Black Groupthink and Fused Identity: An Observation
I never profess to speak for all Black people and certainly this essay is not about those things all Black people do. It is, however, about that offshoot of white supremacist ideology which groups all Black people together and declares no matter who we think we are, we are all the same as far as they are concerned. It is the thinking so ingrained in the psyches of Black people, it both unifies us in the triumph of a singular Black achievement and vilifies us in the damage caused by a singular Black crime or discretion.
In this essay I discuss the phenomenon of Black Groupthink and what I call, Fused Identity, and how to begin to recognize them for the good and bad they do to individual, independent, critical thought. Of course, this is not a scholarly thesis on the subject from a psychological standpoint, since it would be tantamount to malpractice of a sort, seeing as how I do not hold a degree in psychology. No, this is an observation of behaviors that are a definite part of the overall makeup of the consciousness of Blackness, the state of being Black and how we do ourselves internal injustices and may not even be aware.
In psychology, Groupthink is defined as a “mode of thinking in which individual members of small cohesive groups tend to accept a viewpoint or conclusion that represents a perceived group consensus, whether or not the group members believe it to be valid, correct, or optimal.” It further states that “Groupthink reduces the efficiency of collective problem solving within such groups.”*
Black Groupthink for purposes of this essay means everyone within the race who thinks the same way for the same circumstance and/or event who accept a viewpoint or conclusion even if it is contrary to what the individuals within the group believe are based in fact. Essentially, the psychological definition works, except for the number of individuals, since Black Groupthink is specific to Black people. Fused Identity means one or more concepts of any particular identity as defined, are fused into the identity of the entire group or race, usually through thought and deed. Blackness can be called a Fused Identity, because it consists of concepts of identity which sprung from the Enslavement, Racism, the African Diaspora, and even religion for some. For Black people, this Fused Identity creates unity, which by itself is a good thing, but should be understood so as not to allow unity to undermine us as well, in thought and deed. By that I mean, skin-based blame and shame.
Of the many paradoxes created by the ideology of White Supremacy and its structural creation, Racism, one is the constant push-pull of that part of the supremacist ideology that created the stereotypes and beliefs, and the definitions of identity, and helped to make manifest many of the negative behaviors exhibited by some Black people as a result. The push against the ideology stems from generations of being fed a steady diet of inferiority and degradation, where the actions of just one Black person counted for all Black people in a vacuum. Black people are still in a constant struggle of defiance against that which sets itself up as superior and creates mechanisms, laws, regulations, rules and behaviors to ensure the fallacy remains intact. At the same time, the Fused Identity of Blackness pulls into itself every success, triumph, win, and achievement by complete strangers as a counter to the supremacist belief, where just one act of positive consequence stands for all Black people and makes all Black people proud. Alternatively, Blackness also pulls into it the shame and blame of individual acts of indiscretion and crime, and other unwelcome behaviors and Black people become unified in the self-hatred and shame.
I contend there are too many Black people actually trapped in Black Groupthink and Fused
Identity most of the time, without ever knowing it, and therefore will not allow themselves the luxury and privilege of being individual and engaging in independent thought. The reason is, in my view, because some actually lack the ability to see themselves as individuals without appearing selfish to the Group and will naturally take on the entirety of Blackness as defined by White Supremacist ideology, as though they are singularly responsible and as a group, for the actions of an individual person. Why? Simply because the unseen unifying force of Blackness that surrounds us demands it. Our Fused Identity creates unity all the time.
Why can this be problematic? Consider these questions because they are important to think critically about as my observation progresses:
How often when a crime is committed, or alternatively, something positive by a celebrity or sports hero appears on social media or the news, do Black people tend to believe these individual behaviors or events are only possible because of the “group” or collective dynamics of the entire race? Think Black Girl Magic, excellence in sports, Black on Black crime. How often do we literally feel responsible as though the entire race committed a crime anywhere in the country by total strangers simply because the criminal was Black? How often do we cringe at the thought that the person on the news who committed a crime was Black because it makes “every single one of us” look bad, and exhale sighs of relief upon revelations that the criminal wasn’t Black after all? How many times have we thought “we as a people” need to stop [insert some indiscretion] simply because we saw something one person did on memes in social media, in news reports or videos? I find myself doing it all the time when I read something positive a Black person invented and share it on social media with the caption, “Thank Black.”
People reading these questions may or may not have thought seriously about these kinds of behaviors, but if you are Black, I can guarantee with a great measure of certainty we all have lent ourselves to these behaviors, and without considering why or how these behaviors affect and effect our individual, independent thought. It is important to understand when we engage in this type of behavior, it is an indication of Fused Identity and Black Groupthink and we should take a step back to consider the fact we are all individuals capable of independent thought, and our skin color, while it binds us in unity through our Fused Identity, is NOT, and should not be considered WHY we behave the way we do. Let me repeat that:
We are all individuals capable of independent thought, and our skin color, while it binds us in unity through our Fused Identity, is NOT, and should not be considered WHY we behave the way we do.
