Black Solidarity

05 February 2012

February is Black History Month.  So we thought it might be a good time to do an episode on Black Solidarity.  Now I admit that this topic may seem to be a bit, shall we say, 20th century.   When this country still suffered from rampant racism, it made perfect sense for black people to band together on the basis of their shared history and experience to fight it.  But now,  in the 21st century?  in the age of Obama?  Why should we bother with matters racial anymore?

If you have such a reaction, you may hold the view – a view which I don’t really share – that that racism is more or less a thing of the past.  Maybe you think that Obama really has helped to usher us into a post-racial age!   Like I said,  I don’t believe that myself.  But I do think it is true that race doesn’t matter in the way it used to in this country.  In the bad old days, racism confronted and thwarted black people at every turn.  Thankfully, we don’t live in that country anymore.

To say this is not, of course,  to deny that there are still lots of things that impact the lives of black people disproportionately and negatively – - our lousy schools, the flight of jobs from the urban core, an out of control prison system.  Those are 21st century racial ills that give black people plenty of reasons to band together, to band together as black people, in solidarity with one another.

But before we get too far down the track of defending the enduring relevance of black solidarity,  we should say something about the very idea of “blackness.” What is this thing that solidarity demands that black people unite around?  Now that turns out to be a complicated thing. Black people are a pretty diverse lot.  In fact, there’s no one thing that black people all share that makes us all black people – not skin color, not genetic make up, not cultural heritage, not political outlook.  “Black” is what Wittgenstein calls a family resemblance term -- like the term ‘game’.  Just as games come in all shapes and sizes, with no common essence, so do we black people.

If you’re one of those that think black solidarity is passé and no longer called for,  you could see what a just said as fuel for your own argumentative fire.  That’s because give what I said it seems perfectly possible that two arbitrary black people may have less in common with each other than either has with some random non-black person.  Take two upper-middle-class professionals -- one black, one white -- who went to the same elite school and live in the same bucolic suburb.  They're likely to have more in common with each other, than either has in common with an undereducated, underemployed, poor person -- black or white.    And now you might ask,  what exactly is black solidarity, solidarity to?  And the worry is that there is really no there, there. 

I think it’s pretty hard to deny the point just made about what we might call the thin nature of blackness – that there is really nothing very substantive that all black people share in virtue of which they one and all count as black.    But that race is thin gruel, doesn’t mean that race doesn’t matter.  However thin the gruel of race, it still substantially affects your chance of ending up at that elite school we referred to above in the first place.  So though race is thin gruel and is not the monomaniacal be all and end all of our social and political lives anymore, it still matters. And because race still matters, racial solidarity is still important and valid.

But let’s see where this thought really leads for a bit. Suppose that our  two upper-middle-class professionals each wants to help ameliorate the plight of the poor.  Would it be alright for each of them to have a special concern for the members of their own race, rather than for the poor in general?

My own gut instinct is to say that it’s perfectly fine for the privileged black guy to have a special concern for disadvantaged black people out of a sense of black solidarity.  Actually, I have to admit that I’d actually be bothered if he didn’t feel a sense of racial solidarity.  As for the white guy and his racial solidarity  for his poor white brethren,  I have to admit that I find the very idea of white solidarity quite disturbing.

So what’s the difference?  First it seems to me that the well-to-do black guy’s solidarity with his disadvantaged brethren is a morally legitimate response to race-based oppression.  By contrast, the privileged white guy’s solidarity with his less well-off brethren feels like an attempt to sort of propagate white privilege downward. 

Of course, the distinction I’ve just made seems to presume that a disadvantaged white person is less disadvantaged than a disadvantaged black person.  And in one way that seems right.  That’s because whatever other economic or social disadvantage the white person may have, he’s at least not racially disadvantaged.

Now I suppose that one could say that it’s quite a stretch to say that some sort of racial privilege is associated with being poor, white and undereducated in America in the 21st century.  That might have been true in the bad old Jim Crow days of “colored” restrooms in gas stations and the like.  In those days, racism offered every white person a chance to feel racially superior to every black person,  no matter how educated or well off the black person was in comparison with the white person.   But those days seem to be gone.  And they seem to be gone at least partly because the global economy is grinding down our working class, black and white, without regard to racial differences.   When it comes to that, we’re all in that struggle together.  At any rate, no left-over sense of racial privilege is likely to provide the  battered white working class very much comfort in the face of the stiff downdraft of globalism. 

