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.