White Supremacy is so insidious that even if you’ve spent years working to eliminate anti-black beliefs from your subconscious, there will always be more hiding under the false pretense of reason and logic. Denny Upkins is here to keep us on our toes, make sure we check our biases at the door, and to direct us toward the beliefs we should actively be trying to incorporate into our understanding of the black experience, instead.
CN: Extensive discussion of anti-blackness, white supremacy, and specific instances of institutionally sanctioned racial oppression and violence; brief discussion of anti-LGBT sentiments and other intersecting forms of oppression .
It’s as grating as it is cliched: To be a descendant of the African Diaspora in a world afflicted by antiblackness means to constantly contend with an endless barrage of unsolicited and erroneous hot takes on the Black experience from nonblacks. No matter how many times I state facts, history, or just point out simple common sense, I’m informed that I’m not qualified to speak on my firsthand experiences.
Not surprising. After all, antiblackness is arguably the cornerstone of all systemic oppression. It is as widespread globally as it is malignant, which is why truth and those who champion it are deemed a threat.
When truth is spoken to power, minds are enlightened, atrocities are exposed, history is uncovered, monsters are slain, the oppressed are liberated and empowered, miracles transpire.
So with that in mind, let’s shift some paradigms. The following are eight truths of the Black Experience that should be self-evident. While usually that which is understood shouldn’t have to be explained, sometimes you just have to state the very obvious.
1) Reparations Are Long Overdue
Many great academics have eloquently explained why reparations are long overdue for African Americans. Even one of Robert E. Lee’s descendants has gone on record stating that reparations are needed to dismantle systemic racism.
There is precedent. After all, the United States has paid reparations to Native Americans, Japanese Americans who were placed in Internment Camps during World War II, Holocaust survivors, and others. Even slave owners received reparations. It was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., however, who made the best argument for reparations:
“Whenever this issue of compensatory or preferential treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree; but he should ask nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic. For it is obvious that if a man is entered at the starting line in a race 300 years after another man, the first would have to perform some impossible feat in order to catch up with his fellow runner.”
2) Life For African Americans WAS NOT Better During Segregation
There’s this popular argument that I hear from time to time that Blacks were better off under segregation and that integration was the worst thing to happen to the Black community.
The claim is that through segregation Blacks were able to become professionals, invest in our own communities, and truly thrive. This is one of the most insidious kinds of lies because it is rooted in half-truths. It is true that when left alone Blacks were able to thrive and flourish. The problem is, we were never left alone. The second that racist whites saw us thriving independently of them, they torched our schools, our homes, our businesses and murdered us en masse. Don’t take my word for it. Google Black Wall Street, Rosewood, and Red Summer.
3) Progress Has, Is, And Always Will Be A Team Effort
In a culture comprised of white supremacy, cis heterosexual Black men often have the most privilege within the Black community and unfortunately, in attempts to gain wealth, power, or higher class status, it’s often come at the expense of Black women and other marginalized members in our community.
As progress is made and misogynoir is slowly dismantled, more doors are opening for African-American women. While the vast majority are saving the world (as Black women do), sadly there are some who are also grasping for power at the expense of Black men, Black LGBTQs, and even other Black women. It’s a sobering reminder that Black people are not a monolith and gatekeepers of oppression aren’t always cis heterosexual white men.
Sometimes Blacks prospering at the expense of their own is very overt: Donald Glover, Clarence Thomas, Jussie Smollett, Booker T. Washington among others. Other times it’s more subtle and insidious, such as pushing the narrative that only Black women get out to vote or accomplish change while Black men sit idly by and do nothing, in spite of the fact that history has proven that to be a lie. Or the idea that Black fathers are absent even though studies have proven otherwise. Other examples are Black LGBTQs, especially Black trans women and men, being the victims of police brutality yet the deaths of our cis straight siblings are often prioritized over us in the news coverage. While I’m happy that people are demanding justice for Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, Iyanna Dior and Tony McDade also deserve that same energy. While these issues need to be addressed, false narratives are often spun by gatekeepers in order to sow seeds of dissent.
Here’s the thing, Black women are the eighth wonder of the world. One would argue (and by one I mean me) that they are the reason the Earth is still intact. Just as they have supported Black men, Black men have also supported and uplifted them. It’s always been a team effort. A rising tide lifts all ships. Neither (cis straight) Black men or Black women would be as far as they are if it weren’t for their LGBTQ siblings: Always in the cut and on the frontlines but rarely acknowledged. We are, have been, and always will be the ether, the x-factor, the magic, and the excellence in Black Excellence.
Or did we forget that rock & roll was created by a queer Black woman by the name of Sister Rosetta Tharpe?
And speaking of LGBTQs…..
4) Black People Are The Biggest Allies To LGBTQs
Make no mistake, homophobia is a serious issue in the Black community. There is still much work to be done and much to be desired. However, compared to other groups, Blacks are the biggest allies to LGBTQs. To be completely honest, it’s Black communities that often take in LGBTQs of all shades because they usually have nowhere else to turn.
