Author Leonce Gaiter on the new book, Whites Shackled Themselves to Race and Blacks Have Yet to Free Ourselves.

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Arguing for a system of Afro-American historical and cultural self-education, Whites Shackled Themselves to Race and Blacks Have Yet to Free Ourselves, insists that it's culture, not color that defines us, and culture, not color that will move us forward.

This book describes how Afro-Americans can free ourselves from the “race” shackles the majority clamped on us all those centuries ago. The goal was our exclusion from the family of men. The goal was our subjugation and enslavement. To achieve those aims, the definition of the 'black race' became no more than negative stereotypes tied to skin color—and we've been living under it, or reacting to it ever since. Whites Shackled Themselves to Race… discusses how to redefine ourselves as the vital American cultural force that we have become, instead of the racial caste we were branded. It insists that we use that elevated self-image to teach ourselves to live and thrive in the often-racist America we have, as opposed to the colorblind utopia to which some pay lip service. Only then can we move beyond politics and its inevitable focus on redeeming the majority, and focus instead on ourselves—our rich history and the indelible culture it’s bred—to provide our young the sense of cultural primacy that is the birthright of every child, and on which every viable culture propagates itself.


[Click anywhere on first paragraph to expand, and click again to collapse]


African-American - Any American citizen of black African ancestry. He or she could be descended from slaves who were brought here in 1700, or they could be Cuban or Ghanaian immigrants who were naturalized yesterday. [Read more]

African-Americans hail from many different countries and regions, and thus may have few, if any, cultural similarities—no more than a recent white German immigrant would have with an 4th generation white American of Italian ancestry… Color is not culture, white or black.

Black - Used interchangeably and synonymous with “African-American.”

Afro-American - Denotes the distinct culture of the American descendants of African slaves. This is America’s predominant African-American culture, and the one we often mean to invoke when we use the far less specific terms “black” and “African-American.”

Many of the issues that impact Afro-Americans also impact African-Americans more generally. Americans have never been surgical about our race hatred. Historically, black skin alone has been enough to trigger it. However, Afro-Americans bear the cultural l legacy of American’s great crime—slavery and the subsequent 100-plus years of both legal and socially accepted apartheid and second-class citizenship, seasoned with terror, violence and lack of access to educational, political, and financial opportunities that white Americans considered their birthright.

How white people invented the white race:

For the majority of this nation’s history, race has defined America. However, there was a time prior to this country’s founding when the “white race” did not exist on this soil. For his book, “The Invention of the White Race,” Theodore Allen scoured records from 17th century Virginia, where almost one in four bond laborers was of African origin. He found no use of the word “white” in official records until around 1680. Thus, from 1619 to around 1680, despite the presence of both black and white indentured laborers in Virginia, no one was officially categorized or described as “white.” [More]

Only with the economic desire to degrade Africans to the role of property did the ‘white race’ become established. Slave owners had to define a permanent class of persons as so different from themselves that they did not deserve the right to own their own bodies, the fruits of their labors, or their own offspring. This group of humans would hold the status of horses or dogs. They had to be defined as so distinct from slave owners of pale skin, so beneath them, that they deserved no better than their perpetual enslavement. The dark skinned had to be the opposite of the slave owners. And so the ‘white race’ was born to distinguish itself by solely imbuing ‘whites’ with the attributes of humanity, and blacks with those of beasts.

Our enslavement so impacted this nation, was so central to its existence, that all of its majority soon adopted a ‘white’ racial identity to cement their full humanity. Only that identity ensured their access to freedom. For poor whites, that identity also provided something new and precious—a political, social and cultural tether to the landed wealthy—a connection that did not exist in class-based European societies, a connection that helped grow the American ideal of upward mobility.

Our history maligned:

The elite popular conception of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement ranges from the white-centric, to the perverse. In an article entitled, “Why I’m tired of hearing about ‘that’ civil rights movement,” John Blake of CNN identifies what he calls three damaging myths about the civil rights movement. The first is, “It was a black thang.” [More]

“A quick word association test,” Blake wrote. “When you hear the words civil rights, what kind of faces do you see? Only black? As I talked to various groups about the movement, I gradually realized that it was primarily seen as a black struggle instead of an American movement that helped all sorts of people…”

Blake is right. Whites played significant roles in the Movement. However, for us it was, in fact, a ‘black thing.’ Our rights were denied; we started it, and we overwhelmingly peopled and propelled it. Reassigning the Civil Rights Movement from an African-American struggle to claim our rights to an “American movement that helped all sorts of people,” is an insult to the black men, women, and children of that movement—as great an insult as would be to deny that whites played roles in it. More importantly, it robs us of the basic cultural authority to view our history from our own point-of-view. It denies us the ability to be the heroes of our own story—rights the majority not only offers itself but, in keeping with its cultural kleptomania, steals by taking our story and insisting we call it theirs. I’m sure it sounds to the majority very ‘patriotic’ and inclusive to talk of the Civil Rights Movement as a black/white national Kumbaya moment, but it’s politically-correct bullshit that feeds the prevailing fiction—that a movement reviled in its day as a radical front for communists belongs as much or more to them than it does to us; that their roles were as substantive as ours; that it took no more courage for black middle-school children to face down the dogs and fire hoses of Jim Crow than it did for grown white men and women born to the privileges of this society.

