Racism in Passive Voice
In abusive relationships, there are usually two prominent roles: the abuser and the target. There are also enablers, who are a lot more significant than many people would think. For example, people expect abusers to project violence on targets, just as targets endure abuse. However, how the situation is described matters more because some actions have been depicted in such ways that absolve abusers and villainize targets. In fact, the description may be more enabling to the abusers than the spectre of abuse itself. The reason that racism has been sustained during the course of United States history is that we tend to write about it in the passive voice, which is why the Great Unveiling of 2021 has caused so much societal collapse.
For much of history, chattel slavery has been the only situation where people could not write about the racism in the passive voice. There is no denying that people enacted horrible torture over people who had nothing to do with any country outside their own continent and people in their communities. While there was imperialism on the African continent, the imperialism was largely based on proximity, not skin tone. Only with the arrival of people from different continents did skin color begin to play a prominent role in how slavery occurred.
In the United States, Black people were determined to be slaves by the Founding Fathers, a choice of the colonists before they became “Founding Fathers.” There are documents repeatedly attesting to this declaration, so it is impossible to rationally describe racism in the passive voice during chattel slavery. However, as life progressed past the Civil War, all of a sudden, there was this tension in reality: people who understood that slavery was bad and immoral, people who saw nothing bad or immoral about it, and people who could be convinced either way.
Those who could be convinced either way were the people that historians spoke to when they began writing about racism in the passive voice. Instead of saying, “White communities would enact terror in the form of lynching, rape and other violence on independent Black communities,” one could say, “Black people were lynched. Black communities were destroyed.” These days, you can say, “Black students were disciplined.” “Black people are incarcerated.” “Black students are failing.” All of this allows people to conjecture about how this is happening.
Bringing the focus back to the racism actually requires that racism written about in an active voice because first and foremost, speaking in passive voice absolves abusers — in their mind. After all, anyone could be burning Black communities to the ground. Anyone could be failing Black students. Anyone could be rapidly displacing Black people from their homes. The ambiguity of the passive voice that allows the atrocities to continue, and for society to claim willful ignorance. So many historians write about how violence is enacted upon Black people as if we are always inspiring such violence, which is one of the reasons why mainstream press depicts us as violent, even if only based on conjecture. If there is no true villain, then in the minds of the dominant narrative, Black people have no real complaint because after all, anyone could have enacted the violence on Black people.
The other issue about passive voice is that it places the onus on Black people. If we are getting incarcerated, what are we doing to get thrown in prison? If our communities are burned to the ground, what are we doing to instigate such enforcement? If we are truly failing in the school system, do we lack the capacity to focus? In all of these situations, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary, developed in response to how we are portrayed. There are historically Black colleges and universities because we realized that the only way for us to prove that we had the mental acuity for the college level was for us to create our own universities. Many of us went into trades, having been forced to do so during the slave era, because we wanted to prove that we were capable of doing the labor and earning a reasonable wage for it. Many of us worked to insert ourselves into the administration of this country to prove that we were capable of participating in the dominant narrative on its terms. Such participation, in our minds, was supposed to sway the dominant narrative into many things, but most importantly, leaving us alone. After all, that is the goal of most Black existence: to be allowed to live without harassment.
The problem is that not only did Africa have a wealth of natural resources, but once abusive people start abusing somebody and get away with it, they are reluctant to stop, so they need new reasons. Furthermore, they need new supporters basically saying that their actions are justified. The press also exploded during the Reconstruction Era, becoming a lot cheaper and more readily available to a lot more people, thanks to the development of the school system. Instead of respecting the development of Black communities that achieved a number of accomplishments in our own rights, the press began to downplay those efforts. The press amped up the violence and diminished the accomplishments. Therefore, the bars had to be moved so that the parameters under which autonomy could be achieved were constantly shifting. So, the enabling press — whether a university press, a news press or independent publishing press — was responsible for moving the parameters for how autonomy could be achieved.
It is intellectually dishonest to speak of racism in the passive voice because it implies that abusers are unaware that their actions are causing harm — they depend on their actions to cause harm to keep themselves psychologically and physically comfortable. Black people are incarcerated at higher rates because mostly white people weaponize the police against us, and profit from our labor while maintaining slavery. Our communities are being destroyed because the real estate industry feels entitled to devalue our land, displace us — after we do the environmental mitigation, of course — and earn more money after securing the desired population. We do more poorly in school because only wealthy, white parents are allowed to threaten to shoot school boards and harass staff on a regular basis, not us, because the police will be called on us.
