On Being Black & Letting Go

I’m not feeling coy. It’s like this. Black people need to forgive America and white people for slavery and the Jim Crow era.

Okay, thanks for reading. Good night.

THE CATALYST

I had that thought last week while listening to a show on WPFW. Then, coincidentally on another show yesterday the subject came up. I thought I was on to a radical thought but apparently it’s not a new one. When Ambrose Lane died, other hosts were found for the shows on MWF at 10am. In many ways the new shows are more … progressive? Radical?

Well, the black academic and African American Studies professors are well represented. Let’s put it that way. Lots of talk on being Muslim, and how Socialism has a lot to offer black people, and how we’re still in need of revolution, and rhetoric of armed revolution, and how President Obama hasn’t done anything for black people and is no good and is selling out black people, and don’t forget slavery and reparations and The System and the Black Panthers, etc.

It’s fascinating. It’s educational. It’s another world that I forgot existed after my college days at UMBC and the African American literature courses I took.

Some things make sense rhetorically, but not in practice. University thinking and conversation is provocative and somehow works in the context of a university. Outside of those walls, though, not so much. As an example, once you get off campus and try to tell your friends that there’s no such thing as right or wrong you might get blank stares and counter arguments a-plenty.

POLEMICS

I heard someone who had written a book analyzing black movies — or movies featuring black people — say that America needs Black suffering in order to exist and so feeds off of it to … I don’t know what.

Do you remember when the Malcolm X stamps came out? Someone said that they were offended by the X stamps because that meant that America or white people were too comfortable with Malcolm and she doesn’t want America to be comfortable with Malcolm.

I think I wrote about the guy, a few years ago, who said that Barack Obama’s election to the Presidency of the United States was kind of a bad thing because it sent the message to black kids that it’s possible for them to be President. Uh. Okay, there was a little more to it than that. He was saying that some would cite the first black president as the end of racism despite the persistent ills, injustices and subsequent socioeconomic inequities.

PERPETRATORS AND VICTIMS

It’s important to note that the vast majority of black hosts on progressive radio shows are of the baby boomer generation. They experienced some stuff, boy. They carry all of that angst and stress that they endured — all the racism, rejection, denigration, dehumanization and abuse. Now they have a pulpit. Now they can fight for minds. They can educate and inculcate.

They’re angry. Often it’s like being in a black barbershop and listening to the neighborhood characters talk and complain about society and the government.

What I don’t like, though, is the self-reinforcing pathos.

There’s a fair amount of crime in and around DC. Too many young black men are killing other young black men. Watch the news on any given night and it’s like watching a reality TV show titled “Black People Behaving Badly”. It’s sad. It’s depressing. It’s scary.

But if you bring up the notion that we, as black people, need to get our act together, way too many people will shrug that off in favor of calling “racism”. Two young black men were arrested for hurting and/or killing someone recently. The mother of one of the guys was interviewed. When the reporter asked what had gone wrong with the mother’s good son, his mother said, “I think the system let him down.”

I’m not making any excuses for the faults and even abuses of and by the over-strained criminal justice system, but I still cringed to hear that. The System’s fault.

There was a radio program topic about finding solutions to the problems plaguing the black community. A man called in and said that we shouldn’t be talking about what to do, we should be talking about why things are the way they are — racism.

VIOLATION

I liken the black experience in America to a victim of rape/violation.  Occasionally on Christian radio/TV they’ll have a guest who was a victim of rape or childhood sexual abuse. They’ll have a guest, say, who was repeatedly raped by a relative or family friend from the age of 9 to 16. And since it’s Evangelical Christian media, the story is, of course, always about forgiveness.

Let me be real here. In my mind I start doing math. Raped a few times a week for seven years. That woman or man was raped/sexually abused/molested about 1,050+ times. Can you imagine? I hope you can’t. It angers me, for lack of a better word. Someone must have known. Sometimes in the stories from older people, it’s not uncommon that the victim’s parents were aware and did nothing or refused to believe their own child. The morays of the time, I guess. That … freaking infuriates me.

The most frustrating thing about those segments is that they very rarely mention who the abuser was (in relation to the victim) and whether or not the culprit ever faced any consequences.

They may have stories about chronically cheating and/or abusive husbands. Sex addict husbands who frequent prostitutes after given a second chance, a third chance, and so on. The good wife takes him back over and over and their marriage is redeemed by her forgiveness. It frustrates me. I know that’s petty, but it’s true.

And yet, I know that they’ve found something. They have something. They reclaim their lives by forgiving their violators. They let it go. They have every right to be angry, bitter and nasty. They were angry and bitter — they claimed their right to seethe with suffering and well earned self pity — for much of their lives and all it did was eat them up inside and affect their relationships, their lives.

Laying claim to their rightful anger and hurt just left them depressed and self-destructive.

