Black Families Matter: #keepfamiliestogether, A Violent and Forgetful Initiative

Context: Allow me to Set the Scene. 

I imagine they left hours before sunset, seeking to be on a linear path by the time sun retired to its hiding place. There is a deafening silence, aside from the occasional moan and groan. The scent of bodies and bodily functions overwhelm the space. One on top of another, bodies are placed on top of one another. Christened in bodily fluids, the physically bonded share the experience of mental dehumanization. A woman that was once a mother, is now a faceless, and genderless body on a ship whose name no longer matters. She longs for her children, just as her mother continent longs for her stolen offspring. Her children are lost and afraid. Their parents can’t find them in the discordance of their displacement amongst the hard floors of a ship. Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, and children listen to the sound of their loved one’s limp bodies hit the water. Others watch as their loved ones jumped from the ship to avoid bondage—their bodies transitioning from abductee to atoms that are still present in the water today. Black bodies fought internally as the pale people deemed them stock— their value stripped and replaced by western commerce.  IMG_4175

My ancestors were one of those bodies thrown carelessly onto a ship–  their journey a manifestation of a nightmare.  They are as familiar to me as they were to their own children and parents. Their memory is phantasmal, both there and not there, both seen and not seen. I know they existed because I am the fruit of their tree. The traces of this tree, however, are long gone. Not often enough do we search our mind for their memory and scan our bodies for their touch.  

Their lives and displaced memory are a testament to the very cruelty that continues to plague their descendants. Their lives are lost and utterly forgotten in a contemporary climate that campaigns to “keep families together” as the black collective continues to suffer from the aftermath of families separated centuries prior. 

IMG_4180In his Autobiography, Frederick Douglass speaks of the nighttime visits from his mother
who walked miles to see him. He never saw her face, but felt the impact of a severed family long before a hashtag. Douglass mirrors what many black children experienced during bondage, and even what many black children face in a contemporary climate that continues to subject the black body to forces that separate families often indefinitely.

IMG_4176These severed familial ties are the reason why  I am writing this prose in english. Why my last name speaks of a slavemaster, a rapist who is overlooked in the contemporary #metoo movement. Therefore, I cannot retweet that hashtag in good faith, or even consider supporting this deflective initiative, because I am still mourning the lost families of the African Holocaust. 

The “I” I speak of is the descendant of black bodies stolen and enslaved by those who continue to dictate the conversation. A conversation that continues to omit the struggles of the first migrants, the first families severed deliberately to butcher ties to a continent whose children were stolen and her natural resources stripped from her loins. The current conversations around immigration turn my black body red with anger, as they exclude those who literally and figuratively reproduce a colonialism “his” story violently references as in the past. 

Migrants come here by choice. A choice my ancestors never had. Therefore, I can not and will not sympathize with migrant stories that function to erase the slave narratives that foreshadow a  contemporary misfortune that does not graze the lasting impact of past tragedies. 

If this seems harsh, consider how you’d feel if your ancestors were stolen, stripped, tortured, raped, branded with their master’s name, robbed of their legacy and their earnings by a country who offers humanity to those who choose what was a chosen for us? 

A Violent Terminology

Let me say that America is absolutely indebted to migrants from the illusive “third img_4184.jpgworld.” This country’s wealth remains enabled by exploiting countries labeled third world. These third word countries enable first world privileges, privileges the black body does not bask in, and did not steal. It is not the abducted African that exploited the resources of our diasporic brothers and sisters and those of the African adjacent. Yet, although America exploits other countries, it is important for the black collective to not forget that the first location depleted of its resources was not a country but a continent. Our continent. 

The word “migrant” functions similarly to “person of color,” a violent terminology used to erase the black struggle in suggesting a cruel and non-existent commonality. These statements allow phrases like “we are all immigrants” to function, to place the kidnapped black body as a migrant and ignore centuries of legalized cruelty. “Migrant/immigrant” and “person of color” also silently address a hierarchy that places the black body at the bottom, when and if they address the black body at all. 

Nevertheless, this country was not build by migrants. This country was built by the enslaved bodies of Africans, the same bodies that continue to hold this country together in a non-negotiable degeneracy.  A degeneracy needed to ensure the fabricated superiority of whites, black migrants, and non-persons of color. Our bodies compose the nation in which all stand. Our blood birthed the very hierarchy system manipulated to consistently place those descended from the African architects of today and yesterday at the bottom. 

