One of the things I think progressives who ignore history don’t understand is that just like racism is taught, so is distrust. Especially in Af-Am households where our parents & grandparents who have lived through Jim Crow, Cointelpro, Reaganomics, & the War on Drugs (better titled the War on Inner City Communities) talk to us early & often about how to stay out of trouble.
My grandmother had a “I won’t let the white man get you” speech that would curl your hair. And sure, it’s easy to claim that she was teaching reverse racism or whatever. But the reality is that she was a black woman born in 1924 who lost a brother to lynching, lived through segregation, & who had to get off the sidewalk for white people. I mean literally, get off the sidewalk and walk in the street because white people didn’t think they should have to share the sidewalk with black people. Think about having to do that for years.
My grandfather was less verbose, but one of the reasons he came North was his bad temper & complete inability to stay in his place in Arkansas. He sent money down home when they needed it, & we visited a few times when I was a kid. But a running theme in the conversations during those visits was that he left to keep from bringing trouble down on everyone. How would he have brought trouble home? By not being willing to be called Boy & for looking too many white men in the eye.
These are the people that raised me. And sure I went through my “racism is over”, “no one acts that way any more” phase. Then I got old enough to be outside by myself & I learned quick, fast, & in a hurry that racism is alive and well. But I stuck to the idea that it was isolated for a while longer. Long enough to marry a white man from East Texas & have a child with him. Somewhere around my ex defending his grandmother’s use of the word “Darkie” at our child’s second birthday party I figured out that racism is alive & well and perfectly capable of inhabiting people who claimed to not be racist. He had a black wife, a biracial son, & not a lick of concern about how the word darkie could be upsetting to me. Now we’re divorced & he hasn’t made an effort to see his son in years. Not since the last set of pics made it clear that kiddo can’t pass for white.
So, when progressives stand up & insist that race has nothing to do with anything because it’s a social construct, like a lot of Af-Am people my life experiences already have me side eying them. And then when you factor in coded language like “You people need to get off your couches and help us fight”, ” “Bringing up race is divisive”, or “Arrest the crack dealers & leave the protestors alone” I know it’s time to step back. Because race impacts our lives every day & in every way. From educational access to medical care to jobs to housing, our race is always a factor. It’s not just the history that we were taught by our parents & grandparents. It affects us in the here & now, and until it is addressed it will continue affecting everyone.
A War on Poverty, that is a class war, but that isn’t a War on Racism isn’t going to draw too many Af-Am folks out of the places they’ve already built to allow them to weather the storms that are inevitable in a racist society. We’ve learned from slavery, Jim Crow, Tulsa, Rosewood, the Red Summer of 1919, the Watts riots, the Civil Rights Movement, & America’s belief in the lie of the Welfare Queen that we cannot trust in people who are not explicitly anti-racist. That when we fight for our rights, we are fighting for our lives & the lives of those we love in communities that have always been the first to be attacked. So to be called to fight for the health of communities that have benefited from that history of oppression? Not a call that matters overmuch to us. Solidarity can never be a one way street, & until there is some recognition that fighting racism is fighting capitalism, I don’t see any hope of it developing between African American communities & the Occupy Movement.