I have spent quite some time observing from the sidelines, the Black dialog on race in America. It would seem, at times, despite the historical justification of our feelings toward whites, that our views reign as nasty toward them as we criticize their supremacist indifference toward us. As the years have gone by, the white monopoly on hate has pretty much evolved to a well-integrated mutual racial contempt.
Having grown up in the post civil rights era of the 1970′s, I was schooled under integration. My grandfather, as with others in my family, was a schoolteacher. He attended an all black teacher’s college and taught in the segregated school system. Among their many stories of racial hatred experienced at the hands of the whites in power, was a tale of solidarity of purpose within the black community to prevail and to begin their own legacy of excellence.
Despite being grossly underpaid and under funded, black teachers and schools took pride in challenging the minds of youth. They didn’t know anything about being Afro-centric. They were just people of a common color under a common experience of hatred and hostility grasping whatever spiritual strength passed from their slave ancestors and new world cultures to create a common thread of decency and moral order in the fight toward freedom.
What is important about that thread is that it made us unique as a people. We became one tribe or family. There is no such thing, for us, as being African. Africa is as diverse in its cultures, its history of honor, and legacy of evils as any other land. There are people who hate each other there as much as the white Irish Catholic and Protestants. There are people of pagan and satanic tribes, Muslim, Hebrew, and Christian; hardly a continent of monolithic people and beliefs. If we were all able to fully trace our direct ancestry, would we really be at home?
For whatever purpose, we are an enigma to world culture. Our legacy was birthed from the death of our African tribe affiliations under slavery and we have accomplished, through great evils, a commonality that we have yet to fully comprehend or identify its purpose.
When we made the first steps toward freedom, I believe that we became entranced by all the trappings of the European world, much like God warned against when slaves made their exodus from Egypt. Culture is much more than customs and artifacts. Those things are normally byproducts and reflective of a common spirituality and belief.
Bowing to a golden calf today means the same as it did thousands of years ago even though you bought it from Wal-mart. We assimilated much of this “melting pot” culture without exercising wisdom in considering the effects of its ingredients on our spiritual health.
Although I have benefited greatly from the strides made during the civil rights era, I believe that integration, as it was implemented, destroyed much of our potential. Our schools were raped of their best teachers while our kids were thrust into hostile environments with white teachers who didn’t give a d**n. Athletic blacks were exploited and not educated. Intellectual blacks were separated to be further assimilated into white culture. The backlash created by this practice fell upon me greatly as a precocious young intellectual.
Before I had what I considered to be my first white friend, I was accused by my own of being or sounding too white simply by the content of my vocabulary and ability to speak it. Not being old enough to know what racism was, let alone how to act white, it was a daily spectacle for someone black to come up to me, ask me to speak, and skip away laughing saying, “I told you he sounded white”.
Entering elementary school out of the projects after five other brothers and sisters who were considered ‘normal black kids’, I found that white people, for some reason, were very much interested in me. A specialist was provided to correct any remaining flaws in my speech through unprecedented tutoring; I was recruited into special clubs, and invited to all the parties. They even drove into the hood to pick me up. I found that it was trendy for white people to invite the black they’d most likely bring to the country club if he were white, to events. At the time, it was a welcomed break from feeling inadequate as a black male… until the summer of my second year of elementary school.
I, along with a few of my brothers and neighborhood friends attended summer camp at school and had to walk roughly two miles to get home. The trip took us down a road bordering a white neighborhood. I was only seven but recall vividly the terrifying reality of racism as four white men in a white truck chased us, trying to run us down. My brothers dragged me like a rag while these men yelled racial slurs.
We found a shortcut and ran through a patch of woods bordering our own neighborhood. That was my indoctrination to racism of the white persuasion. Through the 70′s and into the 80′s my friends and I were chased no less than five times by whites in vehicles, I was knocked off of my bicycle riding home from school, and became a part of a growing number of black males with an eye toward retaliation. My Christian upbringing tempered me. Many of my contemporaries are jailed to this day.
