Imaginary Enemies: Why the Real Oppressor is You

By AAwosika07 | Philosophy

Aug 02

I was the top earning writer on Medium for six months in a row — I also happen to be black.

I’ve never looked at my race as an obstacle to my success. Sure, I’ve experienced racism. I’ve been followed around in a store. Sometimes I question the motives of a white person that stares at me a little bit too long. I’m well aware that no matter how much I succeed, some people will always look at me as just another n****. But I don’t care. That’s not enough for me to abandon my goals. Even though there are racist people in society, I’ve never felt oppressed or held down by the institutions of society.

I credit my worldview to the way I was raised.

My parents never had a conversation with me about race. They never told me to keep my hands on the steering wheel when I got pulled over, nor did they communicate that I was in any danger or faced any obstacles because of the way I looked. They just told me to get good grades and find a nice job that made a lot of money. They had high expectations for me and told me that I had no excuse to fail because they set me up to live a good life. My father is an immigrant from Nigeria — a country that has a culture of education and high standards, especially those who come to America. My mom grew up in Milwaukee Wisconsin, which is still one of the most segregated cities in America.

A while back I asked her what it was like to grow up in the 60s, a time of racial strife, and live in the most segregated city in the country.

She told me it never crossed her mind much. Her parents insulated her from all of it. She grew up in a two-parent home. Her school was across the street from her house. Most of her extended family lived in the same neighborhood — a tightly knit neighborhood with a family-oriented culture. Her mom couldn’t read. She was a stay-at-home mother. Her father was a factory worker who didn’t make a ton of money but put some away each month for my mom to go to a good school. To keep her out of trouble, he got her a library card when she was five years old and told her to read every book in the library.

She took that recommendation literally.

She devoured as much information as possible. She graduated high school a year early and went to college for free thanks to scholarships and grant money. Her father gave her the money he saved for school and since she didn’t need it, she got to keep it for herself and get a leg up in life. A black woman, born in 1958, became a high-paid IT consultant making nearly six figures for the majority of her working career. My mother is a prideful woman. She expected the best from herself, so she got it.

My father grew up in a country where, to this day, the average yearly salary is roughly $13,000.

Those of you who know statistics know that mean averages don’t mean much. There are many wealthy people in the country, but most of them are poor. If anyone had a reason to feel behind in life it was him. But he didn’t. He saw coming to America as an opportunity, not some racist wasteland where nobody with black skin could succeed. Many immigrants feel this way. You’d know that if you, you know, asked them. They look at Americans as entitled and lazy.

Many of you who grew up with immigrant parents probably heard a similar story. They came to this country with nothing, made something of themselves, set high expectations for their children, and within a few generations, the family name goes from destitute to upper or middle class. Nigerians-Americans have a higher household income than Black Americans. They have a higher household income than White Americans. Same skin color, different culture.

When my father came to America, his first job was at McDonald’s. He did many odd jobs like driving a cab. He went to university, graduated with a degree in Finance, met my mom, and had me. He’s a real estate agent. Many of my aunts and uncles own businesses. We have dentists, doctors, nurses, engineers, some got high-paying trade jobs, or worked in IT.

There’s a joke when it comes to immigrant parents:

Your only options for grades are A or A+.

How is it that my entire family started poor and black, but ended up successful? African immigrants face racism, too. You’d think they were destined for failure. You’d think that oppression would’ve kept them from achieving such heights, but they did. How?

This essay is about the role of mindset and culture when it comes to success.

It will argue that the true oppressive forces that keep minorities and other marginalized groups stuck and behind others are their minds, guided and shaped by the very people who say they’re helping them. It will explain that, although oppression and prejudice are quite real and do play a role in the trajectory of your life, they’re overstated.

You might be free, but your mind isn’t. And until that happens, you’ll always stay stuck.

I.

“Well over one million whites were enslaved in North Africa between the 16th and 19th centuries, most of them abducted and sold by Muslim pirates. Africans were raiding Europe for slaves for hundreds of years. The school system has totally erased this fact from history.” Matt Walsh

Many Americans are under the impression that slavery in America is somehow unique.

