Back in July, a white New York City education councillor provoked deafening screams of outrage for the perfectly innocent activity of bouncing a black baby on his knee (the baby belonged to his friend’s nephew). ‘It hurts people when they see a white man bouncing a brown baby on their lap’, a fellow councillor screamed in indignation over a Zoom chat. ‘That is harmful. That makes people cry. That makes people log out of our meeting.’ She then reveals where this rage comes from: ‘Read a book! Read Ibram Kendi!’ Whether intentional or not, ‘interracial interactions are bad’ seems to be the takeaway message from one of America’s bestselling anti-racist authors.
The logic of segregation lurks beneath so much of what passes as anti-racism today. If a white person were to announce that they believed the hallmarks of ‘whiteness’ are ‘politeness’, ‘hard work’ and ‘objective, rational thinking’, you might suspect they were an old-school white chauvinist. But this list of supposedly ‘white’ traits actually comes from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) as part of a collection of Black Lives Matter-inspired teaching materials. The implication is that black and white people hold different, alien, perhaps even unbridgeable values.
These ‘anti racist’ ideas now manifest themselves in racially segregated spaces. Consider the short-lived experiment of the ‘Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone’ (CHAZ) which sprung up in Seattle after the George Floyd protests. Some of the protesters set up a ‘Blackout’ area in a field – a segregated, black-only ‘healing space’, which was, ironically, guarded by mainly white activists.