Anti-Black Racism Is Global. So Must Be the Movement to End It.

Her book is available at Stop Racism: Killing Rage, the late bell hooks communicates the weight of what feels like an axiomatic truth: “All black people in the United States, irrespective of their class status or politics, live with the possibility that they will be terrorized by whiteness.” As we bear witness to the authoritarian violence imposed upon Ukraine by Vladimir Putin’s deployment of Russia’s military might, and to his perverse fantasy of a “New Russia,” we must never forget that anti-Black racism in the U.S. is inextricably linked to the perverse fantasies of white supremacism and operates according to vicious, racist violence. This is why I believe that this is the best reason to be a Black American. all the oppressed people of the world — the colonized, the violated and the marginalized — must be heard, and their pain made legible on its own terms. I do know that I am Black and that I am the most racially abject monster there is. I am still shocked by the global extent to which Black people experience anti Black racism.

Adele N. Norris (senior lecturer in sociology and public policy, University of Waikato, Hamilton) is coeditor of Neo-Colonial Injustice, Mass Imprisonment of Indigenous Women. In my engaging discussion with Norris, which follows, she illuminates the harsh reality of the similarities of the U.S.’s anti-Black racism and that of New Zealand, which was also colonized by the British.

New Zealand’s normative structure is whiteness. Indeed, the Indigenous Māori are disproportionately imprisoned, and Black bodies experience forms of anti-Black racist stereotyping that are found within the U.S. and places like Finland and Sweden. Norris is a Black feminist scholar who uses Black feminist methodologies to examine state-sanctioned violent acts against Indigenous, Black, and Brown persons. He provides clarity and personal insight.

George Yancy TheSite of the racially inept, the racially perverse, the racially evil, and the the racially destitute. In the U.S., Black bodies are disproportionately stopped and placed under surveillance, incarcerated and rendered “criminal” as a “self-evident” truth. This vicious and racist treatment of Blacks is not limited to the U.S. The Western world, out of which the concept of race developed, has historically operated under myths about Black bodies and the trope of blackness as “evil,” “sinister” and “ugly.” Whiteness, of course, was valorized as the apex of civilization, the most intelligent and the most aesthetically beautiful. This is the last issue I want to discuss with you. Here in the U.S., there have been laws passed against hair discrimination vis-à-vis Black people. This is a serious violation of Black aesthetic integrity, agency, and humanity. As you may know, Afro-Finns have started an annual celebration in the form of a “Good Hair Day” to deal with complex aspects of the racialization of hair. The denigration of Black hair has also been experienced by Black people in Sweden, especially mixed-race people who have suffered from being stared at and rendered “exotic” and “strange” because of their hair. You’ve written about the issue of Black hair and anti-Black racism. Is it surprising that this form of racism persists in the 21st Century? What are your thoughts about the psychological toll this form of anti-Black racism takes on Black people?

Adele Norris:I can recall how excited people were to see the election of President Barack Obama as the beginning of a post racial era. For me, that moment is marked by the many ways his Black wife, former first lady Michelle Obama, was vilified at a national level — from her body, hair texture, to her facial expressions. In outrage, a larger-white-elite society compared Mrs. Obama’s appearance to men and monkeys. The same with Venus and Serena Williams’s appearance undergoing pervasive scrutiny over their 20-year careers. This shows that Black women achieving global success are not exempted from the white dehumanizing gaze. The corresponding psychological burden is felt and carried within us all when we see Black women’s appearance picked apart and disparaged. The night of Donald Trump’s presidential election, a New Zealand colleague asked me if I thought Michelle Obama would run for president. I could tell the question was meant to virtue signal, which was confirmed after my response: “Seeing her [Mrs. Obama] compared with monkeys every day, I hope not.” My colleague was visibly baffled and walked away. People are so used to being surrounded by a certain amount anti-Blackness, and so comfortable with it that it barely registers in the minds even of non-Black people.