It’s not. Slavery is a horrible practice. Of course, it leaves residue and sets populations backward. It should never have happened, but it did, all around the world. Slavery was abolished in America before other countries like North Africa.

Slavery happened in India, Western and Central Asia, Northern and Eastern Africa, and Europe. Slavery dates back thousands of years in places like Mesopotamia. The Jews were enslaved in Egypt. Talk about an unlucky group of people.

Native Americans held slaves before Europeans ever settled the continent. African people enslaved other Africans. Africans were the ones that mostly sold slaves to the slaveholders that brought them to America. Irish people were forced into indentured servitude in America from the 17th to 19th century. Maybe it ain’t slavery, slavery. Let’s call it damn near slavery.

Black people don’t have a monopoly on genocide.

Nor does the agreement of racism a group faces have any correlation with how they fare afterward.

‘”There have been a number of instances in Southeast Asia where the number of Chinese people killed in a few days exceeded the total number of black lynchings in the history of the United States.” – Thomas Sowell [emphasis mine]

The holocaust wiped out a third of the entire Jewish population.

“The groups incidentally who have suffered the most violence, and I use that as one index or group hostility or racism, those groups have typically been middle-man minorities — The Chinese, the Jews, the Armenians, the Igbos in Nigeria (30,000 of those were killed in massacres within our time) yet I don’t find any correlation in the long-run between the amount of hostility faced by a group and their economic outcomes in the long-run.”

It’s not self-evident that being oppressed and poor automatically means a death sentence to the future of a population.

Several other populations who experienced oppression and prejudice went on to thrive.

Why, though? The conservative thinker, Thomas Sowell, who I’m drawing most of my argument, argues that there’s a cultural component to the decisions people in different populations make when it comes to their education and careers.

He notes that the Irish, after their trials and tribulations, went on to become formidable in politics, which is a noble enough field, but not necessarily the most lucrative one. You can look at the choices of people in different populations of Asia like the Chinese and Indian people to gravitate to fields that happen to be lucrative like S.T.E.M.

All of these formerly oppressed populations went on to make great leaps in progress, including black people.

The black literacy rate increased dramatically after slavery from 20 percent in 1870 to nearly 70 percent by 1910, which is nothing short of a miracle.  They were beginning to close the gap when it came to economic success, too. Sowell argues that economic policies to help black people weren’t necessary. Yes, they needed time to catch up to other races, but that’s all they needed.

The main argument Sowell, and I, fight against, is this:

“One of the key implicit assumptions of our time is that many economic and social outcomes would tend to be either even or random, if left to the natural course of events, so that the strikingly uneven and non-random outcomes imply some adverse human intervention.”

In short, it’s the idea that equality of opportunity would naturally lend to equal outcomes between different groups.

This argument ignores culture. The group that does best in America isn’t white people. It’s Asians. How could this be in a white supremacist world where white people dominate everything?

Asians, in general, happen to have a culture that promotes rigorous study. On average, they literally spend more time doing their homework than other groups, so their results are better. Asian American families filed a class action suit against Harvard because they claimed they were being discriminated against for doing too well. Too many of them were scoring too high on their S.A.T.s, which meant there would be too many Asians at the school and not enough room for other ethnicities. I thought we wanted equality.

The truth is that leveling the playing field lends itself to winner take all effects. It would be strange for people of different cultures to have equal results. We can argue about the origins of culture, sure, but it’s a lie to say that culture doesn’t play a role in success.

We needed the civil rights movement, of course.

Even after being freed, black people were treated horribly in times like Jim Crow. The Zeitgeist, the way black people were viewed, needed to change, but that didn’t mean they needed ‘help.’ As Sowell said, the brutality of the racism you face doesn’t automatically mean you won’t thrive. Many of the attempts to help minority populations ended up hurting them. None of this was done on purpose, but many of the second and third-order effects of policies that aimed to achieve equality set people back. The real oppressive force in society is the unintended consequences of these policies, the cultural diseases that ensued because of them, and the damage to the psyches of formerly oppressed people that keep them stuck today.

II.

I live in a progressive town.

Everybody means well. They check their privilege. The signs on many shops say “All are welcome here.” They try to understand what it’s like to be black or grow up in the inner city, but they have no clue. And I’m not talking about them not having a clue about oppression, they have that in spades. They have no clue about incentives.

