LONG MLK-inspired race rant.

NOTE: I’m well aware there are other, just-as-pressing cultural concerns in U.S. American culture today. I’m not trying to deny or undermine the struggles of many non-Black people in this country. I am, however, taking time to randomly ejaculate thoughts on the myriad Black experiences in this country, because that’s the experience I have.

“In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, Black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the ‘unalienable Rights’ of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.'” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s very difficult for me to write at length about the great Black thinkers, speakers, and activists who emerged in the 50’s and 60’s. Part of it has to do with my own disdain for rigidly adopting ideological, artistic, or spiritual dogmas of past paradigms–gods know I hate operating within one musical style or language, after all. The other part of it is that, while I have a great deal of respect for all of those who came before me, paving the way for me to have the right to be a contrarian asshole, I’m often so infuriated with the prevailing notion that the work of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Huey Newton, Fred Hampton, etc. is “finished” that I can’t express myself as articulately as I’d like.

Like most things related to my race, it all begins with my father who, while being fairly politically active in his own right, was never one to make grand public statements, particularly regarding those of his own Blackness. Or, at least, he never did over the course of my life; I suppose that’s the natural result of marrying a white woman, an act that people somehow seem to think is one constituting the repudiation of one’s Blackness. I only mention this because Dad, to his credit, made as much of an effort to hit people over the head with his Blackness as humanly possible, something I try to do today.

It’s no understatement to say my Blackness is questioned more than my father’s ever has or ever will be. Part of it’s my own doing; when I was in my teens, largely inspired by Doug E. Doug’s character in Hangin’ With The Homeboys, I made a point of exaggerating the tendency of those of my race to blame adversity on racist white hegemony. In retrospect, I realize the error of my approach, if only because a considerable portion of people on whom I employed the tactic either a) didn’t catch the intrinsic facetiousness, or b) were truly dealing with their own issues surrounding both Black people and my atypical representation thereof. I’ve always been something of an attention-whoring pseudo-provocateur (cue the nods from the peanut gallery–I know my grasp of the obvious remains undiminished); my experiences being at times violently marginalized because of my race while my family lived in Hawaii made me feel so thoroughly isolated in my Blackness that, when surrounded with the more subtle, refined classist-inspired racism back in central Iowa, I reacted in the only way I could–by subverting communication styles and patterns of those around me and making it a caricature of itself.

Really, that’s the way my Dad, whether he knew it or not, always hit people over the head with his Blackness. Whether or not they choose to admit it, white people are culturally programmed to perceive those who look different from them as being inferior. It’s not always a conscious thing (although I think it’s a lot more conscious than most white people will admit), but it’s an attitude present in imagery, language, and action. White supremacy thrives on the idea that Euro-centric culture is something people from other cultures are too primitive to understand; my father (who, at six-foot-six, two hundred sixty pounds at the time, extremely dark-skinned, and having grown up poor in the projects, could not have been more different from most of the people surrounding him once he moved to Iowa) not only easily understood the trappings of Eurocentric American culture, but in fact knew it better than the white people around him. Dad’s ability to code-shift constantly challenged white people’s notions of what Blackness really was, and it was this which made white people most uncomfortable around him. It was hard to look at my father in his mid-20’s and declare oneself physically superior to him, and even harder to listen to him speak and declare oneself intellectually superior to him. And it pissed white people the fuck off.

Because, let’s face it–for as much as this country as accomplished over the past sixty years, people don’t fear the Black person’s physical ability or facility with firearms. White people have the numbers, and the general class advantages to counteract those. The real problem, the real threat, the one thing white people fear most, is a Black person being right–because, while things like money and guns and physical prowess can be easily stripped away, the only thing keeping Eurocentric cultures in power is, essentially, a belief system. I tend to shy away from things like “knowledge is power” (largely because it’s not really true–power consists of knowledge, resources, and determination at its core, sure, but there’s more to it than that), but the admission that Black thought is equal to white thought is tantamount to admitting American culture is constructed on a lie.

But, I digress.

