In thinking about our recent discussion on black disadvantage and white privilege, I am reminded of the debate that occurred during the civil rights struggle of the ‘60s and ‘70s regarding integration vs. separatism/black nationalism. In the ‘50s and early ‘60s the mainstream sentiment of the civil rights struggle was that integration of the races was the ultimate goal of black Americans. The idea, essentially, was that blacks were denied many of their basic rights as American citizens but that this could be rectified if both races were at the same level. As we have discussed in class, however, whiteness is the norm in America; thus, as the ideology and rhetoric of many black Americans began to reflect in the early ‘60s, the unspoken implication of integration was that blacks needed to be brought into the fold of white America. In other words, integration of the races was really assimilation of blacks into white culture and society, something which Dubois had criticized decades earlier.
Therefore, black leaders such as Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael argued against integration by way of assimilation and in favor of the development of a strong black self-identity and real black political power – ideas that were combined in Carmichael’s introduction of the phrase Black Power in 1966. Basically, Black Power activists maintained that white society was, in many ways, corrupt and wholly undesirable as an end for black liberation. Carmichael argued in his 1967 book, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation, that real integration of the races could only be achieved if whites focused on fixing the many ills of their society.
Comparing this history to our discussion of black disadvantage and white privilege, I see the focus on black disadvantage at the exclusion of white privilege to be akin to the philosophy of integration through assimilation. It reflects the belief that if whites could only accept blacks into mainstream society and stop actively oppressing them, then racism would be a thing of the past. Clearly, this does not reflect the entire picture. As we discussed, racism in America is also maintained by the “invisible” system of white privileges. White Americans must come to terms with their privilege if the myriad problems of racism in our country are ever to be overcome. In other words, whites must recognize and address what is corrupt and sick in mainstream American society if the races are ever to be truly equal.