Blackness Is The Fulcrum

4 May

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.

The racial arrangement in the U.S. is ever changing.  There is no “bottom.” Different groups have more ability to affect others at different times because our roles are not fixed.  But, 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.

Hang in there with me for a minute and consider this. Race slavery is the historical basis of our economy. Yes, there was/is a campaign of “Indian removal” in order to capture natural resources and that certainly is part of the story. But the structure of the economy is rooted in slavery.

Our Constitution was written by slave owners. They managed to muster some pretty nice language about equality, justice, and freedom for “men” because they considered Africans less than human. Our federal system is based on a compromise intended to accommodate slavery. Our concept of ownership rights, the structure of our federal elections system, the segregated state of our society, the glut of money in politics, our conservative political culture, our criminal codes and federal penitentiaries all evolved around or were/are facilitated by anti-black racism.

And this is not just about history.  Fear of black people drives our national politics, from the fight over Jim Crow in the 50s and 60s, to Willie Horton and the Chicago Welfare Queen in the 80s, and the War on Drugs, starting in 1982 right up to the present. Since 2001, the U.S. has spent about 1.3 trillion dollars on war. Since 1982 we’ve spent over 1 trillion dollars on the drug war.

About 82% of drug busts are for possession, while about 18% are for trafficking. Sound like an irrational way to wage a war on drugs? Not if it’s a war on black people.

According to Human Rights Watch, black males are incarcerated at a rate more than six times that of white males resulting in one in 10 black males aged 25-29 being held in prison or jail in 2009. The same report states:

blacks constitute 33.6 percent of drug arrests, 44 percent of persons convicted of drug felonies in state court, and 37 percent of people sent to state prison on drug charges, even though they constitute only 13 percent of the US population and blacks and whites engage in drug offenses at equivalent rates.

And why a war on people?  The war on drugs is the cornerstone of the “tough on crime” messaging campaign that is key to the Republican Southern Strategy. It suggests that extending civil rights to African Americans resulted in the crime wave of the 1970s (and not the baby boom as is suggested by sociologists) in order to drive white Southerners into the Republican Party.

And that “tough on crime” thing, that’s not just against black people.  It’s a propaganda war that is weakening civil rights and civil liberties for all of us.

There’s no hierarchy of oppressions where race is concerned, but anti-black racism is the fulcrum of white supremacy.

53 Responses to “Blackness Is The Fulcrum”

  1. Justina May 4, 2012 at 11:47 pm #

    Wow, very heavy and completly true.
    Love it.

    • Tanya L. Saunders September 18, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

      Loved this! I’ve seen it reposted in different places. Would like to cite this. Could you give me a heads up on the best citation to use?

      • Race Files September 18, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

        Thanks! Hmmm…citation. I guess you could cite the my name at Race Files, which is a project of ChangeLab, if that’s what you mean. If you had something else in mind, let me know.

  2. bebe May 5, 2012 at 12:35 am #

    Preach!

  3. kvirella May 5, 2012 at 10:50 am #

    Love this piece. May I repost it on my website? http://www.dominionofnewyork.com?

    • Race Files May 5, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

      Absolutely. I want to get things out in the world so please do. Thanks!

      • kvirella May 8, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

        Hi Scot, because I posted the article, a radio program in NYC would like to interview you. Yay! Could you please reach out to them? They want to talk to you at 2 pm, for between 5 and 7 mins. Follow the producer on Twitter. Her username is @ljoywilliams. If you don’t tweet, you could also send me your email address and I could send it to her.

  4. worleydervish May 5, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

    “Fulcrum” is exactly the right word. So much in American politics hinges on the use of implicit racism–and sexism–to uphold the promise of a white male power structure, to oppress not only people of color but also whites with strong racist inclinations. Appealing to and strengthening their racism has worked to keep Southern whites in line. Their lust for power, even just the idea of power, keeps them voting against their own economic self-interest.

    There are some important implications in all of this that need to be untangled. Somehow we need to use this understanding practically, to figure out how to counter appeals to racism, sexism, and the lust for fictional power, to aggregate ourselves along new lines to begin to aspire toward seeking the well-being of all.