One of the most frustrating elements of combating racism is hearing somebody who says, “I want to learn!” If somebody is punching somebody in the face, and somebody else wants that person to stop, the puncher can stall for accountability by saying, “Please teach me why this person deserves not to be punched.” Racism has been depicted in the passive voice, obscuring those who prefer to remain ambiguous as to who is projecting this racism on the Black population. In response, many within the dominant narrative have said we just have to educate people and have conversations, which will allow people to do better. That is an exhausting process for two reasons. First, many people do not have the time to do reading and engage in discussion, nor do they care to find directly how they have been a part of the problem. Secondly, demanding to be taught also means that somebody has to produce the materials. In reality, most Black scholars are not funded, so we must produce between trying to earn a living, maintain relationships and exist so that people will, figuratively and literally speaking, stop punching us in the face. We can only do this for so long because we lack the resources to do it for any sustained amount of time.
Meanwhile, the racism is still happening while all of this “learning” is sought. 2021 is an excellent example of why telling people that they have to take time to learn and have conversations is completely worthless, without question. The reality is that when somebody is punching somebody else in the face, the puncher needs to stop. Full stop. There is no discussion, no analysis, no research needed; that person needs to stop. Therefore, I propose that instead of continuing to say, “All of these things happen to Black people,” authors need to start saying what was done to Black people. For example, transit-oriented development only occurred because the cities allowed developers to displace the Black population, despite already having developed tight communities in close proximity based on segregation. Full stop. That is the only reason for the existence of the “transit-oriented development.” Black students are disciplined more harshly because from the Department of Education on down to local governments, administrators have decided that Black students deserve to be disciplined more harshly to help profit the school-to-prison pipeline. Black people are not more stupid; we are targeted for our free labor.
Speaking of things in the active voice puts a face and a responsibility on somebody to stop punching us in the face. In this fake outrage over critical race theory, many people want to solely focus on Republicans and conservatives because they are truly the easiest culprits of racism in this country. The harder culprits do things that are not considered violence. Slavery is definitely violence, and nobody is confused about slavery being violence. However, exploitation is not considered violence. Not being promoted while being bullied in the workplace is not considered violence within the dominant narrative. In fact, such bullying is enabled by the mainstream media interpreting the targets as not being “resilient” and “being too sensitive,” despite the fact that the population is being exploited. Displacement is not considered violent because the dominant narrative says, “Well, you should have tried to earn more money. We will not discuss how the Appraisal Foundation was created to come up with fake rules that nobody can see without paying a fee despite being cited in all fifty states as part of the law, but we feel confident telling people who we refuse to pay enough money to live that they should have worked harder and gotten more money.”
To be clear, all of these things are violence. Raising the cost of food because one feels entitled to excessive profits does not mean that people are not working hard to feed themselves. Raising the cost of utilities despite the fact that people need them is violent. Blaming people for not earning more money because businesses feel entitled to exist with excessive profits is not neurotypical. Therefore, to actually combat racism, we must only discuss it in the active voice. No, Black people are not incarcerating ourselves; people are targeting us, which is why there has been a lot of sensitivity to being depicted as a “Karen” or a “Chad” or a “Ken,” or whatever it is. No, Black children are not stupid, violent predators; billionaire-funded press is defining us as stupid, violent predators, and people are responding to that description in ways that murder us. No, Black people are not irresponsible; people are refusing to compete with us on equal terms by making us vulnerable, and we are succumbing to the vulnerability because we lack the resources to overcome it.
Active voice also provides a solution: stop. People are reluctant to hear the active voice because then it proves that we asked for none of this. It becomes clear all the unhealthy patterns that are putting Black people in vulnerable and violent positions have occurred at the whims of abusers. Once we start speaking in active voice, there is no more pretending that nobody knows how “these things just happen.” Again, people generally focus on Republicans and conservatives, but the much more insidious villain is the person who smiles at a Black person, calls themselves an ally, and then proceeds not to hire, underpay, exploit, and bully that Black person in large groups of white people. That is basically the neoliberal agenda: lie to us and pretend to be our friends while committing heinous acts of violence, such as financial and psychological abuse. We know these things are true, but instead of accepting that nothing happens to Black people in a vacuum, we have been trying to preserve unearned reputations of goodness. To progress in the world where everybody has autonomy, we have to talk about racism in the active voice. People are doing things to Black people for no reason, and they need to stop. The end.