Friday, February 11, 2011

Black History Month in America

It's "Black History Month" in the United States again. So we'll be inundated with various performances and presentations of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech." We'll be reminded that African-Americans used to be slaves and that now (praise God!) they're not. Not only are they not slaves any more (we'll be reminded), but they can vote, use any bathroom they want to, ride in the front of the bus, and walk right up to any water fountain and drink if they please. They can go to private schools right along side the White kids who live in other neighborhoods. They can try on clothes at "better" stores. And they can sue for damages, if they're locked up for thirty years when they were, in fact, innocent. Why, they can even be President of the United States.

What we won't be encouraged to think about is that the life of the average ordinary Black person in this country is still routinely structured and strictured by White Supremacy. I've written about it so often on this blog, I feel as if I repeat myself endlessly. Yet White people often don't get it. And even many African-Americans I meet have been socialized to be in denial about it, as well.

We're all taught that in the United States anybody can accomplish anything. Which automatically means, of course, that if you don't have a job, you must not want one, right? And if you don't make enough money to survive, you must just not be trying hard enough. So there's no point in noticing that Black men (who make up about 14% of the men in the U.S.) make up more than half of the men in prison. And guilty or not, a felony conviction fixes the felon permanently outside the job market. That alone should tell us something about how inequality can be locked into the daily lives of millions using what amount to social sleight of hand maneuvers, allowing those who have the Power-To-Define (and lots of other folks) to blame the victim.

In any case, I don't have the time or the inclination right this minute to hash over the economics again. But I do want to highlight another aspect of "Black History Month" that bothers me immensely and that's the tendency to present "Black History" (which actually dates to the beginning of the human race) as if it started with the European-driven slave trade of Africans (which dates back about five hundred years). Africa is a huge continent, fabulously varied and marvelously culturally complex. It holds the cradle of civilization and, despite centuries of rampant, unapologetic economic rape and pillage by White-led corporations and interests, remains even now rich beyond measure.

My thesis for my Masters degree was on "Social Distance Between Africans and Black Americans and the Attitudes of White Americans Toward Both Groups." What I discovered was that many Black Americans tend to want to divorce themselves from any connection to Africa or Africans because of the lop-sided perceptions we're taught by the Euro-centric agenda.

Malcolm X understood very clearly how this affects people of color. Listening to him speaking while viewing the accompanying photos reminds me yet again why we hear so much more about Martin Luther King, Jr., this time of year than we do about Malcolm X who is typically presented as a violent, White-hating religious bigot. He wasn't.


Soma said...

In practicing brotherhood with african-descended peoples, it sometimes feels very alien. I cannot relate; and that even trying feels contrived, is disturbing. Is this a product of the state of white racism as well?

I cannot culturally understand it. But I wish the time was there that men were truly equal, that liberty was a blanket to all; real robin-hood type things, where every man's house is his castle, and people stand unified in respect and solidarity.

But at the same time, this is not going to be achieved by cultural theft and profiteering, and if the power structure is as strong as I suspect, there will be years upon years of dissension and strife left to come.

When everything can be turned into a product, none of us are really human anymore.

Changeseeker said...

You ask if your discomfort in trying to relate to Black people is a product of the state of White racism, Soma, and I think it is. I'm often self-conscious myself around Black folks, though I have a bi-racial daughter, and as long as things stay as they are, I don't see any way around this. I agree with you that it's frustrating. I do also think your last sentence is dead on the money and the key to it all.

Additionally, however, I would suggest that your use of the word "men" to mean "everybody" and the phrase "every man's house is his castle" to mean "everybody wants to feel safe" demonstrate another form of the same lack of humanity. Women and children want to be equal and safe, too. Judging from the thoughtfulness with which you commonly write, I think you're already aware of this, but language is one of the ways the Power Structure maintains its power. Sigh.

Soma said...

Mostly just using it as a turn of phrase-- it's hard to be a language type person and not dip into the vast collection of colloquialisms available.

As you're quite correct, here's a clarification: when every person is secure in personal liberty, prosperity, and equality, and can stand beside one another as siblings amongst the human race. Not quite as poetic, but certainly more accurate.

I hate having to divulge my own philosophical position, as it's quite dark: that we are only equal in our own mortality, and will only ever create an egalitarian society in extinction.

Though like smoking cigarettes is the slowest form of suicide I can take in good conscience, a lot of us are already trying to get there one way or another.

Say, do you like nappy roots? They hail from your state.

Changeseeker said...

My take, Soma, is that I'm not looking for equality as much as for justice. Because I agree with you that equality (in fact) is unlikely-to-impossible, but justice is (I believe) unlikely-but-possible.

As for Nappy Roots, I got 'em now. ;^)

Blaque Ink said...

I think the main reason why whenever Black History Month is celebrated within the confines of American history after slavery is because of the limited and often contempted view of Africa and Africans. Plus, this society wishes to keep blacks devoid of their true histories and identities. They fear not only an educated black person, but an enlightened one, someone who isn't afraid of truth and love for self. The last thing they want is a black person knowing and loving who he or she truly is.

What do you think?

Changeseeker said...

Absolutely, Blaque.