The “other” oppressors

Immigrants are cast as contemporary slaves, not an effort to highlight the struggle of past slaves, but IMG_4182to deflect from a past enslavement. A deflection that persistently encourages blacks to empathize with migrants in the same breath blacks are encouraged to collectively chastise Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland amongst other slain blacks who fail to personify the perfect victim. We as a collective are encouraged to feel everything but pride. We are pumped with knowledge about everything and everyone but ourselves. 

We as a collective are seduced into empathizing with those who invade our communities in a quest for capital. Who take our dollars and place it into their own communities where a non-migrant body is not welcome to shop let alone work or live. We are to cry for those who wish to reproduce the disenfranchisement the white man has cast onto the black collective. 

Our migrant brothers and sisters have largely joined the sides of our oppressors. These factions have taken the soil soaked in the blood of black bodies and set up shop to sell it back to us for a profit. They have become pawns in deflecting from black issues onto those who came here for a slice of a pie made with stolen resources. Migrant bodies in America seeking capital, mirror a bacon-eating pig calling for a cease in slaughtering. This behavior may be helpful in their own quest for whiteness, but has no place in the strides towards black nationalism.

To ask the black collective to sympathize and empathize with those who vehemently deny the black collective these very sentiments is both bizarre and cruel. To ask that blacks support migrant desire to demand the very rights we have we fought to have for centuries, and to allow migrants to dominate a conversation that has yet to acknowledge the sins cast against us as a collective, is counterproductive to curating a pro black nation.

#blackfamiliesmatter

Last summer I read Gabourey Sidibe’s memoir This is Just My Face: Try not To Stare. In IMG_4178the book, Sidibe reveals that her parents descended from the same family in Senegal. Her mother’s ancestors were abducted and displaced in the American South, her father’s left to life on the other side of the world. Sidibie’s anecdote illustrates the contemporary effect of families separated centuries ago. There is no hashtag for our loss, there is visibility, and their is certainly no justice.  This information resonated deeply with me, in depicting the impact of the severed black family. A depth that is too often deemed not important enough to talk about.

Had our collective families been kept together, the black family would cease to remain marked by the last names of men who raped their way into our nomenclature. Had our families not been severely severed, we too would be fighting to maintain the very community migrants wish to keep stagnant. Instead, our issues are those of restoration. We must restore what we never had, not feel for those who had the opportunity to feel what a white supremacist world continues to deprive from the black body. 

The hashtag #keepfamiliestogether, places the abduction and pervasive systemic asphyxiation of the black body as in the past, as we as as collective continue to grapple for air. We were separated not only in enslavement, but when drugs were placed in our communities, when the AIDS epidemic seized so many of our loved ones, and through natural disasters to which black bodies succumbed to the lethal combination of our origins in America—water and white supremacy. This hashtag functions similarly to the img_4181.jpgconversations on human trafficking, which focus on every body but the black body. 

Remembering What Matters 

Here is where I am supposed to insert some phrase that mollifies my earlier statements. Just as all outspoken pro-black figures are often required to apologize with a statement that says they do not “hate” whites, I am expected to implement a statement that states that I do not “hate” migrants. A statement that articulates my wish to stand beside white, black, and non-black migrants of color as they seek to obtain what I have. 

Well, what I have is scars on my back and lacerations on my soul. I have a hole in heart for the names of those I will never know. I should say I would not wish this on anyone, but I can not help but wonder if migrants truly had to develop the survival strength of the abducted African whether they would understand America for what it is, not what it needs everyone to believe. To understand however, is beyond a wish. To understand is to become, and migrants (even those with black or dark skin), do not come here to become black, they come here to become white–or at the very least a pastel shade.  Irregardless, I also do not wish to stand beside those who wish to stand on my back. Instead, I will conclude in saying that this persistent bullying of pro-black perspectives exposes who and what is truly hated. 

This hate is the precise reason that we as a collective must love ourselves, unapologetically. A love rooted in remembering our ancestors. 

For the families separated any time in displacement and/or the economical and emotional disenfranchisement of black people, #blackfamiliesmatter. 

Black Power ❤ 

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The Irony in Making America Great Again

I am an African in America. I refuse the label African-American as I do not wish to claim anyone or anything that oppresses me. My ancestors were enslaved. It is this slavery that fomented the poverty and systemic disenfranchisement afforded to my great-grandparents and grandparents. Mt maternal lineage consists of some free blacks who married interracially, yet this still failed to negate the disenfranchisement that accompanied black blood.

