We’ve all heard it before in one form or another.
From false comparisons between the Black Panther Party and the KKK, to white folks being jealous that black people get BET, to people being offended by the term black twitter, black people are routinely called out for engaging in acts of segregation towards white people when we don’t exclusively center them in our projects.
I remember last year when Curly Nikki, a website exclusively dedicated to celebrating women’s natural hair textures, featured a white woman with curly hair. She was trying to share her struggle with her tresses in a space that regularly spotlighted black women and our hair texture. Unsurpsingly, black women got upset and even wrote articles about it, and of course, our attempts at preserving spaces of empowerment were met with hostile accustations of segregation. Many black women held the position that the natural hair movement should cater to black women, not white. The creator of Curly Nikki defended the white woman’s feature by stating:
“I believe that the most important part of my job is to provide a space for all women to enjoy the security they deserve while living in a society that openly questions their legitimacy.”
Recently, I wrote an article spotlighting 100 black vegans because there exists a pervasive stereotype that black vegans are mythological creatures that don’t exist, and while I received an immense amount of support, my article was met with criticism from folks saying things like “Why does everything have to be about race?” and “It’s racist that you only included black people on this list.” People stated that I should have included all types of vegans, not just black ones. [Notice the trend?]
Suddenly, black people are tasked with accommodating white people despite the fact that they aren’t pressured to do the same. When are we allowed to uplift ourselves without being called racists or segregationists?
Let’s get one thing straight: white folks and minority folks are not socially equal. Sure, while there are disadvantaged white people and many advantaged black people, we still hold different amounts of social capital, which is another form of currency. There are institutions in the U.S. actively engaged in attempting to make black people feel like shit. Whether it’s through the erasure of our images in “mainstream” media, or the erasure of our intellectual contributions in classroom curriculums throughout all levels of the educational system, we are told that we don’t matter, at at times, that anything associated with blackness is deviant, nasty, dirty, and unwelcomed.
This is why black folks often create spaces to combat these messages because they’re harmful and even deadly. Being erased can be a form of discursive death. Black empowerment spaces aren’t made with the intention of hurting white people or purposefully excluding them. These spaces aren’t made to purposefully exclude groups of people from resources. They’re made to empower groups of people who need recognition and acknowledgement. These spaces are a reaction to being excluded in the first place.
Oftentimes, when black folks do create these spaces, we’re told that we should include “everyone” or “all people.” Think about #alllivesmatter.
Words like “all” and “everyone” don’t necessarily sound inclusive to me. They become short-hand words for “white.”
Whiteness is concealed through words like mainstream, all, diversity, etc. Because we don’t regularly call out whiteness, it becomes a bit more difficult to notice that a space is exclusively for white people.
“Whites Only” signs have been replaced with diversity rhetoric and welcoming smiles, but the feeling of exclusion remains intact.
To assume that black people even have the systemic power to enact a form of segregation that disempowers white people reveals how little one knows about the current social climate.
Segregation, especially in the U.S., is a systemic exclusion of people of color from spaces of privilege and access. Segregation is still a “separate, but unequal” state of affairs.
To a certain extent, we do still have systemic segregation. If you look at racial disparities in education and housing, representation, etc. we see a stark difference between black folks and white folks.
Because of the legacy of racial terrorism in this country, as well as the systemic erasure of black folks’ cultural contributions, black people congregate and uplift as an act of survival.
Spaces that highlight black cultural contributors like Afropunk, Black Girl Nerds, Awkward Black Girl, For Harriet, etc. provide black people with a sense of pride and demonstrates how our lives really DO matter.
Talking about #blacklivesmatter has no significance if we don’t also actively show what black life is and celebrate the hell out of it.
Celebrating black LIFE is not only revolutionary, but a necessary form of survival.
Featured Image Credit: blackamericaweb.com