Perhaps if you start thinking this way,  racial solidarity – in particular, black solidarity -- can seem a far less urgent thing than it once was.  Why shouldn’t we care more about achieving economic equality and justice for all, without regard to race?  Why don’t we just leave racial solidarity aside as an irrelevant relic of a by gone racialized past.

I wish it were that easy.  I really do.  But I don’t think it is.  This is not to deny the importance, even the overriding importance, of the ideal of economic equality and justice for all.  I definitely feel a deep sense of national solidarity with my fellow Americans who have been sucked into the downdraft of globalism.   But why can’t  I have it both ways.  Why can’t, for example, national solidarity with my fellow countrymen exist along side black solidarity?  Racial solidarity surely isn’t the only form of solidarity worth caring about.  But it is one form of solidarity worth caring about.

Of course, this makes things immensely more complicated, doesn’t it?   What happens when different forms of solidarity pull you in different directions? Which form of solidarity is more important and why?   These are hard and important questions.  And I hope we can make some progress toward answering them during the episode.  Give a listen and see if we do!

Comments (14)


Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, February 5, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

Uniting by color divides by

Uniting by color divides by color.
Where as uniting everything divides nothing.
God is not black or white.
One is simply everything,
Truth is most beautifully and equitably All.
=

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, February 5, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

I suppose I am just tired of

I suppose I am just tired of it all. Equal rights. Equal opportunity. Equal treatment under law. None of this has truly transpired, racial issues notwithstanding. Minimally or poorly qualified blacks, whites, Asians and all other categories still get jobs, while better-suited individuals are turned away, in the guise of ensuring equality. Thing is, when we take these proactive (or affirmative) steps, we automatically assure some level of mediocrity, and thereby assure that equality for some will cancel out equality for others. We would rather give a hand up than a hand out, sure. Some say it has worked. Some say it hasn't. And this division creates another set of issues, which is where we are---in case no one has noticed-or wishes to admit that. Further affiant sayeth not...
Oh, there is another related matter I hope your blog may tackle. Job qualifications vs. unassociated education credentials, i.e. why is it that someone with a Doctorate degree in Art or Drama can out-point an individual who has years of experience in a non-related area of expertise, but lacks the phD? I suspect there are many who have experienced this enigma (it is rampant in state government) and would like to know why it seems to be SOP. (If I did not state this clearly, perhaps it is because I lack the phD---chuckle, chuckle...)

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, February 6, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

In a story similar to Henry

In a story similar to Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s arrest, I am the partner of an African-American high-level professional who was falsely arrested while going about everyday business (banking). Betrayed by the criminal justice system in which she has worked for 25 years, this devastating incident (now in federal appellate court) certainly affects her first and foremost - but I think those who intimately love also have "skin in the game" (I thought she was dead in a car accident when she was just disappeared for half a day for no reason other than her skin color). Our (adopted) African-American son also suffers the change in his mother - who since 18 months will register the pain even if he can't yet understand what happened, or if we had any, so would our white children. I don't think the despair in our society is reserved only for those who are directly affected. I can't think what we have if not solidarity against random acts of misplaced authority based on racial discrimination. I, as a white person, have suffered by anti-black racism my whole life (growing up in El Segundo - famous for refusing to sell a house to Red Foxx). An racist, all white town is a disgusting place to grow up. Moving to "liberal' San Francisco or Cambridge or reaching the heights of one's career does not remove one from the pain of the unchecked anti-Black racism whether you're white or black.

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, February 6, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

It is true that if you have

It is true that if you have not lived it, or seen it up close and personal, you cannot credibly write about it. Looks like Kathleen has lived it, on more than a racial level---she admits being white. She also implies she and her partner are homosexual...unless I have read her comment incorrectly. My sympathies are divided between Armchair Ph and the Kathleens in this world. And somewhere else in between, whereever that may be. But we have gone astray from your original post, haven't we? And, that may have been unavoidable, because there are many more issues today, beyond the matter of racial solidarity. The problems facing modern societies are mind-boggling. Much of the time, we have little time, energy and where-with-all to take it all in, much less concoct strategies that might resolve any of it.
A few years ago, I considered, with amusement, a number of the mission statements of charitable trusts and benevolent foundations---there are so many of them. I questioned several of these, via email inquiries, Bill and Melinda Gates changed theirs, as did the Melville Charitable Trust. I doubt that my inquiries, alone, had much of an effect. Still, it was, uh---affirming?, that the seeming self-serving and inane mission-aries might be transformed when someone like little me raised a question. Historionic effect is alive and flourishing, regardless of what anyone chooses to call it. I predict it will finally be distilled and rationally addressed-by someone with accepted credentials-before 2050. I'll be way dead by then. I'm already 64---so, there THAT is.
The Camel has now yawned, and is going to bed.

