Black Faces in High Places Critique

Although Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor has many well-thought-out points and persuasive arguments in her book From #BlackLivesMatter To Black Liberation, I take issue with three specific points in the “Black Faces in High Places” chapter.  First, Taylor was too nitpicky in her critique of political figures’ comments following the events in Baltimore.  Second, she does not clearly articulate a better alternative to having a visible and thriving Black social and political elite.  Finally and most importantly, I disagree with her criticism of prominent Black figures who speak out against “sagging pants” or other types of easily-fixed style and behavior choices that project a lack of professionalism and respectability.

After the demonstrations in Baltimore which consisted of some people who participated in criminal activities such as looting and arson, Mayor Rawlings-Blake and President Obama referred to these particular mischievous individuals as “thugs”.  Taylor believes these comments were inappropriate presumably because it plays into the narrative that inner-city Blacks have a criminal nature.  I completely agree that the use of the word “thug” was politically and culturally tone-deaf.  The word “thug” has a very important history and a particularly caustic connotation behind it.  When the President characterizes individuals as thugs, he unleashes a sea of assumptions that the word connotes, regardless of his intentions.  Although President Obama and Mayor Rawlings-Blake should have used a better word—one cannot go wrong with describing the “thugs” using the nondescript and noncontroversial term “people”—they were still correct in calling out this unfortunate aspect of the Baltimore events.  This is where I disagree with Taylor.  Taylor seems to believe it is wrong to point out the criminal behavior of a handful of individuals because there was a greater injustice of police brutality.  Although it is true that looting and property damage is not as important as a lost life, public figures must call a fair game and denounce any and every injustice they encounter or else they will lose credibility.  When figures lose credibility, they lose their power to direct attention to important issues in the future because people will dismiss them as illogically biased.

Next Taylor argues that the rise of a select few Blacks creates the illusion that America has achieved equality and shifts the burden of responsibility for failure from white racism to Blacks who are “not taking advantage of the bounty of ‘opportunities’ in the United States” (82).  I agree that Americans are far too eager to point to the success of some African Americans as proof that racism is not a legitimate obstacle impeding the economic and professional success of Black Americans.  My only issue is that Taylor never articulates a better alternative to having visible symbols of Black success.  I could not imagine that she would rather have all Black people in poverty just so Americans recognize the strong grip of racism.  I am sure she would argue that Blacks with status and power should use their newfound influence to help bring attention to issues of institutional racism as well as help pull other Blacks up from poverty.  However, Taylor never makes this argument clear, so we are left to wonder what she would actually prefer instead of a thriving Black middle and upper class.

Finally, Taylor argues that Black politicians should stop the remarks about the need for Black men to stop sagging their pants and the like.  Of course, talking about these issues takes precious time away from discussing the community’s more pressing problems.  Additionally, sagging pants and bodies covered in tattoos are not the root cause of poverty and racial inequality.  However, these seemingly trivial issues do contribute to the problem: they contribute to the belief that Blacks have different values than typical White Americans which in turn creates less of a desire on behalf of Whites to recognize and reform dysfunctional and inherently racist institutions.  Also, these problems are the quickest and easiest to fix even if their contribution to issues facing the Black community is only marginal.  If Blacks really want to be treated fairly and achieve economic equality, then we must recognize the quick fixes and make those changes.  Sure, this is not fair that we must change the way we dress if we want to be treated as equals, but we need to decide which we value more: true equality or having a “fair” process on the road to equality.  As a people, we must simply make the necessary sacrifices, and, as odd as this sounds, we must act extra good if we want to see better days.  We must constantly work to reform institutions that hold us back, but until that moment of equality, we have to make every sacrifice and be on our best behavior, even if that consists of wearing a belt or not getting tattoos everywhere.  This is not fair at all, but at the end of the day a fair process will not give our children access to the American Dream; only a hard fight for equality will.

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