When we talk about racism, most of the time we’re discussing overt acts of bigotry or systemic racism, things that are done to another person. But racism is insidious and often frames the way people see themselves.
Antiblackness paints Black Americans as lazy, stupid, poor, and criminal in white people’s eyes, and Black people buy into antiblack mythology as well. I met a Black woman yesterday who smirked when I told her I teach antiracism. She pulled up a video on her phone and asked me to watch it. It features Black celebrities spouting antiblack mythology. You can watch it below. I don’t know if she knows it originated on a rightwing website or if she thinks it started on Facebook, but I found the site where it came from.
In the video, Morgan Freeman says that the way to get rid of racism is to stop talking about it. Denzel Washington talks about broken families being the reason so many Black boys go to prison. Radio host David Webb claims that the people who teach about racism are basically keeping Black people in a victim mindset. Actor Anthony Mackie (Falcon in the Marvel movies) puts the responsibility for ending racism on Black people. The other dude (I never saw his name) was spouting racist tropes about Black-on-Black crime and statistics without addressing the root causes.
Morgan Freeman is wrong. Name one problem that disappears when you ignore it. I’ll wait, but I’m not holding my breath. Leave a comment if you think of one.
Denzel is partly correct. Broken families do put children at risk when there isn’t a good support system in place. But who is breaking the families? Is it choice or is it influenced by years of enslavers breaking families apart? By over policing in Black and brown neighborhoods? Could longer and mandatory sentencing for low level crimes being disproportionately awarded to Black and brown men influence whose families are broken and whose are left intact?
When I spoke about the disparities in sentencing for Black and white people for the same crimes, her response to me was that if people did the crime, they should do the time. But if the sentencing is rigged, juries are rigged (by choosing more white than Black people to pass judgement on Black people), who is getting arrested is rigged by stop and frisk and other forms of over policing in Black and brown communities, bail is used as punishment before people are even tried for a crime, and society sees Black and brown people (especially boys and men) as criminals just for existing, then how is that not a consideration in incarceration levels? (For more info, please click here to be on the interest list for my upcoming workshop, The Origins of AntiBlack Mythology where I will cover the origins of persistent myths about Black people and how they manifest today.)
Lil Wayne doesn’t even recognize that a Black musician with a completely white audience is an entertainer. It speaks more to his lack of connection with his own history and his fulfillment of a white fantasy than it does to racial harmony. It is NOT a sign that there is no racism. Black people have performed for white audiences since we were brought here in chains. Entertainment is one of the physically safe spaces for Black people to exist in white society.
Radio Host David Webb claims that people who teach about racism are perpetuating victimhood for Black people. He doesn’t know the history of his own country. Notice that he’s speaking to a white audience. He’s perpetuating the myth of America instead of sharing historical facts. That makes it easy to blame the victim. Virginia laws were designed to slowly and then quickly strip rights away from nonwhite people. Laws against intermarrying and having mixed children were created and then strengthened. The government doesn’t make laws for things people aren’t doing. So by keeping people apart, jailing people in love, forcing people who marry across races to leave the colony, Virginia set up a segregated society where people would learn to see each other as different, and white people would learn to see Black people as inferior. And that was just one tiny law.
Anthony Mackie has a point about people not listening. We aren’t even using the same definitions for racism and it makes it hard to have meaningful discussions. His claim that George Jefferson and Fred Sanford were racist in the same way Archie Bunker is intellectual dishonesty. All in the Family was hilarious and groundbreaking, and Archie Bunker “punched down”. He took out his grievances on people with less power than he had – nonwhite people, women, and hippies – segments of society “othered” by the normative white male.
George Jefferson and Fred Sanford fought racism by attacking white society, those with power over them. They punched up. The Jeffersons were a Black family with an equal socioeconomic status with the white people on the show. George Jefferson said things to white people that many Black people would think but wouldn’t risk saying for fear of retaliation. Jefferson was “punching up” at the system and people who would expect to receive deference, white men and women. His wealth and status were questioned by white people and he enjoyed flaunting the power that his status as a businessman allowed him. The show was also groundbreaking for having an interracial couple with a biracial child as regulars on the show.
Fred Sanford of Sanford & Son was another hilarious show where a Black man was able to say what he wanted to white people for laughs. He didn’t have the status that George Jefferson did, but he did have his own business, so he didn’t have to worry about retaliation from a boss.
Notice that the Jefferson and Sanford characters could punch up because they didn’t answer to a white person. Imagine either of those characters behaving the way they did as an employee who reported to a white man. It wouldn’t have worked because audiences would know they both would have been fired. Imagine them with their brash attitudes as employees of a Black-owned business. It couldn’t have happened because white customers would have complained to the owners and gotten them fired. The only way these two characters were able to say what was on their minds in response to overt racism and microaggressions is because they had the autonomy that comes with owning your own business.
Archie Bunker didn’t need that. He was a loading dock foreman and part-time cab driver. Yet, he was able to spew his hate at everyone without fear of reprisal.