For example, a lot of people in my town think that welfare is a net positive in society and that people don’t abuse it. Anyone who grew up in the hood or near it will tell you an entirely different story. Growing up, I saw a bunch of people who used welfare as an excuse to stay stuck in the same income bracket.

If you make too much money, you lose your assistance.

You’d think that people would want to escape that bracket and level up their lives because they’re still poor. Although poor, they have some level of comfort. Many of them see being poor and comfortable as a better alternative than working hard to pull up their bootstraps. Of course, many people do use it as a stop-gap measure and go on to improve their situation, but a good number of them don’t.

Continuing with incentives. When Lyndon Johnson started the War on Poverty and introduced the welfare state, one of the conditions for getting assistance was that you’d only get assistance if there was no father in the home. Prior to the introduction of the welfare state, most black people grew up in two-parent homes. Today? The single-motherhood rate in the black community is 70 percent.

This isn’t a knock on single mothers at all. But the data is clear

If you grow up in a single-parent home, you are far less likely to succeed. You’re more likely to go to jail, be poor, and continue having children out of wedlock, which just perpetuates the cycle.

It makes sense. If the state will raise your child for you, you have less of an incentive to stick around as a man. If you know the state will raise your child for you, you have less of an incentive to avoid getting pregnant.

The 1994 Crime Bill also tells the story of the accidental outcomes of well-meaning policies. The Crime bill wasn’t some racist ploy to explode the prison population, even though that’s what happened. It was a progressive initiative, sponsored by our current president, and supported by the Black Democratic congressional caucus. Crime was out of control and policymakers created it to curb said crime.

The documentary 13th correctly cited that the number of black people that were incarcerated exploded, but were they right about the cause? They argued it was just another way to enslave black people once slavery was abolished, back by the power of the 13th amendment, which says that although you can’t own slaves, indentured servitude in the form of incarceration is just fine. If you can’t make black people slaves, just put them in jail. . Maybe they’re right. But on the surface at least, it seems to be the result of politicians who were trying to help.

Look at all the damage that trying to help has done.

Take affirmation active, which aimed to help black people advance in education and the workplace. Sowell recalled how a bunch of black students at Harvard, where he taught at the time, were flunking out of class. These students excelled in high school and had high S.A.T scores, but not high enough to compete with other students who were the top one percent of the top one percent academically. If you go to Harvard you’re expected to keep up with the fast and rigorous pace of the teaching. The black students couldn’t, not because they weren’t smart, but because they weren’t smart enough to go to Harvard. They could’ve excelled at a bunch of other universities at a totem pole level or two below Harvard, but since they were placed higher than their skill level, they failed.

Affirmative action also warps the perception others have of black people. Instead of your peers thinking you got hired because you were the right person for the job, they think you got the job just because you’re black, which fuels racist attitudes. It also makes the person who received the help wonder if they earned or deserved the gig themselves. Any time someone reaches out to me and wants to give me a leg up just because I’m black it pisses me off. I don’t need to be part of any diversity program. I can and have done it on my own. People want to feel like they’re a part of their own success. If you rob them of that, you ruin their self-esteem. This is what helps people understand. Human beings, above all else, want dignity.

They want accurate praise for their efforts, not a handout.

III.

Who’s really the white supremacist?

Someone who’s just racist? Or someone who literally thinks they’re above black people? It irritates me to see white people take pity on black people or any other minorities. I remember telling this woman, a progressive white woman, that I was going to write a book that inspired people to start creative careers.

She said:

“Well, what about the poor black kid who doesn’t have a pencil to start working on their writing?”

Inside, I was fuming. It was another example of the soft bigotry of low expectations. This seemingly helpful force that teaches people to feel helpless. There’s this concept called the pygmalion effect. In short, if you set high expectations for people, they’ll try to live up to them. Sowell talks about this effect in practice in his book Charter Schools and Their Enemies. There was a charter school set up in Brooklyn in a section of a local public school. All the kids in the public school were flunking out. The students in the charter school, which was in the same exact building with students from the same exact neighborhood, were scoring off the charts on their tests.  In some cases, the students in these charter schools were scoring higher than their white counterparts. Doesn’t growing up in the hood and being black mean failure? It does if you expect it to.

