May 15 2012

Asian Activist Scot Nakagawa: “White Supremacy Has a Special Relationship with Blacks”

If you have ever attended a cultural sensitivity training or participated in a forum or workshop exploring issues of race and racism, you have probably noticed that when the dialogue moves to a specific focus on white/black relations (and the ferocity with which institutionalized racism impacts black people and communities) someone in the room will object.

The objection is often couched in terms that sound inclusive, like “What about Native Americans? They’ve suffered too.” or “That’s not really different from how gays are discriminated against.”

It can be an exasperating moment for those in the room who realize that any authentic effort to focus a lens on the concept of “white supremacy” will invariably lead to a discussion about white on black racism. Not because it is “more important,” than any other expression of racism, but because, as activist Scot Nakagawa so aptly puts it, “Blackness is the fulcrum.”

At his blog RaceFiles.com, Nakagawa states:

I’m often asked why I’ve focused so much more on anti-black racism than on Asians over the years. Some suggest I suffer from internalized racism.

That might well be true since who doesn’t suffer from internalized racism? I mean, even white people internalize racism. The difference is that white people’s internalized racism is against people of color, and it’s backed up by those who control societal institutions and capital.

But some folk have more on their minds. They say that focusing on black and white reinforces a false racial binary that marginalizes the experiences of non-black people of color. No argument here. But I also think that trying to mix things up by putting non-black people of color in the middle is a problem because there’s no “middle.”

So there’s most of my answer. I’m sure I do suffer from internalized racism, but I don’t think that racism is defined only in terms of black and white. I also don’t think white supremacy is a simple vertical hierarchy with whites on top, black people on the bottom, and the rest of us in the middle.

So why do I expend so much effort on lifting up the oppression of black people? Because anti-black racism is the fulcrum of white supremacy.

A fulcrum is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the support about which a lever turns” or, alternatively, “one that supplies capability for action.” In other words, if you want to move something, you need a pry bar and some leverage, and what gives you leverage is the fulcrum – that thing you use so the pry bar works like a see-saw…

…while there’s no bottom, there is something like a binary in that white people exist on one side of these dynamics – the side with force and intention. The way they mostly assert that force and intention is through the fulcrum of anti-black racism.

Please read the full text of his article, and know why I so appreciate Nakagawa’s take on this issue, not because this point was never brilliantly and succinctly addressed by others, including contemporary black writers like Dr. Joy DeGruy, Michael Eric Dyson and Michelle Alexander, but because whenever this sentiment is expressed in any public way by a black person it is mis-perceived as self-serving (read: whining).

When non-black anti-racist activists like Nakagawa, Edward James Olmos and Tim Wise speak about the unique impact of white supremacy on black people, and acknowledge that its eradication will herald the eradication of racism for all groups, a significant number of people will find the message more palatable.

Perhaps a significant number will also find their way into this struggle to internalize the concept of the oneness of humanity, become devoted to dismantling white supremacy and work to purge our institutions, homes and hearts of the insidious (often subtle) blight of racism. . .

. . .both the external and internalized versions.


May 17 2011

Did I Tell You the One About the Mexican…

A few years ago I attended a Power of Oneness Awards ceremony where actor Edward James Olmos was honored for his work to bring about the unity of the human family. In his acceptance speech that night (to an ethnically diverse, majority Euro-American crowd) he referred to “our common African mother…”

He wasn’t joking.

Olmos acknowledged his own mother (who was in the audience) and he explained how it really hurt her the first time she heard him refer to his people as “originally African.” He is a proud Mexican man who is not “trying to be Black,”  but knows that Mexico is an amalgamation of peoples, histories and cultures whose origin, ultimately, is the same African woman who gave birth to all of humanity. 

He told the audience he believes that embracing the true history of the human race is the key to the healing and progress of the world. He went on to say that people all over the world have been influenced (by pernicious ideas of White supremacy and social and political remnants of colonialism) to detest or distance themselves from Africa, and he revealed that his own Mexican mother had been raised to deny any relationship whatsoever to the African continent. He said she has since changed her resistance to that ideal, and embraces what she now believes to be true — that for any human being to deny a kinship with Africa is to deny him/herself.

Last year, the United Nations hosted a panel to discuss the television series Battlestar Galactica and its effective and creative focus on themes humanity faces today (child soldiers, religious conflict, genocide, terrorism, etc.). The panel was moderated by Whoopi Goldberg and featured Battlestar Galactica cast members Edward James Olmos (Admiral William Adama) and Mary McDonnell (President Laura Roslin), as well as Executive Producers Ronald D. Moore (of Star Trek fame) and David Eick.

Olmos had this to say at the event:

You have to stick around for the last ten seconds of the video clip for the following to make sense:

SO SAY WE ALL!!