Anthony Mackie also has a point about stereotypes and perceptions, but he points the finger in the wrong direction. He puts the responsibility on Black people, Black men in particular, to prove that we aren’t the stereotypes that white people believe. Black people spend so much energy making white people comfortable. Why not expose the system that creates the stereotypes and put the responsibility on society to see people for who we are and treat everyone equally? Why should I, as a Black woman, have to defend myself against what somebody else expects of me because of my skin color and gender? The only reason I would take on that added stress is for my own safety. And when my safety is in danger because of someone else’s preconceived notions, it might be a danger for me, but it’s the other person’s problem. It’s their wrong thinking. And that’s what needs to change at a societal level.
I wonder if Anthony Mackie regrets his comments about the police encounters where he blames Black people for how they react to being pulled over now that videos of police brutality have sparked the Black Lives Matter protests around the world. He was parroting white people’s narratives when he said Black people just need to follow police orders in order not to get shot or beaten.
As for the last dude, the idea that Black people need to solve crimes in our communities before we can hold police accountable for unjustified homicides is infuriating. Are white people expected to solve all murders by white people before they are treated as human beings by people sworn to protect them? Are Hispanic and Latinx people expected to solve all murders before they can receive basic human and emergency services? No other race is expected to earn services that their taxes pay for by doing the jobs of the service providers (solving murders).
And why do people who disagree with the Black Lives Matter movement think they get to decide what their mission should be? Do they tell the Breast Cancer Society that they should solve colon cancer first? When the Lung Cancer Society asks for donations, do people reply that “all cancers matter”? These arguments are intellectual dishonesty, so I won’t even address his comments further.
As for the claim that people are stupid to burn their own communities during an uprising, I share this video. This woman is more passionate and spot on than anything I could write.
The woman who showed me the video grinned at me and said that if people believed what was on the video, I would be out of a job. She went on to say that Colin Kaepernick was wealthy and had a good job until he got stupid and decided to kneel over some made up stuff. Police brutality is made up?
When I countered with facts, she moved the goalpost. She said that white people were slaves, too. Yes, every culture in the world had slavery at some point, so white people were slaves, too.
She told me that Black Africans sold their own into slavery. That’s true, but it leaves out a lot. It leaves out that people weren't separating themselves by race worldwide when slavery began. People divided themselves by communities. They allied with their countrymen, not by color. Tribes traded their prisoners of war into slavery. So while they were selling another Black person, they weren’t selling their community members. People forget that Africa is a continent, not a country. People forget that the countries and tribes have different cultures, speak different languages. People forget that Africa is not a monolith.
No other group of people, except for Black Americans, experienced chattel slavery. That is a uniquely American horror. It’s not like enslaved people could send a text home and tell slavers in their home country that slavery in “the New World” was different and more brutal.
As I countered her tropes with facts, she backed away until she jumped in her car and drove away. She said she could talk to me all day. I told her I could give her facts all day.
The one thing we agreed on was that welfare laws are designed to break up the family because families aren’t eligible for assistance as long as the father is in the household.
This woman and every man quoted in the video demonstrated internalized racism. Based on our conversation, she claimed that Black people as a culture make bad choices, falsely claim victimhood, and should be responsible for changing our circumstances on our own.
Learning the true history of America as opposed to the myth of America that is currently taught in our schools is crucial to understanding America’s racist system. The laws of this land were created step-by-step to dehumanize Black and brown people and are still used to subjugate nonwhite people. It’s normalized to the point that white people don’t see it, which is why so many people are shocked and traumatized by the onslaught of videos of violence against Black bodies being shared daily on social media.
If you have the privilege of not seeing this part of America, the shock of what you don’t know can be paralyzing. But now is not the time to retreat into the comfort of your privilege. Now is the time to figure out how you can be a part of the solution. This is a pivotal time in history. What will you tell your children and grandchildren you did when you saw the horror of what America truly is? Will you fight to move us towards our stated ideals? Or will you tell them that you sat in silence? Because white silence is violence. Silence is complicity.
If you’re looking for a way to be a force for good against racism, the first step is learning the facts. Check out some ways to get started below:
I will be covering how racism was embedded in America’s beginnings and practical steps you can take to become more antiracist during my next half-day intensive on Saturday, August 1, 1-5 PM EST.
If you’re ready to learn how antiblack myths began and have been perpetuated, sign up for my occasional newsletter to be the first to know once the course is live. Antiblackness, Saturday, August 8, 1-4 PM EST will cover the origins of the most prevalent antiblack mythology and ways to become aware of and counter your own antiblackness.
If you’re a business owner looking to learn how to incorporate antiracism into your business, sign up for my occasional newsletter to be the first to know once the course is live. Intentional Inclusion Tuesdays, August 11, 18, 25, 6-8 PM EST will cover the ways racism shows up in business, have you take an inventory of your business practices, help you develop antiracist business practices and offer you support as you transition your practices to be more inclusive.