  5. Ankhesen Mié May 6, 2012 at 3:17 am #

    Brilliant analysis. Consider the signal boosted.

  6. Micah Griffin May 6, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

    Reblogged this on Hypocritical Hyperbole.

  7. Kathleen May 6, 2012 at 6:38 pm #

    Good morning Scot. I love your brain even when it is not in complete sync with mine. Using structural images, I think it important to recognize that had there been no slaughter of the Native People, there would have been no land upon which to rest this economic fulcrum. The land was the base upon which the US built the racist structures that grew the US economy. The US governments have encouraged us to ignore genocide as the means by which the land was acquired upon which to “grow” cotton, rice, cane and slaves. In a contemporary view of racial politics, blackness may be a fulcrum upon which white supremacy leverages its power. However, this image leaves me with no room for a structural image representing male supremacy, or describing the dynamic between my group(s) and others. Perhaps the image of the Octopus ride at a carnival captures some of what I am talking about. Revolving and rotating at the same time, the seats are also attached to a larger frame (white supremacy?) that lifts and lowers them as it spins them. This image is limited in that it lacks the capacity to help me see the dynamics of my experience of how those elements interact for me as a black person and a woman person.

    • JW Solomon May 15, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

      Scott-Thanks for being so On Point. Racism has to be dealt with, and dealt with Right Now. This Country has had that Sore on it’s face for Centuries and it continues to puss out and scab back up from the continued picking at it instead of treating it. I too would like to Re-Post and hope you don’t mind. Keep Up The Fight Brother.

      • DD July 1, 2012 at 8:33 pm #

        I like your analogy but I think slave labor is more appropriately analogous to the legs of this country: without the labor of African slaves, Chinese immigrants and Latino workers from the past, black bodies currently in prison, “third world” slave labor and undocumented workers today, the economy would literally collapse in paralyzing insurrection. I truly believe the crux of Scott’s argument and how racially segregated slavery was so paramount to not only the immensity of white power but also as the model to stratify class labor by race thus subjugating other races to the horrors or white supremacy.

    • Jenice May 15, 2012 at 9:01 pm #

      Kathleen, I love your analysis as a sister African American woman. Scot, your piece is very close to being on point, but all economic analyses begin with the inputs – in this case stolen Indian land and stolen African labor. They go together and serve as the fulcrum of white supremacy as practiced in the Americas and the Caribbean.

      • Race Files May 15, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

        Thanks, Jenice. I love that people talk back to me! I’m learning and as I do I’ll sure speak up. Reading In the Spirit of Crazy Horse and re-reading From a Native Daughter about Hawaii and the experience of my own community. In the middle of Coolies and Cane as well for a second time.

        I still tend to think in terms of anti-black racism being the fulcrum because I think whiteness is, if you will, the lever, mainly in terms of ideology. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t significant additional inputs, but I think in terms of where we are now with the prison build up and find myself forced to ask the question, which side of the color line am I on. That’s why I put the post out there. I’m sure it’s not perfect, but I wanted to generate this kind of dialogue so thanks for your words!

  8. Jim Chi May 7, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

    This is one of the most brilliant pieces I have seen in a long time. Absolutely, every word.

    • mrtekknowledge May 9, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

      Scot, I loved the piece. Do you do radio interviews? I co-host a program on BTR dedicated exclusively to white supremacy/racism. If you’re interested, I’d like to arrange a time over email to speak with you.

  9. mrtekknowledge May 9, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    Scot, I loved the piece. I co-host a radio program on BTR focused exclusively on white supremacy/racism…and I agree, although we need to stop thinking of racism in “black and white” and start thinking of it as “white over non-white”, we definitely should acknowledge (in general) that darker people have it worse. If you would like to discuss these issues in an interview format, reply to this comment and we can find a way to exchange emails.

    • Race Files May 9, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

      Sure, I’d like to discuss this with you. Thanks for the offer.

      • mrtekknowledge May 9, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

        Thank you sir. you should have received an email if your address on the profile was correct. Look forward to speaking with you.

