Gentrifying The Black College, Deferred Dreams, and Institutionalized Ambitions

It is mid August, over six months after I got some unexpected news that I believed would take me closer to my dreams. After four years of writing, studying, and working at white institutions as a part- time college instructor I was admitted into a doctoral program at a historically black institution. People had doubted me and snubbed my ambitions to study English. But I lived to see the words of my professor proven true—that when fact meets fiction function is what matters. I spent the last four years explicating this function to my collective, seeking to uplift through promoting critical thought. TheHilltop1

My efforts however have failed to resonate with many because of their pecuniary deficiency. In laymen’s terms, to many I was too broke to be successful. The unstated premise is that I had more that enough education and that failed to land me a full time job–and my focus should be on full time employment not furthering my education.

But I know a nine to five, or working for the board of education does not fit me as it does not allow me the freedom of living through purpose. If not pursuing a means to provide a service to the black collective, blacks are merely prostitutes in various forms. Some wear clear heels and pick dollars off the floor, others wear business professional and made six howardufigures a year—it is all prostitution.

With this in mind, all my endeavors were a means to an end, not an end by any means. It had been seven long years since I left the Mecca and I never knew much I had missed the hilltop until I graduated and lived life beneath it. But little did I know that the closest I would get to the Mecca would be the graduate school pen they sent me in the mail.

I should mention that as a safety net I applied to the university I had been working at for the past year. I was impressed by the black faculty and felt a sense of community I hadn’t felt at any other position. Yet, it still wasn’t Howard. It also didn’t present an opportunity to engage with black scholars  at a black research center.

I waited six months for a promised graduate assistantship, and for those whom this term appears esoteric, I mean a means to pay for my education. As a woman who has invested much of her money and her adulthood in school, my doctoral ambitions were to find an institution who would invest in my pursuits. I also sought to find an institution who shared my mission to boost the black community, and believed in my work enough to invest in it. But unfortunately the desire to pursue an education at a black institution without adding any more to my tab, proved mutually exclusive.

The news hit me like a ton of bricks, because I am now faced with attending the white man’s institution for free, take out another loan, or defer admissions without the promise of funding for next year.  The Langston Hughes poem “Harlem” comes to mind. Whether deferred dreams “stink like rotten meat” or “explode,” deferment is a living death to the black dreamer.

My experience, while heart- breaking and frustrating, is in no way unique.  I know that there are plenty of those in the black community who also wish to attend a black university. There are also a good portion of blacks who encourage black youth to attend black universities, but it seems this encouragement can easily turn to discouragement in the wake of financial conflict.    636072626893383608-7915644_Morehouse_college_campus

Specifically, many of those throughout the diaspora who have also dreamed of attending the Mecca have also been deterred by a lack of funding. I recently read an article about an undergraduate student who was tossed out of her dorm and sleeping on a friend’s floor trying to scrape enough money together to pay her tuition. I watched another video on Youtube where a young lady was told shortly before classes started that she did not qualify for an award granted upon admission.

Many reading this will take the easy way out and attribute those denied entry into a Historically Black College or University as reflective of personal not institutional fault. This kind of faulty reasoning is the same systemized attitude that labels blacks lazy rather than disenfranchised. Also, if black people are not “good enough” for a historically black college or University it seems the black college or university is about as black as BET.

One look at the website however reveals that the University has extended the contract of its current president and hired some new faces, including a number of white men. This proves unsettling as the salary paid to these white men could very well afford deserving members of the black collective a means to study at a so-called black institution.

It’s also important to note that while associated with black achievement, Howard started as a white man’s attempt to create a place where his daughter and others denied an education, would have an opportunity to learn. Much like many of the now black neighborhoods were once white, so was Howard University. So this upcoming “gentrification” appears more like a “return” to whiteness rather than a seizing of black goods. It is also highly likely that what is happening at Howard foreshadows the fate of historically black colleges that do not have white origins. Given the current climate, funding for HBCU’s is may very much dissolve and force many to seek redemption by recruiting wealthy white, and non-black students. Slowly, the once black institutions will become increasingly white, our legacies replaced with “diverse” initiatives that deem Lincoln as prevalent as Alain Locke. In summary, it seems the black university is being gentrified  in the same manner seen in black communities like Bedford Stuyvesant, Harlem, Washington DC, and Oakland.

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Some may deem my analysis sour grapes, but my assertions function to consider the larger picture of white intent as illustrated through collective behavior. Just a few months ago, the overt racist Betsy DeVos gave the commencement speech at historically black college Bethune-Cookman, where a  black faculty member chastised graduates overtly dissatisfied with Devos’ presence. If inviting a white racist to advise a group of HBCU graduates pacified in their acts of retaliation is not a sign as to where things are heading, I am unsure what is.

I wish this issue was as simple as allotting aid to those admitted, but the education available still isn’t enough to save blacks from the temptation of self-deprecation. I even wish that saving the black university from gentrification was the answer. In all honesty, there will be many melanated individuals who see the university as elevated in the increased white presence. There will be many who feel increased white presence is a sign of something blacks have done right, making those angered or disgusted by their integrated environment few and far between.

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The issue exposed in this conflict is ownership. These so called historically black colleges or universities, and seemingly black communities were never truly ours. Thus, together gentrified communities and universities illustrate that that which is truly ours can never be taken away.  This fact is illustrated in the non-black presence at the black college or university.  A glance through a few faculty profiles at these so-called historically black colleges, reveals that non-blacks often maintain leadership positions in the Africana studies department (of all places) and comfortable teaching positions in other departments.

Similarly, the black community, while overtly bearing black community representatives, campusremains largely controlled by unseen whites who live fail to reside in the black community or have its best interest in mind. This veiled reality illustrates that the black college, like the black community, are heavily institutionalized, functioning to control the black body by nurturing its destruction, either by physical imprisonment or mental imprisonment, known to some as assimilation and to others as conventional success.

Many blacks also seem to feel that “diversity” is the cure for the conflicts of contemporary society. Diversity however is not real in a county rooted in racial injustice. Therefore, as a collective a non-integrated environment that places blackness at the center of all things seems most beneficial in cultivating the necessary self-esteem to advance the black collective. Thus, it is vital that blacks learn to read Kemetian language, l how to self-sustain through farming, sewing, cooking and healing naturally to succor the black collective. Reacquiring our native language and making our initiatives less about acquiring whiteness and more about reasserting blackness needs to be at the forefront of assatashakurthe black agenda.

In my evolution, my doctoral pursuits became far less individual and more about uplifting my community by becoming immersed in it. I can now say that while my assertions were once to attend a university and obtain my doctorate, this entire experience has made my ambitions so much larger.

I now see that black institutions, while significantly “blacker” than the Ivy League and other traditionally white colleges,  are not black enough to truly uplift the black community. Specifically, these schools are far too often a platform for black bodies to do white things like acquire skills that prepare black bodies for plantation jobs.  My doctorate, wherever I choose to attend, will be about unpacking this truth and working to correct the systemic adversity cast onto the black collective.

Furthermore, while I have always loved black literature, black writing, and any facet of black creativity, I now see its function as crucial in illustrating black ability to extract beauty from any situation– no matter how ugly. Furthermore, I study the discipline, not the language of English, as a vehicle to create beauty in the ugliness of white supremacy. In short, writers like Gertrude Dorsey Brown, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, etc are why I study English, as they illustrate that the good that comes from bad must come from us.

Black power.

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A People Divided: The Diasporic Dissonance of the Dark Race

A Recurring Query

 

“Catherine Saunders”

 

stated my soon-to-be seventeen-year-old student in a desperate attempting to portray a conspicuously scripted conversation as natural.

I felt a familiar feeling that foreshadowed where this conversation would go. So, I silently exhaled and tried to relax my muscles from an anticipated tension.

“Are you mixed with Indian or anything?” she asked in a fictive coyness that made my blood boil.

There it was. The dreaded query that appeared far too many times throughout my adulthood.

“No, girl I’m African” I said trying to hide my disappointment.

 

“Oh, so you’re just black?”

 

I’ll be honest. I am not sure if I asked or if she volunteered the information that I am about to share. But either way, I was hopeful that her follow-up would yield a hidden Pan-Africanism.

It didn’t.

 

“I’m Guyanese, well South American, Jamaican, Bajan, and English. I say all four because I’m not just one”

 

This “just one” phrase would prove a recurring phrase in the conversations surrounding black identity that would dominate my week.

Seeking another perspective, I requested the input of a colleague who I falsely compartmentalized as a “free African,” or an someone well on their way to a collective identity.

