I have been following a conversation over at thefreeslave entitled: Francis Holland On The Non-existence of Race. Although I didn’t comment, I was surprised and enlightened on the different perspectives we have as a community on the issue of race and racism. It also had me contemplating deeply my beliefs and perspective on this issue. 

Francis has left a couple of comments on a thread here explaining his concept of racism vs. what he defines as: “Extreme Color Arousal”. I believe the discussion over at thefreeslave is an important one and I am glad Francis has brought it over here. I will post his comments in two parts for our utilization and hopefully to foster more discourse and enlightenment. 

Good morning, everyone!

Some people in the Afrosphere, bless their well-meaning hearts, are asserting that the word “race” may be correct after all, because although Blacks may not be a separate but equal species of humans, it may be scientifically correct to assert that we are a “sub-species” of humans. (If I could remember where I saw this, I would provide a link.) Even if this were so, I will NEVER, EVER, refer to us as a separate “race” or a “separate” sub-species, because it IS NOT IN OUR POLITICAL INTERESTS TO DO SO!

My mother, the late Dr. Rachel V. Holland, who died in 1997, was college professor who taught Sociology for 20 years. She focused on teaching about what was then called “racism,” but is now coming to be called Extreme Color-Arousal. Throughout her twenty years of teaching, my mother taught me and all of her students this fundamental principle of Black existence in America:

“For hundreds of years, whites have perpetuated an argument that Blacks were from a separate and inferior race for the purpose of justifying our enslavement and segregation. Every argument about what “race” Blacks are from and what are the “inherent biological characteristics” of the “Black race” is a politically-motivated attempt by white people to demean Black people, and so you should NEVER engage in arguments about the genetic content of the Black race. You cannot win this argument, because as soon as you concede that there is ANY scientific reason to engage in this pseudo-scientific genetic battle, you have already lost the political war.”

Whites (and Blacks) will NEVER, EVER believe that a separate Black race in nonetheless equal.

Pardon me for hijacking this thread, but this is on my heart this Sunday morning and I have come to this “church” to talk about it. So, although biologically we could argue over whether Blacks are perhaps a “sub-species” of humans, it ought to be apparent that that is not our best argument for equality! Language matters. When you concede that you are “sub” you linguistically concede that you are “lower-than” on a hierarchy, even if you could (and will have to) argue for thousands of years that this is not what was intended.

The answer is simple. We must insist that the reason that whites discriminate against us has nothing to do with “race” and everything to do with “skin-color.” This linguistic struggle is as important as insisting that we are Blacks instead of Negroes and Colored. Words matter. Defining ourselves instead of being defined by others matters. The way that we choose to define our struggle with whites matters precisely because we assert the right and the power to define our struggle.

The word “race” is not our definition, it is a white definition that we have passively accepted. To the degree that we have made it our own and let it define us, it is like the slave name that Asabagna rejected when he assumed the name Asabagna. The word “race” is politically analogous to the slave name that Cassius Clay rejected when he insisted on being called “Muhammad Ali.” Muhammad Ali no longer wanted to be defined by the badges of inferiority sub-humanity created for Blacks during the time of slavery. When he insisted on being called Muhammad Ali, it was revolutionary in America, just as insisting on being called “Black people” rather than “the Black race” will be revolutionary awakening for Black people as well as white people.

Muhammad Ali did not become “the greatest” simply by winning in the boxing ring. He became the greatest by insisting on defining his own reality in relation to white American. If Muhammad Ali had the courage in the 1960’s to abandon a slave name and insist on defining himself and his relation to white people, surely we can find the courage to insist that we are discriminated against because of our “skin-color” and not because of our “race” and “racism.” We can put the locus and focus of this problem back where it belongs – on white people’s Extreme Color Arousal rather than on Black people’s “inferior “racial” characteristics.” In any case, like the name Cassius Clay vs. the name Muhammad Ali, it’s our choice to make.