By Ashley Benkarski
NASHVILLE, TN — Dr. Brian C.B. Barnes, speaker, writer, and TandemEd co-founder and CEO is publishing a series of writings titled “Eradicating Their Harm while Reclaiming our Health” focusing on reframing the lens through which the Black community sees race relations and adopting different perspectives for sustainable change.
He pointed to backlash against the protests that uplifted the names of Black Americans killed by police in recent years as a continuation of the same calls for justice that have been ringing in the streets for generations. “There’s a permanence of those same elements that existed in the ‘60s,” Barnes said. The promise of progress rings hollow.
“They are not going to change through reason,” Barnes said. “Arguments, sermons, rational arguments, philosophy, law, American ideals– all of those methods that we typically use out of humanity and the hope that people will change– There’s a track record that’s undisputable at this point that our tactics aren’t going to cause a critical mass of them to shift.”
The core of his argument is this: the Black community must accept as a given that, on the whole, the collective plight isn’t going to change as a result of appeals to the hearts and minds of the people who benefit from injustice. “A critical power majority in America will never respect our lives by our appeals to their hearts, minds, and integrity on moral, ethical, lawful, constitutional, philosophical, data-driven, logical, religious, or humanitarian bases,” Barnes wrote.
To his point, for example, Black Lives Matter is an appeal to value Black life. But six years after the death of Mike Brown that ignited the modern movement, BLM was ironically labeled a terrorist organization and used as a scapegoat for any number of societal ills. “If it’s a given that American society will not value Black life through appeals, our community must see that reality as our starting point in mapping out how to approach, react and respond to their racist behavior,” Barnes added.
“It is a power structure with a consistent behavior of harm,” he said, and “continued appeals to humanity and to hearts will offer no progress. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in part a prophet to white people in America to help them reclaim their humanity, and Black people were the choir members echoing the message – no one could have made a better appeal – and it was still rejected even to the point of his murder,” he explained. “It’s human nature to hope in others, but that hope can often be unrealistic. Even in the instance where someone understands intellectually how their actions contribute to injustice, the need and desire to maintain power and status trumps–no pun intended–that understanding.”
That more people voted for Trump this year than in 2016 may further prove this point. Many first time voters at the booths supported Trump and others who’d abstained from voting years prior joined them. Ultimately, they all voted to maintain their privilege, status and power.
Building from different assumptions, Barnes discusses implications for shifting perspectives. One of his central arguments hones in on the myth of assimilation: “We can no longer continue to regard assimilation, integration, and roximity to dominant culture and to dominant spaces as the core method for success,” he wrote. Barnes points readers to Black sociologist William Julius Wilson who argued, in 1993, what has now become painfully evident– the Civil Rights Movement and the activity over the last half-century had only “benefited primarily a relatively small percentage of middle class and educated blacks.”
In the 66 years since Brown vs. the Board of Education, the Black community, as a whole, has not experienced the promised fruits of financial mobility. A study released in 2019 by the Institute for Policy Studies further corroborates these points; it found between the years of 1983 and 2016, the median Black household saw a significant drop in wealth after adjusting for inflation. Comparable white households, however, saw a 33 percent increase in wealth.
It’s fitting to conclude on Barnes’s words to his community:
Our Blackness is not the opposite of White, not the lesser human that is destined to fight all of its life to be treated as equal or be included in their world. Our Black transcends the confines of American racial paradigms and represents the cultures and relationships that exist amongst us–the relationships, language, tastes, sounds, and good humor and laughs that give us life. Our Black is humanity, dignity, nature, and spirit; it is timeless and reaches back to the most ancient days; and it is a global connection to Black people across the world.
Separate from Dr. Barnes scholarship and writings, TandemEd, the organization that Dr. Barnes leads, is a media and community development organization focusing on using education and action in tandem for Black communities to reclaim their stories and space in the world.
To read the series visit www.brianCBbarnes.com/thought.