Oneita Jackson's "Nappy-Headed Negro Syndrome"

Originally published at:


Hate to be dense, but I do not quite get the point of the story.

Someone should have never thought they heard a person who is black identify themselves as an n-word in that context? And because they did mistakenly hear that they did something terrible?

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Don’t care about marketing ‘disguised’ as blogging; I’m under no delusions, there.

It’s a post highlighting the work of a talented Black writer during Black History Month; I’ll take it.


Of course this is intended to sell Oneita’s book. If my personal story of hanging out with Oneita is lifted from a PR statement, I’m quite surprised. This is the first I’ve written of it. I saw her Facebook post about moving publishers earlier today and decided to get the review up, we’ve been talking about it for a few weeks.


Where are you getting the impression that anybody’s being accused of doing something terrible?


If it had been a white woman saying it, she wouldn’t have heard it as “nigger”, she’d have heard it as “knitter”. And all that laughter at the end, was the black woman expending more emotional work to make the white woman feel more comfortable.

See, the white woman feels all liberated and not-a-bigot for even sitting down with someone outside her race. But that Freudian slip-of-the-ear is a clue to what’s really going on.

And this is pretty much how the vast majority of white people act around black people, and it’s very uncomfortable.


Dunno; I’m not the person who made that claim.

I’m just happy to see anything positive and Afrocentric posted, especially in February.

It sounds like an interesting read, especially since I grew up in the Tristate area; thanks for posting it.


The solution, of course, is to lampshade this sort of stuff to death, so that white people are AWARE of how awkwardly they behave around black people. Then, next time they are around black people they will be even MORE awkward, and the problem goes away.

No, wait… the solution should be, something something socioeconomic equality. Yeah…


Yeah, I used to be really interested in, “the solution”, just like you sarcastically claim. And whenever I would earnestly suggest something designed to move toward some kind of “solution”, there is an annoyed black person who will, in no uncertain terms, tell me I haven’t really been listening.

It certainly fits with all my other observations about pink America, even when the topic has nothing to do with brown people. It’s part of the American identity, we are a nation of problem solvers. I’ve become more sensitized to those who suggest solutions, who are eager to avoid the “paying attention” part of it.

This is unrelated to the idea that there can be no solutions. It has more in common with the rules of consensus, if you’re at all curious.


I’m still puzzled by nappy-headed.

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How so?

Feel free to PM me, so as not to derail the topic.


For the benefit of the lurkers:


Thank you for that explanation.


I’ve become more sensitized to those who suggest solutions, who are eager to avoid the “paying attention” part of it.

I don’t think it has to do with being problem solvers, I think it has to do precisely with wanting the problem disappear as soon as possible to avoid awkwardness/guilt/paying-attention. White Americans are largely oblivious to the fact that there is a race problem in America because they don’t experience problems due to race (other than being reminded, occasionally, that there is a race problem), and they mostly want to remain that way.

I’m skeptical of the current vogue of “minority-whisperers”, efforts to educate white folks on how they should be more aware, sensitive to, their possible racism, e.g., “Dear White People”, “No, You Can’t Touch My Hair”, and so on, as if reminding oblivious white people that they ARE racist will somehow make them stop being racist. These are nice anecdotes, but don’t take us far along the road to ending racism. If this is doing any work it is entrenching a particular segment of commenters who can be pointed to by sympathetic white anti-racists; we could do this for generations and not make any progress.

Not blanching and crossing the street when you see a black person coming towards you up the block would be nice, but this is just an act of repression, not one of catharsis. This is a nation that enslaved Black bodies for hundreds of years and never made a complete reckoning with that fact. We’re not going to disappear that by improving niceties. This is why I think the call for reparations continues to have currency despite its logistical impossibility.

As for solutions: fuck yeah, we need solutions. It has been too long; it is time to end racism. The “solution” is less likely to resemble the answer to a trivia question and more likely to require a messianic event.


For a very long time, just being white, even poor and white, meant we got a better deal than brown people. Entire economies were built on this inequity, and few seem interested in upsetting that much mental infrastructure.

The thing is, participating in a racist economy basically signals that one is OK with trade that is intrinsically unfair, as long as you’re the one getting the better deal… And now, as all the peak oil/easy profits are drying up, white people are increasingly getting the the kind of abuse that brown people understand all too well. Break out the tiny violins, right?

For the last five centuries, clever white people have managed to incur public costs, with private profits, and managed to ensure the bulk of those costs were paid by anyone who wasn’t a Christian, white, heterosexual male.

While these bad habits never came back to bite those who matter, there was no reason for that group to want to change. And those debts have only grown… But the global warming mortgage is too big to only be a brown person’s problem. So like it or not, white patriarchy is going to have to face that cost. Right now, that means Donald Trump.

If the angry pumpkin seems like an extreme reaction to white fragility being challenged, I doubt we’ve seen the worst of it yet. And the Mueller investigation still can’t touch all the problems that came together to give Trump his opening. Whether or not some messiah comes along promising to fix all this, there is more than enough social chaos in the pipeline to erase the patriarchy. There’s still a choice to be made, whether we will replace it with something far worse.


