This year’s wave of civil unrest has drawn worldwide attention to the systemic racism faced by Black people in the United States. “Most Black people spend their whole lives catching hell as a minority in a society dominated by a majority group,” said Dr. James Taylor, a University politics professor who presented the second part of “The Specter of the Noose, the Power of the Vote,” a pre-election webinar presented by the Critical Diversity Studies (CDS) department’s African-American Studies program.
Taylor’s portion of the event, which was held on Oct. 30 and titled “Resistance, Resilience, and the Black Political Tradition,” focused on the ways in which Black people have historically faced and contended with political oppression in America.
Taylor spoke at length about America’s racial inequality and noted the subtle ways in which it is perpetuated. He offered an anecdote about routine trips to the pet store where he buys food for his four parakeets. Taylor said those visits typically involve him making a beeline for the aisle that houses the items he’s looking for in order to avoid raising suspicion. “I’m afraid that they’re going to think I’m going to steal, and I make more money and have more education than most of the people I encounter in my life every day,” said Taylor.
He argued that Black people’s perception of racism is often disabused by the belief that certain accomplishments rescue you from everyday racism. “The truth is white people are messed up in the head by race and so are Black people,” said Taylor. “We just never have had the right voices come along at the right time with the right words and the right plans and the right ideas to help us as a people figure out how to be one people.”
Drawing on the theme of his talk, Taylor believes that both Black resistance and tradition are rooted in religion. “Black people have created an alternative culture to survive in America,” said Taylor. “All of the hate, all of the racism, and all of the poverty of capitalism that has affected them has not killed their spirit.”
Taylor also discussed modern-day instances of violence against Black people; however, he weaved forgiveness into his examples. Taylor mentioned Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man shot in Kenosha, Wisconsin in August, and his mother’s forgiveness of the police officer who shot her son, an action Taylor believes ties back to religion being rooted in Black culture.
“This forgiving of their tormentors is a level of spiritual maturity that most other groups in America have not reached and ain’t been through the hell that Black folk have been through,” said Taylor. “If you’ve been through what Black folk have been through, eventually, you understand what is forgivable and what is not forgivable. And you’ll understand that even when you forgive it, it ain’t for them. It’s for you. Your forgiving the white victimizers of Black bodies are for the Black bodies, not for the white victimizers.”