This is a communication that I received in response to a posting dealing with the need for African-Americans to go and see James Baldwin’s I Am Not Your Negro.
I believe that it is not only imperative for African-Americans to view “I am not your negro”, but it is imperative for European-Americans as well.
It is simply impossible to argue with Mr. Baldiwn. He his powerful, persuasive, rational and cuts to the quick without fear or hesitation. His words are hard for European-Americans to hear. They are an unwelcome reminder that we (yes I’m one of them) have been the beneficiaries of 400 years of racial politics in White America’s favor, and of the debt we therefore owe to those who were oppressed, abused and murdered for our benefit, namely principally, but not exclusively those of African and Native-American dissent. Until we in White America can face this fact, we white Americans cannot reasonably expect the stain of racism to be washed from us, and we cannot expect the anger, justifiable anger, at us and at the hypocrisy of our “liberal” and “humanist” principles.
And this is just as true for the recent European immigrant as the “sons and daughters” of the so called American Revolution. My family did not come into this country until 2 and 3 years before the Civil Rights act and Voting rights act passed and became law, respectively. I was not born until after their passage. So it would be easy for me to say I have no blame, no guilt and no responsibility for what European-Americans did before my family even landed on these shores.
However, that is so clearly a cop out and is based on a complete misunderstanding of the legacy and current state of racism in America. Wittingly or not, I personally benefited from a system that favored me over others because of the color of my skin (and because of my being male). As a child perhaps I was too young to know or object or reject those benefits, but as a man, I must face the truth of them. It is not different than the child of a slave owner saying, “it’s not my fault that my daddy owns slaves, and that they make my bed, and cook for me, bathe me, farm for me, and make my family wealthy while they are abused, oppressed and not free”. It may not be the child’s fault, but it is the man’s fault if he fails to recognize that he benefitted at the expense of others suffering and to seek to find a way to make it right, to the extent such a thing can ever be made right.
So as a European-American male let me say this: I KNOW that I have benefitted unfairly from the color of my skin and from my sex. Any European-American who does not fully and completely accept that truth is lying to themselves and is harming this nation and perpetuating the wrong done by slavery and racism. Any European-American who does not fully accept this is just as much the cause of the perpetuation of racism and oppression as Trump or the KKK or White Supremacists.
The question that all awake European-Americans must struggle with is, ok, so I know I got that benefit, unfairly, undeservedly at the expense of others, what now? What now? What are my responsibilities and my duties and my obligations now that I am awake to that awful and awesome truth. That is where the discussion should be for White America. And I believe that the words of James Baldwin and the movie “I am not your Negro” present an incredible opportunity for self reflection and awareness in White America as well. That is why I believe that it is imperative that White Americans also go see that extraordinary film.
I don’t and can’t blame an African-American for hating White Americans especially where we White Americans almost universally refuse to see the hypocrisy of our principles and the obvious fact of our personal gain at the expense of our African-American peers. To not understand that and expect that is willful blindness, a comfortable place no doubt, but nevertheless wrong, utterly wrong.
Where do you believe we should go from here?
Christoph T Nettesheim
Let me first say thank you for reaching out to me with this poignant thought that conveys an excellent view of the quagmire that we call American race relations; I wish white people possessed such acumen and the courage to espouse it publicly. I pray that you are doing so when surrounded by others from your community whose view of American racial dynamics conflict with your insightful thoughts. I believe that Malcolm X was correct in his summation that the most efficient way that sympathetic whites could aid the struggle for racial equality is for them to return to their community and teach those within their community who are deaf to blacks in regards to anything dealing with race. The alluded to deafness becomes insurmountable once it becomes clear that the evils of prejudice, discrimination, and racism not only have its origins within that community but also it is maintained by the members of their community.
Now in regards to your query of, “Where do you believe that we should go from here?” I have two strains of thoughts. My initial thought is aimed at what I see as the only path to racial justice, not equality or fairness, in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” It is also one that I articulate with the full understanding that it will NEVER occur for reasons that will become apparent as you read it.
Answer I: The path to racial justice in America.
Strangely, Americans living under the same conditions have advanced two irreconcilable arguments regarding the way to solving this nation’s racial dilemma. One path projects that if we would simply ignore race, it would disappear. Others advance the idea that if we would communicate about racial matters that they would eventually work themselves out. Although I am a member of the latter camp, I also hold grave reservations regarding this thinking as I believe that it is not only flawed but also a convenient escape from responsibility for those who have reaped a bounty of political power and economic might. Let me also say that I most certainly do recognize that the stolen African and their descendants were not the only populations exploited for labor on the North American continent. However, at this moment I am specifically addressing the systematic state-sanctioned injury perpetrated against persons of African descent.
