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Teaching Our Way To Freedom
It's the humanity, stupid.
Several years ago with my old blog interlocutors (I wrote this in 2006), we delved deeply into the subject of 'black problems' and came to some agreement that there is no such thing. Along the way we touched on the notion that America's problems are our problems and vice versa. I think this begs a question of responsibility.
I have posed what I think is an interesting question centered around the cliche "It's a black thing, you wouldn't understand". I have taken arms against that slogan before. As a black writer I have defended subjectivity, but anybody can understand, if you are good enough to explain. Good enough implies a skill in writing and discourse, but it also connotes a willingness.
So I ask a question of myself and of all black partisans. Are we good enough to combat racism? More specifically when it comes to the battle of black and white, are whites welcome to understand? Are we good enough to teach? Do we have the skills, do we have the will?
James Baldwin inverted this question. In 'My Dungeon Shook', he asserted that it was the duty of the next generation to find a way, given appropriate behavior, to accept whitefolks. It was not our concern to ask ourselves if they should accept us, but whether we should accept them. Whitefolks were obviously guilty of conspiring to deny our humanity, so our duty would be first to assert it unconditionally and second to see who was worthy of sharing.
I would say that the majority of African Americans have taken the opportunity to unconditionally assert our humanity. Sure there are various blackfolks stuck in various states of mental imbalance due to 'the legacy of slavery’, but most of us know who we are and what we want to be. But for those of us who are fully realized, what effect does our racial partisanship have on the perception of whitefolks own humanity?
There is a strong presumption that the use of the n-bomb is likely to result in some kind of beatdown, black to white. It is precisely the use of that term which characterizes dehumanization. It doesn't matter who is saying it, to treat somebody, even in name-calling, like a nigger is the same sin as treating a person like a thing. The presumption of the beatdown assumes the propriety of right over wrong, and of justice. But it also presumes the strength of character required. One must be a strong black man to teach a wrong white man. Nobody wants to hear whimpering. We want the person in the right to prevail, we want the person in the wrong to be set straight. That is the natural human thing to do.
Have we been doing that? Not as much as we should.
The problem with hearing Malcolm X and knowing that he represented a shining black symbol is that once you know it, you can't fake any longer. It should be very difficult, with that knowledge, to pretend that anyone has a right or a privilege to denigrate the humanity of blackfolks. But what is to be done if one is responsible? If you have recognized your humanity and you recognize some duty to humanity for the cause of justice, how can we allow the pursuit of justice stop and our teaching to stop at the black fence? If we really, truly know what racism is, how it originates and how it can be stopped, don't we owe whitefolks as much as we owe blackfolks a way out of the trap of racializing and dehumanizing? In our own assertion of humanity mustn't we insist everyone does?
Being online early put me in the company of lots more whitefolks than blackfolks, and I talked the talk then as now. It seemed perfectly natural to me, especially given my anti-racist political goals at the time to share everything out in the open. After all, has there been any significant revelation that we haven't wanted to share? Did we expect whitefolks to cover their eyes and ears during Black History Month? Of course not. I have never been interested in any black agenda that wasn't good for all America. I could not be because I expect America to work for human beings, period.
We have arrived at a point in history where questions of integration are somewhere between relevant and moot. The mobile classes have proven their mobility, the inert classes their inertia. Most Americans are still born, live and die within a 50 mile radius. But we also have invented a place called 'flyover country', which could only exist for a class of people who are known as 'frequent fliers'. For people who are more or less fixed in place black neighborhoods are still black, white neighborhoods still white, along more or less the same lines as in the days of Jim Crow. And because we have pathetically lacked the political will to collaborate when it comes to public schooling, we have punted our futures to the schemes of judges who order. We sue and countersue and bite our nails during various trials of the century instead of acting like the community we pretend to desire. It is a rather pathetic failure of leadership to watch the legal enforcement of the beloved community we humans seem incapable of manifesting without the force of the state. Perhaps that says more about the inert classes of Americans. We who don't read maps but draw psychic unspoken rules and boundaries in our streets, how much we are like insurgent militias in Iraq, submitting not to democracy but only the most tyrannical arbiters.
