So You Want to Be Anti Racist — Part 2: Convict Leasing to Cultural Appropriation.
A Growing Glossary of Terms You Should Know
- Convict Leasing — A widespread practice throughout the south in the post-Reconstruction era, Convict Leasing was represented by a dark collaboration between formal law enforcement and informal domestic terrorist groups such as the KKK (often the same men who wore badges during the day wore KKK hoods at night). African Americans could be arrested for even minor infractions, e.g., jay walking, and given long sentences served at work camps throughout the south. These camps then leased out their convicts to various white-owned corporations that were seeking ways to replace the source of free labor they had during slavery. Convict Leasing was slavery by a different name. Its practice was widespread but its story has not been well told in US history as a result of the “Southern Resurgence,” when white southerners engaged in a mostly successful propaganda campaign to recast the Civil War as a fight for “state rights” and cover up the continued oppression of Blacks in the Jim Crow south.
2. Covert vs. (Overt Racism) — As the discussion of racial justice has evolved, the distinction between covert and overt racism has emerged as a key distinction. Too often our efforts to identify racism focus on overt, socially unacceptable forms of racism. However, many versions of covert, or socially acceptable, racism persist. Examples include: “All Lives Matter,” “Colorism,” “Being Colorblind,” “Tokenism,” Eurocentric school curricula, and more . . .
3. Critical Theory — You might not have heard this term, but (without a doubt) it has impacted your life (for the better). Critical Theory is the philosophical approach underpinning the most significant cultural shifts and developments of the 20th century. In practice it has been the intellectual framework used to examine oppression in myriad forms, e.g., racism, sexism, ableism, etc. . . . and how power, formalized and cultural, is used to perpetuate oppressive systems. Like any philosophical approach, it has its shortcomings, but they do not eclipse the very real fact that this approach has lifted up the voices of millions of formally oppressed people, helped to dismantle injustice, and been an extraordinary animating force for social justice.
4. Cultural Appropriation & Misappropriation — Rachel Dolezal and Jessica Krug have been perhaps some of the most outrageous and extreme versions of this. These concepts can be hard to pin down as well because opinions can vary on what is a respectful exchange and what is not. Cultural exchange is also inevitable — I am writing this article in Roman letters, using Germanic-Latin based grammar, with Arabic numbers first codified in Persia. But there are far more subtle and pervasive forms of cultural borrowing that is a source of pain. For centuries, the African American community has been a source of inspiration for culture — language, music, art, dance, etc. Despite what have been monumental contributions, Black artists often have not received credit (while white artists — Elvis and Led Zeppelin — did). White America was happy to extract the cultural contributions of Black America, without correcting the injustices African Americans face. No one captured this sentiment better than Jessie Williams in 2016.
Ted Neill, MPH, is a writer based in Seattle. He has written extensively on HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Greatest Generation. His recent novel, Reaper Moon, examines the intersection of faith, politics, and racism during a global viral pandemic. His YA novel, Zombies, Frat Boys, Monster Flash Mobs does the same, except with zombies, frat boys, nerds, and ninjas. His illustrated kids’ series Mystery Force features kid protagonists saving the world despite (and sometimes thanks to) the visible and invisible disabilities they live with.