I write from a place of intense but familiar disheartenment. A feeling that only accompanies the stresses of being black, proud and hopeful that these feelings will prove contagious.
While the state of the black collective is a general cause of concern given our systemic programming to self-destruct, this post will focus primarily on the youth. To say that black youth present a cause for concern would be an understatement. Many black youth prove a cause for concern in their attachment to the white supremacy implemented in what many label morals and values. To most black parents the road to being a good person and having a good life is to become white— a state consummated by money, material, and other conventional accolades. This week, I had a disturbing exchange with a young lady well on her way to an illusive whiteness. Her whiteness is seemingly consummated by gaining entry to a white school, and ultimately living in a white area. A reality made clear in her refusal to attend a concert at the Brooklyn Barclays Center because of the “area.” Although heavily gentrified, the Barclays center is in an area presumed to be predominately black. My response was to be careful, because those same people she feels safe around pose the most danger to her body as a young black woman.
My comments proved contentious to say the least, but her defensive response fell on deaf ears. I did not need to hear what she said. I’ve heard it so many times before.
“I didn’t mean it like that” she says.
All that means is that she did not mean to betray her ignorance and enslavement.
Either embarrassed or exhausted by our tense exchange, she then tries to take the conversation to a neutral ground and discusses her brother who’s “lighter than me.” A quick look at my “about” page reveals the shade of my skin as a berry blackened by the blood of my ancestors. But this comment revealed a systemized size-up in which her deficiencies objectified me through dismemberment. I was not a full being to this young woman on a walk to whiteness, I was a shade, a hair texture– competition for conventional beauty despite being thirteen years her senior. Although not entirely surprising, this comment bothered me in its unveiling of a sickly young girl, plagued by a disease she seemingly spent her adolescence trying to ignore. Self- hatred oozed from every word that escaped her mouth. She was impenetrable and unapologetically self-deprecating. Yet, it is in this assessment that I realize, that self- deprecation is the norm for members of the black collective throughout the globe. We are programmed to hate ourselves from birth until death. Self- love is a aberration as is this deep disappointment in face of such adversity.
Due to her speech, which sounds more like an eighty pound, blonde- haired white girl, than a darkly complected, full featured, and short haired black girl, it is obvious that this young lady seeks to flee blackness by sounding like what she wish she was. Our engagements are to prepare her for college, but as Dr. King once said with regard to immigration, “I have come to believe that we have integrated into burning house.” Similarly, during each of our encounters I find myself asking:
Am I leading this young lady into a burning house?
The assimilatory part of my being that I am desperately trying to extinguish, tells me I am out of line for turning a college- prep session into black history, but my conscious tells me I am wrong not to. Preparing an already systemized mind to attend an institution makes me an accomplice to a white supremacist heist that abducts the souls of black folks and turns them into soldiers of white supremacy, also known as doctors, lawyers, professors, engineers, etc.
Admittedly, I do not think that giving up on our youth is a formidable path for curing the sleepwalkers that populate our collective. My student, at the ripe age of sixteen, is full of self hatred–emotions to which she wears with pride, and defends more vehemently than she does her own people a point substantiated by an unassuming subject.
She went on a rant about how she does not “get” how people (by people I mean me, I mentioned I saw Chris at Barclays) support Chris Brown, a young black man who made a mistake, but speaks about the safety of white areas citing stats as her reason. It’s these same stats that predict her failure and function to validate her overall inferiority. It is these stats that conceptualize her beauty as ugliness and nurture her to admire Beyonce– a woman whose beauty she appreciates because she cannot see her own. It is these same statistics that function to distract the black collective from the true evil that pollutes our lives on a daily basis. I am fine with holding Chris to high standards of morality, but be sure to hold those who benefit from your systemic disenfranchisement to the same standards. Be sure to hold those who have multiplied earnings stolen your ancestors accountable for what you hold that young man. It seems a predictable act of the oppressed to forgive their oppressor in a forgetfulness never afforded to those not at fault for the system that oppresses everything from the air they breathe to the food they eat.
Whites will take her self-hatred and use it to their benefit. They will wrap it around her neck slowly. Her ignorance will prompt her to enjoy the tickle, and interpret this abrasiveness as love, until it suffocates her into an assimilatory state in which she can no longer breathe but merely exist in the shadows of her oppressors.
As a woman on a journey to consciousness, I feel a sense of heightened responsibility amidst the immense disappointment prompted by this young girl. Disappointment, in a strive towards consciousness, is seemingly ubiquitous. The entire word is seemingly engulfed in a negative perception of blackness. Phrases like “that’s why I don’t like dealing with black people” amongst countless others that chastise black businesses and blacks people to uplift whites and other persons of color, dominate the world.
Yet, it seems a subtle form of elitism to just surround yourself with those who “get it,” as confused blacks benefit most from the enlightened few. This enlightenment, it seems, is not best served in moments of contention, but by example.
One of the most resounding reading experiences I had was reading the late and great Malcolm X discuss the effect his older sister Ella had on him in his autobiography. Initially he shirked her advice and her leadership, but when he was ready to learn she appeared as his teacher and key supporter. We all need these Ella-like figures in our lives that enable us to “see the greatness within ourselves” as Ossie Davis would say of Malcolm X after his assassination. Not to say or imply that I am in any way an Ella like figure, but that this acquaintance is one I wish for my student.
In her I see my teenage friend— an unconventional beauty in the eyes of our oppressor, but an African queen to our ancestors. She pretended for years to be anything but black, hoping to change how others perceived her by lying about her ancestry. She would stand in the same place for twelve years, rejected in every attempt to escape herself-out of breath and out of time—left with virtually nothing. I want more for this young lady, as I wanted more for my friend, and all the other young black women struggling to see the beauty in their collective selves.
I would say that these encounters grant me a unique heartbreak, but I know that my ability to feel highlights that my heart is anything but broken. The conscious mind ables a complete heart, whereas the unconscious mind yields a shattered heart, mind, and soul misassembled by white approval.
It is this plight for white approval that expedites her journey to whiteness. In ten years, she’ll be a female Clarence Thomas, or married to a white man anxious to birth children who have the skin color and hair she always wanted. By this point the name Bakari Henderson will sound unfamiliar, but she’ll be a living resurrection of the slain young man and his ingrained values.
I see this all play out in my mind, and it feels like a nightmare, but to her, it’s not only a dream but her dream. As condescending as it may sound to some, I want to save her. But how do you safe someone from inhaling toxins they wear as perfume?
How do you save a drowning child who does not think she’s drowning? How do you provide the remedy for someone who refuses to admit that they are sick?
The reality is no one can save anyone that does not want to be saved. And sadly, some don’t get cured, they get killed—literally or figuratively. I suppose it is as ancestor Harriet Tubman once said:
“I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”
Most are unlike Tubman. In both a traditional and contemporary context, few have saved one slave let alone a thousand. But if we as a collective focus on being an Ella-like figure to one person, maybe we can yield more Malcolms and Fred Hamptons.
We can’t save em’ all, but we can save some.
May the warmth of my student’s African blood melt the coldness of the white evil to come. May she one day look in the mirror and love the totality of her being. May she find a hero that elevates not enslaves her, even if its not today, tomorrow, or next year.
Black Power ❤