These Charter schools didn’t have more funding.

In fact, they spent less money per student than their public school counterparts. The only difference was the expectations they set for their students. Sowell tells a story about how a student in one of the schools was sent home on the first day for wearing the wrong socks in her uniform. Most people would look at this as a bigoted ploy to over-punish black students and send them through the school-to-prison pipeline.

But the opposite is true. These schools wanted to set the expectation that rules were to be followed. They didn’t treat kids with kid gloves. The student wore the right socks to school the next day and everything was fine. What these helpful folks just can’t understand is that throwing money at a situation doesn’t make it better. Baltimore public schools are in the top three nationwide when it comes to public education funding and they rank at the bottom for all educational metrics.

The ‘anointed’ as Sowell calls them, just don’t understand incentives and human nature at all.

Take the public school system for example. Public schools are one of the only institutions that have guaranteed demand. If you live in a certain area, you have to go to that school. They have no incentive to make the schools better because they don’t have to compete with other schools. This would be like telling you that you had to go to a certain grocery store and could only buy their products. Why would they have any reason to provide good products? The kindness of their hearts? This is what the anointed believe. They believe that the kindness of hearts trumps incentives when the exact opposite is true.

All their efforts to help have done nothing more than degrade the institutions they try to help and ruin the minds of the people they’re trying to help in the process. Jonathan Haidt talks about this in The Coddling of the American Mind. If you keep telling people they’re oppressed, helpless, and can’t succeed, they’re gonna act helpless. This messaging is hitting us from every angle now. It’s patriarchy this, racism that. Society keeps telling people that their situations are hopeless just because of what they look like and they’re taking the bait hook line and sinker. This is the oppression we need to fight.

What’s interesting to me is that other people will tell me, a black American, that I’m oppressing myself because I believe in myself.

This strong aversion to bootstraps can be seen everywhere you look. Everything bad that happens to you now is the fault of the system, not yours. Behavior, decision-making, and culture play no part in the outcomes you get. It’s all oppression. I couldn’t think of a more de-motivating message than telling people they’re fucked no matter what just because of the color of their skin. But this is the prevailing message. And people will hate you for bucking against it. I’m already anticipating it in the comments on this blog post.

My friend Ed Latimore has a quote:

If you want to experience real racism, come out as a black conservative.

If your opinion differs from the consensus, you’re now upholding white supremacy even if you’re…not white. I have a libertarian bent to my writing, obviously. I’ve had people leave comments on my posts telling me that I’m a white supremacist. They don’t even bother to check my profile picture. If you say anything that hints at personal responsibility, you’re a racist. You don’t care about these poor little marginalized people who need help.

You’re allowed to advance and succeed as a minority, but only if you stick to the narrative.

If you deviate, even just slightly, these tolerant folks will come for your neck. What do you commonly see featured in the media during black history month? Sure, they’ll pay lip service to the achievements of black people, but nine times out of ten the content is about how bad our lives are. I don’t want to watch slavery films. Show me black people who are winning. There are tons of us. I go online every day and see minorities, women, and people of all genders and orientations thriving. I’ve had women business coaches. My blogging mentor was disabled — paralyzed below the neck. I took a marketing course from a Saudi Arabian woman. I just wanted to make some money and I’d get help from whoever I thought could help me.

The playing field isn’t perfectly level, but it’s level enough.

This boogeyman oppression narrative is another consequence of incentives. Let me paint the picture for you. Let’s say you start an organization to fight against [x]. What incentive do you have to fix [x]? If you fix [x], your organization is no longer needed. You’d have to get rid of all the staff at this organization to solve [x]. If you’re a prominent leader in the fight [x], community, you lose your status and money. Robin Deangelo, a white woman, gets paid $20,000 a speech to tell white people how bad they are. The Black Lives Matter organization stole donations and bought mansions with them. It’s all a fucking joke. A sick one. These people are grifters. Same with the politicians. They have every incentive to make the problem seem worse than it is so you’ll vote for them to fix the problem, except if they fix the problem you no longer need them so they have no incentive to fix the problem.

