Antiblackness and Racism
(June 2020 version) Note: Events in the first half of 2020, in particular the deaths of Ahmaud Aubery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd served as the main catalyst for this section.
Antiblackness is an emerging area of study. Dr. Kihana Miraya Ross (2020) describes antiblackness as a theoretical framework that illuminates society’s inability to recognize the humanity of black people. It is a form of violence enacted on Black people that is not tied to a transgression. This violence is framed from legislative actions and social practices that have viewed Black people as property. Ross elaborates on this violence, describing this as the “thingification of black people”. Contemporary examples of this can be found when Black athletes are given edicts to “shut up and dribble” and Black academics are cautioned by members of their institution to not discourse on topics deemed controversial before promotion and tenure decisions.
Antiblackness in the United States is facilitated by the presence of plantation and chattel style slavery promoted through settler colonialism (Coles, 2019). Settler colonialists upon their arrival to America raised questions about whether all were members of the same human species or “family of man”, leading to philosophies questioning who should be free and who should be ranked higher in society. As a result of this thinking, laws and policies were created to justify land seizure, the denial of political rights, enslavement and other forms of coercive labor, and complete extermination of groups (Omi & Winant, 2010).
Before the formal institution of slavery in the United States, Harris (1993) notes that the precursor to Blacks being marginalized and being seen as less than human was seen in “the racialization of identity and the racial subordination of Blacks and Native Americans providing an ideological basis for slavery and conquest” (p. 1715).
Antiblackness is rooted in the belief that Blacks are property, problematic as individuals and inherently criminal. Smith (2012) entails that antiblackness creates the conditions for non-Blacks “to accept their lot in life because they can feel that at least they are not at the very bottom of the racial hierarchy: at least they are not property; at least they are not slaveable” (p. 69).
As noted by Sule (2019), racism is too often used as a “one-size fits all”, non-specific term in generalist approaches to account for the ways that racism affects different races. She espouses that there is anti-black racism, anti-Asian racism (which affects east Asians and south Asians differently), anti-Arab racism, and anti-white racism*. Sule asks us to consider anti-black racism as unique and more pervasive worldwide and provides us with the following commentary:
- From the 16th to the 19th century, around 12 million Africans were transported across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas by European slave traders. Millions more were born into slavery and spent their whole lives enslaved. And after slavery ended in the US, African Americans were subjected to segregation laws, the denial of civil rights and lynching.
- In the US, black people are more likely to be arrested for drugs offences even though they are not more likely to use or sell drugs, and as a result make up a disproportionate amount of the prison population.
- In South Africa, a majority black country, 72% of the country’s private farmland is owned by white people, who make up 9% of the population. During the apartheid era there was a clear racial hierarchy: whites at the top, Indians and “coloureds” in the middle, and black people at the bottom.
- Between AD 650 and the 1800s, almost 10 million Africans were sold by Arab slave traders to Arabia and the Indian subcontinent. The Arabic word abeed, which means “slave”, is still used to describe black people in countries from Algeria to Yemen.
- Between 2017 and 2018, black people in Britain were approximately 10 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white people were, and three times more likely than Asians.
- Black Caribbean pupils were permanently excluded at nearly three times the rate of white British pupils, while black people are more likely to be unemployed and homeless than all other racial minority groups.
- In 2019 Emmell Summerville, a sixth-grade student at Christ the King school, (Alberta, Canada) was asked to remove his durag because it “contravened school policy that states no caps, bandanas or hats are allowed in the school”. He later was accused of being a gang member by a school resource officer, who suggested that the item of clothing connoted some kind of “affiliation” with gangs.
- Sule cites Robin DiAngelo and her book White Fragility (2018) and DiAngelo’s observation that black people are the “ultimate racial other”. In the US, they are called “ni__er”, in Brazil they are termed macaco; in South Africa, they are nicknamed kaffir; in India, bandar; in China hak gwai.
- Non-Black people with dark skin, such as Indians and Filipinos, often experience racism rooted in anti-Blackness. There’s also colorism, a type of discrimination in which lighter skin is privileged over darker skin, that exists among people of the same race or ethnicity (Forster-Scott, 2013). Additionally, non-black communities can demonstrate negative stereotypes about Black people and distance themselves from other black people to maintain a perceived level of power.
*This is controversial based on whether one believes that whites as a dominant group can be victims of racism. There have been numerous commentaries on the idea of reverse racism.
A few beginning questions to consider when thinking about physical education teaching, PETE programs and recognizing antiblackness
- How is “Black” legally defined in your respective country?
- Are you aware of the history of your community and Black presence (if any) in your community?
- Are you aware of the history of residential segregation, redlining and other housing policies that could impact how physical education is delivered in your community? How does this potentially impact health disparities and PA promotion?
- As constructed, do physical education standards and concepts like physical literacy benefit certain groups?
- What images pop up when you Google the terms “thug” and “professor”?
- How many times have you seen the work of Black scholars highlighted in foundations of kinesiology and physical education texts?
- Who are the three Black people who have had a significant impact on your life?
- When did you first learn from a Black educator? Have you collaborated with a Black person in scholarship, program planning, or community engagement?
Forster-Scott (2013). Understanding colorism and how it relates to sport and physical education.
Harris, C. I. (1993). Whiteness as property. Harvard Law Review, 106 (8), 1707-1791.
Coles, J.A. (2019). The Black literacies of urban high school youth countering antiblackness in the context of neoliberal multiculturalism. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 15 (2). 1-35.
Omi, M., & Winant, H. (2010). Racial formations. In P. Rothberg (Ed.), Race, class, and gender in the United States (pp. 13-22). New York, NY: Worth Publishers
Ross, Kihana Mirava (2020, June 4). Call it what it is: Anti-Blackness. New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/04/opinion/george-floyd-anti-blackness.html
Smith, A. (2012). Indigeneity, settler colonialism, white supremacy. In D. Martinez HoSang, O. LaBennett, & L. Pulido (Eds.), Racial formation in the twenty-first century (pp. 66-90). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Sule, Ahmed (2019, August 9). Racism harms black people most. It’s time to recognize ‘anti-blackness’.The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/09/black-people-racism-anti-blackness-discrimination-minorities