Definitions for Five Pillars Frame

Race and Racial Privilege

Before we engage in how to address anti-Black racism in our daily lives, it is necessary to define the terms we will be using in this frame.

Privilege: is a right, advantage, or immunity selectively granted to individuals or groups based not on perceived merit but on perceived membership in a group. Privilege is not something inherent in a person, meaning white skin does not grant special rights, advantages or immunities. Rather a more accurate definition would be to say, we live in society in which being perceived as white gives one access to certain rights, advantages and immunities based on positive stereotypes associated with whiteness[i][1]. Privileges exist on fluid spectrums. This means that increased proximity to privileged identities like maleness, whiteness or wealth grants increased privileges. The whiter one is perceived the more facets of society will grant a person white privilege.

Ethnicity: is a socially defined idea that divides humanity into different groups based on a given society’s belief that they share a common history, culture, language, geography or ancestry. Han Chinese, Welsh, Bantu, and Jewish are all examples of ethnic categories in America. Generally speaking, people can be identified as having both a race and an ethnicity. For instance, Black is a race while African-American, Afro-Caribbean, and Bantu are ethnicities that are “raced Black” or included in the understanding of Blackness in America.

Race: is a socially defined idea [i.e. a social construct not a scientific fact] that divides humanity into different groups based physical appearance [i.e. phenotypes, facial features, dark skin, clothes etc] and mannerisms. Black, White, Asian and Latino are examples of racial categories in America.

Racial Prejudice: simply means to pre-judge someone or something based on their racial characteristics. Thinking that Black people are lazy or all Asians are good at math are examples of racial prejudice. Racial prejudice can exist in many forms: it can be an individually-held belief, or can broadly impact institutions and organizations as a socially defined series of interpersonal scripts, stereotypes and beliefs that holds that certain positive or negative characteristics are inherent in or typify members of different races.

Racism: is racial prejudice held by, perpetuated by, or used by individuals, groups or institutions with racial privilege. In short, it is prejudice + power. It’s distinction from racial prejudice is important for several reasons, chief among them is the disparate impact and weight that prejudice has on individuals, groups, institutions and society as a whole when backed by systematic privilege. Due to white supremacy, which holds white people have inherently more value and authority, white people displaying racial prejudice have a much more damaging effect than Blacks or Asians doing the same.

Racial Hierarchy: is a socially defined idea in which different races have different levels of privilege and access to power, institutions, or wealth. In some societies, racial hierarchy is strictly regimented and codified like the separation of Whites, Coloreds and Blacks in Apartheid South Africa. In others, like the modern day United States, racial hierarchy is a more fluid spectrum of various privileges and oppressions based on perceived race.

White Supremacy: is a specific form of racial hierarchy in which white people hold a position of privilege, power, and prestige over other races granting them greater access to political power, wealth, and other forms of social currency. This often leads to what is called “the normalization of whiteness” in which people perceived as white are set up as the standard and other races are deviations [i.e. describing your white friend as tall and your Black friend as Black].

Intersectionality: is a way of looking at systems of oppression like racism, xenophobia [a fear of foreigners], sexism, transphobia or homophobia that recognizes that the complex nature of human identity means that you cannot fully explain one form of oppression without placing it in context with other forms of oppression. For instance Barack Obama is simultaneous oppressed as Black and granted privileges due to class, gender, sexuality, national origin, able-bodiness etc.

Anti-Black Racism: a form of racial hierarchy in which perceived Blackness or proximity to Blackness, places one at the bottom of said racial hierarchy.

Organizing Language

Points of Intervention

These have been adapted from Patrick Reinsborough’s piece in the collection Beautiful Trouble

Point of production
Action at the point of production is the foundational insight of the labor movement. Workers organize to target the economic system where it directly affects them, and where that system is most vulnerable. Strikes, picket lines, work slowdowns, and factory take-overs are all point-of-production actions. For a conceptual or ideological target like White Supremacy, points of production are a little more difficult. White Supremacy can be produced or reproduced in the classroom, at conservative think tanks or white nationalist organizations.