I asked my colleague how she thought Caribbean displacement affects black identity. The response, while elaborate and beautifully articulated, mirrored my student’s, but proved even more disappointing.

In summary, the “clarity” offered by my colleague, validated my student’s logic with a series of short-sighted remarks that revealed an ideology polluted with the subtle teachings of white supremacy.

Achieving Exotic Status, and The Singularity of Blackness

My colleague reiterated the “just one” phrase implemented by my student stating that it is white supremacy that coerces the black “American” to choose “one thing.” She then went on to say that Caribbean identity embraces the “totality” of their being, ie what my student in mentioning “Barbados,” “Guyana” and “England.” She also was sure to reference what she called the diversity of Caribbean aesthetics, a claim I’ve heard countless times in the boastful stupor of the oppressed.

.The variants of aesthetics is one of the many gifts of blackness, and is not limited to just one sub-group. Moreover, this comment is upsetting for many reasons, but mostly in exposing the true nature of the ideology from which it derived. Fractioned identity, is not pride, but an anti-black act guised as nationalism. This nationalism, seduces the decedents of Caribbean (or any other diasporic ethnicity) slaves to view their “drop-off” as “home” and to see their ability to have a “home” and “language” as superior to that of the non-migrant black in the states–who migrants seek to appropriate in their consensual journey over the same seas that carried their brethren who would be lynched, burned alive, castrated, raped, dismembered and systemically disenfranchised for centuries prior to the influx of Caribbean immigrants who would reap the benefits of their pain. I find it imperative to make this assertion, as diasporic Africans often highlight the struggle in their pseudo homelands as singular, discounting “struggle” as an experience shared by all blacks. Struggle, tragedy, and cyclical systemization is an integral component to black identity, but despite being a uniting factor, white oppressors implement black struggle as a weapon to circumvent black concord.

This concord is a worthy compromise for those seeking an ex-factor through a fictive multi-ethnic identity. To be fair, this is not solely limited to melanated migrants, but millions of blacks across the diaspora bamboozled into believing that black is everything but beautiful. The melanated migrant though bears a poisonous and often under-discussed desire to become the abducted African displaced in America in record numbers. While there are some non-migrant blacks who have moved to the continent or the West Indies, these numbers pale in comparison to the amount of blacks from the continent, the West Indies, the Caribbean, and South and Central America who inundate the black population in places like New York City.

Also inundating the flourishing population of the migrant black in places like the big apple is a systemized envy of non- migrant black aesthetics. Namely, those bearing the unsullied blood of the motherland, or its  envy a demographic who embodies the remnants of wombs legally violated by a system who conceptualized the black body as property. For example, I recall a young black male college student recall  his peers from the continent commenting, in a state of awe, on how different his hair was in comparison to theirs–citing his”looser coil” as a divisive factor.

On the reverse, I have seen and experienced the tokenizing of non-migrant black beauty by the melanated migrant. I would like to clarify that although using the term “beauty” I do not mean that the referenced individual is beautiful (we as a collective are beautiful), but that an oppressed gaze would perceive a diluted bloodline as beautiful in a self-hatred stupor. As a college student , for the most part, students from the Caribbean and the continent did not engage with the general population of those who were presumed to be “just black.” At the dating auctions that schools clubs held to make money, the melanated migrant would show up in large groups and “purchase” the non-mirgant black women who they refused to acknowledge on campus. Similarly,  I have had instances where I was inappropriately touched by migrant males who seemed to perceive my body with the same entitlement and disregard as white men. I have also witnessed migrant women engage sexually with migrant men who refused to acknowledge them in public when alongside those they perceived to be kin. These scenarios, mirror a similar ideology to that of my student and colleague, illustrating the various hurtful consequences imbued by a divisive ideology. Moreover, the intoxication of the abducted African displaced in the states seemingly offsets both an internalized envy and objectification in its divisive function–sometimes both symptoms occurring simultaneously.

There is also an envy of access. By access I mean access to whiteness. Although systemically disenfranchised by whites who own million dollar resorts miles away from children without clothes, and families without shoes or food, few migrant blacks seem to associate their lifestyle, or what prompts their move to the states, as a direct result of white supremacy. It seems their predominately black environment allows many melanated migrants to attribute their disenfranchised state to this dynamic and not the seemingly invisible whites who sit unbothered at the height of every hierarchy throughout the black diaspora. Thus, the abducted Africans displaced into the states, appear to be at an advantage in what must appear to be a closer access to white people and an illusive whiteness seemingly consummated through job titles and material goods.

Identity: Claiming Constructs

It is whiteness, and the journey towards it in material, aesthetics, and accolades, that thwarts black unity. My colleague plots curing white control of blackness by celebrating what I reference as the “drop off.” She finds solstice in Haiti, and suggests that non-migrant blacks do the same for America. The conversation as a whole was a hard pill to swallow, but this statement was the most problematic and most hurtful. To possess a sense of nationalism for a drop-off is to claim a land that has never claimed you but enslaved you and grown crops and trust funds in the blood of your ancestors.

It is the failure to look past the “drop off” that incites the disappointment in my student, colleague, and others that take pride in their oppressive placement. For a black to claim America, or a West Indian to claim a West Indian or Caribbean Country, or black displaced in Brazil to claim Brazil, or the countless blacks displaced in Latin America to claim their respective drop off, is to inadvertently thank the white settlers for ripping you from the womb of your mother continent and casting you in a systemized role necessary to manifest their destiny. To claim a drop-off is to make Willie Lynch and every white man who taught and practiced the science of oppression proud in the longevity of their cruel creation of system that destroys the the kryptonite to white global domination–black unity and a collective pride. Acknowledging a collective identity does not function to denounce anything. Rather, it is a proclamation of collective pride. In acknowledging a collective identity it is imperative to note that although I may check “African American” on applications, I understand that I am not an American.

In contemplating the words of my student and colleague, my mind reverts back  to a moment from my past when an exchange student from the West Indies, on a Pan-Africanist panel, spoke about his desire to acknowledge his Scottish and Asian origins. His response was an obvious attempt to escape what he perceived as the singularity of blackness. But he, in a systemized ethnic state, saw his assertion as acknowledging all parts of self. I remember the guest speaker walking out in a disappointment that festered into disgust. The young man who made this statement sat bewildered in a bubble of ignorance he saw as a window to a complete identity. This example illustrates the height of a systemized mind, so systemized that like my student and colleague, he saw his comments as innocuous and not for the portrait of self-hatred that it was.

Asians, Latinos, Indians and whites do not claim blacks. They may dig up some black blood to obtain a scholarship or some other benefit, but other groups do not fraction their identity in the same way as blacks because overall they do not suffer from a lack of nationalism in the way we do. An Asian person may be Korean and may not even like his Chinese or Thai counterparts, but this does not stop him from functioning as an Asian. Not that blacks should emulate other groups, but to embrace our idiosyncrasies and still function as one, posits a crucial step towards a collective advancement .

The black collective can not afford to have anyone who sees him or herself as equally black and white or black and Indian, or anything else, because of an articulated inability to fully devote themselves to the interests of the black collective. If you won’t even say black, it’s highly unlikely that you will act or think in the best interest of the black collective  in a moment of conflict.

I also admit that while asserting that those who claim a drop-off are claiming those that do not claim them, I am doing the same thing in my wish for diasporic Africans to claim a black identity. In claiming South America, Barbados, and England, this young lady is not claiming black— a fact that becomes obvious in her compartmentalizing blackness as singular.

Although I do hope that one day all blacks will see the beauty of a black identity, I accept that that day is not today. I understand that it is easier to accept the drop-off, so that your mind remains comforted with what you’ve been nurtured to perceive as an upper hand and a one-way ticket to an exotic identity. For the melanated migrant, who wishes to appropriate the non-migrant black’s oppression, claiming the drop-off is their ticket to consummate whiteness. To those whose mentality is a systemic masterpiece of global colonialism, a fictive plurality works as a means to layer what is perceived as a singularity of blackness.

Ethnicity: A Cancer Construct

Before AIDS and various cancers from stomach to brain consumed the lives of so many Africans throughout the diaspora, the cancer of ethnicity and “difference” gradually expunged onto the black diaspora. This cancer repeatedly split the black identity so that members of the collective, with the same Kemtian blood running through their veins would fail to claim their own people, due to speaking different languages or socially identifying with an ethnic group that stood away from blackness.

To those set on exotifying their existence with the cancerous sub- identities created by our oppressors, “unity” seems stifling. To those seeking “difference” this “unity” appears an effort to erase what is unique about what they falsely perceive as their culture. Black identity is the exact opposite. Blackness is never and could never be just one thing. To be black is to bear a rich and endless legacy of everything black—to bear the multi-layered identity of a shared experience.

To be completely honest, I fail to see anything wrong with being one thing, if that one thing is black.

As Broken as The Sphinx’s Nose: A Systemized Suffocation

The Sphinx’s nose, seemingly one thing, symbolizes the power in a singular entity essential to identity. Namely, the Sphinx’s broken nose functions to “fix” the black collective into a state of constant confusion. The broken nose symbolizes the severed African diaspora. As a symbol of Kemetian brilliance and African majesty, it’s destruction at the hands of whites illustrates the power of destroying a single entity has on a collective. The African nose represents blackness, that in its distorted state, suffocates the collective into an induced oppression that simultaneously murders black unity.  The Sphinx now functions to substantiate the white supremacist act of removing Kemet from Africa and displacing it into the fictive “Middle East” to denounce that the original inhabitants were indeed black. Without this nose, the diaspora endures a systemic smothering into an ambiguity that furthers white mental and physical domination.

It is because of this pervasive domination of whiteness that I do not support black migration. I am not against blacks being greater in number and in increased proximity between diasporic Africans, but in North America particularly, migrant entry and access functions to fester the necessary ethnic division to retain anti-blackness.

Migrant entry and access throws salt in the wound of an already divided and mentally enslaved people. White supremacists have used the diaspora of displaced and divided Africans to fatally infect the gaping wound of white supremacy. The placement of our misguided brethren alongside systemized kinfolk of a similarly distorted mindset only increases our plight to navigate our way through the global labyrinth of racism.

Moreover, I am against how migrant entry of access impedes black advancement. Thus, while I have never seen the physical void of the Sphinx’s nose, I felt the lack of air in conversation with both my student and colleague. I feel the lack of air when I hear any person of African ancestry dismember their identity into fractions. I feel the lack of air when I observe diasporic Africans see themselves in those from the same drop-off but not from the same mother.

The migrant black, like the black student who can “graduate” school without knowing how to read, like the black who works hard for a check that goes right back to their oppressors through bills, rent and careless splurges, illustrates the perils of racism and how racism makes all that could be good tragic for black people throughout the diaspora. Black migration could function under a Pan-African initiative in which blacks pursue blackness and shed pseudo nationalism for a black nationalism.

Yes we’ve been fortunate enough to have the incomparable contributions of Kwame Ture, Harry Belefonte, Claude McKay, and countless others who represent the potential for black unity. Their Pan-Africanist initiatives encompass the hope and dream of those who understand the strategic methods that seek to destroy the black collective.

Divided we suffocate.

Together we figuratively reassemble the mutilated nose of Sphinx.

Together we reassemble a black identity mangled in the fiction of ethnicity.

Together we  breathe as a single identity of a shared origin and shared experience.

 

I Am EVERY Black 

It is for this reason that I embrace all folds, experiences, and identities of blackness.

My identity has little to do with my individual experience and everything to do with a collective understanding. I didn’t have to be physically alongside Michael Griffith when he was chased by young white men from Howard Beach in the late 1980s. Blackness is a shared experience, so just as I am Michael Griffith as he ran for his life, I am also Tommie Smith and John Carlos as they sprinted towards black nationalism in the 1968 Olympics.

I am the black body that feels the breeze of the Nile river in the early morning and early evening. I am the Kenyan, the Jamaican, the Brazilian, the Honduran. I am the domestic worker that traveled north for a “better” life but found that the north not only bears colder air but the cold wrath of covert oppression. I am Harriet Tubman in my moments of fearlessness, I am Fanny Lou Hamer—hollowed by white evil but full of African valor, I am Assata Shakur, Angela Davis, Katherine Dunham, Fredi Washington, Winnie Mandela, Edwidge Danticat and every other black Woman across the diaspora who has tried to make something out of the nothing handed to us by our white oppressors.

It is the journey to consciousness, or the mental pilgrimage to an indigenous state that prompts an ability to confront the oppression of division.

Furthermore, I do not separate myself from any black regardless of circumstance or their placement throughout the diaspora. I stand beside them.

“I” is of course not me the individual but a collective identity that intertwines the past, present, and future of the black collective.

I also want to emphasize that the word “black” is not a phrase that I use lightly. To be black is not about having black skin, but identifying as black. To be conscious is to resist the urge to claim those who refuse to claim your collective. I accept their denial, and do not compartmentalize them as black-but continue to see their melanin as redeeming and hope for a change of heart. This is how I will make peace with the diasporic demons that steer my kinfolk into a divisive lunacy that functions solely to benefit whites and other groups that seek to exploit what Neely Fuller labeled “the shattered consciousness and fractured identity” of black people.

So to answer the query that inspired this post, No, I’m not “mixed with Indian or anything like that.” I am a diasporic black woman that embrace all forms of herself from Brazil to Africa to Latin America to the Caribbean.

I am everything the world works to ensure I am not: Black and proud.

I am Every Black person and every black experience and every black person and every black experience is me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this family!

Black Power ❤

Twenty-Five Years A Slave: Identity, Intersectionality, and Cultural Realization

Carol was a physically beautiful girl. She had tanned dark skin, dark eyes, and thick, curly hair. Intrigued by black culture, and even more so by black men, she sought to consummate her sexual curiosity by juxtaposing herself to black women—seemingly hoping to outshine black femininity with a presumed exoticness.

Yet, somehow her invitation to the movies seemed harmless. Admittedly, I probably would not have seen the film if not invited. But antagonized by my white classmates, I was a little more receptive to companionship than I should have been. In the height of my systemized state, I found a false unity in gender with a person of color.

Nothing could have prepared me for the lessons this experience would expose. The performances in the film were surpassed by the dramatic behavior of the audience. The whipping scene prompted a white woman seated several rows in front of me to cry violently in a manner more mawkish than meaningful. In short, her response appeared rehearsed, and an insincere attempt to separate herself from the white slave master, who easily composed the core of her bloodline.

During the scene where the slaves bathed in plain view without modesty, my “friend” whispered “they’re naked, just out like that?” I suppose this scene was educational to anyone without knowledge of slavery. But to a person whose ancestors composed the black bodies cast in the backdrop of this white savior tale—this depiction failed to encapsulate the totality of black objectivity. I recall reading a book as an eighteen-year-old college freshman that described an image more horrifying than any slave film. In the book, a slave master had his young slaves line-up nude and wait to use the restroom. He piled the male youth on top of one another to induce a state of arousal to which he watched in a pedophiliac lust. The slave master’s arousal, although then fixated on the bodies of the black youth, stemmed from his power. To be black is to maintain a similar position to that of the black youth in the novel, to be cast naked, your bodily responses induced to meet a global gaze and serve the desires of others. Seated in that movie theatre that day, I felt exposed, my reactions a means to enhance and validate the experience of a person I thought was my friend.

The rape scene prompted a similar nakedness, despite my frame being encased in a newly purchased corset jacket, probably sewn in a sweatshop by a pre-adolescent child. This scene was encased in silence from the theatre, so I could not ignore my “friend” whisper “he killed her” in a pseudo outrage.

“No,” I thought to myself.

“She will live and give birth to my foremothers and forefathers.”

To Carol, this rape was a scene in a movie included to induce a reaction to which she provided. To anyone within the black collective, this was a scene in our past. Perhaps most poignantly, this horror was a scene in our very conception.

By the end of the film I was hot with rage and ready to go back to my dorm—which I hated. Then the lights came on, and the next few moments would betray the true nature of my invite. My friend looked up at me wiping tears that I did not see. She then said the words that burnt me to my core. Words that highlighted the cultural insensitivity to which blacks are regarded with across the globe

“You don’t seem sad.”

I gave a slow blink to a face I once saw as so beautiful. She was now the most hideous thing I had ever seen. I initially found common ground in the fact that we were both pink on the inside, although now I was not so sure. She seemed hollowed by a hate she tried to pass off as love, by a vengeance she tried to pass off friendship, a sourness she tried to pass off as sweetness, and a competitiveness she tried to pass of as camaraderie. This would prove inescapably true on the way home when on the ride home, Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love” came on and she asked me what Beyonce meant by watermelon.

It then became obvious that we were not there to see a performance. I was the performance. To her, an un-enlightened “person of color,” blackness was a production started in slavery and manifested into present day. To her, and many ignorant gazes throughout the globe, blacks were never kings and queens, only concubines and field hands. Films like Twelve Years a Slave function to reduce the African legacy into American slavery.

Carol invited me out as a peek into blackness, granting her what she would eventually imitate to bait a self-hating black male.

