10 (More) Habits of Someone Who Doesn’t Know They’re Anti-Black
In May 2020, I channelled my rage over the unlawful murder of George Floyd into a blog post entitled 10 Habits of Someone Who Doesn’t Know They’re Anti-Black. While many companies were posting Black squares and writing performative ‘solidarity’ statements, anti-Black microaggressions continued, unchecked, within their (virtual) walls. Companies and media outlets jumped on a pivotal and galvanizing socio-political moment to seem ‘woke’ without first addressing their complicity in white supremacy.
While there has been an uptick in anti-racism training and bookshops across the country are still selling out of their books by Black authors, the mainstream focus on Black Lives Matter quickly petered out.
The sparkly new anti-racism initiatives that suddenly got funded (and let’s be real, were probably suggested by Black women a decade ago) may go some way to helping Black folks, but are unsustainable if they address neither institutional racism nor individual anti-Black bias.
Even the most well-intentioned allies are still beholden to white supremacy and, when their comfort is destabilized, fall quickly back into the anti-Black narratives they have been taught. You may be spearheading a marketing campaign with more diverse models, organizing an anti-racism workshop for your team, or offering free tickets to Black folks as reparations and yet… You are probably still anti-Black.
Here are ten (more) habits of someone who doesn’t know they’re anti-Black:
1. You refer to Black Lives Matter as a cultural moment
In reflecting on the previous year, many remembered the murder of George Floyd as a tragedy that exacerbated existing 2020-esque trauma. Some, however, remembered it as a ‘cultural moment’, like CNN who slotted the Black Lives Matter protests in alongside ‘Megxit’ and viral Instagram trends
The Black Lives Matter movement will turn 8 this year. The movement for Black life – as in, activism and advocacy that confronts the injustices that Black people have always faced – is literally centuries old. Abolitionists, civil rights leaders, Black Panthers, the Combahee River Collective were all saying "Black lives matter" through different words and actions.
BLM is not an event. The murder of George Floyd is not a pop culture reference to "throwback" to as we reflect on 2020. Certainly, a stunning and unprecedented explosion of support for BLM and mainstream outrage in response to police brutality occurred this summer. Yet to refer to that as an "event" or “moment” confirms what every Black activist feared: You've already moved on.
2. You show up for rallies and not blockades
In June 2020, I braved the outdoors for the first time in months to attend a protest in downtown Vancouver. Over 10,000 people attended - it was incredible. I felt proud of my fellow citizens.
Yet something felt weird about it. A combination of the people spending more time taking selfies than listening to the speakers and others carrying pink, glittery ‘BLM’ balloons really rubbed me the wrong way.
The frustration really kicked in when another protest was announced later that same month. This protest was a blockade fighting for specific and tangible demands that planned to shut down the Georgia Viaduct - the bridge that caused the displacement of Vancouver’s Black community. The peaceful blockade went on for several days and at its highest was around 100 people and at its lowest just a dozen.
What happened to the crowds of 10,000? You really begin to lose hope in allyship when it turns out to be just as performative as you predicted.
3. You compare Black Lives Matter protestors to white supremacists
Currently, white supremacists are storming the Capitol in Washington D.C., angry that their leader has been legally and democratically replaced.
The contrast between police tactics towards this group versus police violence towards Black Lives Matter activists is immediately transparent. As flagrant acts of domestic terrorism occur in broad daylight, it is impossible to forget how many Black and brown activists are arrested, put in choke-holds and killed for simply defending their human rights. The same perpetrators stand by as their friends storm government buildings.
However, it is important to make the distinction that Black Lives Matter protestors should not be compared to angry white supremacists. This conflation implies that both groups are fighting for different types of justice - they are not.
“We are fighting for humanity and equity. They are fighting for absolute power and dominance,” says Monique Melton.
4. You don’t fight for ALL Black people
Intersectionality or bust.
My affinity and admiration for the Black Lives Matter movement stems from its role as a pivotal turning point in Black activism – from activism that centred Black cisgender men, to a global, intersectional, diverse Black liberation movement. Finding a space to be both Black and queer was essential to me - so much so that I did a TEDTalk on it.
The 2015 article by Brandon E. Patterson, Why You Can’t Be Pro-Black and Homophobic at the Same Time is still just as relevant today. Although directed at the Black community, the article’s message is universal. You cannot leave out Black people who are women, LGBTQ2S+, disabled, poor, neurodivergent, immigrant, from your activism.
