Terry Crews and the Toxic ‘Black Supremacy’ Myth
The “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” star and #MeToo silence breaker has been roundly criticized for conflating the movement for Black lives with “Black supremacy.” He has much to learn.
Actor Terry Crews fears an imaginary future where reverse racism—to date, a fiction—reigns supreme.
The Brooklyn Nine-Nine cast member recently tweeted, “If you are a child of God, you are my brother and sister. I have family of every race, creed and ideology. We must ensure #blacklivesmatter doesn’t morph into #blacklivesbetter.” And early last month, he offered a version of the same: “Defeating White supremacy without White people creates Black supremacy. Equality is the truth. Like it or not, we are all in this together.”
With these tweets, Crews seemed to be pointing to the increasing prevalence of pro-Black stances within Black communities, especially Black-activist circles and saying that they’re too much—dangerous, even. Many popular Black pundits, actors, and commentators moved to call him in and out online, expressing outrage that a prominent Black figure like Crews is using his platform to espouse “all lives matter” talking points. But the expectation that Crews employ a competent anti-racist framework misses that—in a reversal of the actor’s own hackneyed statement—plenty of Black people still need to unlearn anti-blackness, too.
To Crews, affirming blackness without centering or requiring white allyship is a step toward supremacy. His is a basic misunderstanding of how race science was formed and functions, and how it resulted in systemic racism. I won’t go into that history lesson here, since I and several other writers, thinkers, activists, academics, and regular people have already done so time and time again. But what’s worth underlining is that not all or even many Black people are anti-racist experts, and there are plenty of Black people who still view their own experiences—as well as broader systemic racism—through a white lens. That’s how a white supremacist capitalist society succeeds: not simply by grooming white racists, but making it such that even the victims of racism must internalize racist ideas in order to gain status and security in major institutions.
So Crews, who has become somewhat of a #MeToo hero after coming forward about a Hollywood agent sexually assaulting him, is not aberrant in his desire that those fighting for Black liberation be careful to not injure white egos. Plenty of Black people—in trying to climb the corporate ladder or make it in an exceptionally difficult line of work like acting—have learned to accommodate whiteness at every step. This doesn’t mean treating their coworkers with compassion and care no matter their racial identity, but instead to specifically coddle white coworkers by taking pains to never speak up about racism in the workplace. (Non-Black people, if you’ve ever wondered why some of your Black coworkers aren’t chatty in Slack or seem formal in day-to-day communications, this could be why.)
As former Cards Against Humanity staff writer Nico Carter wrote in a harrowing Medium blog post, pointing out societal and workplace racism directly led his white bosses to send him, a Black man who grew up in poverty, to a mental hospital where a white psychiatrist insisted that an anti-racist education would teach a person “that race didn’t matter at all” (according to Carter, those bosses ended up settling a harassment lawsuit with him). Crews’ perspective is the safe one, the one that will make his white colleagues feel comfortable and white producers more likely to hire him for projects. And it’s likely that even some of the Black people expressing outrage over Crews’ obtuse tweets actively accommodate whiteness in other, perhaps more subtle ways. Capitalism makes it not only advantageous but justifiable to do this to some degree—for most of us, paying the bills is largely dependent on keeping any number of white people perfectly content.
Terry Crews’ anti-blackness comes as no surprise. Anti-racism work is urgent work for all of us, work that will require significant mutual aid and cooperation as we challenge the systems that dole out our checks—no matter how fat or measly—while they enact violence, often directly against us. When we say Black Lives Matter, it is in fact an invocation of Black liberation as a mission that liberates everyone, since affirming blackness, specifically and without qualification, is a vital step toward undermining the centuries-old oppressive systems that weigh so heavily on our societies.