To her, a curious and appropriative gaze, sadness was something worn, a tangible state. Missed in her shallow analysis, is that to be black and to fully understand all that lies within your melanin–the beauty, the mental and physical bludgeoning, the historic and contemporary struggle for life and liberation, is to bear an emotion much deeper than sadness.

The revelations present by the time the credits rolled were two-fold. On one hand our friendship ended. On the other hand, this exchange revealed that what we had was never a friendship to begin with. Just as many interracial relationships lack the ability of full cultural comprehension, many inter-racial or inter cultural  friendships  also exist at a superficial level which eventually exposes an impenetrable ignorance or indifference in any attempt to delve beneath the surface.

We were not as I believed sisters of a similar struggle. She had her language and the option to enter this country. Black women, do not stand beside other persons of color whom relinquish what we spend lifetimes working to obtain.  Every day is a struggle to get a little bit closer to the place from which our ancestors were torn. So as she willingly spoke English and attempted to compartmentalize my struggle, she objectified me in a way I had experienced all my life, except she pretended to be my friend.

In the film, Solomon is “recovered” by a white man and “returned” to his home. This ending surfaces to appease those who relish in one black obtaining physical freedom in the face of countless others still physically bound to a white male master. In this dynamic, Solomon is the Obama, the athlete, the businessman or mogul taken off the physical plantation and afforded another means to serve whites. He is the exception that whites and other persons of color can reference to prove that blacks don’t “have it so bad.” To Carol, I was the escaped slave who was to report the tellings of my experience. I am not to possess the presumed bitterness as my escape functions to illustrate my counterparts as lazy not systemically diseased and castrated. I am to entertain, and demand nothing more than an ear to listen. To Carol I am an individual, a compartmentalization that uproots the foundation of my collective self and erases the unspoken tales of past and present diasporic Africans. Namely, in objectifying the individual, the collective is lost. Once again blacks become the background in their own narrative, a narrative redacted to highlight “exceptions” at the expense of capturing the true black experience. Black truth then fades into the background, eventually becoming part of the earth, silenced and unseen— succumbing to the collective amnesia desired by the whites who tell our story.

In hindsight, I see that I was solicited as a means to validate someone else’s curiosity. My body was a gateway to illustrate someone else’s humanity—placing me in an identical role to my kinfolk portrayed in the film. There I was twenty-five years old, seemingly standing under an umbrella with my colored sister until I realized I was soaking wet— my body, my burden, my beauty, my beliefs too big for full coverage. Up until that point, I falsely believed in the collective concepts of “woman” and “person of color,” two concepts that did not even see me, let alone identify with my struggles as a black woman. My past experience, mirrors that of countless black women throughout the globe who believe in a sisterhood with those who fail to see the black woman as human let alone a sister.

May my experience be your lesson.

Black Power ❤

To Save a Slave: Consciousness, Ambivalence, and Social Responsibility

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 ❤

Things I Would Tell My Eighteen-Year-Old Self 

At eighteen years old, I felt well-prepared for the life I thought awaited me. I loved high school and excelled at it. High school presented a platform to emerge from the insecurities conjured up by elementary school “friends,” in a fully bloomed flower. I then arrived at the university in a state where I knew no one, and after a series of revelations, I feel as if I no longer knew myself anymore either.

I suddenly did not have access to my childhood hair stylist and had to do my own hair. My friendly salutations that were once returned with a warm responses were now ignored or issued a look of disgust or confusion. My liking for high heels and shirt skirts were now a means of isolation and ridicule by those who deemed my fashion choices pretentious. My intellectual ability, once celebrated was now relentlessly critiqued. The world as I knew it had changed in a way I had not anticipated.

I’d spend a good portion of the next few years doing what seemed like tripping, but in actuality was me stepping into my destiny. Eleven years later, I only wish I knew then what I know now.

Here are a few things I’d tell my 18-year-old self. a2737e72d2d7589b14538bf3dd1e83ef--tumblr-drawings-of-girls-sketches-drawings-of-black-girls-art

  • Don’t worry about being liked: You can’t expect those who don’t like themselves to like you.
  • Don’t shrink to fit through any doorway
  • Don’t flat iron your hair every day! In an age where folk are buying what you have naturally, appreciate what you have.
  • Spend wisely but save wiser: Looking nice is good, but having something to show for your hard work is way nicer.
  • Don’t chase boys let them chase you: You are the prize!
  • Don’t do business with those you feel disrespect you. If it feels disrespectful, it is.
  • Braid your hair every summer. 
  • Get lost in your work.
  • Speak up!
  • It’s not mean to be real, its cruel to be fake.
  • There isn’t anything wrong with you because you are not interested in alcohol.
  • The coursework is supposed be challenging, embrace it, and don’t be discouraged. May the challenges ignite a fire in your bones.
  • Cool out on the cupcakes, and eat more fruit
  • Stop wasting your money eating out all the time. Call your grandma for recipes and cook!!!
  • It’s not conceited to alienate friends or potential who points out our flaws but will never comment on how amazing you are. Find those who see the best in you, even when you can’t.
  • Write.Write. Write. Whether things are going well or not, write to transcend earthly limitations.
  • Be kind to those you knew in high school, but expect them to change– you will as well. Change is good!
  • 987ce1e19c8345fb1e42058aa2c5f6bc--natural-hair-braids-natural-hair-artBe kind to you parents when you discover they’re real, flawed people.
  • Coloring your hair is not cool or fashionable, its detrimental to your hair health and esteem as a young black woman.
  • Those who “show off” are often the most insecure. Be patient. 
  • It’s often the ones closest to you, that are bringing you down. It’s not cold to distance yourself from toxic people–it’s survival.  
  • Still speak to people even if they look at you like you’re crazy.
  • Never feel guilty for standing up for yourself.
  • Just because someone likes you does not mean they do not envy you. 
  • Don’t succumb to the vanity others hold you to. Your beauty is just that, yours.
  • Be careful who you go to for advice. 
  • Knowing your worth means not letting anyone tell you what you can or cannot do.
  • Get your eyes checked. 
  • Have the courage to be your most authentic self.
  • Realize that folks will talk regardless.
  • To know your history is to know yourself. Make the most of being at a black school and discover your culture.    
  • Follow your gut and don’t second guess yourself.
  • Quit your job and focus on school. Money comes when you do what you love.
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  • Things rarely turn out how you envision them, but with hard work it can be better than you ever imagined.
  • Never stop dreaming. One day, you’ll wake up and be that person you dreamed about becoming.   

 

What would you tell your eighteen-year-old self? 

 

Black Power. ❤

What Death Teaches the Living

On July 17, 2014 my father and I found my aunt, his older sister, deceased in her apartment. She had passed days prior to our visit, much to our oblivion.

We drove to My Aunt’s apartment after her nurse called my father and informed him that she missed treatment. My aunt went to dialysis a few times a week to treat her kidney disease. The illness had seized most of her leisure time, she was noticeably darker and withered unhealthily to a thin frame from her once healthy plus-sized figure. She tried hard to be the person she always was— outspoken, unbothered and funny. She never stopped being those things but in hindsight I think she new her fate was approaching. I think most of us get to a point where we know, some sooner then others. Perhaps all members of the human race can feel the hot breath of death at the brink of their transition. However, blacks can anticipate that like their lives, their transition will be unfair, and most likely traumatic to them and those that they love.

My aunt’s death was sudden and violent. I say violent because to die is one thing, but the burden of feeling like she was neglected or alone hangs heavily in my mind.

The last text she sent me read:

Baby I'm home.

If the coroner is right, shortly after this message she transitioned. She was home, but not in her second floor apartment in a Brooklyn complex, but her home in the sky.

I find peace knowing that my late grandmother is reunited with her beloved daughter, her only girl. My peace is disturbed in remembering how itemized my aunt became in her death.

In On Blackness and Being, Dr. Christina Sharpe revisits the Zorgue tragedy where hundreds of Abducted Africans were tossed from a slave ship ship to obtain an insurance allocation. To the European kidnappers, black bodies were merely capital. My aunt's transition evoked a similar reality. Once her body fell over the ship of white supremacy, she became cause for collection.

Death proves a dual blow to those of the black collective forced to deal with personal healing with regard to loss of a loved one, and the collective tragedy of understanding the devalued black body.

The Unsightly black body

Sullied by a posthumous deterioration accelerated in the summer heat, the coroner admonished my father and I with regard to seeing my aunt’s face after death.
“I can show it to you, but it’s very disturbing to look at,” said the coroner. Instead my dad would identify parts of her in a plastic bag via picture at the morgue—where she lay dismembered like her ancestors reduced to limbs and organs in both life and death. Frozen in time—neither of us would see her face again. Instead, the casket, like the chapter in life that included her humor and style, would be closed due to “her condition.”

