Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Black Pain, White Guilt

One of the upshots of writing columns and blog post is in witnessing the extreme narrow mindedness of those who read your work. After 15 years of writing social commentary, I have become anesthetized by the callous words uttered by those to superficial to regard the pain of others or the consequences actions play in the demise of society as we know it.

I’ve come to take for granted threats on my life and the mean spirited words voiced by people deeply enamored with the memory of the good ole days when white people ruled and black people stepped aside when white people walked their way. Column writing has a way of exposing the stuff within people that is often overlooked by the big smile on their faces.

I’m careful not to paste the racist label on people based on the traditional list of variables. Things like living in the South, driving a pick up truck with a gun rack in the back or flaunting a confederate flag license plate-well that’s another story-shouldn’t be assumed as evidence that a person has a white hooded robe hanging in their closet.

The old adage to not judge a book by its cover has come back to haunt me on a number of occasions. Some of those people I wanted to judge based on some circumstantial evidence have proven to be the very opposite of what I believed. The sad converse to that truth is some of the people I measured up as living their lives beyond pigeonholing people have proven me wrong.

It’s the reason I write so much about race. I would love to focus on other matters, but the ways in which people limit themselves in allowing other people access to their lives continues to be one of our nation’s biggest problems. Today, I’m convinced more than ever that the race problem lingers as America’s biggest obstacle.

Of course Clarence Thomas and his cohorts would dismiss that statement as no more than another ploy to stir the pot of white guilt and to further press black people into the stew of black victimization. Thomas, in his recent autobiography, argues that his Yale Law school degree is worth about 15 cents because of the affirmative action tag placed on it. He claims he couldn’t find work after graduating due to the assumptions people made related to his true intellect.

The rhetoric of Thomas, and others like him, forces a critical examination involving the ways in which black people think of themselves and how their self-imagery influences the ways in which other evaluate those who are black. The growing dissension among black people around the significance of historical oppression, within this contemporary context, complicates the formation of any agenda that offsets the growing hostility toward black people in America.

Many of my white readers failed to understand the significance of the Jena 6 case. For them it was a matter involving ruthless behavior among a gang of black boys who had beat a white boy until he be passed out. For them it was clear that a crime had been committed and that those boys needed to be punished. What they fail to comprehend is how the mounting of historical imagery can lead to extreme hostility among those aching due to the refutation of their sorrow.

Put another way, Jena is an example of how black people are incessantly being asked to get over it. The aftermath of Jena forces a critical glare at how agony related to symbolic pain can dig at the self perception of those struggling to find meaning after continuing to scrutinize examples of nations neglect.

The Jena 6 case has led to a shocking wave of noose-hangings throughout the country. Following the massive march in support of the black teens on September 21, at least 18 noose-hanging incidents have been reported throughout the country. A House Judiciary Committee hearing has been set to explore expanding federal laws to require that noose-hangings always be punished as a hate crime, regardless of the age of the offender.

The noose as a symbol rekindles dark memories. At least 3,500 blacks were lynched between 1882 and 1968, according to “Without Sanctuary,” a documentary project currently touring the U.S. I will never forget a conversation I had with the father of a white friend when I was in college. “We once had a Nigger who lived here,” he said. “They said someone robbed the bank. Next thang we know he was hanging from a tree. Wonder who did that,” he chuckled.

It was his way of warning me, of reminding me to stay in my rightful place. I will never forget the fear that came with those words. That symbol of hate has a way of taking black people back to a time not to long ago. It takes you back to a time when the life of a black man wasn’t worth the pursuit of justice.

Such symbols need to be dealt with. It’s more than a youthful prank. That noose conjures old scars that are hard to overcome. Those hangings are too close to forget. My grandfather told me stories of friends hanging from trees like that strange fruit that Nina sung about. I’ve seen too many pictures to forget. I’ve heard too many stories of black boys getting into trouble for looking at a white girl the wrong way.

Which gets to the point of this post- some people will never understand the pain because its not part of their struggle. You can’t blame them for that. At the same time you can’t deny a person their pain. Pain is real. Pain takes time to overcome, and understanding requires more than a nicely written apology for the burden of slavery. To stand with those with pain suggest a willingness to enforce policies punishing those who open those deep wounds.

It’s sad that the noose has never received attention from Congress. Why has it taken this long for a discussion on the memories instigated whenever a black person hears of a rope hanging to remind them of their historical placement in this nation? This matter should have been taken care of before now. It hasn’t because of the assumptions often made when it comes to the matter of race in America. As always, it’s understood that black people hold the burden of forgiveness. That it’s for them to overcome.

Why not? It’s not as bad as it seems. It’s only a rope. You’ve come a long way. Suck it up.

1 comment:


    You know what I have come to
    believe is that everyone is the master of themselves. You can't make me angry about a noose hanging because it is not for me. You can't make me angry because that noose didn't kill us all. We out numbered and out lived the tragedy of that part of history. Are we to keep looking back like Lots wife and turn into a pillar of salt. I say no. I choose to, like Lot, and his 2 daughters to keep on keeping on without looking behind me. I know what was left behind and I intended to leave it behind because I am moving ahead to something greater and I intend to have all that is good and beautiful. You perpetuate the things that you do not want. I want something better and that is what I will perpetuate. To the Jena 6 Go all the way. These are kids who were tired of looking back, and being held back and they looked forward to a new way a better way. It also came with a fight that must go all the way. History will remember Jena's mark for a long time. Don't stop Jena 6 until you get what you want. Not even prision walls can contain the feeling of freedom. I choose to sit up under the "white" tree and I didn't let my color, or how I am viewed hold me back. People of all nations and all races must choose not to accept that which is put on them or given to them. Life is but the choices that we make. Just make sure that you are willing to accept the consequences. To some it will be a fight, to some a loss, to some a gain and to all choices means freedom. The struggle only means something to the people who enforced it,endured and who were set free from the same way of thinking and being. That's life and that's your choice for you.