Support Shawn's writng with a donation

Monday, August 6, 2012

Black Individualism and How It Hurts the Black Community

In the comments section of the blog I’ve had the displeasure of running into a handful of brothers and sisters with a very dangerous way of thinking. A mindset that could do serious damage to the Black community by fragmenting it. That way of thinking is Black Individualism.

Black individualists are people who see themselves as people, not members of the Black race. They don’t see themselves or their actions having an impact on other Black people. In their eyes they are Americans who are judged by the content of their character, not the color.

Many come from homes where their parents have shielded them from the experiences of racism. Some grew up in the suburbs. Others grew up in affluent parts of the city. A handful grew up in the ghetto. They’re the kind of people who think that racism and discrimination doesn’t exist anymore. That the struggle for civil rights is over. That every Black person has an equal opportunity for success in America. That they don’t have to help others. That everyone who wants to be successful can be successful and achieve the American Dream just like their parents did and just like they’re doing.

What makes Black individualists dangerous is the fact that they take their position in life for granted. They don’t see the experiences of other Black people. They think because just because they have a job, that other Black people aren’t denied opportunities for employment. That because they haven’t experienced racism or discrimination in their lives that other people haven’t.

And when someone presents them with an experience that is different from theirs, they dismiss it as an aberration. Some say that the person is bitter. A liar. Or just angry. After all, racism and discrimination didn’t happen to them.

And that it isn’t going on as they speak in their lives. They believe because they got an opportunity to get a job, never had a run-in with police, or were able to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of their happiness problem free, other Black people should be able to too.

In their opinions only whiners talk about racism and discrimination.

Disconnected from the Black experience and indifferent from the experiences of other Black people, they live in a perpetual state of denial about the issues regarding racism and discrimination in America.

This narrow-minded perception of Blackness is extremely dangerous when people who think this way find themselves in positions of power. When people like this are employed in jobs, they’re the kind to reinforce racist policies by justifying everyday discrimination. When they become managers they create further racist policies that keep other brothers and sisters from finding work.

When they create media like films, television shows and books, they’re the kinds of people to present the worst stereotypes about Black people to the world and say they’re just “expressing themselves”. That they have no connection to other Black people. And that they represent themselves and their viewpoint and not a representation of Black people in America.  

And when they enter the political arena, they help write laws that keep Black people stranded in poverty for generations.

They’re the kinds of people to tell poor Black people to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

Not knowing that they don’t control the money that allows them to buy the boots.

Black people who see themselves as individuals don’t understand that they are judged in a White Supremacist society as part of the group of Black people. They don’t understand that as a group of a minority in a White majority controlled country that the actions of a few individuals often directly impact the group negatively. They don’t understand that one Non-Black person’s interactions with a Black person or their prejudices regarding Black people can cost the entire Black community in the long run.

In the workplace when one Black person screws up and gets fired, it can prevent other Black people from getting work at that business. And when said individual screws up and gets fired, the other Black people who work there are made to walk on eggshells because now their jobs are in jeopardy.

It’s not common after one Black person makes a small mistake on a job for a manager to terminate all the Black people there or make things so unbearable there that they quit.

Since they had the bad experience with one Black person ALL Black people are judged as incompetent regardless of education, experience, talent or skill.

When one Black filmmaker or screenwriter with this mindset creates a film or a TV show filled with racist stereotypes about Black people it shows the world a picture of how Black people live. That this caricatured exaggerated picture is the norm. That it’s what’s to be expected of how Black people act in real life.

Worse, when one Black filmmaker creates a film and it fails at the box-office it has a domino effect on other Black people and their projects.

When one Black man commits a crime, it puts the entire community under siege. It makes racist police officers profile other innocent African-Americans, especially African-American men. Worse, it makes racist politicians create law enforcement policies that keep Black people, especially Black men oppressed.

When one Black woman presents herself as a stereotypical Black Sapphire or lascivious promiscuous Jezebel it makes the world see all women as unattractive and undesirable. Those stereotypes trickles down and prevents other Black women from having friendships and relationships with Black men and men and women outside of the Black community.

Black Individualists don’t understand that they’re playing right into White Supremacists’ hands when they distance themselves from the group of Black people. From the founding of this country White Supremacists have used the tactic of divide and conquer to control African-Americans. When a Black person separates himself or herself from their community to become part of the Great American Melting Pot to become an individual they make themselves extremely vulnerable.