Prior to the service, we’d call the morgue just before they shipped her off to potter’s field. I suppose the condition of a decomposing sickly body had signaled to the officials that she was unloved and destined to perish in a shared whole in the ground like the abducted Africans tossed into what is now the African burial grounds.

Packing Up a Life Lived

While the physical burial grounds of the deceased are a source of despondency, so is the residence of the deceased abandoned in their departure. Notably, one of the most heartbreaking and tedious components of death is clearing out the belongings of the deceased from their place of residence. During this process, an unemployed neighbor of my aunts who did not attend the funeral, informed my father and I that she and my aunt had discussed her obtaining her fridge.

While my father struggled to accept that his sister was gone, this woman saw my aunt as a means to get something for virtually nothing. While we knew they lived in a similar complex, we had no idea whether this woman was even an acquaintance of my aunt, let alone a friend. I remember watching in horror and rage as she dug through the garbage can to examine the items tossed from aunt’s apartment.  This moment sank my stomach in a disgust unfamiliar to me before this incident. This comment and behavior, while to most an ignorant yet innocuous act of an opportunist, symbolizes a black female who will eventually succumb to a similar posthumous objectification, itemize another black woman as an act of oppressive hypnosis.

This oppressive hypnosis distorts our collective ability to identify with one another outside of survival. Thus, white supremacy renders blacks into an animalistic state casting blacks as vultures that latch onto the flesh of our deceased to nurture a systemic deprivation.

A Financial Burden

With regard to deprivation, it is imperative to note that the black body becomes an object of contention when seen to deprive the western world of its destiny, or simply put: money. .

To tie up all loose financial ends, I called the credit union to close my aunt's account. In her sudden death the account was inactive–the proper funds not allocated to cover monthly fees. The representative yelled at me that it was my responsibility to pay my aunt's deficit.

There was no discussion of options given my aunt's transition. No condolences. Just a callous demand by a genetically melanated individual embarrassingly dedicated to itemizing the black body to obtain underserving funds for his master.

Similarly, when my grandfather passed, the hospice called my mother repeatedly to “identify the body.” My grandfather no longer had a name or purpose, as the employees of he hospice were most interested in casting my grandfather overboard an illusive ship. To us my grandfather was a man, father, husband, grandfather. To the western gaze, my grandfather was merely taking up space.

The cavalier disregard afforded to the black body is a systemic truth which bears a testament to our inhumane status in American culture. Black desire to transition into personhood is a consistent struggle. Aspiring to live in a world that cannot seemingly wait to cast the black body overboard dead or alive, is a consistent battle for those afforded the stagnancy of systemic oppression.

The Morgue

One of the most troubling moments of the whole ordeal was the scent of the morgue to which my father and I visited to identify my Aunt's body. The morgue stunk of death and decay, proving that cyclical disenfranchisement, while possessing many looks, bore a singular smell of rotten flesh. In life, this scent is often veiled by perfumes, or the aroma of wealth and material gluttony. In death, the cyclical imbalance and disregard extended to black bodies bears an unmasked, and pervasive scent. The scent —vulgar and pungent—sears through the nostrils and embeds itself into the brain. If there were any doubt that your loved one was not to return to the place they held in your life, the scent reminded you of what had become of them.

But to the black body, this decay starts long before death, and far before birth. The black body began its decaying process in its voyage over the Trans-Atlantic, a decaying process that continued in the fields and houses of the plantation, in the Jim Crow South, during integrative efforts and throughout the contemporary colorblind initiatives. The black body decays in the poisonous food placed in our communities, in the vile pollution ingrained into our minds via school, television, and popular culture. To be black is to be in a constant state of deterioration, a state reversed solely in becoming awakened by a spiritual consciousness. Without this consciousness we remain coerced passengers on a ship whose ultimate destination is our destruction.

In Closing

It was a ship that carried us over to the stolen terrain of North America, and still holds us captive. A spiritual consciousness allows the black Diaspora to steer this ship out of oblivion, assimilation, and self- destruction into a collective determination to which our drowned ancestors from the Zorgue and those worked, burned and beaten to death, hold hands with descendants mentally scarred by their demise and upraised to our rightful place as kings and queens.

In remembering my aunt and her departure from this world, I remember all the nameless bodies of the black diaspora handed a similar fate. But whether cast off a ship, scattered into the earth’s flesh, or placed into the ground, the dead are hardly gone. While we may not be able to walk alongside the ancestors, elders, and peers who have left us, they are the ground we walk on and the wind that nestles behind our ears letting us know they are resting in a power we still have time to cultivate in life.

Black Power. ❤

 

 

Dim Your Light Dark Girl: Invisibility and Black Femininity

After my first semester of teaching I was invited to meet with the department chair, a frumpy, middle aged- white woman who treated me like white retailers have my entire life–as if my presence depreciated the value of the company. She arrived over thirty minutes late for my meeting, a fact she would casually disregard when pushing me out of her office not even ten minutes later. Her actions stated that I did not belong, despite the fake and almost nervous smile worn as an effort to melt my stoic expression. In those ten minutes she’d gloat about what she considered “bad” student reviews— an attempt to break me down into a negro in need of a fictive white brilliance to step into the role of woman. This was the same woman who failed to provide me with the room number for my class and made it so that I received my first check shortly before midterms. I was invisible until something seemingly negative surfaced, then my black female body became a canvass for white shame, a means to bludgeon me until my  posture slouched in defeat. For white functionality is solely rooted in black inferiority, no matter how hard the white body must work to make their fictive superiority a reality.

The contemporary black female body exists in the shadow of her ancestors, only seen in instances of negativity, because to acknowledge her in her beauty and brilliance is to threaten the false esteem of her oppressors. Sadly, the same is true for the melanated individuals referenced interchangeably with those black in body and mind.  In conversations or simply in the presence of melanated folk, the black woman is ignored if not overtly deficient in one way or another.

In Black Looks, scholar and cultural critic bell hooks says the following of black female visibility:

Objectified in a manner similar to the block female slaves who stood on auction blocks while owners and overseers described their important, salable parts, the black woman whose naked bodies were displayed for whites out social function had no presence. They were reduced to mere spectacles. Their body parts were offered as evidence to support racist notions that black people were more a kin to animals than other humans (hooks 62).

Just like the Saartje Baartmans of the past, the black female body remains a dismembered presence that only becomes visible to prove white superiority. The black woman is commonly shoved, reached over and ignored in quotidian activities from riding the train to grocery shopping. However, if wearing a garment where her protruding backside is visible, or her breasts or legs are exposed, she assumes the hyper visibility of her ancestors cast along the auction block, dismembered by the white male gaze and itemized for white male consumption.

I write this post in hopes of enlightening the black female and even black males to embedded expectations that subconsciously recruit us as soldiers of white supremacy. Namely, many blacks have also grown comfortable with caricatures blackness and downcast their own for failing to embody the necessary imperfection to seem normal in our western setting. This imperfection is commonly conceptualized in labeling the black female body a “bitch” or “whore.”

The Black “Bitch”

A student called me a bitch for the first time this semester. I’m actually pretty sure I, like my sisters throughout the diaspora,  have been called worse, but this was the first time a student had rendered an expletive to my face. Following hurling the expletive my way, the student proceeded to talk over me until storming out the classroom and reporting to the dean.

The cause of the altercation you ask? I simply asked the student a question.

Like clockwork the dean shows up a few minutes later asking to see me. An act that festered the very authority challenged by my student. After dismissing my class I went to visit this middle-aged white women with a foreign accent, short haircut and slightly abrasive attitude. She asked me what happens and becomes overtly agitated when I disclose that the student called me a bitch. She then rolls her eyes, sighs and asks me to prepare a written statement. Although I had been disrespected twice that morning, once by the student and again when the director came to remove me from the class like a misbehaved student, it was me who had burdened her. In producing a response to the query she asked me, I cast this poor woman as the victim  because she would now have to draft some paperwork.

“You have to be very careful how you address these students.”

I nodded indifferently.

“Be careful.” she said, with her eyes locking intensely with mine, embedding a slew of words she wished to say but could not.

The exchange was a vindictive display of power by a being disinterested in both my and my student’s well being. All the director saw was money. So instead of engaging my comfort in returning a student who blatantly disrespected me, my other students, and most importantly herself, it was without discussion that she would return to the class.To the director I was salt thrown in the would of a battered ego. I, like countless other black bodies cast throughout the diaspora, had become too visible in a space solely desiring my invisibility. To lure students into an invidious state, is to insult the white bodies who wish to be the sole source to evoke green from a black a gaze.