I am not sure I agree with this line of reasoning, which pits the white nation against the various brown nations. To me this is a failure, because it falls into the same old ethnic nationalism, reinforces the race construct and makes it real. I don’t believe any ethnic nationalism can ultimately be a successful project, both internally (in the way it excludes and controls the behavior of its members) and externally (in vying against other nations). Saying “the white patriarchy” is going to have to face the cost of their crimes is a failure because it presumes that “the white patriarchy” continues to exist in order to suffer the costs of their crimes.

This is why I talked about national catharsis, earlier, because in order to end racism we have to end race constructs, which are the instruments by which racism is realized. We can’t get rid of oppressor/oppressed dynamics without getting rid of the constructs that enforce them (or to do so seems very hard) - but we’re not willing to do that yet because we desperately need to have the wounds of the oppressed acknowledged and to punish the oppressor. Both of these require the players to continue in their current forms.

In other words, you can’t be an anti-racist and accept that white people are white and black people are black, especially if you believe (as you should) that “whiteness” MEANS race privilege. That is the purpose of labeling people ‘white’; there is no other ‘white culture’, or ‘white history’ beyond that of a privilege group. Similarly, the notion of a unitary ‘blackness’ is an absurd category that only makes sense in the tales of racists.

For white people letting go of racism means letting go of their privilege - their right to be seen as more deserving than non-whites. For people of color it means letting go of their position as victims - their right to be seen as aggrieved, on the right side of justice, etc.

I don’t think we’re ready to do that yet. But in the meanwhile we suffer by lumping poor whites in with rich whites - the whole point of racism is to destroy class solidarity, that is its be-all and end-all. The answer to that is to make common cause between poor whites and poor brown folks - this is impossible if we insist that whiteness is unitary and that all whites are privileged. White supremacists insist on this - it makes no sense for anti-racists to insist on the same thing.


Yes, it’s too bad that this ideology evolved in the first place. I wonder where it came from?

In order to end racism, we first need to understand how and why those constructs were made in the first place, who was and remains the primary beneficiary, and to then begin to dismantle that privilege - something we can’t do if every time the topic comes up, some people begin to say we need to ignore it. you can’t fix problems if you ignore their history and current impact on the lives of people daily.

White people LABELED themselves WHITE. They continue to label THEMSELVES white. Richard Spencer embraced that identity. Europeans and their descendents around the globe EMBRACED WHITENESS. Irish immigrants to American used whiteness as a ladder to dominate NE politics for nearly a century and a half. Whiteness was constructed not just by some faceless ruling class, but by people seeking to better their lot by denying any sort of connection to those who weren’t understood as white.

What about teh poor whites who embrace whiteness, not have it thrust upon them? Or rich whites who also believe themselves to be white. This isn’t an ideologly solely being thrust upon them. It’s being embraced as a means of upward mobility.


What about them? What do we propose to do with respect to those poor whites?

I had a white friend from Quincy, MA, a very “working-class” community, with all the attendant problems of such communities in the era of globalization. Once, he, a Maoist, was lamenting to me the growth of skinhead/racist recruiting in his community. What he said about this was that this was the failure of left organizing - that is, they were poor and suffering, and in the absence of a better, non-racist ideology to help them organize against their condition, they fell into the trap of white supremacy.

Poor whites embrace white supremacy because they believe it will work for them; this, after all, is the age-old promise of white supremacy, and it works - poor whites are generally better-off than black people, period. So, granted, whites have embraced this ideology - now what?

If the goal is to turn whites away from their ideology, we can: (1) appeal to their morality or (2) appeal to their self-interest, or ideally (3) both. Or we can (-1) condemn them as racists and abandon them to recruitment by white supremacists, who in the absence of argument will surely convince them they should join in the hate parade.

For me the work of anti-racists has to be this: convincing poor whites that they should NOT ‘be white’ (as in, have access to white privilege), and that they have more to gain from allying with black people (namely, winning the class war) than with rich white people. I can’t imagine any other means of rejecting white privilege than this expression of solidarity.

To be clear, this does NOT mean I think we should be organizing in some “color-blind” way, since white privilege will not disappear unless attacked. But it explicitly DOES mean changing the notion of community to cut across color lines, so that people within that community will act for the interests of others in their community. That means organizing together, finding opportunities for mutual aid, and blurring the lines that separate white people and black people whenever possible.

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We can do none of this, if we don’t understand whiteness and how it gives people who identify or are categorized as white a leg up. We can’t ignore race and just substitute a class analysis and expect our racial problems to go away.

It’s always up to POC to do this work. At some point, white people need to do their part instead of waiting for someone to do it for them.

I agree, but the refusal to organize ACROSS racial lines has often come from the white community. A cursory survey of labor history illustrates the point, especially since the 1970s.