What people conveniently forget is that the Civil Rights movement also paved the way for LGBTQ Equality. Be it James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, Marsha P. Johnson, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, or Angela Davis, the ranks of freedom fighters have always been filled with LGBTQs. Dr. Huey Newton, the late leader of the Black Panther Party, spoke out on how black militants need to embrace gay rights and feminism and unpack and check our internalized misogyny and homophobia. The late Mildred Loving, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Coretta Scott King were immensely outspoken on gay rights. Let us also not forget that the only cis white people present at the Stonewall riots were the police catching a fade from Black and Brown LGBTQs who were sick and tired of being sick and tired.
How quickly we forget that Brendon Ayanbadejo was fired from the Baltimore Ravens after helping his team win the Superbowl because he was outspoken on marriage equality. Be it Don Cheadle, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Shonda Rhimes, Janet Jackson, or Will and Jada-Pinkett Smith, Black celebrities are usually at the forefront of LGBTQ equality. From appointing a trans person to his cabinet to repealing DADT, President Obama did more to push for LGBTQ rights during his eight years than all of his predecessors combined. Granted that’s not saying much but still.
African-Americans aren’t responsible for the legislation being pushed against LGBTQs. That would be the GOP. The Oklahoma City bombing was not committed at the hands of an African American. Neither Matthew Shepard or Lawrence King’s murderers are Black.
So why does that lie persist? Besides the usual factors of racism, privilege, and antiblackness? Generally speaking, the difference is that problematic Blacks and other PoCs are more upfront about their prejudices. White bigots will smile in your face, tell you that you have a friend in White Jesus (not to be confused with the real Jesus), pass laws to deny minorities their rights, bash a gay on Friday night, lynch a PoC on Saturday, and will be leading Bible School on Sunday.
Let us pray.
5) The Validation of Whiteness Is Invalid
Too often when whites encounter someone who they consider an exceptional Black person, they see that as synonymous with said Black person aspiring to whiteness. Examples of this are when confident and accomplished Blacks are accused of “being uppity.” To speak eloquently, be educated, and have a regal demeanor is often mislabeled as “acting white.” Even in social justice, Blacks campaigning for liberation and equality is often conflated with seeking white validation.
Few ever consider that perhaps Blacks are exceptional because they are celebrating and personifying Black excellence. It rarely occurs to anyone that perhaps myself and others overachieve because we love who we are, we pay homage to those who came before and we’re looking to inspire those who follow. Director Reginald Hudlin expands on why Black Excellence is often a blessing and a curse:
“Another example is white America’s (both from the right and left) constant frustration with President Barack Obama. Conservative White America was so traumatized by how deftly he ran the world they elected a racist incompetent as a corrective. And the left constantly hates on him, which automatically alienates them from the Black electorate they need to compete in the Democratic Party. We are so conditioned to think Black success automatically means it must be paid for with blood, that Black success means you must be a sellout. That’s how disconnected we are from success.”
Why would we want to aspire to be like the oppressors? Racists don’t even like themselves.
“Every racist holds, at the very core, the notion that he is inferior as a person. That is why they must justify themselves by imbuing a non-essential with significance and worth, especially if it is not attained through merit but an accident of birth. Only then can they feel they have worth- ‘chosen’ by fate, god or nature for some greater role over others who are ‘inferior.’ But they never really stop hating themselves.”
At the core of bigotry (be it racism, misogyny, ableism, homophobia, antisemitism, antiblackness, Islamophobia, etc.) is the idea that some lives matter more than others. The core of white supremacy is that in order for one to rise, it must be at the expense of others, which is why whenever there’s one ism, others are often present. How many conservative politicians have also been racist, homophobic, and pedophiles? How many mass shooters in the last year have been members of white hate groups? Self-hatred. It’s all connected. That is the twisted irony and beauty of bigotry. It is as irrational as it is evil and it always comes back to haunt the privileged and the bigoted.
6) You Don’t Get To Police Interracial Entanglements
Even in the 21st-century interracial dating, specifically Black and white pairings, continues to be a very contentious issue. Rife with stigma and complicated racial dynamics, the mere topic often incites the worst of humanity out of seemingly otherwise decent people.
Black sexuality is often scrutinized by everyone from religious right-wing fundamentalists to (anti) Black militant fauxteps alike. Because while the Emancipation Proclamation is technically in effect, the culture of slavery rages on. We live in a world that enforces the notion that Blacks are ever accessible and we aren’t permitted to have boundaries, autonomy, and agency. Which is why many are irate when a Black person attempts to establish their autonomy or their partner for entanglements.
The reasons why someone (anyone) is attracted to whom they are attracted to are as complex and distinct as they are. Nevertheless, their preferences are just that. THEIR PREFERENCES.
“But what if their preferences are rooted in being attracted to white people because of white supremacy? What if they’re white and don’t like Black people?”
AND? That’s their business. Not ours. Maybe it is rooted in racism. Are their bedroom activities harming your finances? Are their bedroom activities hurting your civil liberties? That’s between them and their gods and as long as they aren’t harming others, that’s their right to be wrong. If said preferences are rooted in bigotry, it will manifest in other areas. It always does. It’s also my right to give them zero fracks on every level possible, steer clear, and continue striving to live my best life. I don’t let my value be determined by my lessers.
