What have I read this week? Quite a few, and there are a lot of quotes, because there was a lot I found meaningful.
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
This is a nonfiction book about the history of racist and antiracist ideas in the United States of America. I would really recommend it to anyone; I found it well-written, fascinating and I learned so much from it.
Fooled by racist ideas, I did not fully realize that the only thing wrong with Black people is that we think something is wrong with Black people. I did not fully realize that the only thing extraordinary about White people is that they think something is extraordinary about White people.p. 10-11
This strategy of what can be termed uplift suasion was based on the idea that White people could be persuaded away from their racist ideas if they saw Black people improving their behavior, uplifting themselves from their low station in American society. The burden of race relations was placed squarely on the shoulders of Black Americans. Positive Black behavior, abolitionist strategists held, undermined racist ideas, and negative Black behavior confirmed them.p 124-5
Uplift suasion was not conceived by the abolitionists meeting in Philadelphia in 1794. It lurked behind the craze to exhibit Phillis Wheatley and Francis Williams and other “extraordinary” Black people. So the American Convention, raising the stakes, asked every free Black person to serve as a Black exhibit. In every state, abolitionists publicly and privately drilled this theory into the minds of African people as they entered the ranks of freedom in the 1790s and beyond.
This strategy to undermine racist ideas was actually based on a racist idea: “negative” Black behavior, said that idea, was partially or totally responsible for the existence and persistence of racist ideas. To believe that the negative ways of Black people were responsible for racist ideas was to believe that there was some truth in notions of Black inferiority. To believe that there was some truth in notions of Black inferiority was to hold racist ideas.
Quiet came in an instant as all the eyes on White faces became transfixed on the single dark face. Truth straightened her back and raised herself to her full height—all six feet. She towered over nearby men. “Ain’t I a Woman? Look at me! Look at my arm!” Truth showed off her bulging muscles. “Ain’t I a Woman? I can outwork, outeat, outlast any man! Ain’t I a Woman!” Sojourner Truth had shut down and shut up the male hecklers.p. 192-3
As she returned to her seat, Truth could not help but see the “streaming eyes, and hearts beating with gratitude” from the women, the muddled daze from the men. Truth imparted a double blow in “Ain’t I a Woman”: an attack on the sexist ideas of the male disrupters, and an attack on the racist ideas of females trying to banish her. “Ain’t I a Woman” in all of my strength and power and tenderness and intelligence. “Ain’t I a Woman” in all of my dark skin. Never again would anyone enfold more seamlessly the dual challenge of antiracist feminism.
Although White assimilationists and philanthropists were taking over the racial discourse in the academy, they were customarily shutting out Black scholars as being too subjective and biased to study Black people. It was amazing that the same scholars and philanthropists who saw no problem with White scholars studying White people had all these biased complaints when it came to Black scholars studying Black people. But what would racist ideas be without contradictions.p. 349
An antiracist America can only be guaranteed if principled antiracists are in power, and then antiracist policies become the law of the land, and then antiracist ideas become the common sense of the people, and then the antiracist common sense of the people holds those antiracist leaders and policies accountable.
And that day is sure to come. No power lasts forever. There will come a time when Americans will realize that the only thing wrong with Black people is that they think something is wrong with Black people. There will come a time when racist ideas will no longer obstruct us from seeing the complete and utter abnormality of racial disparities. There will come a time when we will love humanity, when we will gain the courage to fight for an equitable society for our beloved humanity, knowing, intelligently, that when we fight for humanity, we are fighting for ourselves. There will come a time. Maybe, just maybe, that time is now.p. 510-11
The Geography of Madness: Penis Thieves, Voodoo Death, and the Search for the Meaning of the World’s Strangest Syndromes by Frank Bures
This is a nonfiction book about culture, particularly culturally-specific diseases like koro, and why they occur in some cultures but not others. I found this interesting, although I didn’t feel like it came to much of a conclusion.
How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
This is a nonfiction book about anti-racism. I found it really interesting and easy to read, and it made me think a lot. I would definitely recommend it.
The history of the racialized world is a three-way fight between assimilationists, segregationists, and antiracists. Antiracist ideas are based in the truth that racial groups are equals in all the ways they are different, assimilationist ideas are rooted in the notion that certain racial groups are culturally or behaviorally inferior, and segregationist ideas spring from a belief in genetic racial distinction and fixed hierarchy.Ch. 2
History duels: the undeniable history of antiracist progress, the undeniable history of racist progress. Before and after the Civil War, before and after civil rights, before and after the first Black presidency, the White consciousness duels. The White body defines the American body. The White body segregates the Black body from the American body. The White body instructs the Black body to assimilate into the American body. The White body rejects the Black body assimilating into the American body—and history and consciousness duel anew.
The Black body in turn experiences the same duel. The Black body is instructed to become an American body. The American body is the White body. The Black body strives to assimilate into the American body. The American body rejects the Black body. The Black body separates from the American body. The Black body is instructed to assimilate into the American body—and history and consciousness duel anew.
But there is a way to get free. To be antiracist is to emancipate oneself from the dueling consciousness. To be antiracist is to conquer the assimilationist consciousness and the segregationist consciousness. The White body no longer presents itself as the American body; the Black body no longer strives to be the American body, knowing there is no such thing as the American body, only American bodies, racialized by power.
But for all of that life-shaping power, race is a mirage, which doesn’t lessen its force. We are what we see ourselves as, whether what we see exists or not. We are what people see us as, whether what they see exists or not. What people see in themselves and others has meaning and manifests itself in ideas and actions and policies, even if what they are seeing is an illusion. Race is a mirage but one that we do well to see, while never forgetting it is a mirage, never forgetting that it’s the powerful light of racist power that makes the mirage.Ch. 3
Race is a mirage but one that humanity has organized itself around in very real ways. Imagining away the existence of races in a racist world is as conserving and harmful as imagining away classes in a capitalistic world—it allows the ruling races and classes to keep on ruling.Ch. 4
One of racism’s harms is the way it falls on the unexceptional Black person who is asked to be extraordinary just to survive—and, even worse, the Black screwup who faces the abyss after one error, while the White screwup is handed second chances and empathy. This shouldn’t be surprising: One of the fundamental values of racism to White people is that it makes success attainable for even unexceptional Whites, while success, even moderate success, is usually reserved for extraordinary Black people.Ch. 8
To love capitalism is to end up loving racism. To love racism is to end up loving capitalism. The conjoined twins are two sides of the same destructive body. The idea that capitalism is merely free markets, competition, free trade, supplying and demanding, and private ownership of the means of production operating for a profit is as whimsical and ahistorical as the White-supremacist idea that calling something racist is the primary form of racism. Popular definitions of capitalism, like popular racist ideas, do not live in historical or material reality. Capitalism is essentially racist; racism is essentially capitalist. They were birthed together from the same unnatural causes, and they shall one day die together from unnatural causes. Or racial capitalism will live into another epoch of theft and rapacious inequity, especially if activists naïvely fight the conjoined twins independently, as if they are not the same.Ch. 12