Black Expendability May be a Reality for Many

Afrophobia is the irrational fear of people of African diaspora.  An irrational fear of black people.

The overwhelming majority of black people knows what this is.  Being aware of this fact is part of an integral defense mechanism; not being aware of white fears of blacks can get you killed in situations normally anyone else (non-black, white) wouldn’t have to deal with.  Knocking on a door for help?  This guy might kill me because I’m black.  Calling the police?  These people might kill me because I’m black.  In sex/gender relations there is a such thing as male expendability.  Male expendability is the social understanding that men are the expendable sex; for example if we were on a sinking ship it is understood that women and children’s lives have priority over men.  Overall, male expendability is the counterbalance to an otherwise male dominant society that rewards men over women the majority of time; it’s a man’s world.  But if there’s a such thing as male expendability in sex/gender relations, is there a such thing as black expendability in race relations?

In America, to be black seems to mean to be the expendable ethnicity, the expendable race.  Unlike male expendability being the counter-balance to male dominance, there’s no counter-balance to this at all.  This is NOT a black dominated society that assumes black expendability because blacks simply just, “have it made” for them.  There’s a couple of factors that enable this.

Illustration by Bill Day

Illustration by Bill Day

First, is the inability of (most) whites to read black facial expressions.  Using the most ridiculous calm black professional as a test reference, President Obama, the University of Arkansas conducted a socio-psychological test studying how people register emotion off his race.  In short, the majority of white people see anger in his face more.  They see anger in his face even when he’s smiling.  Overall, this study means (most) white people have a hard time registering the emotion of black people.  What’s worse is that they see anger more, to include when it’s not there, which can be dangerous being that a perception of anger can be met as a threat, which is often met with deadly force.

Second is the inability of (majority) of whites to understand black people in pain.  The University of Toronto-Scarborough conducted a socio-psychological test finding that white people’s mirror-neuron-system fires much less, if at all, when they watch people of color performing motor tasks.  The University of Milano-Bicocca conducted a similar test, with same results.  This comes to no surprise to those who live this reality, but with the power of science we can confirm this truth to be fact.  While whites have a hard time registering black pain, even blacks have the same problem… this should be of no surprise, being that these black people suffer the same socialization process as white people.

It turns out assumptions about what it means to be black—in terms of social status and hardship—may be behind the bias. In additional experiments, the researchers studied participants’ assumptions about adversity and privilege. The more privilege assumed of the target, the more pain the participants perceived. Conversely, the more hardship assumed, the less pain perceived. The researchers concluded that “the present work finds that people assume that, relative to whites, blacks feel less pain because they have faced more hardship.”

This assumption of hardship isn’t congruent with the prevailing racism-denial stance of white people of America.  Understanding a sense of “hardship” based on race means that one also understands this is a racist society that systematically inflicts that hardship.  If you agree that racism “isn’t a big problem” in America but also assume blacks feel less pain because of a sense of hardship onto blacks, that only means that you are cognizant of racism at its core but not willing to confront the reality of it.  Stating racism isn’t a problem is pretense, at best.

These findings mean one thing: the vast majority of White Americans do not empathize with brown people at a very basic level.  For most white Americans, the death and violence of thousands of brown bodies was just part of some abstract form of reality that doesn’t hit home.  For most white Americans, black and brown people dying just meant flickers on the television screen about something happening far away.  Even in the event of a spree killing murder which happens in white, under-policed neighborhoods, someone will say “this isn’t supposed to happen here,” which implies that such killing is acceptable in “some other place”.  They have a problem feeling overwhelming anger and sadness they would normally feel when someone they know dies without reason. They couldn’t see the full reality of what death means, when the people who die are non-whites.  This is clearly understood when numerous whites attempt to find a superficially similar story (right-wing media) of a white person being accosted by a black person.  Not only do they have a HARD time understanding non-whites in pain and suffering, they search frantically for whites in pain as a parallel when it is not.

The problem can be shocking; in law enforcement proper identification of friend or foe is important.  If there is an assumption of “this guy can take it” then that means poor treatment of minorities just because they are non-whites.  On the flip-side of the coin, that means a near-preferential treatment of people of privilege.  In class privilege, police are less likely to dispatch a SWAT team into an affluent neighborhood, but over police and brutalize the American poor.  Because one is rich, they are assumed “soft”, thus getting softer sentences than the American poor for the same crimes.  In law enforcement it is already found and blacks receive harsher sentences than whites for the same crimes. In the medical field this can mean that blacks can suffer improper diagnosis especially when it comes to them being in pain.

So what can be done?  Simply being aware of these facts enables one to effectively counter this problem.  A head-in-the-sand policy of denial by colorblind pretense doesn’t work, and it hasn’t been working.  Just as a lack of empathy can be sociologically programmed, it can be undone with the same science.  Just be aware.  And of course, vow to not accept injustice regardless of color of skin.

Photo Credit: Brandon Jamar

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