internalized racism intersectionality
Don Lemon and the Middle Class Embrace of Pathological Blackness7/30/2013
Truthfully, most of us are not revolutionaries in thought or action. This holds especially true for those of us in the Black middle class. W...
Truthfully, most of us are not revolutionaries in thought or action. This holds especially true for those of us in the Black middle class. We spend our days fighting to maintain or better our circumstance and choose to take advantage of unearned privilege and capitalize on our bouts of luck. And when challenged by the unpleasant truth about the rigged system that props us up, we point to our own exceptionalism rather than our fortuity. Philosopher Thomas Hobbes contends self-preservation is among the most natural instincts, so this cycle of behavior is unsurprising.
No longer do I expect someone who experiences one sort of oppression to stretch themselves to recognize the full consequences of another, but it is particularly perplexing to see a member of a marginalized group blame the community of which they are a part for their own conditions.
Over the weekend, CNN anchor, and sometimes journalist, Don Lemon put not only his discomfort with his blackness but his disdain for well-researched opinions on display during a rant in which he offers Black Americans five things to think about including unwed motherhood, low educational attainment. sagging pants, use of the "n word" and litter. The segment could have been compelling if Lemon would have chosen to delve beyond a superficial consideration of the chosen topics. Instead he embodied the destructive mentality of the Black bourgeoisie.
The theory that black people view education negatively or associate it with "acting white" and this causes blacks not to try hard in school has been disproved. In the face of this evidence, those with class and educational privilege refuse to let it die because it makes them feel vindicated.
Particularly frustrating is the practice of quoting dire statistics about the black family without providing the appropriate historical and contemporary context. The self-appointedTalented Tenth and faux-concerned whites like Bill O'Reilly spew the figures in a black pathology echo chamber to argue that African Americans are too dumb or gullible to make the most beneficial decisions for their lives.
Black people are not moral deviants. We do not blindly follow media images. Marriage patterns are tied closely to education and income. If Lemon and his cohort dared to look closely at the figures, they'd find poverty is the cause not the consequence. Respectable Black Saviors speak of the prevalence of violence and unwed mothers but never care to learn the stories behind the statistics. Instead of lashing out at white supremacy, the root of structural inequality, they incessantly reference malignant blackness because, frankly, it's easier and they'll always have an audience. .
When he came out in 2011, Lemon bemoaned the hurtful homophobia he experienced within the black community as a gay man, yet he contributes to the criminalization and marginalization of black men and women by making use of unimaginative stereotypes. He would never have the audacity to comment that gays and lesbians should simply alter their behavior and appearance in order to avoid harassment and oppression. That would roundly be called homophobia, but Lemon cannot see how his public display of internalized racism contributes to his own oppression as a Black man. Because as much as he tries to set himself apart as a "good" one, racists will view him no differently than than the men who wear their pants low.
But these are not the men I fear. Black men in sagging pants pose no exceptional threat to themselves or their communities. Black men in sagging pants were not responsible for the financial collapse that sunk the economic destinies of millions of Americans and plunged others further into poverty; nor did they fire 1500 teachers in the beleaguered city of Chicago. Yet white men in suits are paragons and black boys in sagging pants are suspects. But who should we be afraid of?
Lemon's comments do nothing to dismantle the class and race caste system. He merely bolsters the set of standards that requires Blacks to consistently paddle twice as hard to travel half the distance. The normalization of the exceptional negro/negress paradigm further strips Blacks of our humanity. Humans make mistakes. We stumble. We lose our way. When African-Americans show their humanity, we're penalized doubly. That is the reality, and it should be acknowledged.
"Work hard and stay out of trouble" should not be where the story ends. Too often the expectation of perfection is invoked without acknowledgement of the need for structural change. Many Black folks have resigned themselves to the fact that we will never receive equal protection under the law, and some elites feel comfortable with that conclusion because they've achieved a modicum of success.
Pinpointing the cultural deficiency of impoverished Black people doesn't result in societal change, but it will get you ratings and retweets. Don Lemon got exactly what he aimed for, but his remarks did Black America nor his profession any good. He merely demonstrated that he cares more about keeping up appearances than improving the outcomes and life chances of those he speaks of.
Lemon's approach employs a gross oversimplification of the history of Blacks in America. 150 after the end of slavery black people still have not been able to behave our way into full citizenship. Against all odds, Black people in the United States carved out our notches in the tree of American life. Those who readily disparage "Black culture" would benefit from remembering that we were never meant to survive. Perhaps Lemon will think of that the next time he puts his self-loathing on display and calls it journalism.
Kimberly Foster is the founder and editor of For Harriet. Email or Follow @KimberlyNFoster