Recently, a colleague sent me a Medium article written by Dr. Tiffany Jana titled, 5 New Ways White Male Allies Can Step Up Against Racism. As one could imagine, this provocative title immediately grabbed my attention, fueling a curiosity to what this author may suggest as a solution. Upon completing the article, in an unexpected twist, I was dumbfounded by what Dr. Jana had recommended as a remedy for combating racism against black Americans.
Below are a few of her points that I found most compelling:
Share Your Wealth:
Dr. Jana proposed that “sharing actual money can be a form of reparation,” through such actions as sponsoring a black person’s private school or making a down payment on house or starting a trust fund for a black child. And for those white men not “pulling in 6+ figures,” according to Dr. Jana, they can gift a family a streaming service. Yes, that’s right, a streaming service. There is nothing more anti-racist than having access to a Netflix account.
Share Your Access:
For the black professional class who feel the heavy weight of racism in corporate America, Dr. Jana has the perfect anti-racist assignment for white men — providing a country club membership. Yes. Sharing a cocktail with your ascribed white supremacist oppressor at the clubhouse would be a liberating experience.
Demystifying the Delusion of White Supremacy:
Dr. Jana also wants white men to become subversives by going behind enemy lines to provide the trade secrets to whiteness. She advises white men to “tell BIPOC what’s happening behind closed doors.”
Dr. Jana’s five points read like an article from a popular magazine like Good Housekeeping. Her suggestions for white men appear to reinforce new forms of paternalism that subordinates black Americans to a recipient role unworthy of self-agency.
Bemused by what I had read, I felt inclined to leave a response on Dr. Jana’s Medium page as the platform invites one to do so with the approval of the writer. Thus, I posted what I thought was a fairly benign and respectful response, absent of any vitriol that would be deemed offensive.
“Has black liberation come down to asking white men to buy streaming subscriptions? Yikes! Really? Are black people so disempowered by everyday life that we must make ask like a homeless man on the street?… It reminds me of the donor nations relationship that Africa has to its colonizers. I’m sad that this is put forward as an anti-racist solution. Dangerous. Hoping that this mindset doesn’t prevail in the zeitgeist.”
My initial post was removed from Dr. Jana’s Medium page. And then, after seeking to repost, she chose to totally banish me from accessing her page. For the first time, I had officially become a recipient of cancel culture.
My point is not to dwell on the content produced from Dr. Jana’s article. In the larger picture, it is somewhat immaterial to a more challenging issue that is emerging within the black anti-racist, social justice movement — cancel culture. Free speech, critique and analysis appears to be under attack. It is being morphed by a prevailing form of cultural group think that thwarts diverse perspectives in lieu of a predominant uniform consensus. I refer to this as black hegemonic thought.
A few days before my cancellation, many black American squeamishly reacted to the comments made by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden when he publicly conveyed a political comparison between the black and Latino communities. Biden declared, “Unlike the African American community, with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community with incredibly diverse attitudes about different things.” Uncle Joe opened up a can of worms that provided great insight into the emerging pervasiveness of black hegemonic thought. Thus, Dr. Jana’s omission of my comments stood as an example of how the activism of this anti-racism movement affirms Biden’s most common assumptions about black Americans.
Interestingly, black thought is indeed diverse with a deep intellectual history of leaders who vigorously debated one another from a wide-ranging spectrum of philosophical differences. The more notable contestations included polarities between Booker T. Washington and WEB Dubois, Martin Luther King and Malcom X and Marcus Garvey’s ‘Back to Africa’ and NAACP’s integration movements. Though there were rigorous and rancorous debates among these black leaders, the practice of silencing was not an option. All believed that their ideas were worthy of contentious discourse.
Unfortunately, the likes of Dr. Jana represent a growing black hegemonic thought movement that seeks to yield its influence by cancelling the most benign conveyances of dissent or disagreement. This movement carries on its shoulders a fragility that consequently weakens the capacity of black Americans to forgo its most ardent critics.
Historically, the anti-fragility of black Americans has always been a source of great pride, whether it was displayed in intellectual debates, rap battles, manifestos, or simply “playing the dozens.” But now, these cultural practices are being removed and replaced by a weakened nascent form that seeks to deconstruct conceptions of race where the options of debate fall into a binary option — either you are racist or anti-racist. Thus, since I did not agree with Dr. Jana’s article, it can be construed by her actions that cancelling me on her Medium page was an anti-racist act, even if it was against a black man.
The reckoning of black hegemonic thought is not only an existential threat to the rich tradition of diverse voices within the black community, but it is consequential to vary liberties of free speech that black Americans relied upon in pursuit of their freedom. Some of the greatest public speeches by black leaders were indictments on an unfair unjust system. Take the great orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, for example. He didn’t mince words when he unleashed an anti-racist fiery in his July 4, 1852 speech to a large crowd:
“Your prayers and hymns and thanksgiving, with all of your religious parades and solemnity are mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, hypocrisy, a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on earth guild of practices more shocking and bloody than the people of the United States at this very hour.”
Douglass was not cancelled for his “no-holds bar” speech that directly took aim at the pro-slavery government of the United States. Actually, this speech would be lauded as one of his most popular speeches among his greatest hits.
The good news is that the attack of free speech from the Dr. Janas of the world is finally being recognized as a grave concern. Recently, writer and author, Thomas Chatterton Williams, mobilized an impressive list of signatories to publish an open letter in Harper’s Magazine titled, “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate.”
In an effort to address the prevailing cancel culture, Williams wrote:
“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted.” He added, “censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.” Williams, as a writer, also pledged to the public to “uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters.”
There is a lot to be applauded about Williams letter that should also be applied to maintaining the diverse range of ideas that sit within the black community. Black hegemonic thought cannot get a foothold on policing and moralizing speech.
I would hope that Dr. Jana, who ironically is a corporate diversity consultant, would come to realize that value of open debate on issues of justice is as much about diverse thought as it is about race.