Julian Abagond: Why I write about racism

by , under Julian Abagond

By Julian Abagond

I write about racism in America because it affects my life and the lives of those I care about. Because it has shaped how I experience and see the world and myself, so by understanding racism I understand myself and the world better. It has little to do with trying to make whites look bad or making some kind of appeal to them.

My mother brought me up to be colour-blind. She meant well but she was a kumbayah anti-racist. That sent me into a strange land without a map. And so I have had to learn the hard way what was on that map, piece by piece.

Some say, “You see racism in everything. You see what you expect.” Wrong: I was so unprepared I have been surprised over and over again at how deeply white racism ran.

At first I was surprised when they called me names. Then I was surprised at how different the black and white parts of New York were. Then I was surprised at the police, who were not merely bad but evil to the bone. Then I went across the country and was surprised at how the Sioux Indians were even worse off, at how they had many of the very same issues as blacks – even though they lived hundreds of miles away and came from a completely different history.

And on and on.

Then I started this blog and I was surprised yet again. Not that whites are racist – I already knew that – but how deep and twisted their racism ran. It was not merely a matter of them not knowing any better, of living in nice, lily-white suburbs and believing everything they saw on television. No, it was way worse than that – even among Otherwise Intelligent White People. And so I was surprised yet again.

Dr Beverly Tatum says there is a five-stage cycle to growing up black in America:

  1. pre-encounter – you know you are black (by age five) but it is no big deal.
  2. encounter – you experience racism in an unmistakable way, repeatedly.
  3. immersion/emersion – you learn everything you can about being black because it helps you to understand your experience.
  4. internalization – what you learned becomes part of your identity, who you are, which helps to undo the internalized racism you have unknowingly learned. You become less angry, more hopeful.
  5. internalization-commitment – now you can move beyond race.

Most blacks reach the last stage at about age 25 to 30 and then go back to the first stage to go round again at a higher level of understanding.

So for me New York provided the first encounter stage, this blog (and some other events in my life) the second. In the earlier posts on this blog you can see me still in my second pre-encounter stage, in utter innocence of what was about to hit.

So now I am in the immersion stage for the second time in my life and consumed once again with the subject.

Read original story here.

 This piece was reprinted by Migrant Tales with permission.

    • Mark

      Jssk

      So, once again Abagond’s point is that whites are deeply racist.

      Gosh, that’s all you got from this piece? That’s a shame. Read it again.

      He talks about white racism, and he talks about how deep and twisted it can be, which is absolutely spot on. The lengths that some people go to to invalidate the experiences of black people is astonishing.

      I don’t know about you, but I think he’s talking about black racism too. Look at stage 4, where he talks about undoing the internalised racism. Either he means the internalised view of blacks that white racists push out, or he means, the ‘racism against whites’ that becomes internalised in response to white racism. Either way, it’s an interesting point.

      Agabond specifically talks about this experience of racism as a process of change, or personal growth, and even of repeating cycles, each time learning the lessons at a deeper level. I find that kind of insight to be fairly profound.

      Indeed, the core of this piece is the experience of growing up ‘innocent’, and then being subject to racism, and then the long journey to try to understand it. And from all of that, you got only the idea that he thought whites were deeply racist, and you felt he’d put you into that group, no doubt.

      I speak as a white, but I would say that whites are racist enough to make it a very serious issue and obstacle to the majority of black people. This isn’t about blame or saying that blacks cannot themselves be racist. It’s about who has the power and how that power has been wielded historically.

      I dont see how this is any better than labeling somalians or even africans in general as rapists or other criminals. That is something you oppose too, judging from your writings.

      Abagond said that he wasn’t discovering that whites are racist, he already knew that. I understand this to mean that ‘whites can be racist’, because this was the stage of discovery he already described. In fact, his surprise came in just how deeply it ran. It wasn’t innocent racism, from living segregated lives and believing stereotypes, but something much more twisted. I understand that completely.

      The backlash to anti-racism nowadays is a case in point. Ignorant people talking about how unfair it all is against whites, how anyone who even whispers against racism is just dripping in ‘white guilt’, how blacks are just ‘oversensitive’ and how it’s all just political correctness gone mad.

      It’s not that these arguments NEVER have any validity in any situation. It’s just that the minute they hear the word racism, the phrases line up, like bricks in a wall, designed specifically to numb their senses to ANYTHING that is being said that tries to point towards something REAL, towards ‘real racism’, not just the anaemic version of it they have in their heads. Does the expression, ‘their eyes glazed over’ mean anything to you?

      I think too that you must have deliberately closed your ears when he said these things:

      It has little to do with trying to make whites look bad

      Some say, “You see racism in everything. You see what you expect.” Wrong: I was so unprepared I have been surprised over and over again at how deeply white racism ran.

      encounter – you experience racism in an unmistakable way, repeatedly.

      which helps to undo the internalized racism you have unknowingly learned. You become less angry, more hopeful.

      If you really want to understand racism, then you have to resist the temptation to react at the first hint of a real story with the mantra ‘they are more racist that we are’, which is generally a nice excuse to ignore everything else that’s being said.

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