I grew up in a part of New York entirely engulfed with blacks from the Caribbean and West Indies. My enslaved ancestors proved the catalyst for a superiority many migrants have towards the enslaved African of the Americas. My childhood acquainted me with only two friends who family did not willingly journey to the United States. To the hispanic from Puerto Rico, the black from Jamaica, and the Asian from China, America symbolized the land of opportunity and we were the lazy former slaves, not afforded the foreign work ethic or foreign exotic beauty.

As an adult, I watched migrants occupy the majority of university slots and scholarships. Conversely, the non-migrant black remained predisposed to inferior schools and quick fixes adopted to temporarily cure systemic poverty. I gazed at countless businesses from Delis and Restaurants to Beauty Supply and Dry Cleaving Stores, that despite foreign ownership dominated black communities like my own. This is not to deny that many migrants work for others and function to make the dreams of others a reality. The yellow, brown and black migrant still face racism, but migrants are afforded liberties, the African in America waited centuries to receive. In fact, migrants often receive greater access to these liberties. For these reasons, it is very difficult, if not impossible to see immigration as anything but salt in the wound for blacks in America.

Nevertheless, I acknowledge that Trump’s recent action is racist persecution. While I do not perceive the act of extracting immigrants as entirely bad, I do believe that whites performing this extraction is insultingly ironic.

Whites were America’s first immigrants. With Trump’s recent actions, I can’t help but wonder how different the world would be if the indigenous implemented these same policies.

The trump administration implements this ban not because they oppose inhabitants journeying to a foreign land—for to do so would be to admit the wrongs of their past. The ban prevents ethnicities outside of whiteness from exercising the privilege to incur benefits from what is not natively yours. Furthermore, “making America great again” simply means returning privilege to its initial exclusivity. Namely, to “make America great again,” is to extend privilege solely to white men. This is the same reason that Hilary Clinton did not win the election. Fraud tainted Clinton’s credibility during her campaign, not because America is a just country but because these deeds illustrated Clinton as a white woman bearing traits solely excusable when corresponding to white men. Fraud is what the white settlers implemented to steal America from the indigenous. It was not conquest, or discovery the founded America, it was entitlement and greed. Fraud fostered traditional white wealth, wealth that trickled down to contemporary figures like Donald Trump. Despite appearing fraudulent with regard to his un-filed taxes, Trump proved victorious. The dismissal Trump faced in his behavior, demonstrates the essence of white supremacy where wrong is right, as long as he’s white.

Indigenous land and African labor created America. Thus, we made America great. Any action or words to the contrary is merely another lie in the tangled web of white supremacy.  The damning trait of immigration is that it operates in a similar manner to the Santa Claus concept. Santa Claus, a white man who magically journeys North America in one night to reward the good with presents functions similarly to an allusive America who presumedly affords luxury to those who work hard. Immigration functions to implement the white savior concept, or that greatness is solely attributed to whiteness.

Furthermore, immigration foments white supremacy, placing countless migrants on.a journey to an allusive whiteness simultaneously displacing foreign potential onto an underserving land. Fighting to inhabit a land established on murder and thievery continues to baffle me. Thus, I oppose immigration as a means to discount the curing quality of whiteness and suggest that the would-be American migrant make their indigenous land, not America, great again.

Decoding the Migrant Mindset

I admit that I am not a perfect person. Notably, this journey to consciousness challenges me to confront my prejudices and move towards a pan-africanist mindset. As a New York City resident for the first eighteen years of my life, I grew up amidst a form of blackness that excluded my ethnic origins. By this, I reference the West Indian or Caribbean presence that monopolizes black identity in New York City. A millennial, my upbringing was vastly different than my parents and grandparents where the majority of blacks had southern origins. Yes, most southern blacks knew of the diaspora’s presence in the West Indies and Africa, but most bore no intimate contact with our lost brethren. As a New York City millennial “black” came to mean “west Indian” and coming from a family that preferred Sam Cooke to Soca, I often felt ethnically alienated from my peers. This alienation, was also lined with an unstated condescension that hovered over most of my encounters with black and brown brethren from the West Indies. Despite benefitting from the blood, sweat and tears endured by black Americans for equity and equality, the black migrant often feels a false superiority in juxtaposition to their “American” counterparts.

