This Kendrick Lamar album. It’s got me thinking about structuralism vs. culturalism; the blame game for the condition of the black community. Is it white folks’ fault or do black folks bear some responsibility for their plight?
I often feel like I can’t say certain things because, not being black, I don’t want to be misunderstood or perceived as a culturalist. I don’t believe that racism is justified by behavior. And I think it’s wrong for racists to use behavior as an excuse.
But I do think that, even though white people largely made the mess that black people live in, black people can’t wait around for white people to clean it up. They’re not gonna.
Is it wrong for white people to point at a mess they made and judge black people for not cleaning it up because we were white enough to hand them a broom? Yes. Is it wrong for white people to not take responsibility for their mess, then use that very mess as an excuse not to help clean up? Believe that.
But the world is not a fair place. And as black folks certainly know, when you’re starting from behind, you have to work harder.
Eliminating racism is largely a white responsibility. Racism itself is a problem for black folks, but it’s not a black problem. White people have a racism problem.
But black people should be building their community anyway – not to satisfy white folks but to create a better home for themselves. The fact that it eliminates an excuse that racists use to perpetuate cultural and structural racism is simply a positive side effect.
Look, there is an element of white culture that sees how white people, for better or worse, have worked to build a better culture over literally thousands of years, and doesn’t see the same from black culture. This is obviously a blindness to the fact that white people have had millennia to improve their lot, and black folks have had, realistically, about sixty years. The truth is that it’s absolutely bullshit to say, “Hey, we screwed them over, but we’re not going to fix it until they prove they want it fixed.”
But there are a lot of things that have to be fixed by black people, no matter whose fault they are, because white people just can’t fix them. This is my outsiders’ perspective, given in the spirit of hope. I expect it to upset a lot of people.
But this is what I see:
White people cannot fix “No Snitching.” And it’s gotta go. Poor white neighborhoods have plenty of crime. But when a white guy shoots a kid in a drug crime, every honky in the hood can’t wait to tell on him. If a white person smells a dope lab in their hood, it’s 9-1-1 until the boys in blue come bust that fool. You rob a liquor store in a white neighborhood, everybody on the block is trying to get their CrimeStoppers on. If I knew a guy was avoiding child support on his kids, you’re damn right I’d snitch on him – my taxes are feeding his kids. White kids grow up knowing that, if nothing else, crime is bad because somebody is gonna tell on you.
I’m not saying that white people don’t ever overlook things for their friends, or that black people allow their neighborhoods to be all Wild West. But the line between handle-this-myself and call-the-police is a lot different for whites than it is for blacks. And a lot more black folks go to jail for handling things themselves than should, instead of sending folks to jail for what had to be handled. White folks’ responsibility is to build a police force that is fair to everyone and can be trusted by everyone. Black folks’ responsibility is to stop tolerating both crime and vigilante justice in their communities.
White people cannot fix Trinidad James. And he’s gotta go, along with all his friends. I was standing on the corner of Second and Jefferson the other day and I heard a car approaching behind me, blasting “Let’s Get High” by Dr. Dre – you know the song. I turned around to see two adult black women in the front seat and four black children, three female, in the back, all rapping at top volume, “No doubt, sit back on the couch, pants down, rubber on, set to turn that ass out – laid the bitch out, then I put it in her mouth, pulled out, nutted on a towel and passed out…” If those children are exposed to this to the point where they know the words by heart, is there any doubt that those female children will see their value to men as sexual? And is there any doubt that the male child will see a female’s value to him as sexual utility, not even worthy of his ‘nut’?
I’m not saying that white people don’t ever expose their kids to inappropriate things, or that black people always do. But ALL people have to restrict adult entertainment to adult settings and black folks in particular have to stop rewarding entertainment that portrays black people in a negative light. It’s gotta be a cultural priority for black folks to protect black children. Everybody’s responsibility is the same here – we as Americans have hyper-sexualized our culture until even our children are exposed to it as normal. But teen pregnancy and STD transmission are even more dramatic among black youth than whites, where it’s epidemic. We all need to do a better job for our kids, but black folks are suffering even more, and as such it’s even more important in the black community.
Speaking of black children, white people cannot fix “Keeping It Real.” No, black people are not offered equality of educational opportunity. But in the places where black children need education the most, there seems to be a stigma to intelligence, particularly for boys. This continues into adulthood, and gets more intense as education level rises, to the point that even national journalists have questioned the very “blackness” of people like Colin Powell or Barack Obama – can you even be black if you’ve strived for education? Black children need to know that their only paths to success are not athlete and gangsta rapper, that black kids can grow up to be doctors and lawyers and teachers and tradesmen, and that success in those fields is “making it,” just like getting a record deal or being drafted into the NBA – that not everybody gets to be a millionaire, but everybody should be proud to give their family a good life.
I’m not saying that a lot of white people aren’t trying to keep black folks in the ghetto. But black folks can’t conspire with white folks to do the same. ‘Keeping it real’ is code for “Be just like me or you ain’t shit.” And ‘me’ lives in the ghetto. And when ‘me’ is someone you look up to, your choice is to do what’s right for you, or disappoint your role models. It’s white people’s responsibility to stop the bullshit when it comes to equal educational opportunity – to make sure that black-majority schools get the resources, quality teachers, administrative support – all the advantages that white schools get. Black folks’ responsibility has to be to place enormous importance on education in their families, to place intellect and honest effort as high on the pride scale as talent or hustle.
Speaking of ignorance, black people cannot accept discrimination in their communities. If you want to be treated equally, you cannot treat others with contempt. My social media experience has me appalled at the level of homophobia in the black community. My experience with a job in an economically-depressed black neighborhood over the last year showed me how black folks often treat foreign business owners in their neighborhoods with outright hostility. Black people had no bigger ally in their own fight for civil rights than the Jewish community, but anti-Semitism runs rampant in black culture.
I’m not saying that all black people are xenophobic, or that they don’t have reasons to be – no people on earth have been shit on quite as thoroughly as African-Americans. But the Golden Rule is to treat others how you want to be treated. Black folks’ cause would be a lot easier to achieve if every shit-on person in America was on their side, because white people have shit on plenty of folks.
Look, there’s no excuse for racism. And it’s not black folks’ responsibility to conform to an acceptable standard for white people. It’s white people’s responsibility to fix what we can: to ensure equal protection under the law, to create a real standard for equality in education, & to combat the barriers to success that exist in the structure of our society – police brutality, discriminatory hiring practices, cultural bias in every way.
But if white folks gave up the game tomorrow, had black folks make a list of all the fucked-up things white folks do to them, and stopped every one of those things immediately, black folks would still have a lot of work to do to have the community they deserve. And racism can’t be an excuse for not working on that today.