A LAUNCHING POINT

That’s where I think Black America is right now. I’ll just use that term, “Black America” to refer to some collective sense of identity, as fractured as it may be.

Feeling the righteous indignation of the metaphysically carcinogenic effects of the institution of Slavery and America’s own brand of racist Fascism in the form of the despicable Jim Crow separate but equal era. I mean, really. Please do realize that after 400 or so years of slavery, black people lived under an American Fascist regime from the 1860s to at least the 1960s. Make no mistake.

That’s my personal definition of Apartheid.  When one segment of society lives free and liberated lives while another segment is institutionally and systematically oppressed/curtailed.

At this point, it would be ideal if the USA said, “We want to make up for past transgressions. Here’s today’s equivalent of 40 acres and a mule.”

But get real. America is experiencing a decline. The economy is in bad shape. The nature of our job market and economy has permanently changed. We aren’t the super power we used to be. Even if Americans still had what used to be called “White Guilt”, it just wouldn’t happen.

Heck.  It would be wonderful if America decided to live up to all of the treaties and treatises they made with Native Americans.

Plus, now that other minorities are becoming economically and politically more relevant than African Americans, well … hey. Things are going to get interesting. More complicated and more challenging.

Those who have will continue to have and progress.  Those who have not, will have less.  Less of everything: wealth, income, education, access to resources.

CULTURAL INDEPENDENCE

If black people want to heal. If we want to combat drug addiction, soaring HIV rates, homicides, high incarceration rates, horrible graduation rates, poor test scores — this is all relative to other ethnicities/races in the U.S. — we have to let go of our anger and resentment.

It’s poison.

Forgiveness, by the way, doesn’t mean forgetfulness. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t consequences. If you forgive someone for stabbing you in the face, it doesn’t mean that you won’t still have a scar and that your attacker shouldn’t serve time. If our courts traded in ideal justice, your attacker would also pay your medical and therapy costs, too.

But chances are that someone who would callously cause you harm like that wouldn’t be the kind of person to volunteer to make things right.

Your abuser is not going to make you whole. Your abuser isn’t going to make things right. Your abuser isn’t going to make you feel safe and confident again. Especially if your abuser is still powerful and unfettered.

I dread hearing people talk about how the system has to change before we can start to take responsibility for our own actions. Blackademics dismiss Bill Cosby’s rants, and Obama’s critique and “no excuses” tenet, and Oprah’s commentary on deleterious aspects of black culture as ridiculous.

Black progressives and radicals want The System to change first. They want racism to end first. They want economic forces and phenomenon like gentrification to leave cities unchanged before they’ll acknowledge the internal forces. There’s definitely a lot to fight for, fight against, resist,  and promote. But come on.

That would be like me saying that our corporate industrial food production has to change — to be organic, responsible, local and healthy — before I can begin a fitness regimen. In this example, both need to happen, but I’ll strive to be more fit regardless of what the corporations and governments do or allow. I am my responsibility. I may need help and support occasionally, but still.

I have to strive for the best for me and mine.

Resistance

But the anger is too delectable.  I’m sure the idea that black people need to forgive will infuriate some.  It’s human nature to choose to nurture and feed those dark feelings.

You know how it is.  Someone does you wrong and you spend days, weeks or months reliving in your mind all the pain that person caused you.  You remember the conversations.  The act of betrayal or rejection.

Whenever you get the opportunity you tell others and every time you tell the story of how you were wronged you get the rush of prodding that scar and feeling the pain.  You feed off of the sympathy of others for your plight.

It’s our nature.  I hope it’s not just me that’s capable of that.

At a certain point, though, you realize that people have heard your story already.  They aren’t moved like they were.  It happened years ago and they wonder when you’re going to move on and go about the business of making your life what you want it to be.

Forgiveness is also not a one shot deal.  It’s not magic.  It’s a process.  It’s a choice.  It’s a choice to take responsibility for yourself and to take your state of being out of someone else’s hands and hold it in your own hands.

It’s time, Black America.  Yes, it’s time to fight for socio-economic equality — via access to opportunities like resources, education, environmental health, jobs — and justice.  To continue that fight, I mean.

In the words of Vursatyl of Lifesavas:

Charge it to the game, but what if the game got bad credit
With bulimic bank statements and I.O.U.s are shredded
The blocks on borrowed time where I stand
Seems like the game is repossessing dreams and canceling niggas lifespans

The streets, the streets can go to Hell I want freedom
The streets is watching idiot box and Cops reruns
My feelings hardly hard and hardly violent
Imitating a dead man will have your corpse in autopilot

Blame the white man, I feel ya, for rough justice and new laws
But the white man flew in nines and techs to flood schoolyards
The white man ain’t pulled the trigger, and took it too far
And the white man ain’t going to jail, nigga you are

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