Often, bigotry isn’t even a factor. Some people just aren’t attracted romantically or sexually to other racial groups. They’re comfortable with what they’re familiar with culturally. That’s not a sin in itself as long as they aren’t dehumanizing those who don’t fit their purview of type.
On the flip side, a lot of people (caucasians included) are attracted to someone who is a stark contrast to them, physically, personality-wise, culturally, etc. Many who date interracially generally aren’t sexually attracted to someone of the same race because it feels to them like dating a sibling. On a subconscious level, they see other members of their ethnicity as their distant relatives. And you don’t sleep with your relatives…..contrary to what is taught to us here below the Mason Dixon line.
Also, contrary to popular misconception, sleeping with people of color doesn’t make a white person woke either. Many virulent monsters have racist fetishes as Don Sterling, Andrew Sullivan, Lena Dunham, Bill Maher, and Thomas Jefferson stay reminding us.
Whether it’s Virginia vs. Loving or Stonewall, if history has taught us anything it’s that policing other people’s bedrooms NEVER ends well.
7) Black People Are Not Your Mules
Following “The Dog Ate My Homework,” “It’s the Black person’s fault” is perhaps the most overused lie on the planet. Black victims are regularly put on trial for their own murders. Even though statistics prove that in spite of voter suppression/voter fraud, African-Americans are the only demographic to consistently vote wisely, we continue to be vilified and accused of not voting.
A signature milestone in television history was The Sopranos episode, Unidentified Black Males. In the ep, multiple separate storylines converged on the universal theme of principle characters lying and using fictional Black men as scapegoats for their sins.
America gets off on Black failure be it genuine or manufactured as explained in this piece:
“America prefers its Black men and women dead. And, if not dead, low. Abject. Strung out. And if none of these options are available, then, at least, failed. In that place where we can say, ‘I told you so’ or ‘That’s just the way it is’ or ‘That’s just the way they are’ or ‘That’s their problem. They always squander opportunities.’
We love to watch folks toil in these vineyards of failure from the comfort of our couches and living rooms. Failure fuels the American ego, the unacknowledged American pastime behind our American pastimes.”
Sadly more than a few African-Americans have been programmed with this failed mindset. Whenever tragedy strikes our community they mindlessly victim-blame their own people. Because they choose to get entangled with dirtbags, not mind the company they keep, and make other poor life choices, they suddenly want to blame all Black people for their choice to scrape the bottom of the barrel.
As previously stated, the fact that Blacks haven’t torched this country and sent it back to Hell, is a mercy this country doesn’t deserve. But do know, the nuclear option is always on the table. Blacks and other minorities have the right to life, freedom, equality, and the pursuit of happiness and will fight for it by any means necessary. So it would behoove you to not let the necessary occur.
8) Black Is King
If you’re a person of African descent such as myself, you’ve probably heard countless times:
“Black people are the only people on the planet who don’t support one another!”
Maybe you even believed it at one point.
Be it racism, antiblackness, lack of critical thinking and/or all of the above, most people accept this at face value.
However, the statement is completely false.
There is no way descendants of the African Diaspora would have been able to weather centuries of slavery, Jim Crow, genocide, and systemic oppression if we did not support one another. To that point, the Underground Railroad, the NAACP, historically Black colleges and universities, Black Wall Street, the Civil Rights Movement, the Harlem Renaissance, and Afrofuturism are all examples of Blacks supporting one another.
Not only do Blacks support each other but we also support everyone else. We’re the only race to have our culture adopted and emulated by the rest of the world, all over the world. In spite of weathering every unspeakable atrocity possible, our achievements are undeniable.
The United States alone is a testament to this. Every freedom and liberty Americans are enjoying was made a reality by African-Americans. Be it feminism, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, equality for disability, economic reform — there’s not one social justice issue that Blacks didn’t make a reality. That’s Black culture. When we fight for progress, we fight for everyone. We are magical. We are beautiful. We are gifted. We love and support us. In spite of weathering every unspeakable atrocity possible, our achievements are undeniable.
The driving force behind antiblackness and systemic white supremacy is not that Blacks are inferior. It is because we are beautiful, gifted, powerful, and exceptional beyond measure. In spite of every horror and injustice we’ve endured and continue to endure, we continue to set the global stage for the rest of the globe. For a people who are always falsely accused of being ignorant, subhuman, savage, demonic, and inferior on every level, Black people are always the first group everyone else goes running to begging for help when situations get dire and they need saving. Because while pressure crushes, it also creates diamonds. There’s no finer jewel than Black Excellence.
Truth be told.
About the guest blogger/interviewer: Dennis R. Upkins is a speculative fiction author, a journalist, and an equal rights activist. His first two young adult novels, Hollowstone and West of Sunset, were released through Parker Publishing. Both Upkins and his previous work have been featured in Harvard Political Law, Bitch Media, MTV News, Mental Health Matters, The Nerds of Color, Black Girl Nerds, Geeks OUT, Black Power: The Superhero Anthology, Sniplits, The Connect Magazine, and 30Up. You can learn more about him at his website dennisupkins.wordpress.com.