… We fought against impossible odds to force the government to acknowledge our civil rights; and we prevailed. The victors supposedly write history, yet the information elite rewrites our history to minimize our centrality to it. The story of how we fought against the organs of mainstream power and won legal recognition of our rights is twisted into a story of mainstream triumph.

Bias is the norm. We must prepare for it:

We have been waiting for our 50-year-old political triumphs to trickle down (or up) such that the majority acknowledges and battles flagrant injustice against us. In most instances, that has not happened. Whether the gross racial disparities catalogued herein are the result of race hatred or subconscious bias simply does not matter. What does matter is the effect on black lives. Everything else is noise. Racist outcomes are hateful. How you get to hateful is of little interest. When you take up residence at hateful, as opposed to gunning it out of that toxic neighborhood, your motives cease to matter. When you consistently support policies that result in racist outcomes, you are racist. [More]

Psychologists Drs. Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald of Harvard and University of Washington, respectively, are among the many researchers who have demonstrated the lie of “colorblindness” or the belief that prejudice is a rarity or an aberration. Banaji and Greenwald developed Implicit Association Tests (IAT) that reveal unconscious biases against various groups—blacks, women, etc. In the introduction to their book, “Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People,” the authors state:

“In this book we aim to make clear why many scientists, ourselves very much included, now recognize hidden-bias blindspots as fully believable because of the sheer weight of scientific evidence that demands this conclusion. But convincing readers of this is no simple challenge. How can we show the existence of something in our own minds of which we remain completely unaware.”

The race IAT (the only one I’ll be discussing here) considers how we equate black faces with weapons and danger.

“The belief that Black men are criminals persists even though the likelihood of any given Black male being a criminal is low. Needless to say, the existence of a stereotype associating a given group with violence and crime is grave and has important implications for the individual, group, and society.”

It didn’t matter that test-takers stated that they held no animus toward blacks. A majority still displayed bias toward blacks in the automatic portion of the test. The researchers call this “unconscious” bias. [I suspect a not-insignificant percentage of this is less unconscious than it is simply un-confessed; however, that might be my bias talking.]

It didn’t matter how well educated the subjects were. They still displayed bias against black faces more readily associating them with weapons and violence.

Culturally, Equal is Not Good Enough:

Knowing of … cultures that crowned themselves superior, and revisiting the Margo Monteith quote, “To the extent we can feel better about our group relative to other groups, we can feel good about ourselves,” I searched for instances in which Afro-Americans crowned ourselves culturally superior. I could not find any. [More]
Yes, there are spheres we dominate, but do we instill the idea in young people that they come from a stock that is more courageous, more resolute than any other American people have had to be? Do we credit ourselves with our mercy and restraint (good or bad)? We certainly know that if anyone had done to white Americans what they have done to us, it would have been cause for nothing less than a genocidal rampage against the perpetrators. Do we credit ourselves with being a sufficiently formidable force that in 2011 most Americans assumed we represented 20% of the population instead of the 12% we comprised at the time? There is nary an aspect of this country’s governance that our presence has not inordinately influenced—from the structure of our governmental institutions to the rights and freedoms we profess to love. Do we credit ourselves as the people who forced this nation to recognize that it failed to practice what it preached regarding equality under the law, or with forcing this nation to legally enforce the concepts it claimed to hold dear, but had instead betrayed? Do we place ourselves front and center in America’s story?

Equality is a demotion. I do not feel we are equal to the white men and women with whom we share this land. I feel that we are superior. We have had to be. They have not clawed their way out of 188 years of various forms of legally and socially enforced bondage and subjugation to compel the offending nation to change it laws and its habits. They have not colored every aspect of this culture from music to dance to speech in the face of 188 years of non- and second-class citizenship. We have come farther. We have overcome more. Isn’t it time to develop an historical and cultural curriculum that teaches this to our children, that counters the negative lessons they’ll inevitably imbibe from the majority?


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About the Author
Leonce Gaiter's fiction includes the historical novel, "I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang," the coming-of-age novel, "In the Company of Educated Men," and the noir thriller, "Bourbon Street."

His non-fiction has appeared in Newsweek, The Huffington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The New York Times, in national syndication, and elsewhere.

Raised in a military family, Gaiter grew up in Louisiana, Germany, Missouri, Washington, D.C. and Maryland. After graduating from Harvard, he moved to Los Angeles and worked in the creative and business ends of the film and recording industries. He subsequently worked as marketing agency strategist and creative director for large technology accounts. He currently lives in Northern California. You can learn more about his work and read excerpts at