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, February 6, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

So---why isn't there a white

So---why isn't there a white history month? Or a Hispanic history month? Asian history? American Indian history? Irish history?---you get this, right? Or maybe not. Sorry. This stuff gets tedious---quickly.

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, February 6, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

All thinking involves making

All thinking involves making distinctions and discriminations. The difference between the two is important (though many dictionaries treat them as synonyms). Making a distinction involves drawing a boundary that sets something apart from everything else; making a discrimination involves giving value to a distinction. The problem with racial discrimination is not in making a distinction and a discrimination but, as the term is usually applied, in doing so improperly through ignorance or malice. Thus, racial or ethnic solidarity is not improper if not carried to extremes whereas oppression on the same basis is wrong.

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, February 7, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

Why should we bother with

Why should we bother with racial matters anymore????? Well, why should we bother with matters of sexual preference/orientation anymore? Or matters of what someone has characterized as "cultural intractability"? Sadly, (or not), we must BOTHER with many things that ought to have been resolved before I was born. A couple of the German philosophers struggled with something human called WILL. Their struggles, opinions; experiences and observations went unheeded---it seems. But---there is always something more pressing; something more crucial, than the something pressing/crucial that we dealt with fifteen minutes ago.
The human will is an interesting enigma: it waxes and wanes with fad and fashion. And if you do not follow my story here---wait a bit. It took me four and one-half decades TO BEGIN to get it. I have just recently discerned why it is that people distrust or violently disagree with modern philosophers: they do not want to admit the truths that are being revealed. Why? Well, as Al Gore said, truth is sometimes, uh, inconvenient. Ain't that a bitch? AMG (Ach, Mein Gott) Ha, ha, hah. (yawn)
We have an incredibly short attention span for such intellectually advanced animals. Yeah. Pretty much.

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

If you want to be a lover,

If you want to be a lover, you've got to be a fighter!
A bully, or anyone so inclined to take advantage of another, will most likely consider cooperation only after you have them on the ground with their arm behind their back.
On the societal level this means laws to protect people. On the personal level it means both 'solidarity' of people of good will, and public displays of courage by strong charactered individuals, to keep the many 'weak charactered' people from being swept up in momentum created by dominant people of ill will.
Of the two aspects of racism that get the most attention i.e., superficiality, and ill-will, ill will is the perennial challenge that always threatens the vulnerable whenever there is an opportunity. And this is the key.
I have not read the guests book, but I suspect the problem he is trying to address is the knowledge that no matter how much progress we make, there are still lots of people, in any majority, who would take advantage of a minority if they could get away with it. [The tables could be turned racially and it would be the same problem.] A few 'bullies' and a vast pool of weak charactered people - in any majority - always pose a threat. You need allies. The natural allies are other members of the minority, hence 'black solidarity'. BUT, it is the people of good will in the majority that can often be most effective at taking on the bullies in their group and influencing the many people that can be swayed by them.
The problem of bullies and weak character can not be solved once and for all. People of good will,...., will always have work to do.

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, February 10, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

Confirming Ken's claim that

Confirming Ken's claim that President Obama really has not helped to usher us into a post-racial age, Kevin Alexander Gray, civil rights activist, in an interview I watched this morning, while drinking coffee, and smoking, addressed the GOP?s use of racial-politics, in this years election. It is obvious the Far-Right is on the rise...so these racial-politics are working...very alarming! Both Newt and Santorum made blunt racist metaphors, and John King never called them out on this. For example, Jimmy Crater said on CNN: ?Now, Gingrich, in the South Carolina debate?I watched part of it, watched the first half of it. I think he has that subtlety of racism that I know quite well and that?He knows, as well, the words that you use, like "welfare mamas" and so forth, that have been appealing in the past in those days when we cherished segregation of the races.? CNN is then compliant in racist speech! CNN is airing bigotry out in the open and no one even cares...except me...I was the only one pointing these facts out on twitter while watching the debate! Governor of Texas Rick Perry said before he existed the election, "It?s important that we construct a campaign in which we have a sharp, bright contrast to Barack Obama." And then he went on to say, "We don?t need a lighter version of Obama?"
Also, an out of control prison system whose racism is evident in the following. Black people have plenty of reasons to band together in solidarity with one another, with the 99%. For a recent an analysis about the mass incarceration of African-Americans. Today there are more African-Americans under correctional control ? whether in prison or jail, on probation or on parole ? than there were enslaved in 1850. There are more African Americans, percentage-wise, imprisoned in the United States, than there were at the height of apartheid South Africa.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, February 10, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