I spent the better part of my elementary school days adjusting myself to make myself more palatable to my own- hey, they were all I had; and being skeptical of the intentions of anyone white. My maturing enough to see the hardship of my mother as I tagged along while she cleaned offices and homes, and my father, who worked in a state job with an illiterate boss who called him in to read items for him, reinforced this mentality. We’re talking 1970′s through early 80′s; not ancient history as some would have you to believe.
I recall calling a white friend at home in junior high only to hear her brother tell her father, “it’s her n**ger boyfriend”. I don’t know what she could have said or done at age thirteen, but I didn’t forgive her for not taking up for me and never spoke with her again. We also had fights between students from my predominately black school and ‘rednecks’ from the other Jr. high school. We didn’t attend many school dances because the committee forbade that “n**ger rap music”. Then Vanilla Ice and the Beastie Boys made rap acceptable.
My black sistahs seemed only after the bad boys and didn’t know what kind of creature I was, looking black but not sounding quite black. My bruthahs, even the bad boys, thought I was cool. I was into books but I wasn’t a nerd. My father, though divorced by junior high, taught me to fight and I was a crazy S.O.B. who would just a soon bust you over your head while calling you names in more syllables than you thought there were in any word. And I learned to use the toughness of both.
There were many schools of thought in what freedoms the civil rights struggle should produce. It seemed to me that we fought for the right to be assimilated into this culture as though our own legacy had produced no redeeming value beyond entertainment and servitude. Funny how some things still haven’t changed. We still strive to live up to standards and values set up by a culture hostile to us and whose values are beneath what we learned through our captivity. There are signs of hope as visionaries have embarked upon non-compromising ventures from a black perspective.
Throughout high school I found myself in upper level courses with very few blacks and my usually being the only black male. I remember giving oral reports and, unlike others in the class, not being allowed to take my seat until the teacher was through quizzing me on whether I actually could define the words I used. It so angered me that grades became secondary to the more important social disparity I had noticed around me. I became more of an activist and less of a student. And it frightened the powers that be.
Even as a teen, I was discovering the true roots of our legacy… and it wasn’t necessarily straight A’s in someone else’s subject, to become the government’s or someone else’s employee in someone else’s company whose great great grandfather founded off of the backs of slaves or emancipated, underpaid, and exploited blacks- but oh, I’m sorry, the history of one’s attainment of wealth has no correlation to the socio-economic history of the people exploited.
Or better still “That yo great great granddaddy robbed the bank 100 years ago that had all my great great grand daddy’s money in it, has nothing to do with the fact that yo granddaddy invested some of that money and created a family fortune which created opportunity for your generation while my granddaddy was so underpaid having to work for your family that I’m still a generation behind you in economic equity.” I don’t want a handout, just great great granddaddy’s money with 100 years’ interest. Plus 400 years of back pay.
I remember my father telling me how he could never trust the whites of his generation because they only relented in their overt racism because by statute, they had to relinquish power if they didn’t. He saw the same ones who spat and cursed him while he was growing up, in judge’s robes, political office, wearing badges, and owning shops. I often wonder what his comments would have been about the latent justice in the case of 1960′s church bombings or the civil rights murder charges facing the Mayor of York, Pennsylvania in a community who elected him despite knowledge of his racist past.
My father didn’t like white people; but he would not and did not discourage us from being cautiously optimistic despite his personal misgivings.
A pastor once succinctly defined racism as not a skin problem but a sin problem. Our morals, values, ethics- all that we spiritually or otherwise view as right or wrong are the culmination of generations of experiences measured against our view of God, how he works in our lives, and how we define our purpose by that relationship. From that we create a culture of living that reinforces and standardizes the wisdom of our years by which future generations can avoid the pitfalls of the past.
Those who share a common culture normally share common physical features because people who believe the same way or choose to live under the same mores or ethics are the stuff that early tribes and nations were made of.
In the Bible, it was not uncommon for non-Israelites to join the nation of Israel. But the process of assimilation came with men adopting circumcision as a permanent pledge and testimony to abide by the divine laws of the God of Israel. The high cost of assimilation sought to ensure that only those truly sincere and worthy to advance the essence of the culture became a part of the culture. These rights of passage exist in many forms throughout the cultures of the world with skin color not being a factor.
