From the Editor

"White" Skin Privilege and "Black" Nationalism

By Charles Michael Byrd

(Photo by Lynn Goldsmith)

"I would liberate myself and ourselves from the entire machinery of verbal hypnotism....I am simply of the human race."

-- Jean Toomer, who believed that society's labeling narrowed everyone's physical, emotional, and mental development.

Okay, now, by a show of multicolored hands, how many of you have actually seen "white" skin? Not a one, huh? Alright, how many of you have actually seen "black" skin? Now, to those of you who raised your hands about halfway and then dropped them, I know what's on your minds. You're saying to yourself, "Yeah, I've seen some people in my life who were actually black!" No, you haven't, and that's why you decided to drop your hands. We've all seen some pretty dark characters, but not one of them was "black."

Not even my Virginia childhood chum Tommy Fuqua was truly "black," though we unmercifully ribbed him about being so "black" that he was "blue." We even nicknamed him Blue. In hindsight, that was a terrible sobriquet to impose on Tommy, as he was nowhere near "black" -- dark brown but certainly not "black." (Unfortunately, even those of us who were most acutely aware of the differences in skin color occasionally fell prey to the insanity of the "racial" color game. Conversely, there was not one "black" community then -- as there is not one now -- whose members did not participate in color-based put-downs or teasing, with the vast majority of it directed at "white looking" mixies.) "White" and "black" people don't exist. "Race" is an agreed-upon consideration that exists merely in our minds and is "real" only as long as we uphold the agreement.

I thought about all this while reading Julian Bond's essay, "Whites must recognize privileges they enjoy because of skin color" in the March 1998 SPLC REPORT, a publication of the Southern Poverty Law Center. (Yes, I've been a supporter for a number of years, thank you.) In the piece, the NAACP Chairman of the Board exhorts President Clinton's panel on race relations to "find a way to get Americans of European descent to acknowledge the privileges they enjoy because of their race." Mr. Bond continues, "Acknowledging and understanding white-skin privilege is the vital first step in any honest dialogue on race."

Don't get me wrong. I'm fond of the mulatto Julian Bond and remember following the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago with rapt attention as rebellious anti-war delegates floated his name as a possible Vice-Presidential nominee. He is dead wrong on this issue, however, and his comments illustrate the naked hypocrisy which far too many on the political left bring to the "race relations" table. My friends, if we're to recite the alphabet, let's begin with A instead of B. The vital first step in any honest dialogue on race is to acknowledge that "race" doesn't exist to begin with. Quite frankly, I've met few "whites" in my life who didn't understand, acknowledge and appreciate the benefits of membership in that particular "race." That's the point, though. Practitioners and dispensers of "white" racism and "white" skin privilege wrongly believe there exists a "white race," which some of them also believe to be inherently superior to the other so-called "races."

Consider the "white" store clerk who believes that either genetics or Divine Will has disposed "black" or "of color" customers to thievery much more so than "white" customers -- whom the clerk is not likely to follow around the store. How do you completely disabuse the clerk of that notion without first attempting to deconstruct the mythical concept of the "white race" -- a construct from which "white" racism and "white" skin privilege flow?

Additionally, should we browbeat one of the "white" customers into submission, forcing her to publicly drop to her knees and apologetically cry out, "I'm so sorry I was born white! I wish like hell that clerk had followed me around the store!" This individual may well view her "race" as an accident of birth, and a backlash is inevitable if she feels increasingly put upon to denounce or acknowledge "white" skin privilege. What will have been the long-term, permanent gain?

Similarly, the myth of a "black race" undergirds the twin iniquities of "black" racism and "black" nationalism. In his essay, Mr. Bond laments the metamorphosis of the 1960s civil rights struggle from one in which "whites" and "blacks" fought discrimination in unison to one which he calls a "black-led black movement in the 1990s." Has it never occurred to him that one reason for "white" flight from the civil rights movement was the pronounced shift toward afrocentric nationalism -- accurately viewed by many mixed-race folk as a euphemism for "black" racism -- by the "black" community in the late '60s, particularly after the assassinations of Malik El-Shabazz and Martin Luther King, Jr.?