Charlie Munger said it best:

If you know the incentive, you know the outcome

Alas, the anointed don’t understand incentives so we’re going to keep going through this emotional spin cycle over and over again. If I seem biased against the left it’s because I am. It’s not because I think Republicans are better. But Republicans don’t pretend to care about us. That, I can live with. What I can’t live with is the vision of the anointed.

For those of you who are so big into civil rights, heed these words from Malcolm X. His words, not mine:

The white liberal differs from the white conservative only in one way: the liberal is more deceitful than the conservative. The liberal is more hypocritical than the conservative. Both want power, but the white liberal is the one who has perfected the art of posing as the Negro’s friend and benefactor; and by winning the friendship, allegiance, and support of the Negro, the white liberal is able to use the Negro as a pawn or tool in this political “football game” that is constantly raging between the white liberals and white conservatives.

If helping us wasn’t critical to winning elections, they’d drop us like a hot potato.

The sad part is that I know most regular folks do want to help. They think they’re helping. But they’re not. I don’t want your pity or your help I just want you to leave me alone and let me earn my own success. The biggest contribution you can make to race relations is to do nothing. Just live your life. There’s nothing wrong with being white. Not being racist is enough, no need for anti-racism. When you pity us, you’re telling us you don’t look at us as equals.

True equality is a meritocracy, even if that means some people win and some people lose. Equity is not only impossible but damaging. If I had one political hill I’d die on, it would be charter schools and privatizing the education system. The public education system is the best example of institutionalized and system racism I can think of. Give every family funding and let them pick where they want to go to school. Make the schools compete with each other. Give people the tools to help themselves instead of trying to help them. This is the right answer and would lead to better outcomes, but because it doesn’t sit well with the vision of the anointed, they reject it. They don’t care about actually helping. They care about the appearance of helping.

I’m sure this sounds insane to many people, but it’s what I believe.

I can’t sit here and watch this happen without saying something. People tell me I should use my platform to help others and talk about important issues. Well, I’m doing it. Don’t be upset with me for doing it the way I want to do it instead of the way you want me to do it. You say you want to listen to black people and understand their lived experiences. Well, do it, right now. If you don’t, you’re the hypocrite. You don’t have to agree with me, but if you feel the need to shut me up or get viscerally angry at the words of a black man, maybe you’re the problem.

IV.

Your enemies are imaginary.

Yes, there are racist people in the world, clearly. Yes, things aren’t perfectly equal. Implicit bias is real. You might face prejudice on your way to the mountain top. There are some policies that affect your rights. In some ways, you are oppressed.

But this idea that there’s this racist, sexist, homophobic boogeyman that’s keeping you from living the life you want is total bullshit.

If my mom could do it in the ’60s, you can do it in 2022. Nobody is keeping you from doing anything. A stock brokerage software doesn’t know what color or sex you are. You can start an online business and not even put your name or face on it if you don’t want to. Calendly, the popular scheduling app valued at billions of dollars, is a black-owned business. Bet you didn’t know that. You would if you paid attention to all of the many success stories you’d find if you actually took the time to look.

Freedom comes with responsibility.

A lot of people don’t want to be free. Because, if they’re free, that means it’s on them to succeed. No one else to blame but yourself. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to look but in the mirror. Even if you’re oppressed and behind, taking responsibility for your life and pulling yourself up by the bootstraps is more dignified than hiding in a corner scared of some boogeyman. People have been oppressed throughout history. You could argue that civilization is oppressive in nature, regardless of which civilization it is.

It’s your responsibility to escape the Matrix and no one else.

What does racism have to do with you watching Netflix instead of working on your business? What does sexism have to do with choosing what field you want to pursue to make money? Who exactly is specifically keeping you from doing anything except for yourself?A lot of you will run to the comments to argue for your own limitations. Fine, cool. Build your mental prison if you want to. But I choose freedom. I want you to be free.

Whether or not you choose freedom, well, that’s on you.

Follow

About the Author

Ayodeji is the Author of Real Help: An Honest Guide to Self-Improvement and two other Amazon best-selling titles. When he's not writing, he enjoys reading, exercising, eating chicken wings, and occasionally drinking old-fashioned's.

Leave a Comment:

Leave a Comment: