Terms, pt. 5: They'd Better Come Up with Some Solutions

The Terms

As I've spoken up about racial injustice last year, I've gotten a lot of feedback to the tune of, "You talk about the problem a lot, but you haven't suggested any solutions." You don't have to do too much digging to mine out the assumption embedded in that statement: many people think that black people bear some responsibility to take the lead in solving America's racial injustice problems.

We'll set aside the fact that I actually have presented solutions (as have many black people before me) so that we can focus on why people shouldn't be expecting black people to offer solutions to begin with. The problem with these terms and conditions are that they ask those who are affected by the problem to solve it, rather than demanding that those who perpetuate (and benefit) from the problem to stop participating in it.

The Problem

My guess at why some people automatically have those sorts of expectations of black people is that black people have led the way in the past in abolition movements and civil rights activism. Yet, people should be careful to remember that the heroic black freedom fighters of the past should have never been put in the situations for which we celebrate them today. We should be in awe of a figure like Harriet Tubman, who led hundreds of slaves to freedom; and it would be a mistake to assume that all black people must become a sort of Harriet Tubman (or insert the iconic historical freedom fighter of your choice) of their time and find some way to undermine the system from below, probably at great risk and cost to themselves.

These oppressive social arrangements that continue to emerge in America-- from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration--are ultimately the responsibility of those who participate in and benefit from them. We don't expect for sex slaves to devise a comprehensive platform to end human trafficking. We don't expect child slaves to campaign for legislation to shut down sweatshops where they toil to make our goods. We don't tell victims of domestic abuse that they should solve their partners anger management issues. So then, how is it that black people are responsible to solve anti-black racism? We aren't.

People who suggest that black people have to present solutions should be ready to answer the question "or else what?" If black people don't come up with the plan to end structural racism, will that somehow justify all of those who continue to participate in it? Will it somehow be our fault that these "innocent" people won't do the work of educating themselves? Each of the terms and conditions is always a way to blame black people for the race problem and to charge us with the responsibility to end it; but scapegoating us is not a real solution. 

For Further Exploration:

[1] Campaign Zero

[2] The Movement for Black Lives

[3] Are Prisons Obsolete, by Angela Davis

[4] Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Ideas on Solutions for Equality