbreaking: little black girls picking the white doll over the black doll as the nice one. Not all the black girls picked the white doll, but most did.
They did that experiment back in the 1940s and it was one of the things that persuaded the Supreme Court to tear down the Jim Crow laws. Not the lynchings, not the dead black men hanging from trees, but the little black girls picking up white dolls.
But it gets worse: they repeated that experiment in 1985 and again in 2006, long after the fall of Jim Crow, and it was still the same!
Things are way better for blacks than they were 60 years ago – the growth of the black middle-class is proof of that. But there is still quite a ways to go. Even if white racism ended tomorrow, it would take at least another 30 years for racism to die out among blacks.
- The asymmetry of racism
- internalized racism
- Posts I wrote because of the above:
- All whites are racist – in case you were wondering
- Jim Crow
- Race in America
- “Black is beautiful”
- bell hooks: Loving Blackness as Political Resistance