Opinion

Black and white: Jordan Peterson and definitions of racism

Paul Scott's column appears on the first and third Saturdays of each month.
Paul Scott's column appears on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

“I testified, my mama cried / black people died when the other man lied”

“Shut Em Down” (Public Enemy)

Twenty years ago, when rappers Tupac Shakur and the Notorious BIG were murdered , allegedly as a consequence of the media-fueled East Coast/West Coast beef, a royal decree was issued by the leaders of the Hip Hop Nation that no matter how much you despise your fellow rappers, first and foremost “keep it on wax.”

As I look at the racial climate in the Trump era, I wonder if Americans can come to a similar agreement.

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: Black folks keep a list of the top racists in our pockets at all times, just in case. Oddly enough, despite the brouhaha over the Notorious JBP bringing his tour to the Durham Performing Arts Center in a few weeks, he wasn’t on my list.

To be honest, until last month, I didn’t know Dr. Jordan B. Peterson from Adam. Even after suffering through a couple of hours of his Youtube videos, he still didn’t crack my top 20.

According to his detractors, and apparently, the Durham City Council, he is a racist, transphobic honorary member of the He Man’s Woman Haters Club. His supporters say he is just some really smart guy who flies around the world debating people and is being persecuted because of his unconventional beliefs.

Maybe he’s both, maybe he’s neither, I don’t know. Perhaps black folk and white folk just have different definitions of racism.

For African Americans, racism is more than just applause meters and holding up score cards. For us, racism is a life or death assessment. Were the presidents who owned slaves racists or just “men of their times?” Were the men who killed Emmett Till in 1955 — for allegedly whistling at a white woman — racists, or were they just defending the virtue of southern womanhood?

As African Americans, we grapple daily with these questions.

Does Peterson wield the political juice to make policies that negatively affect the lives of African Americans such as George Wallace or Jesse Helms? Or do his rants just make interesting water-cooler conversations and supply content for tweets?

For many white liberals racism, homophobia and misogyny can be stuffed in the same little box. But for black people who understand power dynamics, racism is not a package deal. One can be a homophobic, male chauvinist pig and not hate black people. And vice versa, one can despise black folk and have no problem with women or gays.

Racism is in the eye of the beholder. One of the earliest writers who took on the task of defining racism from a strictly black perspective was Neely Fuller Jr., who in 1984 published The United Independent Compensatory Code/System Concept textbook which clearly defines racism as the system of white supremacy, no ifs , ands or buts.

So, as a black man I have had to make a clear distinction between those who are bloodthirsty racists and those whose opinions just differ from mine.

Am I defending the views of Jordan Peterson? Don’t be ridiculous. Personally, I hope some kid spills red Kool Aid on his white button down on the airplane. But I digress.

The problem seems to be that many white Americans think that African Americans are intellectually inferior or too emotionally unstable to debate the issues of the day with the likes of a Dr. Peterson. This , of course , is far from the truth.

Some of my heroes and heroines were expert debaters and took some of the greatest white supremacist minds to task. Malcolm X, James Baldwin , Dr, Frances Cress Welsing and others scored first-round knockouts over most of their challengers. Although known for his prowess in the boxing ring, Muhammad Ali was just as deadly with his razor sharp wit as he was with his hands. They were not afraid to step in the ring with their opponents, and neither am I.

As a self-proclaimed expert on all things black, I am not, at all, intimidated that Peterson wants to come to Durham. As long as he doesn’t roll into town with an entourage of dudes with ropes and Tiki torches, more power to him. Somehow, I don’t think he wants that Bull City “smoke,” as they say on the streets. But if he wants an intellectual showdown at high noon in front of the DPAC , to quote Doc Holiday from the classic movie “Tombstone,” “I’m your huckleberry.”

Paul Scott’s column appears on the first and third Saturday of the month. Follow him at NoWarningShotsFired.com or on Twitter @NWSF

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