“A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect.”
– W.E.B. Du Bois.
I’ve been following the Michael Dunn case and I’ve come to a realization.
Us black people in America, whether descendants of slaves or newly arrived from Africa, have to come to terms with the fact that the plan was never for us to become members of this society, worthy of admiration, respect and protection. And to the rest of us outside of America, it’s no better. The world as it now exists has little use for us, disease stricken and conflict ridden and corrupt as we are. We are to be pitied, guided, policed and helped at all costs. By every means necessary.
Yes, Slavery was abolished and Jim Crow and Colonialism and Apartheid ended but those were simply laws and systems which codified the beliefs held by the collective of western (read: white) society: the belief that black people were somehow imperfect specimens of humanity, sub-standard, the very expression of what is base and evil in human nature and not worthy of sitting at the table of real human beings. The beliefs that are held by many other races now. The belief that made slavery so easy to institutionalize and colonialism so easy to implement, despite all the good people who surely were alive back then. All men were created equal but some were more equal than others… scratch that. Some were not even men. Yes, the protection of the law was taken away from those who chose to express these deeply held beliefs openly. It did not stop them from holding those beliefs.
I think the worst part is that we bought into that lie too. We came to believe that we were inferior and needed saving guidance. We internalized these beliefs. As Nina Simone so simply put it :
“The worst thing about that kind of prejudice… is that while you feel hurt and angry and all the rest of it, it feeds you self-doubt. You start thinking, perhaps I am not good enough.”
One look at the West’s technology and philosophies and aesthetics and all we were and all we had suddenly became sub-par. Our languages could not compete. Our ways of governing ourselves could not compete. Our religions could not compete. We could not compete.
Extreme language? Pick up any book written by European explorers about their exploits in Africa. Come tell me what you find. Google, “Are black people human?” And while you read those articles, blogs and comments, remember that human beings like me and you seating in front of their computers in the comfort of their homes wrote them. Oh but these are just a few people seating behind computers and not representative of all Americans? Sure, but how many more still hold that inherent disregard and mistrust for blacks and are not sitting behind their computers talking about it? Worse still there are the ones, who have this deep seated fear/mistrust/disregard and are not even aware they have it until they get caught up in a situation that puts it out there for the whole world to see. Think about that the next time a security officer follows you around a store, or a mother pulls her kid away from you as you walk down the street or when no one seats next to you on the bus, or when your teacher seems surprised you did well on a test or when next that thing happens that you know will not happen if you were not black. We know these things so well…
Look at the justifications that are given for the paternalistic and patronizing approach that the West has to African countries (and enabled by our leaders and those of us who continue to talk about how “we lack resources” …we have all the human and natural resources we need.) Basically, we have been treated like animals and dimwits from the very beginning. It’s common to hear people say now that black people are treated the way they are mainly because of the way black criminals behave. Lies. The automatic fear and the bastardization of the black race predates anything that black criminals and deviants ever did.And it exists now. Every black person is presumed potentially not quite right until they prove otherwise and even then, any display of negativity is ascribed to their “blackness” not to any of the social forces that might provoke this behavior. Segregation existed up until the 60’s and in South Africa up till the 80’s. You have to ask yourself, if Martin Luther King and Mandela had not led rebellions and protests, would we still have had black only restaurants right now? What are the odds a good many people would have had absolutely no problem with that?
Are there individuals now who see things differently? Yes. But the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts. The American societal system as a whole was never designed to accommodate black people. The West dominated world as it exists now follows the same pattern. Am I painting in broad strokes? Absolutely. How different is it, however, from the same broad strokes with which black society is painted? If the current actions of a subset of black people are the standards by which all black people are assessed, what makes it wrong for the same rule to be applied to non blacks?
That American society is being forced to accept us as a viable component is part the reason for all the tensions and microaggressions we have to live with on a day to day basis. It is against the law to openly show bias (although that’s changing now) but it’s ok if the bias can be cloaked in “taking precautions” and ignorance and “just kidding”. The demand that we ASSIMILATE is really a demand that we shed whatever we have that makes us different and take on the dominant culture so they don’t feel uncomfortable. I’ve never read about any Europeans assimilating when they encountered Native Americans or other indigenous tribes.
So what are we to do? Where do we belong?
I have no grand way forward to offer, folks. I am still trying to come to terms with it myself. One thing I do know is that “just ignore them” is not the way forward. Because while we’re “ignoring them”, lives are being destroyed because we are trapped in this purgatory. The burden of blackness weighs on us all whether or not it’s acknowledged. If you have some how found a way to navigate life despite this burden, remember that many others still labor under this burden.
Not ignoring them will make you angry. As James Baldwin said:
“To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.”
But this rage, is perhaps what we need to galvanize the drive to find validation in ourselves and our history and culture (which by the way in the past was conveniently destroyed to make way for more Eurocentric models.) because we will never get it from anywhere else. We have already been deemed unfit.