Why We Shouldn't Measure Our Success in Terms of Our Relative Proximity to White People
Let’s talk Respectability Politics. At its core, it is a system of belief based upon the premise that teaching black people to meet white cultural standards is the primary way to improve black life.
White supremacy is a culture. And culture is a way of life. It is passed on from generation to generation; It is embedded in institutions; It plays out in both large group and individual interpersonal behaviors.
White supremacy as a culture is particularly dangerous because of the ways in which culture functions within society. It provides a blueprint upon which institutions develop and grow. It is used to justify and legitimize the ways in which problematic value systems are perpetuated and passed down throughout time.
Because white supremacy culture is so deeply entrenched in the fabric of this nation, it has—unfortunately—become internalized by many people of color across generations.
Why is there more perceived value in being the first black family to integrate an all-white suburb? The only black c-suite executive at an all-white corporation? One of the only black students at a particular school or university?
HERE IS WHY THIS THINKING IS WRONG:
There is power in black culture. The near constant appropriation of black culture by white people at nearly every level is proof of this power. Whether it’s music, style of dress, hair-styling, physical mannerisms, or cadence of speech—everything about blackness is admired. Except for actually BEING BLACK, that is. Such utter hypocrisy is the practice of claiming superiority while simultaneously mimicking every facet of the “supposedly inferior” group.
There is power in black solidarity. Think back to the Black Power movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. It represented a myriad of ideals, chief among them the notions of racial pride and self-reliance, economic and political independence, and freedom from white authority. There was also an increased focus on the value of investing in and improving black communities, as opposed to abandoning them to integrate white spaces. Extensive study and celebration of African history and culture were also important components of the Black Power ideological system.
There is power in the black dollar. In 2015, African-Americans had approximately $1.1 trillion in spending power. (This number is projected to increase to $1.3 trillion by 2017.) Measured monthly, every black dollar earned only circulates in the black community for a total of 6 hours. While our spending power is substantial, only 2 cents of every black dollar spent in this country goes to black-owned businesses. Still, don’t confuse the term “spending power” with overall economic standing. Just as wealth is inherited, so is poverty. The generational passing-down of poverty prevalent within a significant majority of black families—coupled with institutionalized racism and government-sanctioned genocide—make it very difficult, if not seemingly impossible for some, to break the cycle of economic despair. The good news: Through intentional, structured black consumerism and support of black entrepreneurship, we have the power to create a culture of investment in our own communities. By recycling the black dollar within black communities, we set the foundation to be able to cut our financial reliance on a majority population that has, throughout history, served as a source of unrelenting oppression.
“Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate… It is that we are powerful beyond measure…”
Creating self-sustaining black communities is not wishful thinking. It is a reality that we absolutely have the power to bring to fruition.