[News] Call It What It Is: Anti-Blackness
news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jun 4 13:28:55 EDT 2020
It What It Is: Anti-Blackness
By kihana miraya ross - June 4, 2020
[image: Protesting the killing of George Floyd, outside Brooklyn’s Barclay
Center on Sunday.]
Credit...Yunghi Kim/Contact Press Image
The word “racism” is everywhere. It’s used to explain
the things that cause African-Americans’ suffering and death: inadequate
access to health care, food, housing and jobs, or a police bullet, baton or
knee. But “racism” fails to fully capture what black people in this country
The right term is “anti-blackness.”
To be clear, “racism” isn’t a meaningless term. But it’s a catch-all that
can encapsulate anything from black people being denied fair access to
mortgage loans, to Asian students being burdened with a “model minority”
label. It’s not specific.
Many Americans, awakened by watching footage of Derek Chauvin killing
George Floyd by kneeling on his neck, are grappling with why we live in a
world in which black death loops in a tragic screenplay, scored with the
wails of childless mothers and the entitled indifference of our murderers.
And an understanding of anti-blackness is the only place to start.
Anti-blackness is one way some black scholars have articulated what it
means to be marked as black in an anti-black world. It’s more than just
“racism against black people.” That oversimplifies and defangs it. It’s a
theoretical framework that illuminates society’s inability to recognize our
humanity — the disdain, disregard and disgust for our existence.
The African-American studies professor Frank B.Wilderson, who coined the
argues that anti-blackness indexes the structural reality so that in the
larger society, blackness is inextricably tied to “slaveness.” While the
system of U.S. chattel slavery technically ended over 150 years ago, it
continues to mark the ontological position of black people. Thus, in the
minds of many, the relation between humanity and blackness is an
antagonism, is irreconcilable.
Anti-blackness describes the inability to recognize black humanity. It
captures the reality that the kind of violence that saturates black life is
not based on any specific thing a black person — better described as “a
person who has been racialized black” — did. The violence we experience
isn’t tied to any particular transgression. It’s gratuitous and unrelenting.
[image: A memorial site in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed by
Credit...Stephen Maturen/Getty Images
Anti-blackness covers the fact that society’s hatred of blackness, and also
its gratuitous violence against black people, is complicated by its need
for our existence. For example, for white people — again, better described
as those who have been racialized white — the abject inhumanity of the
black reinforces their whiteness, their humanness, their power, and their
privilege, whether they’re aware of it or not. Black people are at once
despised and also a useful counterpoint for others to measure their
humanness against. In other words, while one may experience numerous
compounding disadvantages, at least they’re not black.
So when we’re trying to understand how a white police officer could calmly
and casually channel the weight of his entire body through his knee on a
black man’s neck — a man who begged for his life for over eight full
minutes until he had no air left with which to plead — we have to
understand that there has never been a moment in this country’s history
where this kind of treatment has not been the reality for black people.
>From whips to guns, the slave patrols of the 18th century are the ancestors
of modern day police departments
Mr. Floyd’s killer just happened to make the news, happened to have video
footage documenting his desperate screams to his deceased mother for help
from the other side. Mr. Floyd’s brutal killing is not an exception, but
rather, it is the rule in a nation that literally made black people into
Black people were rendered as property, built this country, spilled literal
blood, sweat and tears into the soil from which we eat, the water we drink,
and the air we breathe. The *thingification *of black people is a
fundamental component of the identity of this nation.
Reckoning with this reality is significantly more difficult than wrestling
with prejudice, racism, and even institutional or structural racism. And it
does more than any of these concepts do to help us make sense of over 400
years of black suffering — of our unremitting interminable pain, rage and
Mr. Floyd’s death is the story of our babies, of the numerous black
children who grow up literally or metaphorically under the steel heel of a
police boot. It is the story of our families, who since the Middle Passage,
have had to suffer the unimaginable.
But when they kill our children, our mothers and fathers, we are expected
to forgive, to be peaceful in the face of horrific violence. We are asked
to respect a law that cannot recognize our humanity — that cannot provide
redress. And when time and time again the law demonstrates it will never
protect us, that it will never hold those individuals and systems that harm
us accountable, we are expected to peddle a narrative that the system
works, that justice will prevail.
Mr. Floyd’s brother lamented, “I just don’t understand what more we’ve got
to go through in life, man.” People are in the streets today because years
ago we marched peacefully and belted Negro spirituals, hoping they would
recognize our humanity. We wore Afros like crowns remembering our beauty.
We put our fists in the air demonstrating our strength. We declared that
our lives matter in every gorgeous dimension, demanding they stop killing
us in the streets and in our homes with impunity. People are in the streets
today because despite all of the people who lost their lives — literally
and figuratively, in this fight for black life, the struggle continues.
So let’s stop saying racism killed George Floyd, or worse yet, that a
racist police officer killed George Floyd. George Floyd was killed because
anti-blackness is endemic to, and is central to how all of us make sense of
the social, economic, historical and cultural dimensions of human life.
kihana miraya ross is an assistant professor of African-American studies at
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