This is an unexpected example of black females being asked to be less of themselves to not fester insecurity in their counterparts, who must remain subjugated for whites domination.

Similar are the conversations that surround the black female body and romance. The black female body is commonly compartmentalized as “intimidating” if failing to exist as the a caricature, or controlling image like the mammy, jezebel, sapphire or tragic mulatto.

The strong black Woman is too independent to appease the male ego. The angry black Women too abrasive for the masculine pride. The beautiful woman is too high maintenance and too tenable, the educated woman too intellectually elevated to have her feet planted firmly on the ground.  The black woman can seemingly not win when it comes to possessing attributes that extinguish a caricatured identity and propel her into a state of hyper-visibility.

Just as the directors sought to admonish with the words “be careful” the black woman is often issued a similar warning in being told to re evaluate how she carries herself. She is to exist to make others seem bigger in comparison to her smallness. To other blacks she is to encourage them to aim low and garner some attribute of a subjugated being.

The black body, if not dwarfed by the ax of white supremacy is nurtured to bend in order to fit through doorways–rather than build their own structure to which she can strut through in her prodigious state. The only thing the black Women is, is too stereotyped. If too pretty, too smart or too successful the white and other persons of colors typically aim to discount blackness with other races or ethnicities to eschew diversifying their perspective on black people.

Seemingly a lifetime ago I worked as a customer service representative. I worked alongside a beautiful sun kissed woman, labeled difficult and unprofessional. She was helpful in teaching me the ropes and aiding me with difficult customers. The issue was not that she was difficult, or unprofessional, but that she refused to be invisible in instances of overt racism.  I recall an incident where a white “businessman” yelled at us to complete his task because “he had things to do.” He had dropped his item and demanded that I get on my knees in a dress to obtain his item. My coworker came to my defense and we were both reprimanded in consequence. To our oppressors were were not wronged, but in the wrong for refusing the demands of an oppressor. Where oppressors see green, the conscious gaze sees racism.

The whore

The black female that escapes being labeled the bitch (or in addition to this label), is often compartmentalizes as a sexualized object. This is not to say that the black female body fully escapes the negative connotation as a difficult being, but that the white gaze conceptualizes her sexually. This may sound complimentary to those who falsely equate a sexual gaze to an appreciation of beauty. A sexualized gaze means black female bodies are seen in correspondence to sex, i.e. concubines or asexual beans. Beyonce, Rihanna, etc, are black women who maintain relevancy because they are seen as sexualized objects. All the hype surrounding Beyonce’s fertility, or Rihanna’a latest partner, both reflect a fascination with black female genitalia. This fascination also functions in the reverse. Black female bodies lacking conventional attributes that would deem them overtly sexual, become demonized. Examples are Serena Williams, Wendy Williams, Gabourney Sidibie, etc, women who because of unconventional features are deemed beasts by the true beasts of the western world. Whether hyper sexual, de-sexualized or a bitch, the black female body continues to surface as a female subjugate by her white male oppressors.

As a female subjugate, the western gaze validates not only murdering or incarcerating  the black female body, but resigning her to invisibility by default. By subjugating the black female body to a womanless being, the western gaze seeks to dim the light on a ethereal presence who shines in her sun kissed state– a state withheld from the white  experience.

The dark girl is continually required to dim her light to ensure the comfort of the world around her. If  the dark girl  fails to bow her head in the face of racism she is a “bitch” and “difficult,”  If the dark girl’s sensuality proves impossible to ignore in the western terrain, or she bears multiple children in the face of white female infertility she’s a whore, or welfare mother who’s untamable sexuality bills the white collar world. She is not to shine her light too brightly.  We are the stage, not the performer, the words not the song, the pedestal not the recipient.

To shrink to western expectation is to forfeit the “stand out” quality that is the black woman. White supremacy is quite similar to how the western world has been nurtured to conceptualize the moonlight– whiteness that illuminates along darkness. Without the dark sky the moon and the stars do not glow. Rather than be a beacon for those who glow against our background, it’s time that the black collective become entranced by our own glow.

Dark women are the true light of the western world. We are the moon, the sun, and the stars. Moreover, we need not look out the window to see the glow of the moon, we must simply look within.

Don’t dim your light black girl. Shine.

Black Power. ❤

 

The Burden of Blackness: Hoodies, 4a Curls and Other ‘African’ traits

I wore a hoodie to work on a rainy day nearly a decade ago. I was a nineteen year old girl working her first real job as a college student on summer break, naive to the racist perspectives others held of blackness. Upon arrival, a hispanic college looked at me as if she had seen a ghost, or burglar enter the store.

“You look black today,” she said with wide eyes.

I did not dignify the comment with a response, and instead walked to the bathroom to change into the sexy and so called sophisticated attire demanded of me by my employers. When I emerged, the same coworker said:

“Now, thats the Catherine I know.” She appeared proud of herself and unashamed of the sheer ignorance and prejudice spurted from her mouth just seconds ago.

Although I had been black in the months preceding this comment, my appearance—clad in mini skirts, high heels and straightened hair, veiled my blackness, rendering my skin color a backdrop to a figure passing as woman. To the world I was not even a girl, but in a certain attire I was “passable.”

This same dynamic presented itself last Saturday in an encounter with a prospective employer.

I was recently presented with a seasonal opportunity to work at a test-prep center. Excited to teach another writing class and embed strategy into my young pupils, I journeyed to my new place of employment on a Saturday afternoon. Fresh from a co-wash, I placed my 4a hair into two strand twists that looked similar to pigtails. When I arrived, I felt a weird, nervous-like energy that in its lack of subtly prepared me for what would come next. I set my phone and keys on a side desk as the principal whisked me into the back room and began showing me the books for the course. After he finished, it became obvious that they wished to confine me to this back room, despite blaming a “parent” for relocating my items to join me in a back closet to perform what I saw as a temperate task.

While in the book room I overheard my new coworkers who just moments ago spoke clearly and comfortably in English, converse in what I believe was Chinese. I stepped out of the room to ask a question and the chatter ceased. An Asian woman with dyed hair, of average build, dressed in jeans and a button up introduced herself to me and stood idly and awkwardly in front of me, the moment pregnant with something I should have been able to predict. What would come from her mouth would betray the contents of their coded conversation and place me alongside the many women of the black collective berated for their blackness. But before this woman could say anything the secretary blurted out the following:

“Don’t wear your hair like that when class starts” she stated bluntly.

Stunned, I maintained my composure and inquired.

“Like what?”

She responded,

“ It’s just that you look young. Parents need validation that we’ve hired qualified teachers,”

“So look old?” I said facetiously, which provoked a nervous laughter.

This conversation mirrors incalculable daily exchanges between black bodies, whites and other persons of color, throughout the globe. Although disguised as a joke or frivolous comment, the contents of exchanges like these unveil a serious matter consistent with the black body in professional settings. Furthermore, citing my “youth” as the conflict was merely a smokescreen for the true issue, my blackness.

Although the woman who interviewed me had blue hair, as an Asian woman she is seen as edgy and even relatable. Whereas a black woman with natural hair, disrupts the implementation of western standards in an environment where everyone presumably desires to become white.

Some may argue that my blackness must have been present at my interview, and thus could not be grounds for discrimination after the fact. This ideology reflects an inability or unwillingness to conceptualize racism. Yes, I was black at my interview. But clad in business professional clothing, with straightened hair pulled back, my blackness was “checked.” My physical appearance painted me as a person that happened to be black, not a black person.

Yet, how one wears their hair is never the sole factor in determining their racial affiliation. But to those seeking pseudo diversity hair often a factor in weeding out their need for an assimilatory environment. Conversely, some employees seeking diversity in image will hire the seemingly Afrocentric employee based on their appearance, to suggest acceptance where there is barely tolerance. I have a colleague that has long locks. She appears black and proud, but has been married to a white man who nearly forty years. Despite donning a natural and seemingly ethnic appearance, she possesses the lifestyle necessary to make her blackness merely an unchosen fate, non-contingent to her ideology. Just as the individual bearing “black” features will often be pressured to press down their edges or straighten their hair, the black person on a pseudo diverse environment welcomed for their African features are almost never as black as they seem on the outside. Afrocentric models are probably the most resounding example.