5. Your support for Black lives ends in North America
While the Black Lives Matter movement and many of the more well-known Black liberation groups and leaders are US-based, Black people exist all over the world. Furthermore, anti-Blackness is a global phenomenon. Historical projects of anti-Blackness like slavery and colonization in fact required the convergence of many European and non-European nations.
Many of us (myself included) need to work on de-centring America from our conversations about Blackness (and many other things). While African Americans have many important contributions to Black culture, scholarship and activism, this narrow lens means we exclude or even silence the voices of other Black communities.
From the commonplace microaggressions such as the claim that African Americans are ‘more Black’ than Black Brits to the systemic silencing of African causes such as the EndSARS movement. While this movement did make an appearance in North American media - thanks of course to Nigerian activists - it’s attention was brief.
6. You play into colourism and shadeism
I am deeply aware that many of my opportunities are a result of light-skin privilege. This does not mean that I am not Black but it means that my European ancestry provides me with proximity to whiteness (and some of the privileges that come with that), that are not afforded to my darker-skinned peers. Some of these include being seen as more ‘approachable’ or ‘palatable’ by white people or aligning more with Eurocentric beauty standards. Margaret L. Hunter makes excellent points about light skin as social capital.
We often discuss colourism within communities. For example, the critiques of Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking often addressed the colourism people of colour enact upon one another.
It is also important for allies to be aware of their complicity in upholding colourism, as it is a core factor of white supremacy. I see allies struggle with this as they know they are not in a place to police or question Black folks’ identity yet this is how people like Rachel Dolezal and Jessica Krug are able to not only fake Blackness but also become go-to voices on behalf of the Black community.
7. You’re obsessed with historical accuracy
Ok, time for a more lighthearted - but still important - point. We all love Bridgerton, right?
Well, some people don’t - and not for the really weird violin remixes of Ariana Grande. The problem for some, they purport, is it is not historically accurate to have Black people in high-class positions during England’s Regency period. Firstly, Queen Charlotte (a character depicted in the show) was descended from Black ancestors. Secondly, historical accuracy would also likely mean bad teeth, overwhelming sickness, illiteracy and untimely death. Thirdly, it really does not matter.
The historical accuracy argument, coupled with the ‘but James Bond is white!’-type narrative, is purely white fear at the mere thought of diversity. Let’s leave that in 2020.
8. You’re fatphobic
Aside from the fact that being fatphobic makes you an overall jerk, it can also mean your viewpoints are unconsciously rooted in racism and anti-Blackness.
As Charlotte Zoller writes in Teen Vogue, “According to Scientific American, the idea that Black people—specifically Black women—are to blame for being fat goes back as far as racist pseudoscience claiming Black people couldn’t control their ‘animal appetites.’”
The origins of fatphobia are deeply tied to slavery, colonization and fear and control of the Black body. Eurocentric beauty standards and thin privilege are often inextricable. Trends from the bustle dress of the 19th century to contemporary butt injections may appear to appreciate more curvaceous figures but are fleeting by nature; taking one element of the traditionally Afrocentric figure for fashion.
9. You think mixed-race babies are soooo cute
Many mixed-race babies are cute (I was). Also, many Black babies with two Black parents and darker skin are also cute.
The specific obsession with mixed-race (in this case Black/white) babies is their proximity to whiteness, their lighter skin and softer hair (see point 6).
This rhetoric is further problematized by the myth that interracial relationships are the solution to racism. As Hunter Shackleford points out, “slavery & white supremacist sexual violence already taught us that mixed children didn’t change shit.”
Mixed Black children are often weaponized and politicized by their parents who want to denounce their racism, citing their offspring as evidence. White parents with Black children can - and do - still, devastatingly, perpetuate anti-Black racism.
10. You don’t credit Black activists and creators
We all know that much of what makes North American culture cool is thanks to the contributions of Black people, especially Black women and queer folks. Slang words, dance moves, TikTok trends are often born from brilliant Black minds.
What’s more, is these trends get exactly 3 seconds in the spotlight before white teenagers decide they are no longer cool. Entire dance routines, complex language systems, fully coordinated outfits are cast out as quickly as they were appropriated.
TikTok alone is a dumpster fire of digital Blackface - the whole app is predicated on using other people's voices and sounds to seem cooler and funnier.
And while the TikTok reference may not resonate with every generation, the same narrative is actually occurring on much bigger platforms, right in front of our eyes. For example, news headlines in the morning of January 6th were referring to the neo-Nazis storming Capitol Hill as ‘protestors’. Black Twitter was swift to correct them (see point 3) - the next day, language quickly changed to mirror the truth. Our world is better because of Black activism - and white liberals get the credit.