“The Great American Melting Pot” is assimilation without righteous meaning or resolve. To abandon any and all aspects of one’s culture of origin which prove to be a hindrance to this culture driven by material success.
When money replaces God, then those with the most seek to empower themselves as God. And as such they seek men made in their own image. If the culture is of monetary worship, founded by European ideologies, what do you expect the power base to consist of? Or, better still, what color people would dominate; and what bar of assimilation would guard the gates of their heaven? The true question is why would we ever seek to enter in?
I have learned that the battle to be won is not based on the dominant color of one’s skin- which is not a reliable basis of indignation; but rather the unequivocal hue of the heart. A dark soul wears many outer shades.
I am still young by most people’s perspectives and have a lot left to learn. But I do know that our purpose is not to duplicate the errors of the Japanese- to become better at the European economics game than they are. With it has come cultural and moral bankruptcy that is destroying their youth, though at a far lesser rate than what is happening in our culture. The best of who we are cannot continue to be measured by how equally black we are represented in a culture bereft of the spiritual foundation by which we ought to make decisions.
I recall hearing a talk show host defending the legacy of the white male by stating all the advancements we would not have were it not for white contributions. And it is true that most indigenous cultures would not have polluted the earth with gas powered vehicles, nor spared the lives of Nazi’s and give them place in our government for the sake of advances in rocketry, nor gather the best and brightest of Nazi and Japanese doctors whose inhumane war atrocities and experiments on POWs warranted their burning in hell, and give them prominence in the American medical community for the sake of medical advancement. I guess, like slavery, these were “necessary evils” for the good of this culture and to all humanity despite their origin.
Would black people have ever made the advancements that white people have made in this world? No. I believe our advancements would have been; and will be, more w holistic. The decimation of our youth has brought about a sense of urgency in determining what our future should entail. I don’t exactly know what the answer is but it is definitely not in trying to further infiltrate a culture which has proven to be poisonous to the very soul of our being.
I am as spoiled by the trappings of this culture as the next. As everyone was wondering if Y2K was going to bring the doom predicted, I watched as the news went from country to country with wondrous sites and celebrations. They sent one guy to a tribe in Africa whose only lights were the stars and that which was atop the camera shining on the reporter. In solemn voice he labored over these people’s obliviousness to the new millennium and the impending troubles that could impact computers and civilizations worldwide. I wished I had the strength to be them.
But then I thought… how wonderful an opportunity we have in our understanding of the world along with the spirit we’ve been blessed to possess. For better or worse, we pose the greatest challenge to world culture for we are the provocateurs of mind and spirit. You can see it in the recent dominance of our music and the higher platforms from which we now project our ideals.
We’ve already said all we can about our experiences. Echoes of disdain resound and abound in every thread of online discussions I’ve read. But when the fabric of our being is woven from these spinning wheels of words, what will the tapestry reveal as to who we really are? Bitter and ugly; or victorious and magnificent. I challenge each of you to weave the latter.
I love God above all else. I know I fail to show it everyday as much as I should. What is important to me, as should be to you, is that if you believe your cultural manifestation of loving and living for God is true, that you accept anyone who is willing to live with you by that spiritual standard of commitment.
A true sellout must also be also an infidel to someone else’s God. Not many are willing or ready to suffer that wrath. Those who do, should count as no less than brethren. Just as those of us who sell out should not have a right of passage simply by skin color. Many of our best efforts and leaders have been figuratively and literally slain through the use of such people.
Our emergence into cultural prominence is being met by a resurgence of the old guard who spat upon and cursed my father. and they have filled the airwaves with rhetoric I only heard my elders speak of. And from their positions of power and influence, which they quietly maintained their bigotry over the years, they are now feeling free to, once again, speak. Are we to be echoes of a different shade? I confess that in private anger, my echo booms loud; but mostly in the silence of my prayers.
I love my life for what I have been blessed to learn and what I have been humbled to be able to give to others. It’s not much, but hopefully enough to fulfill my purpose for being here. Which is not to be black; but as best I can, to be Godly. Blackness just helps me get there a little faster.■