In an interview with Salon Magazine promoting his book "Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives," Stanley Crouch comments:

Black nationalism didn't just derail the civil rights movement; it obliterated it in favor of a tribalism that was based on some kind of black unity and eventually some kind of Third World unity, functioning in opposition to the great devil of all times, the West.

The salacious embrace of an afrocentric weltanschauung by the NAACP itself (persisting even after the board of directors gave the militant Benjamin Chavis the boot) has not been lost on many of us within the progressive/libertarian wing of the mixed-race community. The spectacle of then Maryland Congressman Kweisi Mfume -- who unfortunately remains as the organization's president and chief executive officer for the time being -- effectively striding in lockstep with Louis Farrakhan at the Million Man March opened the eyes and mouths of a great many people. In his 02-28-98 New York Times article, "NAACP Post Gives Julian Bond New Start," Steven A. Holmes speaks to the issue of "black" separatism while profiling the organization's new chairman:

He is also a throwback to the group's unabashedly integrationist philosophy which, in recent years, has been diluted as the group's board and membership have become increasingly black and its rhetoric increasingly reflective of a black nationalist philosophy.
The hypocrisy I mentioned starts with the President and works its way down. Bill Clinton has proved that he is not man enough to look into the television cameras and tell his fellow Americans that "race" is a bogus concept. Why? The "civil rights" community would be on his butt like -- excuse the awful pun -- white on rice. Any such declaration by the President would immediately call into question the legitimacy of all race-based entitlement programs and all race-based remedies for past discrimination.

Such an announcement would also cause any thinking person to deduce -- if he or she has not done so already -- that "racial" equality is an impossibility. Now those of you groaning, gasping for air, cursing, gnashing your teeth, flailing your arms and clutching your chests in the time-honored tradition of Fred Sanford ("This is the big one, Lamont!"), stop and think for a minute. How can this government (its proclivity for concocting race-conscious remedies notwithstanding) make two nonexistent entities -- e.g., the "black race" and the "white race" -- equal? This also begs the question of how anyone could have ever made them unequal all those centuries ago. Unfortunately, the Europeans responsible for this mess are long dead and not available for our inquiry. We the living, however, ought to be intelligent enough to work our way out of this madness.

That so many minds agree sustains the "reality" of "race," yet our freedom as individuals depends upon our courage to alter our considerations of, among other things, "race." Only when Homo sapiens fully understand the counterfeit nature of "race" will we comprehend the foolishness of clinging to and advancing such insanities as "white" skin privilege and "black" nationalism.

Shattering the compact which supports the "reality" of "race" is not in the best interest of "black" and other "of color" leaders, however, who count on that construct being the foundation of their political power well into the next century. The recent Census 2000/multiracial category battle provided ample evidence of the depth of investment that these politicos have in identity politics -- the queer notion (a politically-correct version of the centuries-old European scheme) that membership in artificial "racial" and "ethnic" groups adequately defines humans. On the cusp of a new millennium, we astonishingly have a situation in America where the historical victims of the most vicious manifestations of "race" are the ones least eager to reverse the dwindling spiral of race-obsession that is dragging our nation down the tubes.

In conclusion, would a candid Presidential admission of the artificiality of "race" convert every member of the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations or Nation of Islam from "white" or "black" racist/supremacist/separatist to loving and caring member of the human family overnight? No (and surely the vast majority of "white" and "black" Americans do not devote themselves to such hatemongering), but at some point we need to plant the seed. Why not now?


Also Please Read...

No Biological Basis For Race, Scientists Say/Distinctions prove to be skin deep
from the San Francisco Chronicle
"The Social Construction of Race and Ethnicity in the United States"
Read more about this five-part book, which challenges conventional views of race and ethnicity, in the Interracial Voice Online Bookstore (in association with
Farrakhan: A Long History of Hate
by Joseph J. Levin Jr. of the Southern Poverty Law Center


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