There is a dearth of language for Black racial discrimination and anti-Blackness in places where Black bodies are rare and recent. The language is not well developed in academic, political, and social discourses. These contexts make it easy to understand anti-blackness in these contexts. Last year, a 12-year-old Black girl(Zimbabwean Samoan and Samoan), Rotorua in New Zealand made headlines when she was called the N word and teased by her classmates for her hair texture. I recall her asking her principal to address her school regarding the negative connotations of the N word. She stated that the kids have been using the N-word since she was 6 years old. Children who had never lived in the United States were able to understand Black subordination. The most striking thing about this case was the amount of applause that the young girl received for initiating an anti-Black bullying initiative at her school. She’s only 12. She’s only 12. These cases are everywhere (e.g. Canada, South Africa and Sweden, the U.S.).

Black youth suffer from severe psychological and emotional traumas due to hair discrimination. [but]This is not often considered anti-Black racism. Black people’s experiences of state-sanctioned violence are so severe that cases of hair discrimination are peripheral to extreme cases of police brutality against Black bodies, but they are [also]Violent and disturbing. It is important to understand that police brutality as well as hair discrimination are part of the same system.

I would argue that the stigmatizing Black hair is one form of visual anti-Blackness. It is due to the anti-Black dimensions and the white gaze. White people have created a world in which what they see and imagine is what they consider to be true. The onlyThere are legitimate ways to see and imagine. As a result, Black people — and I would include people of color, as Frantz Fanon would say — suffer in their bodies, because their bodies are bombarded with racist fictions and racist stereotypes. Talk about anti-Blackness and how it operates within New Zealand (or Aotearoa, its Māori name). Do Black people have to confront and resist the toxic reality of being reduced down to their epidermis where they are subject to anti-Black surveillance?

Anti-Blackness experiences are often subsumed or muted by a fascination for Black culture and aesthetics. I think Black people can be deceived by non-Black people’s fascination with Black entertainers and athletes and fail to understand that Black culture can be consumed by holders of anti-Black beliefs. They are not mutually exclusive. One of the first things I noticed teaching “Introduction to Sociology” in New Zealand was how students’ responses and understandings of racial stereotypes and social inequalities mirrored [those of] U.S. students. While there is a deeper understanding of the effects of colonization, which is the result of a powerful Indigenous presence, notions of Black and Indigenous people as “criminal,” “deviant” and “lazy” are embedded beliefs Black people engage with daily.

People may be familiar with Brown bodies but have never lived next to or worked with a Black person. Black people are expected make their surroundings comfortable. This typically means that the Black person assumes a subordinate posture. This has been the subject of many U.S. scholars. In many ways, my research agenda which heavily engages with anti Black racism and racial inequality, protects you. Because I am not a Black person, people know who I am. For example, I was approached by a white colleague to collaborate on a project for which he wanted to critique U.S. Black women’s scholarship in relation to Marxism. I asked him to list five Black women authors. I turned away and he looked blankly at me. He took pride in his love of Bob Marley, but he had never cited any Black women in his 20+ year tenure at the academy.

But I am not surprised when other Black people are familiar with racialized monitoring and consider racism an American invention. Some Black people in the African diaspora have written and spoken about their daily experiences with racial profiling here in New Zealand. These Black people are not likely to be supported or validated as there are so few of them. I believe being from the U.S. does make me more resistant to whiteness, and allows me to quickly identify hidden forms of anti-Blackness.

The powerful point about your white colleague comes across so clearly. He wanted to critique Black women’s work but could not cite any Black woman authors. This says to me that he doesn’t really give a damn about what Black women actually think. I can see Black people and people of colour from the U.S. visiting New Zealand, thinking that they will finally be free from the daily insults of racism microaggressions. However, given the global anti-Black racism dimensions, I wouldn’t be surprised at how deep-rooted anti-Black racism is in New Zealand. Could you tell us more about how you dealt with anti-Black racist behaviour in New Zealand?

