Photo: Copyright © David Arauz, under CC BY-SA 2.0
Black is a rich, deep, dark, mysterious color often erroneously attributed to death and negativity. That’s what the media would have us believe when it comes to black people. How is it the negative adjectives like that become synonymous with people of African descent? In spite of it, I prefer the term ‘black’ due to the inherent power found in a global community sharing similar qualities as well as treatment based in an apocryphal worldview.
Many years ago I was hanging out in the Austrian Alps with a friend of mine. I went with him to visit his mother who lived in a small village in the mountains that could easily substitute as the backdrop to The Sound of Music, lederhosen, dirndls and all. You could tell many people in the town had never seen a black person up close so word spread fast. I quickly became a spectacle scrutinized like a sideshow in a circus. Some greeted and smiled as if they were attempting to communicate with an alien. They kept a safe distance without being weird about it; they went out of their way to make me feel comfortable. While sitting at an outside table, a little blond haired, cherubic looking kid approached me. He couldn’t have been more than 7 years old. He was very curious; in German, he asked my friend, “Who is the brown man?” An innocent question I’ve never been asked up until then. What was refreshing is that there was no preconception or malicious intent; he was honestly referring to what he saw.
It was then that I realized the politics of being black in America. It has nothing to do with what meets the eye. Obviously, there aren’t too many people running around America that truly are the color black. It has more to do with the complicated history of a country in denial and recalcitrant to face its tragic past. Accepting the moniker of blackness automatically makes you part of a trajectory that many are pained to admit provide the very ground they stand on based on the contributions of free black labor. You never imagine that your very existence is an affront to the system under which you live. Every hard fought for freedom was won even if for a moment in time. But it was those efforts that made it possible for a global people to move freely around the planet and attempt to benefit from the fruits of their labor, making an investment into a collective story.
I remember when we became African Americans in the 1980s. Do you realize we are the only people that, within a century, have been termed and re-termed to fit the agenda of a country that does not celebrate our rich investment into it? Ironically, white people were white at the advent of the 20th century and remained so at the close of it. I was born on the heels of being called Colored then Negro, then black and lastly (for now) African American. Mind you, this does not include the other terms used to refer to us that are not considered polite. I recall many people that balked about it; they felt they had no connection to Africa. Some had no interests in ever setting foot back on a continent we were taught to be ashamed of being part of. Some felt it negated their Native American as well as European ancestry something that was incorporated into the black American experience. Why we hold on to a connection to people that miscegenated, in most cases, without care or consent is beyond me. Some will never know what it is to walk freely in a place where the dominant culture embraces and holds their true story in its bosom. We’ve been duped by an education system steeped in white supremacy. While they enjoyed the spoils of stolen resources, human as well as material, they wanted us to believe they were wasted on savages; so in the guise of the proverbial white savior, they did us a favor. Imagine that?! More so, imagine the people that bought into that bogus bill of goods.
Most Americans know the history of slavery on a superficial level. Many are more comfortable leaving it at that. They’re reluctant to dig deep into the truth about how this country became a world power. By keeping it so, they never have to acknowledge or admit to the crime against humanity visited upon innocent people, nor feel accountable for the benefits they still enjoy at our expense to this day. More egregious, is the lack of comprehensive education on the part of the school system that addresses slavery and tells the whole story about the establishment of an economy. Lack of education perpetuates the paradigm we’re stuck in. Without proper exploration, we do a disservice to ALL children. How can we deconstruct the racism that has this country frozen in time? How can we dismantle centuries of misdirected, uninformed terror? I bet most people don’t even know how race-based oppression and terror came into existence, and for what means.
Blackness in America is synonymous with struggle as well as strength. In spite of the obstacles and struggles heaped on us, we rise. In the face of state sanctioned terrorism, we survive and continue to thrive. However, I think we’ve finally reached an impasse that will either result in the dismantling of an unjust system, or in civil war. This country can no longer support the manner in which its policies are conducted in respect to blacks. Take a look at the up and coming generation of children that have no context or connection to the narrative of this country. They have no investment in a country that has no investment in their wellbeing. They don’t know the full story of the blood spilled in order for them to be in the present, on whose shoulders they stand. When there’s no connection to the present, there is nothing to look forward to. That is the state of America. Hopeless people do hopeless things. This adversely affects everyone!
Black is not just a color; it’s a state of being!
Earl Davis is the Executive Director of Project Brownstone. He lives in New York City.