My two strand twists, parted and platted on my head did not expose my youth—it portrayed me as “ethnic” in an environment that wished to promote the same aesthetic with varying skin tones. This examples exposes diversity as insincere, as many seek the image of diversity, but in turn only wish to have different faces represent identical values. In these types of environments, blacks are to conceal their blackness, or slick down their edges and iron our their kinks to avoid making anyone uncomfortable.

To the more “liberal” environment that welcomes blacks with natural hairstyles, it is the articulation of black nationalist values that the black body must keep concealed. They must avoid sounding too proud, or being too courageous in an environment still contingent on their cowardice.

Be it physically or mentally, the western world demands that blacks exist only in the shadow of their blackness.

Refusing to curb my blackness, I resigned from the position hours later.

Following my resignation I received a response from the woman who hired me referencing  the incident as a “misunderstanding.” Her response would function to excuse her coworkers, citing their inability to speak english and parental desire for “ideal” teachers for their students as the causes for my warning. No where in her response was there an apology, but in every sentence she displayed an undying allegiance to her collective.

I needed this. Her intransigent allegiance, illustrated something we must nurture in our community. Too often we apologize or second guess ourselves and one another. We must neglect to fall for the western trap of blaming ourselves. Instead of falling, we must stand up for ourselves and our collective. We must stand for our right to be black in this acquired land. As a conscious collective, it matters not whether we are accepted, but respect is mandatory.

The truth is, we as blacks should not have to look outside of ourselves for employment. It is the impossibility of working for those who impose a self-proclaimed superiority over the black collective, that demands blacks to dilute their natural beauty to appease western conventionality. It is only in refusing to settle, and fall for the seduction of avarice that we take small strides towards freedom and self-determination.

In closing, I take pride in being a black woman born from the continent that nourishes the world with her resources. I also take pride in wearing the hair gifted to me by the African gods in any way that I please. The truth is, I know that how I wear my hair is not enough to end racism. It is not even a valid indicator of racial pride. But as I write this piece in a language forced upon my abducted ancestors and forced onto me by way of cyclical oppression, I also know that being told how to wear my hair is an assimilatory measure I can very much refuse.

They took our names, our language, and our ancestor’s wages. They’ve seized our communities, our children and much of our sanity. It is standing up in situations like these that disables our oppressors from taking our pride.

So while they may have offered me a comfortable supplementary income, my pride is not for sale. Thanks but no thanks.

Have you every experienced something like this? Share your story. It may help someone in need of the will to be strong.

My Grandmother’s Face as a Gateway to Unveiling a Conscious Beauty

The reception to a comment I made on a post last week unveiled a problem in discussing racially ambiguous beauty with regard to black female identity. Namely, my comment praised multi-ethnic or biracial beauties like the late Vanity and another starlet who shall remain nameless due to her contentious comments as of late. As a black woman, I do not feel compelled or even obligated to ignore another woman’s beauty simply because I am very content to what my African lineage has graced me. Singer-songwriter Alice Keys walked past me at an event a few years back and I nearly fainted. Although more physically beautiful than any television show or music video could capture, Keys allure was something that did not meet the eye and it was breathtaking. After some inward examination I realized that what incites my favorable reaction to these racially ambiguous women, is not their singular presence but  that these women resemble many of my familial elders, including my own mother.

This piece contains a personal anecdote, and I admit that its inclusion comes with great reluctance, Although I have done so in the past, I do not particularly enjoy sharing personal stories nor do I find it easy. But telling our stories is necessary, in knitting together our shared experience. So, I encourage you to share your own stories on your blogs, and in your own lives, because we are often unaware of those who need them most.

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It is commonly said that a mother is a woman’s first figure of beauty. My mother is a petite, butternut skin woman who wore her shoulder length hair straight during much of my childhood. My grandmother shares her complexion but has hazel eyes. While my grandmother does not have long hair, her eyes possess a coveted feature referenced, as my mother’s skin color was, in contrast to my own. If I have not implied this fact already—I do not look like my mother— aside from my petite frame, long fingers and big smile (that we both get from my grandfather). When my mother showed up for parent-teacher conferences or assemblies, students would never cease to declare their shock that this was my mother.

“But, she’s light skinned.”

“How’s that your mother?”

“But, she’s so pretty”

Instead, I received countless affirmations that I looked like my father who was significantly more sun-kissed than my mother, heavier and fuller featured.

Everyone seemed to say, “You look like your dad!!!” to which I hated. For years, I was humiliated by this ever-so consistent comment. When my father would pick me up from school, I knew this comparison would come and I would be reduced to feeling like I resembled a six foot tall man. Garfield, the neighborhood ice cream man,  would always tell my dad that he could “see his face in mine,” a fact my dad loved, and still loves to hear. My dad has always relished in my face, and my skin color, reminding me on every sunny day to be proud of my complexion because those lighter than me waited on days like today to get what I was born with. I always thought he said this just to make me feel better, but as I got older I saw that much of this pride was because I looked like his mother.

My paternal grandmother died fourteen years before I was born. So naturally she was not a part of my life. But despite being physically gone, she and I share a similar physical appearance. Unlike my mother and grandmother, my paternal grandmother would not have passed the paper-bag test. Unlike my maternal grandmother, my paternal grandmother did not have light eyes. Rather, she was sun-kissed, but had a glow that beamed beneath her brown skin. She had deep and mysterious dark eyes that were kind and sensitive, a sweet smile and thick, long wavy hair that reminded me of the journey of our abducted Africans to the western world— a long duration over the wavy sea. She was effortlessly beautiful bearing an inner beauty that reflected in out outer appearance. Somehow in seeing her beauty I was able to slowly uncover my own.

Ironically, growing up my classmates commonly said that I “looked like my dad” but “had hair like my mother” associating what I am sure most regarded as my best feature to my light-skinned mother, an entirely false assumption.

The western world views light skin and long hair as a means to raise black bodies to western standards, marketing skin bleaching creams, hair weaves and wigs to paint black bodies in the white man’s image. However these attributes produce the opposite effect. Light skin, light eyes and long hair fuels white narcissism and fictive beauty, functioning to paint anything aligned with whiteness as superior. In my opinion, hair functions similar to skin color as it is a means to achieve what many falsely attribute to exoticism, a word I fail to see as complimentary because of its relation to the buying and selling of my abducted ancestors. Light skin and long hair do not beautify the black woman as singular attributes. Rather they function to heighten white beauty. But I do not get my hair from my mother, or the white rapists that stealthy reside in my bloodline. Like my paternal grandmother, my coiled tresses are a product of Africa. Yes, it’s beautiful, but it is only beautiful because it connects us to our abducted ancestors.

But, I digress.

I attended a sixtieth birthday party for my father’s childhood friend, and during the ceremony the man of the evening’s sister walked up to me and spoke glowingly about my grandmother. She went on and on about her kindness, beauty, the way she carried herself down to her walk. To hear that after a forty year absence my grandmother was still a resounding presence on earth, was one of the most touching experiences of my life. But that is the power of a black woman- a timeless appeal and beauty that only shines brighter over the years.

My grandmother’s legacy showed me the significance of understanding a shared experience. I learned to love and appreciate my own beauty as a black woman in seeing her face. Despite often being reduced by her sisters to “…having a nice color ‘like an Indian’ and long dark hair” I see my grandmother as a portrait of Africa—gorgeous, eternal and bearing the riches of a stolen crown. She passed that torch to me like all the grandmothers across the diaspora pass on to their granddaughters, allowing us to assume our place in teaching the next generation their greatness as African Queens.

This is not to say that my maternal grandmother and and mother are not beautiful– they are. But my childhood experiences remain didactic in teaching me how light skin and light eyes function to denigrate the darker woman’s self-worth. The biracial or lighter skinned black beauty possesses what Zora Neale Hurston references as an “awful beauty,” existing not in and of itself, but to undermine blackness. This is damning to the fair woman as well, given that many fair skin women are nurtured to reduce their beauty to their skin color, despite possessing an appeal that lies far beyond their complexion.

Now that I have achieved a degree of confidence in my consciousness, I am often reminded of times where I struggled with my color, and wondered why I was not my mother’s complexion. This demonstrates another crucial point. Like the white woman, much of the lighter woman’s esteem is reliant on the insecurities of her darker counterpart. Once the more sun kissed beauty owns her African bloodline and the positive significance it has on her appearance, the light skin aesthetic whose appeal is solely contingent on complexion, dissolves into the wind of western illusion. I’ve experienced this countless times with lighter skinned women in the world be it in passing or in friendship, who reference my color as if it were a disease, hoping to cast me into a pit of blackness. But blackness is not a pit—its a pedestal. So when I respond favorably, I stand too tall for the colorist opportunist to stand upon my back and assume a false superiority.

