Monday, June 22, 2009

Reverse Racism, Slavery Apologies and Identity Politics: Lions and Tigers and Bears Oh My!


On May 29th Rush Limbaugh called President Obama
and Sonia Sotomayor a "reverse racist."

On June 18th the Senate Passed a resolution offering
an apology for slavery.

What do all of these things have in common? Race, power
and the possessive investment in whiteness.

The way in which the online and mainstream media lamented
and analyzed "the appearance" of identity politics, in many
ways, could have led a reasonable person to believe
that identity politics constituted a minor annoyance and not
material issue rooted in U.S. history.

Race has been and arguably always will be political.

When a country changes it laws classify children
born to enslaved parents to be legally classified
as slaves at birth, race will be political.

In the book, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness,
George Lipsitz provides an analytical framework that
is helpful in analyzing identity
politics as it pertains to
whiteness. He writes,

Yet, once we remember that whiteness is also an identity one
a long political history, contemporary attacks on "identity"
politics come into clear relief as a defense of the traditional
privileges and priorities of whiteness in the face of critical and
political projects that successfully disclose who actually hold
power in this society and what has been done with it.

Whiteness is everywhere in U.S. culture, but very hard to see.
As Richard Dyer suggests, "White Power secures its dominance
by not seeming to be anything in particular. " As the unmarked
category against which differnce is constructed, whiteness
never has to speak its name, never has to acknowledge its
role as an organizing principal in social and cultural relations.
George Lipsitz goes on to define the investment when he writes,
I use the term possessive to stress the relationship between and asset accumulation in our society, to connect attitudes to interest, to demonstrate that white supremacy is less a matter of direct, referential, and snarling contempt than a system for protecting the privileges of whites by denying communities of color opportunities for asset accumulation and upward mobility. Whiteness is invested in like property, but it also a means of accumulating property and keeping it from others...
Talking about race can be challenging because, well,
it is a sensitive topic. Talking about race as a social construct
that is rooted in history is a whole other ball game,
largely because we move from pointing fingers to analyzing systems.
This can be difficult but it gives us a framework for analysis.

If I talk about Black men in hip hop, some people may think
that I am talking about all Black men.

If I talk about white folks and White supremacy some may think
that I am talking about all white folks.

My goal is to look at the system in which we all live,
attend school, vote, pay rent, lose mortgages (lol).

Yes, this may mean looking at individuals, but we will
fall short if we don't look at the system and how power is
distributed as well.

With this in mind, I was glad when I came across the
following passage in Lipsitz's book,

Opposing whiteness is not the same as opposing white people. White supremacy is an equal opportunity employer: nonwhite people can become active agents of white supremacy as well as passive participants in hierarchies and rewards. One way of becoming an insider is by participating in the exclusion of other outsiders. An individual might even secure a seat on the supreme court on this basis.....On the other hand, if not every white supremacist is white, it follows that not all white people have to become com licit with white supremacy, that there is an element f choice in all of this.
In thinking about the ways of becoming an insider I am reminded
of having conversations with Black immigrants from the Caribbean
and Africa and being amazed at their overt and subliminal
ways in which they have expressed a belief that African
Americans are lazy.

My first inclination was to say that we are this countries
oldest residents, along with white immigrants and Native
Americans, yet we are its most recent citizens.

Lazy people didn't build the United States. Enslaved people
and indentured servants did

After slavery, our labor has been supplemented with the labor
of cheap immigrant labor via Chinese folks, Japanese folks
and currently Mexican folks.

In my discussion about the white consumption of Black death
in Hip Hop last month, I was reminded of the role that enlightened
white folks could play as social justice advocates.

It makes sense that there comes a time where a White person
who is interested in social justice asks what can I do? Again, Lipsitz
addresses this question when he writes,

White people always have the option of becoming anti racist,
although not enough have done so. We do not choose our
color, but we do choose our commitments. We do not
parents by we choose our politics. We do not make
decisions in a vacuum; they occur within a social
that gives value to whiteness and offers rewards
for racism.
Critics attack minority artists and intellectuals
as guilt mongering
whiners demanding special privileges
and seeking to elevate
inferior works in order to elevate
their own self esteem, while
on a broader front, politicians
demagogically, dismantle the anti
discrimination mechanisms
established as a result of the civil rights
movement, mislabeling
antiracist remedies as instruments of
reverse racism....
While browsing my Google reader feed I came across Ta-Nehisi
post on
The Civil War and slavery, which is informed by
David Blights lecture
on the topic. Coates quotes Blight when
he writes,
By 1860 there were approximately four million slaves in the united states, the second largest slave society/slave population in the world. The only one larger was Russian serfdom...But in 1860, American slaves a s a financial asset were worth approximately 3.5 billion today's dollars that would be approximately 75 billion dollars. In 1860 slaves as an asset were worth more than all of American manufacturing, all of the railroads all of the productive capacity of the United States, put together. slaves were the single largest, by far, financial asset in the American economy.
3.5 Billion could buy a whole lot of acres and mules,
which brings me to the apology that the Senate issued for
chattel slavery last week.

