Jun 17, 2017
Many of us are angry right now. I am enraged by one more example, another reminder, that Black lives don’t matter in this country. After hearing the verdict today I am numb. I cannot wrap my mind around a society that clears a cop from all criminal charges after shooting and killing a man, Philandro Castille, in front of a 4 year old child and his girlfriend…. while he still had his seatbelt on.
I have been sitting in my numbness thinking about the trauma of this on that little girl, his girlfriend, his family, his community, the school children he worked with.. And the Black community at large. I have been thinking about the ways that trauma are retriggered and how that applies to racial trauma. I have been thinking about the generations of transgenerational pain in the Black community and how epigenetics pass this down generation after generation in our DNA.
It seems like year after year we have been fighting for the larger society of Americans to listen to our stories of pain, trauma, and fears. We have been working overtime to prove the existence of racism and discrimination that continues to be normal in our experience and a part of the fabric of the very society we share with others. It is interesting in today’s times to see the country continue to be divided by race, and to watch a portion of Americans come to grips with how overt racism has become (again) in the age of Trump. It is interesting to watch people come to grips with the ongoing murder of Black people by the state, and work to cope with the increasing realization that the words of our Black friends and family were truthful and real all along. It is essential for people to understand that racism is alive and well, functioning in all facets of our society and interwoven in the fabric of our history and our present.
Critical Race Theory is very applicable to this and understanding the ways that American society continues to thrive on systems of racism embedded into its very operation. And when we are evaluating the impact of racism, and ways to disrupt that pattern, we have to start looking at racism itself from a very different lens. Racism isn’t just the white hooded figure with an ignorant view on life and an affinity for the word Nigger. Racism is a system, a construct, that permeates every corner of our society and has been used as a tool for targeted success in this nation.
On the UCLA School of Public Affairs site it states that “CRT recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture. This is the analytical lens that CRT uses in examining existing power structures.” Let’s say it again for the people in the back. “The individual racist need not exist…”
People live in a place of cognitive dissonance by convincing themselves that someone is a good person and “can’t be racist”, or that people of color just want to make everything about race. Arguments even ensure about how a cop, like the one that killed Philandro Castile, “isn’t white and so it couldn’t be racism”. Ignorance about the functionality of racism in power structures and institutions, coupled with cognitive dissonance, is the reason people can believe such things. It is comfortable to think that racism is a person, that it is “bad” people, and that others can be separated from it because they have Black friends.
There are tenants to Critical Race Theory, and while those tenants are often a source of disagreement among different theorists in the field, there are a some that are universally accepted. The widely accepted CRT tenets include the following: Racism is Endemic, Race is a social construct, the power of differential racialization, interest convergence and materialist determinism, advancing the voice of the marginalized and intersectionality of identities.
In Critical Race Theory in Social Work Education: A Framework for Addressing Racial Disparities, the first tenet discusses the very point of how we view the role racism plays in society. It isn’t isolated to an individual person or experience and is not abnormal in our society. It is the normal reality of the power dynamics within the society we have created in America.
“Racism is Endemic. First, CRT asserts that racism is not an abnormal experience, but an everyday occurrence for people of color. It is reproduced in our structures, customs, and experiences. Accordingly, race should be seen as a central rather than a marginal force that defines and explains human experiences (Solórzano & Bernai, 2001). Given this endemic nature, CRT suggests that the functions and effects of racism are often invisible to people with racial privileges.”
The reality of this statement strips away the lies modern society has been able to tell itself about what racism is, how they are exempt and the accountability each person holds in the continuation of this demoralizing and deadly epidemic. What we are seeing now is how this illusion of safety for the average American has been slipping away with every police murder of an unarmed Black person that is caught on a standard smartphone by a passing citizen.
While white America experiences the slow slipping away of the illusion of righteousness and exempt status, Black people are losing the illusion too.
Once again the Black community is faced with the reality that change isn’t really change, we still aren’t safe, and that we are rapidly slipping back to the 1970’s civil rights era. We are dealing with the harsh reminders that our bootstrap muscles are more defined than most and yet we are still target practice in these streets.
We are again and again faced with the reality that we are not in control of the narrative and our voices are too often left out of the historical accounts of our history. Coming to terms with our lack of social capital, in 2017, and the disenfranchised power-base we are holding onto, it leaves us to really think about what it means to navigate as a Black person in a modern racist society. It is comfortable for us too to believe that “We The People” now includes us…. Until it doesn’t.
Going back to the Critical Race Theory, how important is it for us to redefine our understanding of racism and the impact of the illusions of meritocracy, and good will on our psyche? How does this support or hinder positive change that promotes the survival and the ability to thrive for Black people?
For a moment, let’s dive a little deeper into the tenet about interest convergence and materialist determination. Too often the survival of our people relies in our ability to appeal to dominant culture. Critical race theory makes space for us to understand that this itself is part of the construct of a racist society and an institutional system of privilege benefiting the majority.
“A fourth tenet of CRT is that of interest convergence and materialist determinism. This suggests that racism confers psychic and material benefits to the majority race. Further, it posits that the interests of the oppressed are addressed only when they converge with the interests of the dominant group (i.e. Whites) (Bell, 1980). According to Stec (2007), “acts that directly help blacks must implicate white interests because white economic (and other) interests and black oppression are inextricably interwoven and depend on each other for their survival” (p. 2). This means that those in the dominant culture who enact social, political, and economic change on behalf of racial minorities would only support changes if their own self-interest is better served.”
This leaves us with a lot to contemplate while we grieve yet another injustice at the hands of the state. How do we navigate a system, without the power of the dominant culture, and isolated from a system of justice that is meant to protect us? How do we heal hundreds of years of transgenerational trauma when we are living the horror that continues to retrigger the very pain of our ancestors? What does it mean to be an ally when the very nature of the system we exist within disproportionately devalues the oppressed and empowers others? When will we begin to look at how transgenerational trauma has impacted white America’s epigenetics around empathy, power, worth in our distorted systems?
I think it is time for us to begin the work of diving deeper into the construction of our societal fabric than we have ever been in order to gain understanding that will prioritize change. How can we shift what we do not understand…..
And in the meantime, I will continue to grieve for my people and the reality we are living in. I will continue to contemplate the meaning of freedom in the middle of the warzone. And I will continue to fight for the survival of myself, my family, my community and a collective consciousness that moves us back into future. In the meantime I will fight for love.
More to come…..