White Supremacy and Black History Month

My colleague-friends and I have been chatting about white supremacy lately. I think a change is coming, because it’s surely the buzz-words in a lot of my academic circles. I even used it in the title of a paper I just published in the new journal The Sociology of Race and EthnicityThe article is called Social Agency and White Supremacy in Immigration Studies”and argues that immigration scholars who keep focusing on assimilation are basically shoring up white supremacy because they focus their energies on those who haven’t “made it” instead of the system that evidence shows is constructed to give benefits to some and demerits and punishments to others. White supremacy is used to shore up the enormous riches of the 1%, passing on lots to the 5%, and larger shares of less and less to the other percents. Perhaps this is why, as a professor friend just told me this morning, “Celebrate? I don’t feel like celebrating Black History Month. I don’t feel like celebrating at all.” I’m sure that’s her service hat weighing heavily on her head. As the sole black woman professor in many of her professional circles, she feels that she’s carrying the weight of the Black History Month planning on her campus all on her own shoulders.

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Anyway, February *is* Black History Month. And I’m feeling the “grrr” too. I think there’s something gnawing at me about the name of the thing. First of all, “black” is totally a social construction and I’m not down with embracing a social construction that confines me. For one, “black” folks are all kinds of brown. For two, no one can definitively say who we are. “Science” has helped us get medically experimented upon, or massively incarcerated, but never with defining us well, so screw that. I can go on and on. (Instead of that, should I just plug my book? Yeah. I explain all that social constructionist stuff in The Ethnic Projectwhich, by the way, just got a great review in the American Journal of Sociology. Gawd, I’m so happy that someone GOT what I was trying to do! And that he liked it is even better! That makes all those lonely years in front of a computer feel worthwhile.) Just so you know why this paragraph looks like it does, I never capitalize the word “black” unless it’s in a title, like Black History Month, or at the beginning of a sentence. (like here ->) Black is an adjective, like tall, or smart, or cranky, and requires the word PERSON or some other noun denoting a HUMAN BEING to go after it. You can’t just write “Blacks are angry” ’cause those “blacks” you’re writing about are PEOPLE. (Ergo, you can write “black people are angry”.) Words denoting people to be capitalized are proper nouns that actually are essential to a person’s character, like their NAME, and black is the label other people put on me, not who *I AM*. Second, why are we celebrating history? Don’t we have a future to think about? And a present to struggle around? Plus, my kind of “celebrations” have a slammin’ DJ and gin and a hot food table (no finger sandwiches please), not so many panel discussions in conference rooms or lecture halls.

I’m digressing big time. I should blog more so I can vent all this stuff out.

The point of this post was to point you to an article that just came out in The Guardian about white supremacy and black history month. Stephen W. Thrasher’s article Black HIstory Month Doesn’t Name White Supremacy and Unwittingly Facilitates It, touches on the core of what’s been bugging me, and perhaps a few of my scholar-friends, too. Thrasher’s take on the month’s celebration of black success is like my critique of assimilation theory – he argues that is a route to perpetuating myths about people saving themselves by grabbing their bootstraps and pulling hard (assuming, of course, they have boots, and that the straps haven’t broken off from all that pulling). Thrasher says that instead, “We need a Dismantling White Supremacy Month,” and to this I can wholeheartedly agree. Plus, all progressive folks, and not just the one’s with a bit more hue to their skin, can certainly get onto that bandwagon. He writes:

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What would Dismantling White Supremacy Month look like? There would be no celebrations; instead, we would refuse to visit states like Arizona because of their ethnic studies boycott, and organize divestment from the the private prison industry. McDonald’s wouldn’t have a “Dismantle White Supremacy Month” placemat tie-in (as it does with Black History Month), because McDonalds profits from exploitation and white supremacy. Each DWSM, we would demand the end of military gear flowing to local police departments, where it can be used to violently perpetuate white supremacy. If we’d sing, it wouldn’t be “we shall overcome”, but “the whole damn system is guilty as hell.”

LOL, he also takes a jab at the US, ’cause we black folk (note the use of the adjective+noun there) get the shortest month in the calendar, where in the UK at least they use October, which has 31 days. 🙂


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