Sparked by Protein Wisdom, Ampersand writes a post on why, as white liberals, we should not devote much (if any) attention to so called "black-on-black" racism. I've written on this issue at least once before, but I want to further explicate on why, even from a Critical Leftist stance, we should be vociferous in condemning racism by blacks against blacks.
Essentially, there are two distinct arguments against whites condemning black-on-black racism. The first is ideological--either such actions aren't really a problem, or alternatively, they should be dealt with within the community itself. This claim I addressed in the prior post--look there for my critique.
The second argument, and the one Ampersand makes in this post, is political--black-on-black racism is comparatively less damaging and less prominent than the massive amount of structural racism still present in society, thus, anti-racism advocates should focus their attention where the greatest harms are. Or as Amp puts it, "deal with Judy's collapsed lung before dealing with Bob's scraped knee."
Such an argument admits that both white racism and black racism, like Bob and Judy's ailments, are indeed problems. In an "ideal" world, where there are no time trade-offs or issues of resource allocation, presumably Ampersand would support loud and consistent denunciations of all racist acts. However, in a world where resources (time, effort, and money) are limited, we have to make trade-offs, and the end-result should be affecting the most change possible to eliminate racism in its most damaging forms.
Insofar as this is a political argument, it should be addressed on political terms. The question is whether or not white condemnations of black-on-black racism (or black-on-white racism, for that matter) have positive and non-replicable consequences in the political sphere, and whether those consequences outweigh whatever negatives exist (in terms of resource allocation, time spent, etc..).
We should start by noting that in general, condemning individual acts of black-on-black racism is not particularly time intensive. I probably spent a few hours, tops, on my post about the black-facing of Michael Steele--and that was a post that actually got attention (which of course, makes it more likely that I'll post updates and the like). Meanwhile, as I'm sure Amp knows, I also blog relatively frequently on the "big" issues of structural racism and white privilege that Amp says I should be focusing on. So, to a partial extent, the "ideal world" and the "real world" merge--we can do both. I think the problem is that we conflate the amount of effort needed to oppose structural racism (which is pretty high, since it is persistent and omnipresent) and black racism (which is relatively low, because it is scattered and not supported by some overarching societal superstructure). To sum up: opposing black racism is not likely to be a time-intensive endeavor compared to opposing white racism.
More importantly, though, is that I think my condemnation of such acts as Steve Gilliard blackfacing Steele gives me credibility amongst moderates and conservatives when talking about race issues that I wouldn't otherwise possess. After posting on Lt. Gov. Steele, I've inoculated myself against charges of bias and partisanship, such that it's more likely that the people we need to reach will take me seriously. If some conservative reads one of my posts about structural racism and makes the stock attack, that I'm anti-white or just some wild-eyed multicultural radical, I can point to these posts and prove that I'm not. They might still ignore me, but it's more likely that they'll tune in and in any event any undecided observers will look on me more favorably. That's a positive benefit and one that's seriously lacking when we only attack white power and privileges. We can't expect to make any gains on race when we're alienating the majority of our audience. If whites hold the levers of racial power in our society, than it is whites who we need to persuade to affect racial change, and we must adapt our arguments accordingly.
I'm not saying we should go out of our way to find incidents of black racism for counter-balancing purposes. But when they're thrust in front of our faces, we should be clear where we stand. Perhaps in an ideal world I shouldn't have to prove my even-handedness by attacking black racism too. But recall that Amp is making an argument that is expressly divorced from the ideal world. She can't just jump from idealism to realism and back again whenever it suits her. If we're trying to affect positive racial change in real-world America, part of that project means taking deliberate steps so that the audience will listen to our words. I think that goal requires some showing of non-partisanship.
Incidentally, I disagree with John Cole's response post--I do think that "identity politics" has been incorrectly caricatured, that the tactic is neither new nor radical, and that the vast majority of the message is positive and needs to be heard. But we should still be cognizant of the "politics" in "identity politics," and that means building bridges to both the friends we have and the foes we seek to convert.