Growing up and attending mostly-white schools, I naturally had Martin Luther King’s story (or, at least, the child-friendly version they allow in schools) forced down my throat. At the time, of course, I was too young to really get it–remember, at that time, I was living in an incredibly diverse neighborhood where race was simply a means of differentiating one person from another (and barely at that)–but my father’s constant dismissal of Martin Luther King confused the living daylights out of me. In 1990, the year my family moved to Hawaii, I had the good fortune of finding my dad’s copy of Malcolm X Speaks. While I wasn’t entirely old enough to grasp everything in the book, the most telling part of the book was the transcription of a speech in which X denounced King as being–and I’m paraphrasing–the kind of civil rights leader white people wanted, rather than the one Black people needed. I never really agreed with all aspects of X’s pre-hajj philosophy, but I also understood my disagreements were as much a reflection of his time as it was of mine–same as with King, and with other Black civil rights activists.

Because it’s the time separating them from the Black Americans of today that really poses the most challenges. From 1492 all the way up until 1968, Black people in this hemisphere dealt with, if nothing else, the threat of a white power structure holding all the metaphorical cards could and would do as they wish to them, until eventually people began to figure out ways to use emergent technology to resist marginalization. To their credit, the civil rights movement of the 60’s succeeded in changing ideological paradigms across the country, if only through shaming the U.S. and subordinate state governments into making their biases more subtle than before; however, the white power structure never went away, and never lost its fear and hatred of losing dominance that technology and a common genetic lineage galvanized them into wanting to achieve. They took advantage of Black Americans’ lack of cultural continuity (going right back to their very DNA”) and simply made the American experience more complicated for anyone whose cultural paradigms didn’t at least parallel those of Eurocentric cultures. Part of the strategy, of course, was to strengthen the divide between rich and poor, partially by attrition (very few poor white people are in legitimate positions of power and influence) and partly by design, as a means of deflecting attention from the fact that race is just as important as gender and social class in the United States (and, arguably, the capitalist world). The divide also actually created the convincing myth that white people have somehow now ended up on the list of marginalized groups; by demonizing Affirmative Action, Welfare, Heatlth Care, and even taxation itself as slanting the playing field unfairly against them, white people–instead of meta-leveling their struggle within the contexts of others–buy into the white power structure’s notion that white people should abandon the notion that white privilege exists.

The end result is a completely different struggle for Black Americans than the one that existed in King’s and X’s times. A directly aggressive, “by any means necessary”-style revolution clearly isn’t the answer–not only would the collateral damage completely invalidate the morality of the revolution in the first place, but who would do the fighting in this generation of Black men? The thugged-out niggas on the streets now, whose aggression doubles that of previous generations, yet whose exposure to white-controlled media leaves them nowhere near as educated, motivated, or mentally trained? The new Black thinkers, so trained to keep a tight leash on their anger lest they lose their position to present any kind of lucid resistance to the white power structure? No. The post-civil rights group of rich Black people, the professional athletes or musicians whom white people have positioned to be more influential to Black youth than teachers, scientists, or their parents? Yeah, right; they’d have more to lose than any white person in the struggle.

So, then, is the response to take the tactic King suggested–that Black people are to rely upon diplomacy and messages of harmony and inclusion in the hope that white people (and, eventually, the white power structure) will somehow see non-white people as human beings? Fuck no. It’s that kind of attitude that gives white people license to change the rules of the game, allowing them the luxury of time to plan and change the system in the first place. By giving Black people token acknowledgements like Black History Month and Martin Luther King Day, all the white power structure is doing is providing Blacks with a place for all of us to gather while they destroy our culture by dangling a rope ladder leading to their positions of leisure and acceptance, only allowing a few of us to reach it on the backs of everyone else.

So, what’s the answer, then? Shit, I wish I knew. The only thing I know how to do is observe and report, to be honest. The only thing I can think to do is to change the game on my own terms–to treat my racial experience as my American experience. Rather than stick the term “African” in front of my being American, rather than cling to the notion that my true heart and soul is connected to some continent thousands of miles and a dozen generations away, I isolate my racial experience to myself and call myself “Black American.” For as much as I respect the struggles of those who came before me, to abandon the idea of obtaining self-actualization in favor of adhering to an outmoded school of thought making me somehow less “American” is contrary to what I think their struggle suggested. To make race personal, to find a way to succeed, to help others succeed, regardless of their race–to stand for knowledge and the maximization of human potential–that’s the only real thing I can do. That is, of course, unless I figure out a way to do more without undermining my own ability to succeed; the white power structure loves Black martyrs.

I dunno; just thinking.


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