A-Z of Black Radicalism

S is for Symptom Free Racism

Make it Plain is exploring Black Radicalism with Kehinde Andrews exploring a new letter each day. All of these are sourced from Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century, proceeds of which go to the Harambee Organisation of Black Unity There are some limited suggested resources below but please send in suggestions for more, these are just a few to start with

Racism is often compared to a disease, an illness infecting society that can be cured. The most common metaphor is a cancer, eating away at the host. But in using this metaphor we misunderstand the nature of the problem. The body is not sick, racism is not a disease it is the operating condition of society. There is no treatment for the system because the patient is healthy. But the metaphor of illness works if we apply the effect of racism on us, and it also illustrates how resigned many of us are to approaching our condition.

If racism is the disease then the inequalities we face are the symptoms. Police brutality, educational disadvantage, poverty, unemployment and even the scarcity of Black professionals. We know deep down that solving any of these will not cure the disease but we still focus only on addressing the symptoms. This is important both to improve our lives with the condition but also the symptoms are deadly, so we have no choice but to treat them. But when we only focus on the symptoms we never treat the disease. We have become so accustomed to the condition that the best we can hope for is to suffer from ‘symptom free racism’. Striving to not get stopped by the police, to progress in the schools and get a job that allows us some economic comfort. We accept that even if we are “successful” our racism may still act up from time to time, especially in our hostile workplaces. But that is the cost of being Black we have had to factor in.

To be truly free of our condition means that we have to cure the disease. Racism is the system and we will always suffer its effects whilst an oppressive society remains intact. We should not stop treating the symptoms but we should never limit our political imagination to reacting to inequality. This was one of the main messages of the Black Panthers, that we have to make sure we survive whilst never losing focus on the wider struggle. Being stuck in the frame of anti-racism means being trapped in the hamster wheel set up by the state to keep us always chasing an illusion of equality. We can cure the disease, but it means building a revolutionary struggle that ends the system that oppresses us. We want freedom, not just to be free of the symptoms.


Alondra Nelson Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination

Dorothy Roberts Killing the Black Body

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