Point of destruction
A point of destruction is the place where harm or injustice is actually occurring. This could be a particular authoritarian charter school, a heavily policed street corner or a detention center. By design, the point of destruction is almost always far from public attention — made invisible by remoteness, oppressive assumptions, or ignorance — and tends to disproportionately impact already marginalized communities. Intervention at the point of destruction can halt an act of destruction in the moment, as well as dramatize the larger conflict.

Point of consumption
The point of consumption is the location of interaction with a product or service that is linked to injustice. Point-of-consumption actions are the traditional arena of consumer boycotts and storefront demonstrations. The point of consumption is often the most visible point of intervention for actions targeting commercial entities. This might include a big box retailer like Wal-Mart, a movie theatre where movies like Exodus are played or a social studies classroom that does not teach Black history.

Point of decision
The point of decision, where the power to act on a campaign’s demands rests, is often the most self-evident point of intervention, and therefore one of the most frequently targeted. Whether it’s a slumlord’s office see CASE: Day care center sit-in, a corporate boardroom or state capital, or an international summit meeting see CASE: Battle in Seattle, many successful campaigns have used some form of action at the point of decision to put pressure on key decision-makers.

Point of assumption
Assumptions are the building blocks of ideology, the DNA of political belief systems. They operate best when they remain unexamined. If basic assumptions can be exposed as contrary to people’s lived experience or core values, entire belief systems can be shifted. Actions that expose and target widely held assumptions can therefore be very effective at shifting the discourse around an issue and opening up new political space. Point-of-assumption actions can take many different forms, such as exposing hypocrisy, reframing the issue, amplifying the voices of previously silenced characters in the story, or offering an alternative vision see TACTIC: Prefigurative intervention. Black healing spaces like Black Lives Matter DMV’s #BlackJoySundays that take place in gentrifying areas are an example of a prefigurative intervention at the point of assumption.

Turning creative action into real change requires careful strategizing. Identifying different possible points to target is a great first step to help design actions that connect to large campaign and social change goals.

Praxis: Paulo Freire defines praxis in Pedagogy of the Oppressed as “reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed.” It is a cycle of action, reflection and critical education that allows us to put theory into practice in a way that also refines theory. Having an anti-racism praxis means that you put your anti-racism into practice by checking your privilege, you reflect on how your privilege may have played a role in everyday experiences and you educate yourself on racism and white supremacy.

Black Queer Feminism: Black Feminism is a school of feminist thought centered on the intersectionality of oppressions. To paraphrase prominent Black Queer Feminist Audre Lourde, we cannot have single issue movements because we do not live single issue lives. It is based on the understanding that race, class and gender are inextricably linked and must be approached as such. It is in contrast to main stream feminism which too often focuses on the experiences and needs of middle class white women.

According to David Halperin “Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence. ‘Queer’ then, demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the normative.”

Black Queer Feminism then is, among other things, an understanding of oppression through an intersectional lens that focuses the critic of the current social order from the margins of that order that face the brunt of it brutality. It gives us to tool to have a praxis of collective liberation wherein the leadership of the multiple marginalized communities are centered in a way that ensures no one is left behind.

[1] For instance, if a White person were to walk into a jewelry store, the might get better treatment or financing options than a person of color of the same class. However, over the phone, if the jewelry store owners think that the person is not white, they might not receive those same privileges. The customer is still white, yet the privilege is based on perceived race. Likewise with class privilege, it’s not having the money that gives you privilege, its people thinking you have money that gives you privilege. Having the money to hire a lawyer is not a facet of class privilege directly [though having access forms of capital that allow you to stay wealthy might be], however, getting the case thrown out because of “affluenza” is an example of direct class privilege.

One thought on “Definitions for Five Pillars Frame

  1. Pingback: The 5 Pillars of White Supremacy in DC | The Well Examined Life

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