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On August 4, 2020, author Robert Jones, Jr. tweeted, “How old were you when you realized that whiteness was not a skin color, but an ecosociopolitical construct folks could be inducted to based on their willingness to swear allegiance to and uphold anti-Blackness?” The tweet generated a multitude of threads where Black people reflected on these moments, and I was among them.

For me, the offer of induction came as an Afropunk at the local dive bar in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where I spent most of my youth. One particularly packed humid night as I waited for the band to start their set, a white patron took off his shirt to reveal the large swastika tattooed on his chest. I saw him speaking with a “friend” of mine earlier, so I asked my “friend” what was up with this dude. My “friend” responded that the Nazi punk was “an OK dude” and that “I should understand other viewpoints and not make everything about race all the time.”

His words caused me to recoil in disgust, but deep down, not in surprise. I looked him up and down and told him to stay the hell away from me, before turning away into the sea of bodies waiting for the band to start. To the local punk scene’s credit, the Nazi punk didn’t last long before he was driven out by the audience once they noticed the swastika. As for my white “friend,” we have never spoken since that night 15 years ago. I did not realize, however, what this “friend” had attempted to do until I saw Jones, Jr.’s words. The offer was made to be inducted into white supremacy. I had declined.

Jones, Jr. gave form to something that many Black people have experienced — especially if they grew up in racially mixed surroundings. I call it “the choice” because white supremacy is adaptable. In its adaptability, it seeks to recruit members from the communities it resents for two reasons. First, to act as heralds of white supremacy in spaces where white supremacy ordinarily would not have access to. It gives Black people a choice: say our words, push our beliefs about your people, stand with us and we shall give you access.  Second, it provides white racial moderates with the intellectual cover they require to justify their support of white supremacists in positions of power to themselves. In this essay, I will focus on the first reason.

The particulars of the choice take on interesting forms depending on the political alignment of the individual or movement proposing the transaction, but it always reflects how racism often manifests. The choice can be explicit and violating, as in openly embracing racism behind the guise of the well documented “one of the good ones” frame. It can be implicit and presented as palaver, which was the case with my “friend” reducing neo-Nazism to just another viewpoint. Those who accept the transaction can be defined as “conservative inducted” and “progressive inducted.”

The conservative white supremacist alignment demands that Black people belittle other Black people by invoking the language and images of enslavement — chains, plantations and masters — while they claim to offer true freedom and “free thinking.” The conservative inducted berate Black communities to not be “victims,” preach about how Black people are responsible for the current Black condition in America and call on them to set aside the anger born from “victim mentality.” The conservative inducted seek to absolve white America of the impact of a segregation society that ended (officially) in 1968, rather than acknowledge that any progress made regarding the quality of Black life came about because Black communities harnessed the anger that comes from the generations long recognition of being subjected to oppression, hardship and mistreatment. Victims — rather than an outside savior — forced the end of Jim Crow.

On the other hand, the progressive white supremacist alignment demands that Black people belittle other Black people as well, but in this case, for being myopic about the importantance of race over other social phenomenons, typically class. The progressive inducted berate Black people for not setting their own “identity politics” issues aside in order to forge coalitions with the broader (meaning, whiter) working class. For them, Black issues are subordinate to economic issues, as if the two did not intersect and as if Black economic issues were the sole product of capitalism rather than racists desiring to pauperize Black people. The progressive inducted deny the racial foundations of American society and refuse to acknowledge that the working class does not exist but rather, there are raced working classes and raced middle classes. They try to sell the Black community the falsehood that anti-racism from white supremacists can be purchased with policy goals like universal health care because racism is, in their estimation, a function of economic anxiety.

These words should not be taken as an indictment of Black conservatives or Black progressives. Both ideologies have a deep history in the Black community. From Booker T. Washington to Audrey Lorde and Adolph Reed, Jr., and from the AME church to Black Lives Matter, the statement that “Black people are not a monolith” is a vast understatement. Black political thought is a mosaic that white supremacists resent and fear. Both the conservative and progressive iterations of white supremacy are well aware of the Black mosaic and that as long as Black people have their own identity politics, rooted in the collective Black experience in America, then Black people have political power and the ability to work in coalition with other marginalized communities and white allies in the pursuit of social justice. Once Black identity politics is removed from the American political equation, Black people no longer have the means to exercise political power in resistance to white supremacy.

More than blunting Black attainment of political power and more than diminishing an organizing nucleus, all alignments of white supremacy are completely invested in convincing Black people to deny the evidence of their eyes so they will abandon one of the humanity’s most consequential political philosophies that has helped provided marginalized people across the country (and the world) the vocabulary to call oppression what it is and to resist it. This is why white supremacists are so eager to induct Black people as partisans to white supremacy — to gaslight us into doubting our own transgressive and emancipatory wisdom at the exact moment when the world needs it most.