Essay: Describing division does not create division


Saw a useful question on the “Ask Your Black Geek Friend” Facebook
page, and I don’t want to lose my answer to time. I’ve been trying to
put this into decent words for months. Bless this show and Shield of Tomorrow for helping
me articulate it. This framework and theory comes primarily from Octavia
Butler, James Baldwin, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, particularly a Coates
lecture I saw in January 2017. It is absolutely applicable to any form
of bigotry, including ableism and misogyny.

“Since we are all the same race, and that is human. Why isn’t it
constantly called culturism which is much more fitting. Using the term
racist just seems like another way to try to divide people.“

is basically culturalism. Racism is the separate belief that you are
genetically, inherently more human than other humans. Animal Farm’s
famous proclamation “All animals are equal, but some animals are more
equal than others.” The core function of
racism is to dehumanize other humans, thereby creating an artificial
division that concentrates power and creates privilege in one (or a rank
of) racial classes.

The act of racism, the creation
of racism, happened before the words to describe it were created. So
the words are just describing what’s actually happening. Changing the
words doesn’t change that the same beliefs exist and are being acted
out. A rose by any other name would have as many spines. And even if it
was behind us we’d need words to describe that this happened. The
difference between the social status of  patricians and  plebeians of
Ancient Rome doesn’t have a lot of baring on my day to day life, but it
does if I’m understanding how that society functioned. Those terms
became archaic when factors in society made that division irrelevant.
But we still have and need the words. Because the words don’t divide us,
the existing artificial division in how people are treated divides us.

highly recommend James Baldwin’s “Note From a Native Son” and Ta-Nehisi
Coates “Between The World And Me” if you’d like better explanations of
how this directly plays out in society. 60 years separate them, massive
cultural changes separate them, class separates them, but the racism
hasn’t really changed, and it’s not xenophobia.

I realized after posting it that Shield of Tomorrow has also had a huge impact in getting these thoughts crystallized by giving multiple people that experience multiple forms of discrimination a space where they can act honestly and make wise cracks honestly without being shut down for it. Where they get to be equal, but different. Where their pain (and defiance) gets listened to. Where they get to demonstrate subtle bigotry and it’s negative effects in a sideways way that may not directly challenge the viewer, but hopefully gets them to examine their own behavior.

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