In some cases it is easy to discern that someone has said or done something racist by the cross burning on your front lawn or the rabid shout of die nigger die. No one could doubt that the aforementioned actions and or statements are indeed racist. Racism today is often not as clearly expressed, because those that once wore their white sheets proudly in public, are now ensconced in suits and ties, feigning respectability. This has caused a debate to ensue as to what legitimately constitutes racism.
Some, like Jimi Izrael of the Root, believe that they have the right to proclaim that their opinion is definitive. This kind of assertion leads to confusion when liberal/and or anti-racist Whites attempt to negotiate their undeserved privilege. Who are they to believe, when one person declares racism and another vehemently denies that race is a factor? A truly aware White person knows that they do not have the experience to make the judgement call and they further recognize, that there will always be a conflict of interest.
People like Jesse Lee Peterson have made a career out of denouncing any and all assertions of racism on the part of many in the Black community. They are used by the right wing media to forward an agenda which entails maintaining White hegemony and denying the civil rights of people of color. We further have uncle Thomas, sitting on the supreme court who takes his marching orders from Scalia. Simply because someone is of color, does not necessarily mean that they are acting in the best interests of people of color. If you have any doubt, just ask Bill Cosby about pound cake. Sure he can speak out now, but where was he during the civil rights movement, when little Black children were standing up against police dogs and water hoses?
He was busy announcing to the world that he was simply human. He knew that his career as a comedian might be effected if he dared to involve himself in something as contentious as race. Today I have little respect for Cosby. His analysis ignores systemic racism as well as class.
Who does have the authority to speak on behalf of the Black community? Farrakhan is understood to be racist to many Whites and yet he has been known to say some profound things. Sharpton has a quick wit and dares to speak truth to power, yet many view him as little more than an ambulance chaser. Though Jessie Jackson has done great work; his clearly jealousy invoked commentary about Obama, has lead many to turn their back on him. We further know that the voices of Black women are often silenced and ignored in favour of pushing male headship. Is it even possible to have a Black female leader, when we are constructed as either licentious whores, or nagging ball busting freaks by the very men that are supposed to be supporting us?
What we often forget is the diversity within the Black community. Though we are share a common denominator in terms of race, hueism, class, gender, age, disability and sexuality divide us. Is it even possible to use the term community to signify such a large group of people? A same gender loving man of class privilege, is going to have different needs than that of an elderly Black woman living on a small pension. We know these differences exist and yet when speaking about Blackness, the issue of racism is often attacked from a one size fits all position.
Racism is about more than how it effects a group of people, it is also about how a particular incident is understood by a single individual. If one feels oppressed or “othered,” then an act of racism has occurred. Who is Jimi Izrael or Jesse Lee Peterson to deny the reality of the feelings of another? It is possible for one to say that as an individual, I did not feel that this was a racialized attack, however; to speak on behalf of a community as diverse as that of the Black community, takes a certain from of hubris and arrogance.
Black people do not enjoy calling out racism. Each time we do so it hurts because it is a reminder of the fact that we have yet to achieve equality. Just as it costs us to endure the stigma of being understood as less than; speaking truth to power often results in wounds that are not visible but deeply felt. It takes courage to stand and be counted and yet such bravery often results in derision. If I, or anyone else says that they feel an incident is racist, it should be believed because of the cost of such assertion. No voice be they Black or White, has the right to tell another that their feelings are somehow illegitimate.