At first I thought “black privilege” was some kind of joke, a Chapelle-esque riff on the absurdities of how we talk about race in America. Indeed, reading about it in articles by people who take the idea seriously is like stepping into a parallel universe where black is literally white and white is black.
But as soon as I dismissed the idea my Google Trends graph for “black privilege” blew up:
Digging deeper I discovered that Black Privilege is also the title of a book by a radio clown named Charlemagne Tha God. Nevermind that his understanding of privilege is both intentionally provocative and intellectually innocuous:
“I wrote this for the dreamers, for the optimists; this book isn’t for pessimists,” Charlamagne told HipHopDX back in November. “This book is about embracing who and what you are regardless of race, gender, sexuality, and class. God gave you the privilege of this thing called life, so regardless of what this society tells you that you can’t do and what you don’t have to understand you lack nothing. God gave you everything you need to succeed.”
Kyle Hodge. “Charlamagne Tha God’s New Book Is A Real Talk Self-Help Guide To Finding Your Truth”. VH1 News. 2017.
Someone needs to tell this low-rent Negro whisperer that there’s no such thing as black privilege—of any sort. Any black man who thinks so should have his Malcolm X Decoder Ring revoked, because to descendants of slaves, a “black privilege” that is anything like the concept of white privilege is an oxymoron.
Why? Because the very logic of the slave trade was theft, one of the biggest wealth transfers in human history, the benefits of which (thanks to the miracles of dividends and compound interest) are still producing wealth in our financial system. Likewise, the brutal and ignoble periods that came after slavery: Reconstruction and Black Codes, Jim Crow, share cropping, peonage, medical apartheid, segregation, redlining, housing discrimination, and being denied the benefits of the G. I. Bill were all about wealth extraction. So much so that if you believe that slavery really ended in 1865, then you are seriously misinformed.
“Slavery By Another Name | Preview | PBS”. YouTube. 2017.
There’s no way that this history can result in anything that even smells like privilege. (Please, someone step up and get some by bringing up affirmative action.) In fact, the result is the very opposite of privilege—the collapse of black politics as a set of democratic strategies for deciding how public goods are distributed and to whom.
Obscuring this reality is what Negro whisperers from Charlemange to Lee Daniels (creator of “Empire”) to prosperity gospel con men like Creflo Dollar to Oprah do to earn their paychecks and adulations. Even Jay-Z is in on it (“I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.”) These people are contemporary examples of how neoliberal ideas continue to infect black thought and culture to our detriment.
“[W]e do not simply live in a period of black elite dominance—a period in which a black President can garner applause by blaming (black) poverty on (black) fathers. We live in a period in which many of the central problems we face, problems that have political roots and political solutions, have been taken out of the realm of the political because blacks increasingly present these problems as technical problems that should be treated with very specific practices rather than as political problems that call for political organization and mobilization.
Lester Spence. “The Neoliberal Turn In Black Politics”. Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society. 2013.
The Negro whisper benefits from convincing black people and reassuring white people that “the system” is running exactly as it should. That exceptional blacks did it on their own while poor and struggling blacks are where they are because of bad choices. Therefore, politics becomes essentially personal and entrepreneurial, the means by which we change individual behavior and thought to fit the logic of the marketplace. It’s not about changing how society is organized and distributes public goods.
To Negro whisperers, there’s nothing about black life that should be seen as a compounding result of centuries of structural social and economic defects. Rather, there are only contingencies of history that should be “left in the past” if black people are to move forward and “get paid.”
Like Charlemagne, they’d rather call Slick Willie the first black president or chop it up with Missie Hillary about hot sauce. But no way can they confront any corporate Democrat with facts showing that black people are WORSE off after Obama (the Grand Whisperer par excellence) than we were before.
The Negro whisperer’s hustle—vacuous rules for success, the sacrilege that Jesus wants you to be rich, respectability politics, pre-paid debit cards, and for-profit universities—is simply dangerous. Ultimately it drives black people who take it seriously to either the poorhouse or the crazy house. But the most morally bankrupt hustle of all is applauding blacks who walk the tightrope between debt and insanity for being “strivers”. Thing is, this kind of striving makes many of us sick and diverts our attention from what’s really going on.
The endgame is successfully selling racism as a matter of skin color, culture, and feelings. Political scientist Adolph Reed has been critiquing this shift for a while:
“Reed’s focus has, in large part, shifted to what he calls “left identitarians” — an array of figures whom, he argues, seem motivated by a desire not to eliminate inequality, but merely to redistribute it in order to ensure diversity among the ranks of the elite. For Reed these forces represent the left wing of neoliberalism, whose commitment to a race-first politics reflects their desire to join the ranks of an upwardly mobile black managerial class. In pursuing that endeavor, Reed argues, they discourage social movements from identifying non-racial sources of inequality, and from developing the kind of broad-based political coalition necessary to accomplish real change.”
Paul Heideman & Jonah Birch. “The Trouble With Anti-Antiracism”. Jacobinmag.com. 2017.
The Negro whisperer’s corporate masters love culture war battles over implicit bias, cultural appropriation, and free speech on college campuses because it gives them the cover they need to continue their economic war.
Reveal the truth—that racism is really about wealth, history, and data—and the jig is up. Even Obama might have to watch his back.
IMAGE SOURCE: 02-breakfast-club-3.w529.h352.jpg