Juneteenth: Lessons for My Brother’s Keeper


By Dr. Herukhuti

From White House My Brother's Keeper Landing Page
From White House My Brother’s Keeper Landing Page

Imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy is so fucking seductive. The addiction to it is really fucking deep. I know a number of readers are already turned off by my use of profanity. I want you to hold onto your discomfort with my profanity as I explain my rage at the profanity of the White House initiative targeting (I use that concept deliberately) boys and men of color as well as the profanity of the responses to the initiative by so-called feminist men and women.

According to the May 28, 2014 progress report the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force submitted to POTUS, the initiative is “a mechanism to highlight and build on what works inside and outside of government for improving expected life outcomes of young people and removing barriers to their success.” The co-chairs of the Task Force further stated, “Today, we are pleased to report that a strong foundation for your initiative has been laid in the past 90 days. Agency representatives on the Task Force have worked tirelessly to assess programs and policies that have the potential to enhance positive outcomes and eliminate or reduce negative ones. Some of the proposals will begin a long process toward tearing down structural barriers.”

The reference to “structural barriers” in the letter that opens the progress report and the phrase “systemic barriers” used several other places in the report are never delineated. The report is a discussion of the fruits of the systemic barriers and recommendations for addressing those fruits without a thoughtful articulation of the roots of the systemic barriers. In the section that most resembles an analysis of the systemic barriers, the Task Force provided the following:

Persistent Challenges: Context Matters 

Despite overall progress, some Americans have lagged behind, have fewer opportunities available to them and continue to face roadblocks to success. One of these groups is boys and young men of color.

Boys and young men of color are more likely than their peers to be born into low-income families and live in concentrated poverty; to have teenage mothers; to live with one or no parent; to attend high-poverty, poor performing schools; to miss out on rigorous classes; and to have teachers that are inexperienced or unqualified.

In schools and in courts, these boys and young men too often receive harsher penalties for the same infractions as similarly charged White males, and are least likely to be given a second chance. 

They have higher incidences of asthma, diabetes, and other illnesses which affect everything from school attendance to employment. And, particularly detrimental to their academic and professional achievement, they are less likely to be diagnosed or treated early for intellectual, learning or emotional disabilities and are more likely to be enrolled in special education. 

They are more likely to live in communities with higher rates of crime, increasing the likelihood of negative encounters with police and victimization by violent crime.

Role models and a strong network of caring, informed adults may be unavailable. Even for those children in the best circumstances, society provides negative reinforcement and at times explicit bias.

Similarly, research suggests that Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and other sexual and gender minority (GBTQ) youth of color also experience high levels of systemic barriers to well-being compared to White GBTQ youth.

These challenges are complex and interwoven, but they are also surmountable with focused effort. Stories of triumph, despite these statistics, are inspiring evidence of this fact.

This contextualization of the circumstances that many people of color experience does not explain why we experience these things. And there in lies the profanity of this initiative–the inability of this White House to acknowledge racism and call it for what it is. Imagine for a moment that the White House created an initiative to address the environmental devastation happening on the planet  without using the term climate change. Would you think something is odd? Would you take the initiative, its Task Force or the administration’s commitment to it serious? Well, the progress report of the White House My Brother’s Keeper Initiative Task Force does not use the word racism at all!

Juneteenth

This brings us to Juneteenth (June 19th) and its relevance to My Brother’s Keeper. According to Juneteenth.com,

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment,the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

Juneteenth reminds us that imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy is resilient, is not upended merely by legislation or executive order and only yields to the power of force. Twenty-first century racism does not function in the form of slavery or Jim Crow but it does function and it functions very well. And it is just as persistent and resilient as it was when it took an army in 1865 Texas  to enforce a two and half-year old executive order recognizing the equality in liberty, law and freedom of African people who had been enslaved in this country.

The My Brother’s Keeper Initiative is a profane abomination that seeks to galvanize all sectors of the society to help boys and men of color successfully pursue the American dream rather than galvanizing all sectors of the society to uproot, dismantle and heal from the American nightmare that is imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. Like all great magic tricks and con games, it uses misdirection to focus the viewers’ attention away from the real operations of the system. Can we expect anything more from people who have been put in power to maintain the empire? If you do expect more, tell me what in the history of empires should convince me to expect more as well.

I have no doubt that the people involved in the initiative, including POTUS, are well-meaning people. They are well-meaning people who are seduced by and addicted to imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. They believe, as do many who have achieved a certain level of success in this society that the reasons for their success are due to their hard work, determination, etc. as if the millions of people who have not achieved their success were less hardworking or determined. They believe in a politics of respectability and Talented Tenth mythology that invests value in their ability to be embraced by middle class and wealthy people of European descent. As a result, they have much more in common with the white supremacy of conservatives than they care to admit.

Hoodwinked, Bamboozled and Led Astray

Rather than naming the My Brother’s Keeper the sham that it is, groups of men and women, some of whom are friends and colleagues, have petitioned the White House to include girls and women of color in the con game. In the name of gender parity, justice and equality, it is important to them that girls and women of color be subjected to the profanity that is this White House initiative. The letter from 1000+ women calls the initiative a “critical undertaking.” Really? What makes it critical? The initiative lacks the critical analytical thinking that has traditionally characterized Black Feminist Thought, Third World Feminism, and Transnational Feminism. The letter further stated:

Those who have justified the exclusive gender focus of MBK often remind us that male youth of color are like the miner’s canary: their plight warns us that something is wrong in the mine…. Clearly American society continues to be a toxic environment for many of our young people. Yet male-exclusive initiatives seem to lose sight of the implications of the canary’s distress: it is not a signal that only male canaries are suffering. It makes no sense to equip the canary with a mentor, a gas mask and or some other individual-level support while leaving the mine as it is and expecting the females to fend for themselves. If the air is toxic, it is toxic for everyone forced to breathe it.

The letter from men, at least, made the point to POTUS  that his “admonishment to Black and Latino men to be more responsible and to stop making excuses frames problems of educational attainment, unemployment, and incarceration consistent with those who say Blacks suffer from a “culture of pathology.”

Apparently, many of us missed the point of Audre Lorde’s speech The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House in which she said,

What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow parameters of change are possible and allowable…. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those [people] who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.

Another Vision

Frederick Douglass declared:

The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle… If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

 

Rather than getting caught up in fighting for gender equality in the White House’s version of  a whitewashed, corporate diversity and equality program, we can continue the work to uproot, dismantle and heal from the American nightmare that is imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. That work will not come out of or be endorsed by the White House. It will not have corporate sponsorship. It will not get you a show on MSNBC or a job as a political commentator on CNN. But it will get you and everyone else a more just world.

3 Comments

  1. You say”…we can continue the work to uproot, dismantle and heal from the American nightmare that is imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. That work will not come out of or be endorsed by the White House. It will not have corporate sponsorship. It will not get you a show on MSNBC or a job as a political commentator on CNN. But it will get you and everyone else a more just world”.

    These are powerful words, but you leave us in the dark. What is the WORK that you so vociferously refer to. How do we uproot, dismantle and heal from the American nightmare that is imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy, without confronting it dead in its tracks? What is the work??

    Like

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