Being from Mississippi, I am frequently asked what it is like to be leaving. Mississippi is one of those places recognized — and rarely contested — for its brutal history of white hostility toward Black people. When I tell people that the world is like Mississippi, they often look shocked. Mississippi is the only one that can own what it is. It is 2018! Cindy Hyde-Smith, the Republican senator from Mississippi, said, “If he [a cattle rancher] invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” Hyde-Smith was still elected for saying exactly how she felt. Two years later, the world held a front-row viewing of George Floyd’s public lynching. White people saw a large Black man being rendered powerless and his life taken away as others watched. This is reminiscent of the Jim Crow era post-slavery when the lynchings of Black people was legalized by ordinary white citizens working with law enforcement. Floyd’s public lynching represented for many people that all was right in the world and order had been restored. Cindy Hyde Smith is one of the people I interact with daily.

During Trump’s presidential campaign, extreme-right groups around the world mobilized and expanded exponentially. Growing visibility of white supremacist groups — the True Blue Crew and United Patriots Front in Australia, and the New Zealand National Front and Right Wing Resistance in New Zealand — hardly received media and academic attention. Yet, statements such as “We are not as bad as the U.S.” are commonplace. If you look at the U.S. as your standard, you are doing pretty badly. There is a similar unwillingness in New Zealand to address white supremacy, as it is in the U.S. After the 2019 Christchurch massacre, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, an white supremacist, killed 51 people at two mosques, New Zealanders quickly pointed out that the gunman was Australian. A massacre of this magnitude should have raised concerns about white supremacy as a national threat. Racism can be seen as something that happens elsewhere.

Evasive tactics deployed to explain away systemic racism are most evident in the reluctance to use the terms “race/racism.” For example, racial segregation as a result of housing discriminatory practices becomes “cultural bubbles” or “ethnic clustering,” and racism becomes “unconscious bias.” Racism is viewed as something people would not do knowingly. My first experience with racial profiling was shared with my colleagues. They replied that people are simply curious. Yet, two months later when I disagreed or could not undertake a task a colleague asked of me, I was called an “uppity Negro,” twice. I was not shocked or outraged. The transnational burden of navigating white hostility, and other forms anti Blackness (anti-African Americanness), has been difficult. White hostility was something that I was raised to understand as a daughter of Jim Crow survivors.

The structure of whiteness obfuscates its reality. Your insights point to global instances of white mystification. When I think about the European imperialist violence brought to bear upon the Indigenous Māori in New Zealand, I think about the suffering, misery and death of Indigenous peoples in both North America and Australia. Collectively, I am thinking about the themes of land dispossession and cultural ruptures in language, rituals, and larger questions of cultural identity. European imperialism is all about domination, usurpation or dehumanization. Death and dying are inextricably tied to European arrogance, xenophobia, exoticization and hatred of those deemed “less than human.” Could you talk about how the Indigenous Māori continue to face contemporary forms of discrimination, inequality and oppression?

Coming from the U.S. with an understanding of the racist laws and policies — such as Black codes, Pig Laws and Jim Crow that eroded the progress Black people made during Reconstruction — I saw the effects of Indigenous land dispossession, but I also saw features of Jim Crow, though it was not codified like in the U.S. Many Indigenous people were urbanized and moved to urban centres, much like Black people. While segregation was not codified in New Zealand in the same way as in the U.S. via Native reservations and redlining, Māori were encouraged to migrate from rural areas where they owned land and were targeted for social housing to meet the demand of cheap labor and to further facilitate land dispossession. Social housing is similar to the U.S. in that it means a lack of home ownership, which can disrupt the creation of wealth over the generations.

Urbanized areas populated by mainly Indigenous and Polynesian residents were identified as being in need of targeted policing, social control, and targeted policing. I checked the imprisonment rate when I arrived in 2015 for the first time. It was a typo. While New Zealand is a small country of 5 million people, the imprisonment rate per capita for Māori is higher than the imprisonment of Native Americans. Māori women represent roughly 16 percent of the total population of women, yet Māori women represent 65 percent of women imprisoned (over four times their representation). Māori rate of imprisonment follows the trend of Indigenous people in Australia, Canada and the U.S., which is often framed through a lens of deviancy with little attention toward state-sanctioned and colonial violence. My collaboration with Indigenous colleagues aims to fill this gap in New Zealand’s criminal justice scholarship.