Pay me or ignore me, but don't insult me with an apology.

Jewish folks received reparations from the Swiss and Germans
for the role
that they played in The Holocaust.

Japanese folks received and apology and reparations
and for being placed
in internment camps following
bombing of Pearl Harbor.

In fact, an apology followed by an action would indicate
how committed Congress is to apologizing.
In fact, an appropriate action would be ending the war on
but something tells me that they will be issuing an
for that in 2309.

Empty apologies about slavery remind me of awkward
interracial or intraracial conversations about slavery, where there
is always no conversation about which families and institutions
benefited from the slavocracy. Lipsitz addresses this
phenomena when he writes,
The claim that ones own family did not own slaves is frequently
voiced in our culture. Its almost never followed with a statement
to the effect that of course some peoples families did own slaves
and we will not rest until we track them down and make them pay
reparations. This view never acknowledges how the existence of
slavery and the exploitation of black labor after emancipation
created opportunistic from which immigrants and others benefited,
even if they didn't personally own slaves. Rather it seems to hold
that. Because not all white people owned slaves, no white people
can be held accountable or inconvenienced by the legacy of
slavery. More important than having dispensed of slavery, they
feel no need to address the histories of Jim Crow segregation,
racialised social policies, urban renewed or the revived racism
of contemporary neoconvervatism.
What would happen to race relations, power relations,
and institutional racism if there was a serious multiracial coalition
dedicated to analyzing and holding accountable the families
and institutions who have benefited from slavery?

That, my dear, is the post Obama America that would speak
truth to power.

What does an apology for slavery mean to you?

Have you thought about Japanese folks, Jewish folks
and reparations?

Have you heard of George Lipsitz? What do you think
of his obsessive investment in whiteness theory?


vincentlopez said...

"Pay me or ignore me, but don't insult me with an apology."

I just mentioned that ridiculous apology to my wife. Since when does an apology come with a disclaimer anyway? What a joke!

And did the president even acknowledge the apology? Does it even matter?

Model Minority said...

I ain't knowning ock.

I just had to say my piece/peace.

M.Z. said...

An apology means nothing.

I was reading that Lincoln only freed the slaves to punish the South for seceeding from the union. But if they came back, they could've kept slavery in tact.

M.Dot. said...

3.5 Billion.

Thats one of my new favorite stats.

The other is 40.
40% of Black children live in poverty in the U.S.

The last is 800.
There are 800K Black men and women(18yrs +) in prison.

the prisoner's wife said...

1. i heard about the apology via Hardball w/ Chris Matthews. i twitted about how SHOCKED i was about his response. he basically said that northern whites shouldn't have to apologize because slavery occurred in the south. i was blown away. he was all red in the face because he felt like HE shouldn't have to apologize, as if ALL whites haven't benefited--either directly or indirectly--from slavery. i mean, for real.

2. and you're right, an apology means NADA. i want reparations, and i don't nec. mean cash. i want FREE college tuition (or my student loans paid off), because through education we have the best chance to make some strides for equality. i want free health care, urban schools that are TRULY equal, i want an overhall of the prison industry and so much more the government isn't willing to give.

3.i have thought about the "debts" paid to the Jewish & Japanese people, and i've always thought that our country is so hypocritical. the first things people scream when speaking of reparations for Blacks is that "i didn't own slaves!" so what? you've benefited from it. had it not been for the free labor, America would still be a British colony, until the Brits wanted to cut them loose.

4. add 130K to the list. there are 130K juviniles in jails/prisons, most of which are black. i talked about this w/ my students when we were reading the novel, Monster, by Walter Dean Myers.

5. this reminds me of a post i wrote called "being Raced" (

M.Dot. said...
Good Lawd.

On imagining being white.

Shit. I have imagined being a boy.
I am NOT itching to write that post. LOL.

the prisoner's wife said... should write it.

the prisoner's wife said...

BTW: you inspired me...

"How We Both Black & Our Kid Is Post-Racial?" (new post!)

Sarah said...

Racism as you know it exists only in the USA.

Geneza Pharmaceuticals

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