In a brief side note, Jason Reynolds points out that white abolitionists tried to turn free Black people into church-going, hard-working, “respectable” citizens. They thought that this would disprove stereotypes and make other white people more comfortable. But this “uplift suasion” theory is racist. White people should accept Black people the way they are, instead of saying that they only deserve freedom if they act like white people.
Even today, political leaders ask Black people to act more “respectable” in order to improve their situation. But uplift suasion is a classic assimilationist idea. It’s based on the assumption that Black people are temporarily inferior to white people because of their deficient culture and behavior, but can change and in changing will win white recognition as being equals. There are at least two main problems with uplift suasion. First, it’s racist: Black people might have a different culture than white people in the U.S., but it’s not better or worse—it’s just different. Second, it’s based on the wrong theory of political change: it says that Black people can win equality by disproving white people’s racist ideas. But as Kendi and Reynolds show throughout Stamped, racism really comes from self-interest, and the racist ideas come later. So when Black people disprove white people’s racist ideas, those white people don’t become antiracists—they just look for a new racist idea instead. Therefore, uplift suasion is unlikely to work. Instead of appealing to white people for political change, Kendi and Reynolds think, Black people and other oppressed minority groups should build political power and force racist power to change.