Racism is not merely the problem of the twentieth century. It is also the solution of the modern age. Russell Wilson, quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, had to negotiate the question last month as tensions in the team’s locker room grew during an uneven start to their season. Percy Harvin, a star wide receiver, had been traded as allegations of in-fighting circulated. Other assertions about the laziness of the running back, Marshawn Lynch, soon followed. The subtext was the public celebration of Wilson for his leadership, his intellect, and his judgment – ultimately, his whiteness – in a workplace where athleticism, speed, and violence – the spectacle of public blackness – was the foundation for the team’s success.
In September 1991, a first-year student at Villanova University stood up during the opening welcome ceremony for the Class of 1995 and asked the Vice-President of Academic Affairs an arcane question about the curriculum and its flexibility. Across the room, a group of students chuckled at the question – whispering, “THAT is the whitest black man in America.” One of the fundamental prerogatives of white authority is the determination of the consequences of black status. It is this constant negotiation that has shaped the career of President Barack Obama over the last decade. For Obama, for Wilson, for me in the auditorium two decades ago, the reality of being intelligent and black required some form of public interrogation and rejection to restore an orderly understanding of American society.
Whiteness evades this kind of scrutiny – it obscures and protects individual liberty in addition to legitimating authority. The continuing phenomenon of “passing” (where someone disguises their ethnic heritage to claim a privileged social status) evolves in infinite ways. Are you Filipino passing for Venezuelan? Are you lesbian passing for straight? Are you trans passing for cis? Are you black passing for white? There is a measurable cost to the authenticity of your public self. These choices decide your employment status, your credit score, and your access to education. The more you conform, the higher your reward. These distinctions can literally kill you with poverty or save you with prosperity.
A woman purchased as a fancy in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1848 could cost her (rapist) paramour as much as $5000 – or, $138,000 today. Her bodily compliance with the sexual demands of her owner conveyed a status beyond the people working in the field or in the kitchen. Among the universe of black lives, her intimacy with the secrets and symbols of whiteness and masculinity provided an escape. These fundamental transactions remain at the core of the ways women of all backgrounds are marketed, debated, sold, and repackaged in print media, tv shows, movies, and internet broadcasting. In the global public sphere, the vast majority of women remain commodities bound by the gaze and desire of white men.
The measurement of racial conformity mirrors the gendered boundaries of bourgeois and elite society. Harvin must be reminded his violent behavior sabotages the team. Lynch’s efforts to secure higher pay after negotiating a settled contract is an intolerable breach of collective bargaining schedules. Wilson only runs from the pocket as a last resort; he knows you can only win a championship by effectively reading defenses. Greason’s silence reflects his gratitude to be included in this exclusive class of undergraduates – how naïve, ignorant, he is to ask questions in a public forum. Obama didn’t know his place and doesn’t work well with the Congress. That’s why he had to force through health care legislation and his economic recovery has led to a weak recovery.
These lies all hinge on the assumption of affirming traditions of leadership created in an early nineteenth century society dedicated to fundamental, social inequality. Nothing less than an entire reconstruction of this ideological framework can ever create broad conditions of liberty for all people. One of the key tools in this transformation is the field of Asset Value Analysis. At the Global Blackness conference at Duke University from November 6-8, a group of distinguished scholars will present new research on the creation of a just world economy. One of the papers will explain how a single mother who earns $8000 a year can use Asset Value Analysis to increase her income to $150,000 a year, while reducing her expenses and debts by 60% on average in the first year. The lessons derive from the ways enslaved people built their own liberation in the late nineteenth century combined with the principles of economic self-determination that emerged during the diasporic Renaissance between 1921 and 1954.
Taken together, the field of Asset Value Analysis creates a wealth praxis for individuals and families to create financial stability and lifetime employment. It is the foundation of the Engines of Wealth initiative at Monmouth University, and it dismantles the unyielding legacies of racial inequalities from their roots in the conceptions of blackness as failure and whiteness as excellence. For pundits like Stephen A. Smith and Colin Cowherd who struggled with the importance of this discussion last month, this conference is a chance to expand our learning together.
Dr. Walter Greason founded the International Center for Metropolitan Growth (ICMG_International Center for Metropolitan Growth) and is the author of the award-winning historical monograph, Suburban Erasure. He is also the primary instructor for the “Engines of Wealth” initiative at Monmouth University. His work is available on Twitter (@worldprofessor / @icmgrowth), Facebook, LinkedIn, and by email (email@example.com).
For bookings (workshops and speaking engagements), contact NJ History (firstname.lastname@example.org).