When one considers that the multi-faceted injury to persons of African descent occurred over several centuries the repair of such an injury, not to mention the dispensing of a modicum of justice, is nearly unfathomable. Let’s be clear on this matter and forthrightly state the reality that this genocidal injury could never be justly addressed with economic resources as many have foolishly called for. Not even the complete transferal of all of the wealth generated by the forced labor of Africans could repair the injury that has been caused by whites. Put simply; if we are seeking justice, the type and intensity of damage doled out by whites on persons of African descent can and never will be repaid.
Now on to a more realistic discussion of a possible solution to the American racial dilemma.
Answer II: Where do we go from here?
Considering that contemporary Americans have inherited what can only be termed an absolute mess in regards to racial dynamics, the path forward begins with an honest conversation regarding the very pillars of this nation. Towards that end, it is imperative that all Americans receive an education regarding the dubious roots of this nation. An unsuspecting white populace must be made aware of a historical record that includes figures such as that made by Founding Father Thomas Jefferson to allow their actions to contradict their words. The construction of a politically expedient and economically beneficial system providing many politico-economic benefits to whites. I have found that unless we have all read the same books and fact sheets that a productive discussion regarding race is impossible. Honest discussion is crucial to this process as it tends to usher persons on both sides of the debate toward unprecedented breakthroughs. However, the American record definitively proves that small discussion is insufficient to close the racial divide.
Make no mistake about it; I place both the generation and perpetuation of American racial discord at the feet of whites; as the great James Baldwin related, African-Americans only want whites to get out of our way. When viewed closely, the antics and utterances of those who could be comfortably termed “black supremacists” are merely unenforceable wishes and desires being hurled at a dominant white community that refuses to get out of their way. It is crucial that whites realize that black anger is solely attributable to a hostile white population that has not only monopolized the politico-economic resources that are pre-requisites to merging onto the path to liberation. Particularly troubling is the reality that whites’ have strategically placed themselves as toll booth operators possessing the power to impede both your access and travel on the path toward “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.” America’s racial problems will never recede until whites realize that they are the originators and perpetrators of racial bias.
If a progressive white consciousness regarding racial matters were ever achieved, I think that whites would no longer recoil at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., poignant assertion that “A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for the Negro.”
Dr. King’s decades’ old insightful observation is the very pivot that will determine the future of American race relations. There is no hope for any genuine racial reconciliation without a serious attempt at repairing the prolonged damage done to the material subsistence, educational restraints, and psychological state of the descendants of enslaved Africans. Make no mistake about it; this is a long overdue bill. If this nation is serious about quelling racial discord, which I do not believe to be true, there is no other reasonable path forward.
Probably the most challenging aspect of this process is not securing agreement among whites regarding the need for reparations, rather it is found in reaching a consensus regarding what the alluded to compensation will look like. Having viewed quite a few reparation plans that called for land, monies, education, and loans, I must relate that each has left me with an unsettled feeling. I attribute my queasiness to the reality that regardless of the compensation being pursued, it neither approaches an unreasonable threshold of justice nor offers the potential to close the historical racial inequities that have held steady for since emancipation.
After having articulated all of this, I am forced to admit that I do not know what the path forward looks like for a nation whose daily operation reminds persons of African descent of the historical injustices that their ancestors experienced on this soil. Particularly saddening to me is the reality that I have so much company in this club of not knowing what an appropriate path forward looks like. When I think about it, not knowing what to do about the racial dilemma may be the only commonality to be found among a politically diverse and economically stratified American populace.
And that is most certainly not a good thing.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017
I recently had the distinct pleasure to meet three of Wiley College’s finest minds during preparation for the HBCU Oral History Program. It is not often that I come across a collective of young people who remind me of myself in regards to their raw intelligence, temperament, and a God-given servant’s heart regarding the politico-economic liberation of their people.