Why do blacks and whites need Supreme Court decisions? Because they have a vested interest in being black and white, not in being humans in community, not in being equal American citizens, not in being free men. So much is asked to put down the mask of black and white, masks we've worn so tightly for so long that we forget our faces are able to express anything but through those masks. For too many of us, racial masks have become essential characteristics of our public face.
Our duty to expressing our humanity, our spiritual community, our American citizenship and our freedom lies in being good enough. Good enough to be willing. Good enough to be able. Good enough to share. And yet we have so many holdouts who want perfection. Perfection of a black agenda. Perfection of a white apology. Perfection of a social theory. Perfection of meritocracy, of 'corporate America' of 'race relations'... Perfect is the enemy of good.
I don’t often bother to be a raceman, but as I recently noted and many agreed, Critical Race Theory is the undoing of the uneasy peace that allowed many of us to attend other priorities. So no matter what people decide to call the new anti-counter-racism-ism my answer remains relatively simple. Take off the mask.
The updated symbolism of the mask in these COVID end days is useful. They are end days for me, but maybe not for you. Maybe because you have refused a bit of faith in scientific research or institutional competence, or whatever your conspiracy tells you to not believe. In all honesty it hasn’t been so difficult for me and my family to apply common sense and get past the paranoia, that is once we have enough toilet paper. That’s because in early March of 2020, I discovered Michael Osterholm courtesy of Joe Rogan and read his book. As well I listened to Nicholas Christakis and adjusted my expectations to deal with about a half million dead Americans, all of this before any government officials called for any quarantines. As it stands today Osterholm still has fewer Twitter followers than (I swear to God this is a random somebody famous whome I have only paid 2 minutes of attention) Liz Cheney, so who can be blamed for holding their own lives so cheaply? If you’d rather wear a racial mask in reaction to the death of Saint George Floyd than a breathing mask during a global pandemic that kills millions, then yeah. You’re stupid. Meanwhile I have adopted the habits and accepted the help that makes me safer. Not invincible, just smart. Adaptive. Rational.
So while I am adjusting to remind people that the Earth is not flat and the good intentions of wishful thinking does not cure idiocy, I have some comfort to know we are not in a race war. So I will take some time to put on a patch on my jacket to remind all of us of some basic elements of The Struggle that did work, and some that simply failed. I expect some measure of this will be repeating myself as I have above, but everything needs to be updated.
As the raceman I was, I made ample use of the terms ‘blackfolks’ and ‘whitefolks’. The meaning, then as now, are nominally black Americans who think of themselves relatively uncritically as black and within some ambit of uncontroversial reason, expect something of ‘their culture’ to be perceived. Similarly, ‘whitefolks’ are nominally white Americans who think of themselves relatively uncritically as white and within some ambit of uncontroversial reason, expect something of ‘their culture’ to be perceived. These days, most everything is controversial. Now some Americans are purposefully digging into a new foolish racial posture, while others are confused and saying ‘who me’? I’ve heard even some officers in the uniformed services are giving lip service to the latest racial hokum.
As harsh as it sounds my patience is growing short with people who claim generational imperatives. Millennials will pretend they don’t need to understand or respect X and Boomers pretend that Facebook is too complicated to understand. I know that the past, present and future are all unevenly distributed and that prophets are not respected in their own time and town. Time’s up for being cool. Dragging feet will get their toes stepped on. I am aiming this literary art at everyone human with the expectation that some fraction of you voluntarily dehumanize yourselves. So yeah. They’re stupid.
Stupid is not evil. Stupid is merely subject to the domination of the smart. While the foolish may be graciously saved by the wise, they will be imprisoned or ignored by the schemes of the crafty. Remember how many live by the Iron Rule: Do unto others whatever you can get away with. We are living in a dark age, but it is not an Iron Age. So let me adjust, put on that patch and do a little instruction. There will be humor.