One of the fundamental tenets of the White Supremacist ideology is the notion of independence through skin-based privilege and dependence through skin-based denial. Within that privilege and denial there are beliefs that our skin color is why we behave the way we do and which by design, translate into behaviors that either inadvertently or overtly support the ideology.
It’s no secret Black American descendants of the Enslavement are inextricably bound by the Fused Identity of the Enslavement. Based on our common heritage as descendants of the bondage of the Enslavement, it gives us the only generational lineage we have living in this country, as we live among people with geographical lineage through immigration, both Black and white, and even with indigenous people who have both lineage and history outside of white supremacy and racism in America. Judaism and the common heritage and lineage of the Holocaust is a perfect example of the kind of common, unified bond and Fused Identity of people of the Jewish faith. The irony in the two atrocities, the Enslavement and the Holocaust, is the way white supremacy reverences one and dismisses the other, when it was the same superiority ideology that brought both. The Fused Identity of the one group is lauded and the other is shamed.
Being connected to a group identity is very important, but here is the problem. If that group identity was crafted by white supremacists as a way to suppress and subjugate a defined group, and the group has built a sense of self identity based on negative, contrived and contradictory perceptions of the group as defined by the ideology, then it causes a deficit in the individual’s ability to think outside of the negativity, relegating him/her to dependence and potential internalized self-hate, blame and shame, relative to the negative reflection of the group. The group identity then becomes fused with the negativity of white supremacy. The group blame/shame dynamic of behaviors attaches itself to the notions of “uniquely Black,” and “only Black,” as is the case with Black on Black crime, overly scrutinized as though skin-based crime is uniquely and only Black. There is no such thing as “Black on Black crime” any more than any other crime by any other ethnicity or so-called race. Crime is a human frailty, however, the ideology of white supremacy places a higher contextual significance of color to crimes among African Americans than any other, as though color somehow makes these crimes more significant and heinous than any other, a unique phenomenon of being Black, and thus justifies the inferiority of the group. Black on Black crime is one of the hardest in Black Groupthink to overcome. This fallacy literally welded itself onto the identity of Blackness such that it is almost impossible to be pried apart and seen for the fallacy it is. It pulls itself into our Fused identity and as bad as it is, it unifies Blackness around the fallacy.
I contend alleviating crime among Black people is a responsibility we should embrace as any other human being would. Black people should not, for a moment, however, think that crime is uniquely ours, or that crimes that are committed by individuals are the fault of ourselves because we lack the capability to end crime. No one has that capability in this country. No one. Crime should not be used as a way to justify a feigned notion of superiority of white people in relation to crimes committed by themselves and other groups. For example, crimes among Latinx or Asians or any other group are not singularly held out as a National crisis, even though crime exists in all those communities as well. These groups are not publicized to the same extent because the “battle” for white supremacy is not being waged on them as much as for Black people in the United States. The reason is clear. It is literally Black and white. Conversely, we should not think that achievement by individual Black people is necessarily our collective achievement because they are Black, either. I know that is probably upsetting to read, but if we accept our Black Girl Magic because we are Black girls, then we are also accepting Black on Black crime because both are based on the ideology of white supremacy where one is a push and one is a pull.
Never having had the opportunity or “privilege” of seeing ourselves beyond stereotypes and definitions as ascribed by systemic racist institutional structures within every aspect of our daily lives, unlike white people, who enjoy the benefits of being “singular” human beings, many of us conflate independent thinking with individuality and “selfishness,” thereby offsetting our own ability to think as a singular person and remaining trapped in Group think and Fused Identity. I read often where a supposed lack of unity is the inspiration for creating a collective consciousness, over “individual” thinking. Frankly, It is a fallacy to believe Black people are not already united since unity itself is created through Fused Identity, of which we have in abundance, and again, it is a good thing, as long as we do not lose sight of our ability to express our individuality through independent thought, which is NOT selfish.
Take for example, the economic success of a Black person moving out of the “old rough, hood,” and never returns. To many, this person might be seen as selfish, and who “forgot where he or she came from,” or “lost his or her Blackness” when stepping out of the neighborhood. The fact is, people move all the time. These are individual choices for individual people. They have not betrayed Blackness, they just moved. Now, there are those who gain a high measure of success and are unwilling to help the community from which they came. This behavior is most likely selfish, and still, it is definitely individual thought by individual people. The point is, not every individual behavior is selfish; a person can enjoy being an individual with separate thoughts and not be considered selfish.
Whether Black people are engaging in Black Groupthink and Fused identity because Serena Williams won another tournament or hiding behind our sandwiches at work because of the weekend shootings in the neighborhood are the top discussion at lunch, or slamming ourselves on social media because we are “keeping it real,” understand we are following the edict of white supremacists who believe everything we do is BECAUSE we are Black. We created Blackness, our Fused Identity, which created our unity. Now is the time to change how we Black Groupthink and heal our Blackness for good.