To clarify, this air of superiority is not exclusive to blacks from the Caribbean. Rather this ideology extends to Latin and South America in addition to blacks from the continent. In a recent encounter with a non-black migrant, I became exasperated with the manner in which I was spoken to. Truthfully, I grew insulted that someone who benefitted from the contributions of black american ancestors and elders could be so unapologetically arrogant and stated “This is why I am against immigration.” My words, while discourteous, were surfacely in retaliation to this individual’s repeated attempt to intercept my statements and talk over me. However, in contemplation, I realize that migrant bodies pilgrimage across the Atlantic was not the cause of my distress. Rather, it is the immigration of the mind from humility to insolence that stirs my spirit.
Often the product of humble origins from the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, and South America, tales of “The American Dream” seduces immigrant bodies onto American soil. However, it is not migrant feet upon American soil that breeds insolence, but rather when the migrant body acquires symbols of the “American Dream” like a house, car, business or flashy clothing. Yet, despite these small tokens of acquisition, the American dream comes at an expense. While migrants certainly experience systematic racism in their homelands, the experience is of a different sort in the Americas. Black and brown migrants typically derive from places where those who look like them are in abundance. Yet, those of a paler complexion dominate high status and leadership positions. In America, black is the minority. Thus, racism and prejudice is a lot more abrasive and conspicuous surfacely and systematically. The migrant’s choice to live in America as opposed to the duress that planted their black American counterparts on the same soil, should place them behind but instead fosters access. Assata Shakur discusses this dynamic in her autobiography. Shakur recounts wanting to board a ride in the segregated south. Her mother frantically speaks in another language and as a result Shakur and her mother gain access to the ride. Reflecting on this incident Shakur says the following: “ Anybody, no matter who they were, could come right off the boat and get more rights and respect than amerikan-born Blacks” (Shakur 28). Here, Shakur speaks to “access,” an attribute that shapes the black american perspective and that cultivates the migrant mindset of false superiority. By access I speak to lifestyle attributes made available to the migrant body, but withheld from the American black. In Shakur’s example, the migrant body was granted access to a “white only” ride, where Shakur was overtly denied the same privilege. This same dynamic is mirrored throughout the United States as an effort to salt the wound of systematic oppression steadfastly endured by the black American.

In working in higher education, the majority of my non-white students are from another country. From doctors to dry-cleaning, the majority of business owners in predominately black areas are the brown, black and yellow migrants that obtain a living and lifestyle from the American black dollar, yet maintain sense of superiority to the same hand that feeds them. As a black American living in New York city, I often have to leave my neighborhood to support those who look like me in what has become gentrified towns. In failing to do so, I encounter store owners who employ foreign blacks to follow their own people down the aisles of overpriced items, and cashiers who place money on the counter and not in the black hands that foster their success. Thus, Shakur’s words grant my mind and body a feeling of ease. Each time my mind revisits these words, I feel understood— not as an individual but as a member of collectively disenfranchised group.

In their abundant businesses and prominent presence amongst the nation’s universities, the migrant body constructs themselves as the over-achieving sibling to their “lazy” American brother. This construction overlooks the perils that prevent the average African in America from obtaining basic liberties. Universities and businesses become secondary when one must concern themselves with survival. Born into systemic disenfranchisement that affects the food they eat, the education they receive and the housing they endure, Black Americans do not receive the exposure to life beyond mediocrity as our brethren from the diaspora tend to believe. In receiving opportunities deprived of their American counterpart, the migrant body becomes a tool of white hegemony, issuing a dissonance over the black diaspora that suggests we are multiple groups instead of just one. This dichotomy also thwarts migrant understanding of racism. In obtaining access, the migrant body often perceives their group as “closer to whiteness.” The journey to whiteness speciously places white as central and superior, where in acquired proximity to whiteness alleviates the migrant body from the base existence of the black Americas or “niggers.” Whereas, the migrant body is not superior in the eyes of the white man, but merely a tool to disrupt blackness simultaneously dividing and oppressing the African diaspora.

So while my anger fostered an ugly comment it proved edifying, motivating me to examine my criticisms and further my journey in assembling my consciousness. I write with the reservation that surrounds confronting your truth, but hope it inspires someone not to judge me but to examine their own idiosyncrasies in pursuit of an elevated consciousness.

I’ll conclude with what I see as a relevant quote by ancestor Booker T. Washington, “In all things social we can be as seperate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”

❤ CS