Yet, with this newfound pride, I do not assume a superiority over lighter skinned or light eyed women, as we are all the stolen children of Africa. While I do not see myself as better than my fairer counterparts, I will say I no longer feel that they are more beautiful than me, or any other sun-kissed black woman within the diaspora.

Learning to love this woman whom I have never met, has also cast away any and all shame I had of my father. I now embrace my father’s face and our similarities. I now see the distance I desired from my father was a distance I desired to place between myself and blackness. To distance myself from my father is to induce my own erasure, and to distance myself from blackness produces the same result on a much higher level. Thus,  learning to love my grandmother prompted me to love myself as an individual which proved a gateway for an essential collective appreciation.

The saying, “Those who try to pull you down are already beneath you”truthfully illustrates the hurdles black women continue to jump over to own their beauty as only existing because black is indeed beautiful. Despite not having an ability to see this within myself for years, I owe this conscious gaze to my late grandmother’s face.

Because she is physically gone, I know discussions of her beauty are far more frequent than they would be if she was alive. For it seems far easier to appreciate beauty when its blinding rays no longer steal your spotlight.

Yet every-time I imagine my grandmother, she’s standing with a spotlight beaming on her black face, wearing a black dress, her black hair tickling her back with her hand planted softly across her heart, reminding me of where I must search when seeking her spirit. I could say that my grandmother saved my life, but she’s done far more than that. Seeing my grandmother’s face gave my life a new meaning, and allowed me to see that this battle was never really about me, but a journey all brown girls face throughout the diaspora.

Yes, I may have been separated from my grandmother in life, but we as the descendants of abducted Africans snatched from the womb of our mother continent centuries ago have been separated from Africa for countless lifetimes. This separation nurtures the dissonance  black women face in trying to find herself in a white world. It is only in using the faces of our elders and ancestors that we assemble the pieces of our stolen legacy and fractured esteem.

My grandmother’s face gave me the strength to find beauty in what the western world calls ugly, allowing me to not only see the beauty in myself-but to truly conceptualize what beauty is—and the beauty is in being black.

 

 

 

A Telling Exchange between a Free and Enslaved African

I read an interesting exchange in my blog this weekend. The exchange was beneath a post authored earlier this year regarding interracial dating. The comments painted members of the black collective somewhat predictably—those who understand interracial relationships as a strategy of our oppressors and those who individualize the subject and become intractably defensive. However, in reading the exchange it became obvious that the two most spirited participants occupied vastly familiar roles—the runaway and enslaved African.

In examining many contemporary interactions such as this one, it becomes obvious that we as a people have done little to deviate from the plots of land we toiled as abducted Africans. For privacy purposes lets call one “Kwame” and the other “John.” Kwame gave a delineated explanation of how exactly interracial relationships appeases western power systems. He wrote the following:

A non white person having sex with a white person, is like an inmate having sex with the prison warden or a slave having sex with the slave master, or a college professor having sex with their student, a Army general having sex with a private, these situations are frowned upon in white society but white people are ok with bedroom integration. Lets save the bedroom integration until last and solve the problem of racism white supremacy first. A white person engaging in sex with a non white person is an act of maximum racist aggression.

This comment articulates a number of examples that discount relationships from polarized ends of hierarchy as establishing equality. Instead, they exploit power dynamics to heighten sexual gratification for the oppressor. In short, these relationships personalize a collective disenfranchisement by expanding general oppression into bedroom politics.  The comment portrays Kwame as possessing a heightened consciousness, like a former slave freed from the physical and psychological abuse of his master due to unlocking the hidden truth of black culture.

John’s response, which I refuse to quote, was one of a slave blissfully oblivious to the chains encompassing his mind. It was hard to read, because it reflected an ideology consistent with many “new” blacks who disconnect from perils they believe  solely align with their ancestors.

Ancestor Harriet Tubman would make nineteen trips to gift enslaved africans with physical freedom, and Kwame took on a similar battle. By writing back to his lost brethren, the freed African journeyed backwards, only to see that his brother was currently beyond reproach. I can only hope that this is but a stage in John’s journey. But ultimately, John will most likely become like James Weldon Johnson at the end of The Diary of an Ex-Colored Man, envious of the pride and valor of black nationalism after trading in his pride years prior to live in the comfort of post-emancipation slavery.  As Tubman famously said:

I freed a thousand slaves, I could have freed. thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.

The plantations of our past manifest in current white collar positions and professional jobs, that often convince the enslvaed African that “things are no so bad.” These jobs may place the white man’s money in a black palm, but it also places a noose around a black neck and his chains around black limbs. As a professional lacking a collective consciousness, the black body is but a slave on a much more polished plantation with elevators and a glass ceiling, bound to combat the free African with claims of delusion or envy. I could only imagine that this very dynamic occurred countless times on the plantation. It seems almost a guarantee that runaway slaves met adversity from their enslaved counterparts who safely suckled the breast of white supremacy, misconstruing a headlock as a loving embrace, and force feeding as a suggested serving.

The late Dr. Derrick Bell illustrates a similar exchange between two black male characters in his short story “ Racial Symbols: A Limited Legacy.” The short story follows an esteemed black male professor who encounters a true, but unanticipated intellect—a taxi cab driver ironically named Jesse Semple. Despite being a decorated scholar, the college professor—entangled in white supremacy—downplayed racism, an ideology illustrated in his reference of symbolism as a tangible feat for blacks. Consider the following:

Things are tough for blacks folks. Mr. Semple, but they don’t get any better by ignoring the few positive spots on an otherwise bleak horizon. As the old folks used to say,” I added expansively, “black folks use to not have show, but we sho go show now.”

To many, interracial relationships are a positive symbol of progress. The ability to outwardly marry and fornicate with whites is a pseudo privilege that many enslaved blacks mistake for power. However, this behavior is simply another instance that unveils the white man’s power over the black psyche. As Bell states “… but they were symbols, not of ships and guns, but of white mendacity, white deceit, white chicanery.” Too often the conventionally successfully black acquiesces to the very system that disenfranchised his ancestors and continues to disenfranchise the current black collective, simply because it has seemingly rewarded him. The conventionally successful black is nothing but a contemporary “good slave.” He’s broken by the system and therefore functions with the necessary predictability to ease the white man’s mind.

John is a “good” slave, predictably fighting for his “right” to an integrated bedroom. A “good” slave typically makes significant money, seeing these pieces of paper as a gateway to the “finer” things. Money, of course, is a symbol. Many falsely align money with power, whereas the white man invented this system of commerce to grand tangibility to his wealth. Thus, the money that commonly accompanies conventionality is yet another symbol used to control the black mind.

This green seduces many with black skin to downplay white evil, and overlook the reality that most blacks do not grow their own food, own their own banks, or have communities flourishing with their own businesses. This deficit illustrates black disenfranchisement, yet escapes the many who feel they are free because they can seemingly shop where the white man shops. Realistically blacks will possess white access because upon perceived as overstepping any boundary, blacks are followed, arrested or killed, because blacks do not make the laws. So what good is the whites man’s money if the black body remains a fugitive of the state? How can a group truly be equitable to another, if dependent on another to survive? Or lynched for even seeking independence?

There is no equity without black ownership, without black community and without black controlled economics. So regardless of how financially comfortable blacks feel making six figures, the black body is only separated from the physical plantation by years. There is a reason why whites burned down Black Wall Street, murdered leaders like Medgar Evans,  Malcolm X, Dr. King and Fred Hampton —because these were not symbols they were a means to actual progress. If interracial dating were actually a means to progress, it would not dominate the images that encompass contemporary western culture. The white world has not and will never encourage blacks to do anything that will free them.

Futhermore, blacks like Kwame serve as the darkness at the end of the underground railroad, signaling a stealth transition and the sustenance to bear mental fruit. Kwame, in his brilliance and intellectual generosity mirrors the African ancestors that left breadcrumbs to all those seeking an elevated consciousness years after their earthly departure.

Melanated folk like John, alternatively,  serve as the light at the end of the tunnel, informing those wishing to escape slavery that they have been found out. For this reason, the enslaved black is the most poisonous being to those seeking an elevated consciousness for the enslaved African reserves  his resentment for his own misplacing his love, dedication, and respect  as sentiments solely reserved for his or her oppressors.

So while presently confined to the comment section beneath a lightly visited blog, these enslaved Africans populate our neighborhoods, workplace, families and maybe even our friendships. Tread carefully my friends, for he or she who falls for white supremacy, inevitably covets the white man’s power and is naturally bound to thwart black advancement.