  10. 1Reader May 15, 2012 at 5:14 am #

    Thank you for writing this. Others have said the same things, but perhaps someone non-black saying it will get through to more people. This country was a very racist place only a few decades ago. Some of the perpetrators of that racism are still in power today. So for people to pretend that everything is colorblind and postracial because it’s 2012 is to ignore the realities of history and economics.

    If you want to raise your blood pressure a little bit, research Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood and their efforts to abort black babies. It’s a womb to the tomb effort against black people. I’m a Christian and I’m black. My faith in Jesus Christ is critical. To paraphrase the President, we all need to do some soul searching when it comes to dealing with prejudice towards other people.

  11. pt May 15, 2012 at 11:23 am #

    Our concept of ownership rights, the structure of our federal elections system, the segregated state of our society, the glut of money in politics, our conservative political culture, our criminal codes and federal penitentiaries all evolved around or were/are facilitated by anti-black racism.

    Well,sure, every aspect of our society “evolved around” — i.e., in the presence of — anti-black racism, and around every other form of racism, not to mention sexism. (I don’t know about you, but when I read a Constitution granting rights only to “men,” racism is not my first thought). Those oppressions have always been present and have always shaped society. The only argument you make that really purports to distinguish anti-black racism is that “the structure of the economy is rooted in slavery.” You don’t say what you mean by that, though. By economic “structure,” are you referring to capitalism? Because capitalism existed long before anti-black racism or the Atlantic slave trade, and it thrived in countries that did not rely on slavery even when the US did. If your point simply is that slavery served as a key engine of economic growth for the United States in the 1700s-1800s, that’s true, but it was also an economic liability — in fact, one main argument advanced by abolitionists was that slavery impeded urbanization and industrialization and had negative labor market effects. Without slavery, industrialization could not have been financed as rapidly and trade relationships would have built more slowly, but in the end the industrial revolution would have come to America just as it came to Britain and other countries that lacked a slave labor force. The main sector to benefit from slavery was agriculture, which today is a withered anachronism sustained by government subsidies anyways.

    Absolutely nothing in this article convinces me that anti-black racism is any more important than any other form of discrimination.

    • pt May 16, 2012 at 10:43 am #

      Are you seriously going to block this comment? There is nothing remotely offensive about it. Because it is a feminist comment (and because your OP is sexist), you also seem sexist.

      • Race Files May 16, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

        Sorry, I don’t know what you’re referring to. What comment?

      • Race Files May 16, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

        Okay, found it. Sorry. I get a lot of stuff from white supremacists and trash them because while I know that sort of controversy is supposed to be “good” for my blog, I don’t want to generate traffic to those sites. I think your comment probably was in the middle of an email line up including a few of those. Of course your comment is perfectly legit and should be part of the conversation, which is what my incomplete and imperfect post was meant to generate. My goal with each post is to be brief which, sadly, means that I’m not going to be able to express every related idea in each one. I’m also a flawed and imperfect person, so my posts are going to reflect that, too. I am trying my best, but my best is not going to be enough. Instead, I’m hoping that this blog helps me along a process – opens a dialogue about the kinds of ideas you express. Sorry I made the mistake of trashing yours. Again, I have my flaws, including that I’m still learning the technical aspects of this blogging thing.

  12. Malen May 15, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    As a Black British person living in the USA, I must say that whilst there is strong institutionalized racism in the USA but the most individualized racism I have encountered have been from Hispanics and Asians. I’ve also been to China and they’re extremely racist people towards Blacks. They would sooner embrace whites than embrace Blacks any day. I’ve also heard of stories of the horrible ways that Chinese business people in Africa treat Africans in their own countries.

    • dada May 15, 2012 at 11:56 pm #

      What part of the US are you living? I heard about the treatment of blacks in China, I stories of people being hit, spat on, etc.

      • Race Files May 15, 2012 at 11:57 pm #

        In Brooklyn, NY. Fort Greene.

      • dada May 15, 2012 at 11:58 pm #

        *heard

    • Michael May 16, 2012 at 3:31 am #

      There’s always one in every bunch. =Malen. Great article, thanks Scot.