'Round and 'round we go--

'Round and 'round we go---where we stop, nobody knows. After reading all the comments attending this post, I am confused by statements and re-statements of obvious facts. Now, I do not expect anyone to give away any secrets that might somehow sell a book---if I had any, I would not do so. Still, statements of fact and statistical proofs(?) are not helpful: "There are more African Americans, percentage-wise...";...so what? During apartheid, blacks were simply exterminated....Ernie's point, if well-intended, is lost. If I should ever be able to write that book, I'll be sure to include this notion in some form or another: We have managed to get ourselves where we are because we planned to do so, ergo, we have no one to blame if we do not like the outcome.
(Is this Historionic Effect? Looks like it...)

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, February 10, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

Harold G.;

Harold G.;
I agree, I think, that we tend to chase our tails - round and round - when trying to deal with the perennial aspects of abuse done to others, with race as an associated element. Would you critique my comment specifically? Thanks.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Saturday, February 11, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

Dear David W.

Dear David W.
I don't see much to critique, inasmuch as I agree substantially with your assessments. Racism returns to something I have heard called cultural intractibility, and applies to all manner of human differences, whether based on skin color; religious diversity or any of a half dozen of so other divisive factors that irk, annoy or violently separate one group from another. Christopher Hitchens drew vitriol from the God-fearing crowd when he wrote GOD IS NOT GREAT..., but he was just calling it the way he saw it. Doomed if you do; doomed if you don't. I considered your comments rational and clearly-reasoned---as I have tried to frame my own. Doomed if we do; doomed if we don't, hmmmmmm?
Warmest,
HGN

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, February 14, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

Folks like Wittgenstein are

Folks like Wittgenstein are irrelevant in the dialogue regarding race. Neuman (or some other crackpot) said something about living a truth before one might know it. Yes, I think that is, itself, true. The thing that annoys me is the ongoing pot-boiling, stew-stirring that goes on regarding certain hot buttons of civilized man. A few of those, itemized are as follow:
Race; racism; racial injustice; racial inequality etc: Those Black folks who have wanted to do well and be successful in American society, have somehow succeeded; against seeming insurmountable odds. Many of them, some highly-placed, railed against the concept and application of affirmative action. That policy, though now effectively dead, helped deserving Blacks, as well as some who were not so much. I have opined on this before, so, there need not be further opinion from me. But, just for perspective, think: Clarence Thomas.
Aside: I lost seven years of my own future because of a war I in which I refused to participate. Never got those years back. There are thousands like me...others were better prepared---or luckier.
Abortion; the Catholic Church; Right-to-Life; Planned Parenthood: Why can't we simply make our own decisions about our lives, without seeking APPROVAL from someone, some body, or some other nebulous force, er, farce, er force? Can it be that adults are so naive, so as to believe they have no control over their own lives, or is it true that they have given up their autonomy to institutions they themselves have sanctioned? Chasing our tails appears to be a perverse (masochistic?) trait----brought on by? (historionic effect?)---hmmmmmm.
Homosexuality and other matters of gender confusion: This conundrum is nearly as pervasive as the former, stated above. Conservative busy-bodies are so certain that abomination will destroy the human (genetic) drive towards procreation, they just can't stand themselves. That, plus the fact that the very existence of deviance plays into the political arena so well. Come on now. Can all of this be so threatening? No. It is not. It is merely fodder for politics and theological hand-wringing, wailing and teeth-gnashing.
Grow up, Americans. Bigots, Abortionists and Homosexuals will not bring America crashing down. There are far worse things going on. But, did you really need little me to tell you that? You did? Oh, my---we ARE lost.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, February 18, 2012 -- 4:00 PM

Small comment: If you have

Small comment: If you have not, read Stephen J. Gould's little book: Rocks of Ages, science and religion in the fullness of life, LOCT, 1999. It says a lot about us and the war between science and religion, in very few words.
NOMA makes a lot of sense. Well, to me anyway.

 
 
 

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