‘The Very Real Racism’ Within the Black Community

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

An African American reader, Allene, wants to start a conversation about the “misconceptions about being black in America.” (She also highlights the trailer for a documentary on shadism, Dark Girls, seen above.) Allene writes:

I understand that you all are busy—very busy—with the convention this week, but I have to share with you a very different aspect of being black in America today.

Racism is a thing regardless of how the media handles or mishandles the relationship or the non-existence of a relationship between black and white Americans. So, for the sake of establishing a common ground, let’s accept that racism is a thing.

There is another, rarely examined aspect of what it means to be black in America. Modern-day black activists (hell, a whole lot of black folks in general), require other black people to be BLACK first—that is, to tote around on their bent backs and black shoulders the eons of tortured black history as if that history is a current-day reality while denying who they are as individuals.

Black people desire equal rights, to be sure, but when young black people go to racially-mixed high schools and colleges, exactly why are all black students required to only support black student organizations? Why do some of these same, educated, young black people deny other young black people from the human activity of just being a human being? The worst of this aspect of being a black college student in America is the judgement that happens in those organizations. “You ain’t black enough; why you got pretty hair—your momma or daddy white?"

For the life of me, I cannot understand how black people are so quick to recognize racism as directed towards them from whites, Latinos, Asians, et al, and miss the very real racism that exists within our race from one another.

I read an UTNE Reader article this morning, penned by a young man named Kevin Powell, where he states that “black women are incapable of not supporting black men” as the rationale for why the mostly black, female jury could not convict O.J. Simpson for killing his wife and Ron Goldman. To this young black man, and many other black men, black women are incapable of reason and/or logic when it comes to judging black men. How is this thinking any different from the so-called white culture, where some believe that black women are simply not capable, able to process information, think and succeed independently?

While being black requires us to respect our culture and heritage, it’s difficult not to be influenced by a culture, our culture, where black women are often not accepted as being intelligent, desirable, and beautiful by black men. In my own black life, most of the black men I encounter either wanted to dominate me (“You need to be tamed”) or insult me (“Your husband ain’t going to want you when he can have his pick of Asian women when he returns from Vietnam”—way to go, uncle, with the generous compliment about my physical attributes).

I don’t know why black activists feel that each and every black person in America must be black before any other aspect of their personalities and lives. I have been called an Oreo Cookie because of the way I speak, where I live, and the people I choose to have/share my life with.

I can’t imagine any white person waking up and thinking “God, I’m white and privileged, so the world is out there waiting for me to conquer.” I’ve known for quite some time that white folks struggle too. What many blacks do not accept about white America is that there are millions of poor white folks in this country without opportunities just like legions of poor blacks. The reality for all of these people, both black and white, is that poor is poor and being poor isn't easier just because your skin is white.

Somehow some black people believe that our collective past makes it impossible for us to be American. How can I know or be anything more than my exposure to life, which has been wholly American? And not black American—simply American. We all have a shared history, regardless of how dark and violent. We all have dreams of living good lives, educating our children while exposing them to untold adventures and yet we operate as if the color of our skins makes those very human drives different.

I can not and do not carry the burden of my ancestors’ bondage anymore than I carry the scars of being disenfranchised in an alien land that robbed my people of a language, a culture, a land. As a black American, I cannot return to Africa. In Africa I am also considered to be untrustworthy, a bastardized offshoot of a people long ago sold into slavery by people with skin the same color as mine.

So, if America is not my home, am I supposed to accept that I am just a stranger in a very strange land without the hope of ever being accepted as merely human? Well, in this world today, it appears that my simple desire to merely be accepted as human is something rejected by a lot of Americans—white people, but also by black people who require me to only be black!

Can you relate to Allene? Or is your outlook much different? Drop us a note and we’ll share your experience.