The past was racist. The present is racist. That is to say, today, most people still perceive themselves and ‘others’ as being of ‘essentially’ different ‘biological’ lineages of human descent, as being different if closely related ‘species’ of man. This way of ‘seeing’ or ‘categorizing’ people is not unique to ‘Caucasians’ or ‘Negroes’ or ‘Asians,’ and so on. It afflicts both the ‘victimizers’ and the ‘victims’ of ‘racist’ social systems that confer real advantages on the basis of perceived ‘racial’ distinctions, however those distinctions may have come to be institutionalized.
Now a person can see himself as belonging to either a ‘privileged race’ or an ‘oppressed raced,’ and this in quite objective terms, depending upon which of the ‘races’ at issue is the one being ‘objectively’ privileged in a specific social context. In a racist society, if one ‘objectively’ bears the ‘marks’ of the underprivileged class, one is ‘objectively’ underprivileged on the basis of one’s ‘objective’ racial characteristics. No question.
But here is the rub: one can decry the inequality of the ‘races’ within a society that privileges one race over another, but does one thereby transcend the paradigm of ‘race?’ In other words, will you continue to insist on the ‘essential’ difference between men on the basis of their ‘racial characteristics,’ or will you insist on equality between men on the basis their ‘essential humanity’ in spite of their ‘racial characteristics?’
This is not an idle distinction. Because those who insist on equality between the ‘races’ cannot do so without insisting on or emphasizing, as the ‘racist’ himself does, the differences between the ‘races;’ they remain ‘conceptually’ trapped on the plane of the idea of ‘race-as-essential-difference,’ the very notion that is the ground that subtends all ‘racist ideologies.’
This is the meaning, for example, of Fanon’s declaration that ‘the white man is not, no more than the black man.’ And Fanon’s appeal is not to the ‘white man.’ He is addressing his fellow black man. He is asking the oppressed victims of racist ideologies to shed their own racism, to stop thinking of ‘themselves’ and of ‘others’ as members of specific ‘races,’ to regard themselves first and foremost as ‘men,’ without ‘racial’ distinctions. This does not abolish the ‘objective racist system of oppression and exploitation,’ but it does abolish the malady of ‘racism’ in the minds of the objectively oppressed, a thing that must at some point happen if ‘we’ are ever to get beyond the horror. Of course, though Fanon’s appeal is being directed to his oppressed countrymen, by implication, it is also an appeal to ‘all’ men, whomever and wherever they may be.
You cannot get beyond ‘racism’ without at the same time getting beyond the notion of ‘race-as-a-manifestation-of-essential-differences-between-men.’
Likewise, you cannot get someone to admit to being complicit in the crimes of a ‘racist’ social system if he has forsaken, in the manner of a Fanon, all racist ideology. At most, you can get him to admit that in objective terms the context is racist. But just because he happens to bear the ‘marks’ of what in that context is the ‘master race’ does not make him guilty of the crimes being committed on the basis of the racism inherent in that context.
I am white. I myself did not commit the crimes of my forebears. I see the racist context within which I live. I decry it. But I am not guilty of my father’s sins. Nor do I commit his sins.
Let each man bear the guilt of his own actions and inaction.
I want men to be equal. Not the various ‘races’ of men. Because all men, to my way of thinking, are ‘essentially’ alike.
Where a man is discriminated against, whatever his color or religion or ethnicity, where a man is being lynched or persecuted, for whatever reason, there an unspeakable crime is being committed. And in such a context, ‘our’ racism and bigotry plays into the hands of our common oppressors, the plutocrats in their unaccountable and undemocratic rule, whatever ‘their’ race or religion or nationality may be. It leaves us divided against ourselves, unable to come together as the community of ‘man’ that we could be. As Fanon put it, we need to learn to turn away from the inhuman voices of our ancestors and learn to recognize ourselves, one into every other.