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In 2019, I co-founded MKE Black with the mission to celebrate and promote Black businesses, events and culture in the Greater Milwaukee area. At the same time, I was serving as political director for Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, whose mission is to improve the quality of life for Black people through advocacy and education.
If you haven’t noticed, there’s a pattern. Much of the work that I do, I do explicitly for Black people.
One of things that has really irked me in my work with MKE Black is the desire to “POC” our organization’s programs or our target audience. Oftentimes people will propose (from a good place I know) that we do things to support or include other ethnic groups or they assume that we do things for “Black and brown people.” I find myself having to be the one saying “No, we’re here for Black people.”
This isn’t because I don’t care about other marginalized groups, but because this work is deeply personal to me and where I’m from. My family and many of the people I consider friends are Black. I’m from the North Side of Milwaukee, and I see every day what the statistics bear out.
While all non-white groups share in the struggles against racism and white supremacy, Black people endure and have always endured struggles very specific to us. It’s not people of color dealing with the lingering effects of slavery and Jim Crow, it’s Black people. Anti-Black (and anti-black) racism is a very real thing that even other non-white groups and other Black people can perpetuate. This has profound effects on my people and community.
Too often the struggles of Black people are grouped together and de facto erased in the name of diversity, inclusion and melting-potisms. Too often, people are afraid to address the needs and challenges of Black people specifically for fear of offending or excluding some other groups when it’s OK, and indeed right, to do things FOR BLACK PEOPLE.
So many forms of oppressions were put in place specifically against Black people but somehow, it’s “wrong” or “not PC” to do the opposite? If we aren’t intentional, anything for “everyone” or “all POC” or whatever else will always leave Black people behind. Just look at how affirmative action primarily benefits white women.
Programs put into place to help everyone will always ultimately leave room for discrimination against Black people and/or just will plain fail to close the extremely wide gaps that we HAVE to close.
I, of course, love everyone and am open to collaboration and other mutually beneficial efforts (we at MKE Black do this all the time) but my personal mission is to fight for the most oppressed group in America. My people.
Yes, we’re all humans. But in the rush to remove labels or paint us with the “we’re all the human race” brush we lose the opportunity to see and celebrate what makes us all unique as individuals and as groups of people with similar histories, languages, foods and all of the other things that make up culture. English people are different from Scottish people as Black Americans are different from Latino Americans. We can all be united in trade, love and peace and we can all still be full authentic selves. I can be Black.
I applaud anybody who is fighting to better the lives of oppressed groups that they’re a part of. Women fighting for women’s rights. Gay people fighting for LGBT rights. Juggalo’s fighting for theirs. I also very much understand that many people will fall into more than one of so many groups. And that’s something to be celebrated.
If you are fine with these examples but have a problem with anything “pro-Black” or supporting Black people exclusively, it’s time to check your anti-Blackness.
Rick Banks is a Milwaukee native and is a co-founder and Executive Director of MKE Black Inc.