Speaking about the issue of criminal justice, what impact did the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in the U.S. have on bringing light to bear upon the disproportionate effect of policing of Māori people? I ask because I am aware of how the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the U.S. galvanized protests in Australia that brought attention to the large number of deaths of Indigenous/Aboriginal peoples there while in police custody. Although there are differences between the two groups, there are many common patterns of carceral aggression experienced by Indigenous peoples under colonial or racial oppression. This is overwhelming evidence of the fundamental links between criminalization, racism, white supremacist power, and otherization.

Many Indigenous, Black, and Brown New Zealanders felt the BLM protests had a profound impact on them. Many Indigenous people have experienced racialized policing and surveillance firsthand and can understand the implications through their lived experiences. BLM became a rallying cry reinvigorating attention toward Māori mass imprisonment. However, in places like West Papua, where Black Indigenous people are experiencing genocide under Indonesia’s rule, BLM was easily incorporated alongside the Free West Papuamovement, which has a large New Zealand base.

Although I was amazed by how quickly BLM moved and addressed specific issues within this context, parts of it were not familiar to me. What happens to Black social movements if they migrate? If we don’t pay attention, it can be like consuming Black culture. BLM was adopted in ways which did not reflect the Black experience. Although expressions of antiblackness in the U.S. were acknowledged and accepted, it was not clear how anti-Blackness is felt in New Zealand. White people calling black children the N-word [non-Black]People of color are a major problem in New Zealand, but it is rarely discussed. This is just an example of the power dynamics that influence Blackness, if any, when movements like BLM travel beyond the U.S.

Many people who support BLM view all marginalized persons as equals, when in reality they are not. My class is shocked when I explain to them that Indigenous and Black bodies are viewed as violent and deviant by white society, and other people of colour. I recall a few faculty members talking about a large, angry student who was roaming the halls. The student was described in such an eloquent manner that no one knew who he was but me. I was picturing someone at least six feet tall, weighing in at 250 pounds. Finally, someone told me that they had seen me speaking with the student. The exact words were, “He accosted you in the hallway.” I think I would have remembered being accosted. The student they spoke about was a young, thin Black male who was only six-foot tall. He was very timid to me. He smiled every time he saw me because I always acknowledged him, and asked about his studies. Yet, it was amazing how two white faculty members held the same image of a “giant.”

New Zealand is not aware of the implications of Black bodies’ perceptions. It is a fact of Black life that BLM shines a light on. BLM was used in some cases to increase visibility and space, without focusing on institutional racism. If anti-Blackness was ever acknowledged, it remained on the margins.

Can you give an example of how you see Black communities in New Zealand resisting anti-Black surveillance? What are the strategies of Indigenous communities to combat discrimination?

Aretina Hamilton advanced a concept called “white unseen” in 2020 to explicate how deeply embedded the erasure of Blackness is as it relates to Black pain, Black anxiety and Black despair. This erasure is sanctioned by the fact it is so deeply embedded that it takes severe disruptions (like in the case George Floyd) for Black rages to gain validity.

Hamilton describes White unseen as an intentional thought pattern and epistemological procedure that makes it impossible to see the everyday terrors, ruptures and tensions experienced by Indigenous and Black people. It is important that Black people do not fall into this thought pattern. We should not consider hair discrimination a form anti-Blackness, or dismiss it as too minor an issue to warrant our attention. The insidious nature of white supremacy renders something like hair discrimination as “race neutral” compared to police violence that led to the premature deaths of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Mike Brown, Atatiana Jefferson, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, and many more. Hair discrimination, like racial profiling reveals the insidious nature global white gaze that demands Black subordination. Everyone knows that Black people are expected not to submit to the white gaze.

We witnessed how Black people were treated. China when COVID-19First appeared. As the world watches Russia invade Ukraine we see that Black people are not allowed out of Ukraine and are removed from buses. Ukrainian police. We are seeing in real-time how Black lives don’t matter worldwide. The initial step is seeing anti-Blackness as a global phenomenon, a pandemic — not something existing solely in the United States. These connections are important and we must combine our energies in order to make them visible.

This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.