  13. Lark May 15, 2012 at 10:36 pm #

    Although I applaud your entire article you said it all in these two sentences…”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.”

    Dude, I’ve never heard of you until 20 min ago, May 15, 12. You speak with brevity, clarity, and depth of purpose! Keep up the good work.

    • Race Files May 15, 2012 at 11:56 pm #

      Thanks, I really, really appreciate the support.

      • Joel Witherspoon May 16, 2012 at 1:04 am #

        Thank you Scot. You have articulated this for our generation. Joel A. Rogers could not have said it better.

        It’s feels strange to say this, but in spite of the apparent racism in this society, I still believe in the idea of America.

  14. Nessa's Notions May 16, 2012 at 1:20 am #

    Reblogged this on Srvyvr555721's Blog and commented:
    Understanding the fulcrum of white supremacy.

  15. D.M Hopewell May 16, 2012 at 2:10 am #

    interesting. I seldom hear this perspective, particularly from an Asian. I posted this on my fb page to let my friends see. You touched on two areas I tend to cover- 1. inability to sensitize to black suffering and 2. the intersection with the criminal justice system. I’d love to get your thoughts

    http://hopewellthought.blogspot.com/2012/05/to-my-jewish-brothers-and-sisters-say.html

    http://hopewellthought.blogspot.com/2012/05/no-help-wanted.html

  16. irighti May 16, 2012 at 2:45 am #

    Scot,

    Your efforts are very much appreciated by me, if that means anything. However, you do know that there will be a tendency by many to romanticize what you say and what you are doing. Unfortunately, it is a truism that we have gotten to the point where doing what is “right” is the counter-story. And, for some, doing what is right becomes very opportunistic and self-serving. That is not to question your motives but don’t be surprised if you become a fetish because the “Asian” guy is taking an interest in anti-Black racism. In other words, your interest in combating anti-Black racism could engender more racism against you.

    Also, it would have been great to hear how you are combating anti-Black racism within various Asian communities and groups that you come in contact with. Perhaps, the next step in your journey would take on that challenge. That would help rectify Black folks being portrayed as the “other” in your post.

  17. Tni LeBlanc May 16, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

    Wow … you get it. This is why the issue of racism against Blacks is so important to overcome for us ALL.

  18. jeneane May 18, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    To put it bluntly, we are still counting the degree of blacksness/ brownness of a persons skin as the first standard measurement for being deserving of human respect and honor. That is why whiter skin remains the lever by which society moves. The question to be answered is, how can we all free ourselves from from the mechanics of this so that we can all collectively exercise our power to effect good for all mankind instead.

    • Race Files May 18, 2012 at 6:38 pm #

      Brilliant. Thanks for this. I couldn’t have put it better. Would love to stay in dialogue with you and hear your ideas!

  19. Steven F. Riley May 19, 2012 at 1:11 am #

    Brilliant essay!

    Steven Riley (http://www.MixedRaceStudies.org)

  20. derrick bell hooks July 4, 2012 at 3:48 am #

    A friend just forwarded this post to me and asked me what I thought. I guess it makes sense to share my response with all of you in the web-world instead of keeping it a private discussion. It is a bit different in tone than other comments, but I hope you find it is helpful criticism. Here is what I wrote:

    I liked the blog post and the comments.

    But I am not so sure that the blog really provides proof that “anti-black racism is the fulcrum of white supremacy.” Some folks have commented here about how the historical inputs to white supremacy were land stolen from indigenous folks (native americans) and labor stolen from african slaves. I agree with these folks — there are multiple foundations to white supremacy (or white privilege). Does anti-blackness play a particularly large role? Yes. But saying that it is *the* fulcrum seems a bit of an overstatement. It also seems to play into an “oppression olympics” game that might be counterproductive to fighting oppression and power in all of its problematic forms. The last line of the blog tries to say that the oppression olympics game is not being played, but contradicts itself by implying that anti-black racism is the winner (or fulcrum):

    “There’s no hierarchy of oppressions where race is concerned, but anti-black racism is the fulcrum of white supremacy.”

    Hmm.

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