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Constance Iloh

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Breaking Down Barriers of Black Thought

Admittedly, I spend a considerable amount of time reflecting on the state of Black scholarship and thought, as I am deeply invested in its growth and movement. But as I ruminate on this topic, I sometimes question how much we are buying into our own intellectual power or even examining the ways in which we aren’t. Accordingly, I discuss two areas that may continue to present challenges.

Internalized Racism

Internalized racism has been cited as problematic because racialized individuals take ownership and disseminate derogatory messages towards others within their race. I additionally find it troubling because it is virtually invisible in discussions on race and racism. I suspect that reluctance to discuss this may be due to one or more of these factors: 1) optimistic belief we all are supporting each other, 2) racism from other groups takes a much more severe toll on the community, and 3) that it is not frequent enough to be relevant.

I question if we can construct new ways to support Black intellect without interrogating this, as it permeates multiple spaces where thoughts and ideas are exchanged. Social media is just one environment in which it is relatively easy for internalized racism to develop, because such discourse can be masked under the guise of humor or scholarly debate and delivered via web-enabled technology. There is urgency to my concern, as racism is particularly dangerous due to the difficulty in measuring its cumulative consequences and damages.

Expertise Monopoly

One might argue it is a sign of progress to have a core set of scholars and leaders speaking to issues of racial identity, inequality, and prosperity in the Black community. I find this counterproductive and indicative of why some of the good work from lesser known leaders and thinkers may never see the light of day. Much racial uplift discourse discusses breaking down barriers and widening opportunities. I am not sure if we have made room to discuss the ways in which some may operate as if there is only room for a few of us. I find it especially important in the Black community to encourage new voices, as the proliferation of Black scholarship thrives on the passing of torches and visibility. I am left wondering in some instances that because the pie looks so small there are so few of at the table. If so, the lens in which we see Black thought needs great internal revision.

Conversations on Black intellect could benefit from being examined in many of the ways we already discuss other inequalities. We see in these discussions the importance of multiple perspectives, receptive channels, critical internal reflection, and healthy environments for growth. Perhaps with this in mind we can boldly question structures and barriers even within the Black community that are antithetical to this progress.

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