by Scot Nakagawa 4 May 2012
I’m often asked why I’ve focused so much more on anti-black racism than on Asians over the years. Some suggest I suffer from internalized racism.
That might well be true since who doesn’t suffer from internalized racism? I mean, even white people internalize racism. The difference is that white people’s internalized racism is against people of color, and it’s backed up by those who control societal institutions and capital.
But some folk have more on their minds. They say that focusing on black and white reinforces a false racial binary that marginalizes the experiences of non-black people of color. No argument here. But I also think that trying to mix things up by putting non-black people of color in the middle is a problem because there’s no “middle.”
So there’s most of my answer. I’m sure I do suffer from internalized racism, but I don’t think that racism is defined only in terms of black and white. I also don’t think white supremacy is a simple vertical hierarchy with whites on top, black people on the bottom, and the rest of us in the middle.
So why do I expend so much effort on lifting up the oppression of black people? Because anti-black racism is the fulcrum of white supremacy.
A fulcrum is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the support about which a lever turns” or, alternatively, “one that supplies capability for action.” In other words, if you want to move something, you need a pry bar and some leverage, and what gives you leverage is the fulcrum – that thing you use so the pry bar works like a see-saw.
The racial arrangement in the U.S. is ever changing. There is no “bottom.” Different groups have more ability to affect others at different times because our roles are not fixed. But, while there’s no bottom, there is something like a binary in that white people exist on one side of these dynamics – the side with force and intention. The way they mostly assert that force and intention is through the fulcrum of anti-black racism.
Hang in there with me for a minute and consider this. Race slavery is the historical basis of our economy. Yes, there was/is a campaign of “Indian removal” in order to capture natural resources and that certainly is part of the story. But the structure of the economy is rooted in slavery.
Our Constitution was written by slave owners. They managed to muster some pretty nice language about equality, justice, and freedom for “men” because they considered Africans less than human. Our federal system is based on a compromise intended to accommodate slavery. Our concept of ownership rights, the structure of our federal elections system, the segregated state of our society, the glut of money in politics, our conservative political culture, our criminal codes and federal penitentiaries all evolved around or were/are facilitated by anti-black racism.
And this is not just about history. Fear of black people drives our national politics, from the fight over Jim Crow in the 50s and 60s, to Willie Horton and the Chicago Welfare Queen in the 80s, and the War on Drugs, starting in 1982 right up to the present. Since 2001, the U.S. has spent about 1.3 trillion dollars on war. Since 1982 we’ve spent over 1 trillion dollars on the drug war.
About 82% of drug busts are for possession, while about 18% are for trafficking. Sound like an irrational way to wage a war on drugs? Not if it’s a war on black people.
According to Human Rights Watch, black males are incarcerated at a rate more than six times that of white males resulting in one in 10 black males aged 25-29 being held in prison or jail in 2009. The same report states:
blacks constitute 33.6 percent of drug arrests, 44 percent of persons convicted of drug felonies in state court, and 37 percent of people sent to state prison on drug charges, even though they constitute only 13 percent of the US population and blacks and whites engage in drug offenses at equivalent rates.
And why a war on people? The war on drugs is the cornerstone of the “tough on crime” messaging campaign that is key to the Republican Southern Strategy. It suggests that extending civil rights to African Americans resulted in the crime wave of the 1970s (and not the baby boom as is suggested by sociologists) in order to drive white Southerners into the Republican Party.
And that “tough on crime” thing, that’s not just against black people. It’s a propaganda war that is weakening civil rights and civil liberties for all of us.
There’s no hierarchy of oppressions where race is concerned, but anti-black racism is the fulcrum of white supremacy.