Sunday, May 01, 2011
Let Freedom Ring!
The main problem with waiting so long between what I call "real" blog posts is that they don't stop writing themselves in my head. Consequently, while I don't publish them so that you, my Faithful Readers, can actually faithfully read them, the process keeps rolling. And when I finally do have time to sit down and write, I'm so backed up, the idea set has gone from being a forty-minute "lecture" to being a three-day "workshop."
It never occurred to me before, but this might be why some of my posts run WAY longer than you have time to read. None the less, it is what it is and here I am, keyboard (rather than hat) in hand, hopeful there's somebody still out there who will wade through what I'm about to sketch out.
The train of thought began back in February, when I was invited to take a look at this post about a situation on a "Christian" college campus in Kentucky. The blogger was basically asking the Black students on the campus (who had apparently had enough of what I imagine was an on-going racist context) to continue sucking it up until White folks have time and the motivation to change. In other words, business as usual.
This business as usual expectation, of course, is not peculiar to Kentucky (where I was born) or to the deep south (where I live now), but is easily identified from coast to coast in this country even as I'm writing. In fact, even a few White folks (dare we begin to hope?) are increasingly likely to notice and admit it and try to do something about it themselves (what a concept: White Americans taking responsibility for rampant institutionalized racism in their country!)
Now, the reality is that African-Americans have been incredibly patient in their chains. They have, yes, resisted valiantly and sometimes successfully from the beginning of their ordeal, though this resistance hasn't made the history books by and large and since curricula are typically drafted by Those-Who-Have-The-Power-To-Define (White and male) and presented by teachers who, however well meaning, are painfully, painfully clueless, then our tendency is to blame Black Americans for their own victimization or to claim they'll be fine once they face the fact that they'll never be White and just accept their reduced position in the land of their birth.
The problem with this for Black people, though, is that White Supremacy as a system isn't satisfied with just threatening, beating, brutalizing, arresting, incarcerating (and using solitary confinement against), lynching, or executing a few Black folks in certain parts of the country. Most White people want African-Americans in general to be quiet while the nightmare for the Black community goes on. And the effects of this, like chickens, are coming home to roost.
I've written on this blog before about what Black sociologist Calvin Hernton called "the psychology of the damned" back in the 1960's. And Franz Fanon wrote that torture rearranges the mind of the tortured. Duh. But White folks, like the blogger writing to the Black students on the campus in Kentucky in February, either think Fanon was overstating the situation (in which case, I would suggest they go get tortured and see what they think after that) or they just don't see what is happening to Black Americans as "torture" (in which case, I would suggest that they traipse through the links in the paragraph above one more time). And I hasten to add that none of those links are about slavery in the 19th Century. They are all about the current reality in this country related to the socially-constructed, political notion of "race." Further, what happened on the campus in Kentucky can happen only because all the far worse manifestations of racial oppression such as I mention above exist.
The torture White Americans are so good at misidentifying is not something Black folks are confused about. Many believe it's "always been this way and it's always going to be this way," which is, of course, erroneous, since nothing has ever always been any way and everything changes continually, whether we recognize the change or not. However, things can get worse -- one way or the other -- and just now, it appears to me that they're doing so.
The result? More and more Black Americans (and most particularly, the young men) are, just as Calvin Hernton predicted, losing their minds. They are enraged and disheartened. They are just as desirous as anybody else of having a decent life, a decent job, a decent education, and a safe place to be and raise their children for the future. But the way it's been presented to them in substandard schools and poverty-stricken neighborhoods where cops are not their friends and 500 people apply for every job opening doesn't exactly make them believe the American dream is intended to include them and their offspring.
What makes Black rage -- and it's quieter but just as deadly cousin, frustration -- so remarkable is that White Supremacy as a system has had a really good run using brainwashing to convince Black people to ignore White Supremacy as a system and see themselves as the cause of their own problems, to see themselves through the White man's eyes: inferior, incapable, violent, and ugly. It was no mistake when Souljah Boy gave a shout out to the slave masters for rescuing Black folks from Africa. And Tom Burrell, among others, are trying to introduce an antidote. Still, the "double-consciousness" W.E.B. DuBois discussed a hundred years ago, wherein African-Americans are never allowed to be fully (and proudly) Black and fully American at the same time, continues to live on.
White Americans who protest indignantly that they never owned any slaves and they don't owe anybody anything need to recognize that they have benefitted since the day their lilly White rumps hit the doctors' hands. They were born into a society with a culture that privileges White people by seeing to it that they are more likely to get enough nutrition, go to the better schools and get the better jobs, not to mention being raised in families where, more often than not, their grandparents' grandparents were probably benefitted in the same ways. Even when European immigrants were put through changes on their arrival, they were, nevertheless, eventually allowed to become full citizens, something Black people are still waiting for.
White folks horrified by the fact that a Black man could become President of the United States have tried everything from the sublime to the ridiculous in an effort to get rid of him (none of it based on his race, of course) because Black people just can't be equal to White people in this country without the White people being reduced from their position of "superiority." Just as importantly, White Americans are not arrested, brutalized, and discriminated against in the same ways as people of color and that alone would make it easier and better to be White.
In short, as Dr. William R. Jones (my principal intellectual mentor) used to say: White people in America get the "most of the best and the least of the worst." Right now. Today. Are all White people high-rollin'? No. (But even a rich Black American is still "Black" in America, something few Whites would want to be -- not because it's not a good thing to be, but because of the way Black people are treated in this country.) Do lots of White people work hard to claim their benefits? Yes. (But nobody in history has worked harder for less pay back than Black Americans.) The fact is it's better to be White than Black in this country and the reason is because White people have the power.
So, if you're a "White" person in the United States, unless you're working daily to get rid of White Supremacy as a system, you are, in fact, personally responsible for the anguish Black Americans suffer at the hands of that system. We love to hear America called the "land of the free," but I don't see how we can say the entire country is "free" when people of color born in it aren't treated as full citizens. As long as only White folks can enjoy their "rights" and "privileges" as "free" Americans, then America isn't free. Just the White folks are.
In the meantime, Black people who are overcoming the effects of their "Whitewashing" are creating a list of demands. I, for one, suggest listening.