And when they are alone they are targeted by White Supremacists. It’s easy for a sniper to take down one Black person in a sea of white faces because they stand out.

It’s even easier to eliminate  opportunities for other Black people by changing the way of thinking of that one black person to the White Supremacist viewpoint through social engineering and social conditioning. Without other Black people to provide that counterpoint to that individual and keep them connected to the Black community the individual often assimilates to conform to the racist ideals and beliefs of the very White Supremacists who keep them oppressed.

Many successful African Americans wound up in the cross hairs of White Supremacists when they separated from the Black community. And when they separated from the Black community to adopt that individualized mindset they lost everything they worked for.

A Black person in White Supremacist America cannot be an individual. Nor can a Black person see themselves as an individual. In White Supremacist America every Black person is connected to every other Black person. One Black person’s actions directly affect the other Black people in their community and other Black communities across the country.


  1. Shawn, this is a blog well worth considering, and it's carefully conceived and presented.

    I thinkwe all have though along these lines, but I doubt that you can hope to reach insular people like this. We all have our own ways of dealing with the cancer of racism. This is simply one of many.

    It's a subject well worth pursuing, and perhaps you will win over some converts that will make all the ifference. Just keep shining the light and hope that it will illuminate the path of at least a few.

  2. Your way of thinking is definitively interesting, however I find a great "us vs them" mentality within your writing. Which means you have a collectivist mindset. That mindset in its self is also very dangerous.

    A lot of your points are view points of collectivist thought, if you regarded them in an individualist thought they would not be sufficient arguments at all. If one black employee did screw up, you say all the black employees are in jeopardy, which could be true if the employer didn't treat that black employee as an individual, instead of a person of a said group.

    I believe that the reason we see a lot of racial tension today is due to the collectivist mindset you hold and praise. It is with that mindset that people begin to disregard the responsibility of an individual over the greater good of the community. In cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, of which are tragic stories, the community is outraged by the actions of the police instead of realizing that the victim held the responsibility of their own actions. They committed a crime therefore they will have a run in with the police

    I will however concede that in the police community there there is also a "us vs them" mentality. Which causes an unending circle between the two. If there was a balance of collectivism and individualism in these communities I believe that there would be a lot less conflict between the two.

    Thanks for the different view point.

  3. So I'm African American. I disagree with your argument and it's flawed in many ways. #1. Just because a black employee is fired doesn't mean that every other black employee is more likely to suffer the same fate. If someone is doing their job well, why would they get fired just because some other member of their race was sent to the chopping board? #2. The collectivist mentality is one of the root causes of racism. It also promotes something else negative, which is ethnocentrism. A racist sees us as members of a group before seeing us as individuals. They're stupid enough to overgeneralize about an entire group full of individuals who each have had different experiences, personalities, values, upbringings and skills in order to simplify the world. It's a stupid and dangerous mindset that the a person is not an individual with a mind of their own and their own values but simply a member of a group who has to be like everybody else regardless of their own needs. We're obviously not all the same. Stereotypes and misunderstandings come from the collectivist mindset.
    #3. I value individualism, not the authoritarianism of the type of collectivism you're talking about. I was born an individual with my own personality. Collectivism can promote more concern for others or the community, which is good. But you're still an individual. I'm not a representative of my race and I get tired of hearing this dumb collectivist mindset in a lot of black people I've been around or known thru ought my life. They conform to stupid stereotypes because they think that black culture is this monolithic ideal of "authentic blackness". And want to cloister themselves with everybody that looks like them all their lives. I learned a long time ago that whether people look like me or not, if they don't share my worldview, values or interests they're not a part of the culture I identify with. I am united with all my people in the fight against racism, promoting cultural pride and honor of our race, culture, acknowledgment of our experiences as well as our ancesters, as well teaching my future children to be proud of the identity I raise them to value. However, if a racist person is stupid enough to assume something about my entire group based on how they see me act, that's on them not me.
    #4. I care about the struggles of all of my people. I want to get more involved in community efforts to help resolve the problems of poverty, disenfranchisement, abuse, and social isolation that hurts many of my people. We should all care about and promote black success and prosperity in any way we can.