Since I began working to develop The Stripes, searching for contributors to help foster our campus’s racial and cultural discourse, I have become familiar with a certain type of dissenter.
This person is not like those who most need The Stripes, neither ignorant nor contemptuous in his stance against advancing racial relations. Instead, this type of person, usually a minority himself, and well aware of the conditions that face his community, holds resolute indifference towards the struggle that activists engage. He is not necessarily antagonistic to activity involving concepts of race, but is, at the very least, purposefully detached from interactions which emphasize a person’s race (especially his own). He will not go out of his way to work toward improving, discussing, or even acknowledging the disparities caused by race in American society. This article is dedicated to those like him, minorities who often proclaim apathy and personal immunity to conceptions of race and racism.
To provide specification, and to somewhat selfishly indulge my own personal aggravations, I will envision the target of this essay to be blacks who are apathetic to the notion of a collective black community and its respective struggles (I will also continue to use the hetero-normative “he”). While apathetic individuals exist in every community, I can most easily write through my experience with my peers from the black community.
These indifferent blacks tell me how they have no inclination to actively do things in the name of the black collectivism. They claim, instead, that they prefer acting independently and without focus on race; that they would most comfortably avoid forced support of their respective cultural community. This prideful mindset recurs whenever an action could be justified through its exclusive social benefit for other blacks, whether it be dating within ones race, doing philanthropic acts for black communities, actively socializing with other blacks, voting for a black president, etc. To them, the option to avoid these actions is viewed as a freedom and a benefit that whites, for example, are smart enough to capitalize on and enjoy. They think: “Why must I spend energy and time doing things that specifically emphasize or improve black life? Why should I be coupled with other blacks? I don’t see whites or other races doing the same.”
My answer to their questions, then, is that as underrepresented and oppressed minorities (specifically, black Americans), we are not in a position to act apathetically to our people and our collective cause. Races that can allow less emphasis on their group identity are not doing so because they are smarter, but instead because they are currently more fortunate. It is not that we do not deserve the same privileges of whites, who need not consciously act on behalf of other whites or actively build pride in their culture, but instead that we have (sadly) still not attained that position in this country. This is evident in our society, in the fact that no matter how detached or even “professional” a black person becomes, he or she will still face racial adversity in his or her daily life.
The type of individual described here, and this type of mentality, are no new obstacle to racial activism, especially within the black community. In the past, those who shared similar mindsets were labeled as “Sell outs,” “Uncle Toms,” or those who may have “forgotten where they came from.” I would not go so far as to endorse these accusations, but I think it is worth mentioning that these individuals are indeed wasted resources that could benefit the very causes they eschew. For example, black ‘professionals’ could be of great advantage to social causes, but they sometimes ironically fail to realize that their road to success was paved in part by blacks before them who worked dedicatedly to improve the prospects for minorities in America – they despise having to admit that their success was not completely of their own capability. They enjoy fruit from a tree that they themselves refuse to nurture. It is crucial to acknowledge that, had all oppressed minorities in the past also acted through a similar mindset of emphasized individualism and indifference towards their collective identity, none of us minorities would be able to enjoy the relative benefits that we do today.
Still, the psychological decision to avoid these topics is not an unreasonable one. The life of those who are oppressed is not ideal; there are even those who openly abhor it. There was recently a very publicized article published in The Guardian, in which a man named Orville Lloyd Douglas completely denounces life as a black man. I, too, have written about the challenges of being a black man in modern society.
Yet, people respond to these external social burdens in different ways, and perhaps it is too naïve to expect everyone to be strong enough to handle it. Some would much rather pretend or wish they didn’t have to live and work in the struggle of the black framework. Joining a movement for bettering our conditions would only further remind them of the challenges associated with their community. In the face of these hardships, there are people who opt for apathy as almost a form of denial or suppression of the inherent collective identity.
Nonetheless, sometimes (oftentimes, for underrepresented and underprivileged minorities) we must act selflessly. It is true that we never asked to be born under the unfortunate conditions of society’s racial constructs, and it is understandable that people want to remove themselves, or at least not actively align themselves, with such a social standing. But this is an issue of ethics, of selflessness, and of realizing that these conditions affect all of us externally, and will continue to do so (affecting future generations of our people) until we move to enact change; until we take a stand to actively associate ourselves (proudly) and consciously act out of consideration for our collective condition.