by Reny Taylor
For Black liberation to take place, the academy as we know it would have to be destroyed. In fact, to an even greater extent, the function and knowledge production of the academy is to maintain or perpetuate whiteness wherever white people are not. In this sense, whiteness even permeates the spaces for which we are the most represented. What happens when some organizing spaces and networks become pseudo-academic hubs that champion violent logics?
Given its recent scandal, it is important to remember that the Black Lives Matter network did not simply profit off of the pain, social misery, and death of Black males and their families. They advanced logics that still permeate movements today which argue that the disproportionate death and representation of these same dead Black males is due to their male privilege.
Let’s be clear: this is by no coincidence but emerges out of the academic realm. For example, Intersectional Invisibility, a paper written by Valerie Purdie-Vaughns & Richard P. Eubach make a similar claim. Conceding to decades old debates that racially subordinate males (i.e., Black males) are targeted by the state through more lethal forms of violence, Vaughns & Eubach reinterpret these findings to suggest it is because Black males are somehow more privileged.
Said differently, the paper claims that because racially subordinate men, are men, they are valued more, more visible in society, and are regarded as prototypical members of society as opposed to racially subordinate women—and other multiple subordinate group identities. In essence, the paper argues that though Black men are murdered by the state more, it is only due to the fact that other subordinate groups experience “invisibility” and are hence not valued members of society.
More than just mental gymnastics, these claims are genocidal logics as pointed out by Professor Tommy J Curry of the University of Edinburg. If Black males can be said to be privileged even in death, what are we to assume about their lives? And who profits off of a discourse which suggest that anywhere you find Black male death, you find it because it excludes others?
Now, of course, folks will attempt to argue that Vaughns & Eubach are just pointing out that Black males are over-represented in death. But not only are they not making this claim, even if they were, it would simply not be true. For example, given the fatal force data we have collected by the Washington Post, it suggests that in the year 2020–a socially distanced year— 226 Black people were shot and killed by the police: 225 shot and killed were Black men. Even if one were to argue Black men were over-represented in death, how many of those names can you honestly say you were aware of? Most know less than 2 percent of the Black men shot and killed by police in 2020 off the top of their heads.
Similar to the ways in which schools often use Black male educators as a masculine weapon against Black boys to maintain order in the classroom, many organizing spaces only perceive Black men to be useful insofar as they’ll pathologize, or ridicule other Black men into thinking about themselves the way society believes they exist in the first place. And if you notice, even some leftist organizations become really conservative when Black males speak to how they experience a particular vulnerability in these spaces; somehow, when Black males speak up about this, every variation of ‘lifting yourself up by the bootstraps” becomes the solution under the guise of accountability politics; a boneless individualism.
Relatedly, it is a liberal understanding of accountability to suggest that the individual creates and changes social systems outside of community. Social systems reduce the perceptible options you have while negotiating a secure identity. Therefore, the impact of systems is not reducible to individual choices because “choices” are not simply made but often imposed upon by the very same environments that individuals find themselves in. How we build community is important. There is a sharp distinction between being critical of the ways people can produce harm towards others, and using these harms as political devices to create narratives about a generalized other. One takes grounded reflection, while the remaining only requires the inward proselytizing of white thought.
In sum, if we are not careful, then we reproduce whiteness and patriarchal logics in the very same spaces we claim to want it dismantled. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter scandal, we must abolish the activist-to-celebrity pipeline, its inverse, and the uncritical acceptance of academic gymnastics into serious organizing spaces for Black liberation.
Reny Taylor is an organizer and social philosophy student born and raised in the Washington DC area.