How To Be An Anti-Racist – Ibram X. Kendi, part 2

2nd touch: This infographic is not from the book but seemed relevant, so we’ll go with it. There is an element there in “The Fear Zone” that I think part of the below quote applies to:

“ASSIMILATIONIST: One who is expressing the racist idea that a racial group is culturally or behaviorally inferior and is supporting cultural or behavioral enrichment programs to develop that racial group. SEGREGATIONIST: One who is expressing the racist idea that a permanently inferior racial group can never be developed and is supporting policy that segregates away that racial group. ANTIRACIST: One who is expressing the idea that racial groups are equals and none needs developing, and is supporting policy that reduces racial inequity.”

This is from the head of Chapter Two of the book, and I want to address the idea of assimilationists. There are far more ways of “expressing” ideas that one group or another is somehow culturally or morally or intellectually inferior than just verbalizing it like Thomas Jefferson did. He was in some ways an abolitionist but many times expressed doubts that black people could handle freedom so he wasn’t exactly the most “woke” person of any era.

There are parts of The Fear Zone above that make the idea of Assimilation inclusive of people across the racial, ethnic, cultural and political spectra. It is my firm belief that every white person (and I’m not going to speak for non-white people) is to some degree assimilationist and it expresses itself and manifests through comfort levels vis a vis visceral and emotional reactions. It’s something I’ve personally witnessed in every aspect of life, from navigating the public school system and the playgrounds of New York with both black and white children in my charge, to my professional life, to conversations with people who would identify as liberal and decidedly non-racist, to my own personal comfort level. It’s not something I’m going to deny the existence of. That wouldn’t be fair.

We, as white people, react differently to people who don’t look like us. Similar behaviors evoke different responses depending who is ‘performing’ the behaviors. I do believe that there is a degree of “otherism” that is biologically hard-wired, but this is specifically about race.

Example 1: How white mothers react differently to identical displays of aggression between black boys and white boys in the playground. It’s real.

Example 2: Listening to white people discuss any random person of color in the media or performing arts that they find attractive. Yes, white features are even sometimes brought up, though less now than in the past, but that may be just suppressed for polite company.

Example 3: The level of behavioral, cultural or fashion assimilation that works best for upward mobility in professional settings. There is almost a template in office places for desirable and non-desirable for promotions or leadership roles. It’s not that this doesn’t exist for white counterparts but there is a broader view of acceptable for white players.

Example 4: This one is more current and explicit. Witness discussions of current civil unrest amongst white people on social media. There is a clear hierarchy of the type of expression of black anger that we, as caucasians, are comfortable with. We continually evoke the somewhat mythologized history of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. We aren’t comfortable with outrage and keep insisting that rage isn’t the answer. Why are we so uncomfortable with that? Is it rage in general or specifically Black rage? Are we afraid to see THEM get hurt, or are we feeling deep down inside that we are part of the problem and may not be exempted, justifiably or not, from the expressions of rage? These are only a few of what I believe are valid questions.

I’ve said this so many times over the years. Why are the only Black heroes taught in public schools the ones who are affiliated with civil disobedience? Where is Nat Turner on the curriculum? Where is Stokely Carmichael. There are a lot of conspicuously absent figures from even recent history.

Our entire education system, is at its very core, assimilationist. Yes, it is required that White students also assimilate to certain mores and codes to a degree, but why are all the mores and codes based on White Comfort and Culture? I believe it’s because we built the education system based on The Fear Zone.

Anyway… this is the second touch. I wanted to address this business before moving on in the book. As it works out, being simply non-racist is so neutral as to be assimilationist. There is no active force applied against harmful things.

More as we go.

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