In the relatively few moments that we spent together, these young people harkened my mind back to a conversation that occurred more than two decades ago when one of my professors predicted that I would one day abandon the idea that “all black people would be saved. You will one day realize that the daily grind of attempting to save your people is an inefficient use of your time. They would be much better served if you went forth and used your talents to secure economic resources that could then be used to rally political power and construct independent institutions to serve our community.” Maybe it is age creeping up on me or the arrival of wisdom; however, I will be darn if I did not express the same thoughts to “the Wiley 3” during our interesting conversation.
As I paid close attention to the Wiley 3’s liberation plans for Black America, it generated a bit of sadness for me because I had heard this same script across the past three decades. In fact, I espoused the same liberation plans during my undergraduate years.
If anything, my interaction with these young people serves as an indictment of every generation of African-Americans as it definitively proves that we have all committed the same crime. The unforgivable crime that I am alluding to is a repeated failure to teach the next generation the things that we have learned regarding American racial matters and a liberation road that becomes progressively clearer as our time on this planet approaches an untimely end.
Instead of instructing and ushering our next generation of black thinkers, intellectuals, and activists forward via an intensive course of life lessons and observations, older African-Americans tend to sit back and allow our next generation of leaders to travel a rough and stony well-worn path of redundancy needlessly. In essence, our failure to mentor and guide the next generation of activists, thinkers, community organizers, and intellectuals is akin to demanding that they re-create a wheel that we have sadistically hidden.
It is the time that those of us who have dedicated their entire lives to “the liberation and salvation of the black nation” cease a ridiculous reasoning that allows for ownership of movement experiences and lessons. Hopefully, such individuals will eventually come to realize that the African-American Freedom Struggle is analogous to a 400-meter relay race with four sprinters who must be prepared to receive the baton at the appropriate moment. I am confident that you understand, the key to winning this race is both teamwork and each runner understanding their role. Unfortunately for those interested in the liberation of Black America, it appears that one of the most esteemed traditions within the African-American freedom struggle is for those currently in possession of the baton to not only refuse to prepare succeeding generations to receive the baton, but also a refusal to pass the baton at the appropriate moment. For far too many of our leaders, the leadership position that they have occupied for far too long has become their only point of relevance. Individuals such as Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and Charlie Rangel seem to consider a peaceful transfer of power to the next generation of activists an unlikely occurrence.
Make no mistake about it, current black leaders failure to prepare the next generation of African-Americans to receive the baton dooms African-Americans to start the race again in the starter’s blocks while other races/ethnicities continue the next leg of the contest. Until our current leadership cadre understands that we must not only prepare the next generation to receive the baton but also hand it off to them once we have taught them all that we know, we have no other choice than to continue our grandest tradition of economic inefficiency and political powerlessness.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017
It is amazing that the same problems afflicting the African-American protest community 50 years ago remain prevalent to the present day. I am confident that most people think that I am referring to the dogged refusal of America’s leading cancers — prejudice, bigotry, discrimination, and racism — to excuse themselves from “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
If those are your thoughts, you are going to be disappointed to learn that I am not alluding to the pernicious evils mentioned above as I am attempting to address an ever-present danger found within the black activist community. The evil I speak of is the continuing tendency of Cultural Nationalists to haphazardly denigrate and mischaracterize all whites as a monolithic population whose sole political priority is to retard African-American politico-economic progress.
I am honest by relating that I have yet to find the words to express my frustrations with the manner that the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense’s legacy of racial progressivism has been co-opted and revamped to fit the needs of contemporary “activists.” Unfortunately, the activists mentioned above are absent a political platform capable of addressing the pernicious evils affecting the black community. The alluded to individuals believe that an integral part of revolutionary politics is not political mobilization or economic solidarity, rather they seek to advance their understanding of the black agenda via “hate-speech.”
Make no mistake about it, the re-surfacing of imagery intentionally designed to stir up memories of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPPSD) by individuals lacking even a superficial understanding of either the Panthers political platforms or historical experiences has needlessly marred the Panther legacy for counter-revolutionary self-serving purposes. The legacy left by Huey, Bobby, Eldridge, Kathleen, Lil’ Bobby, Bunchy, Fred, Geronimo, Elaine, and those who made up the Panther cadre deserve so much more than what contemporary manifestations of the Panther Party are providing.
What makes the denigration of the Panther image so painful is that if those behind the many attempts to resurrect the Panthers had taken a moment to study BPPSD ideology, they would have quickly discerned that Huey P. Newton opposed any effort to characterize other activist communities, including the white community, as being monolithic. Those who have studied Huey realize that he was not only a genius but also used that mental acumen to in a wise and judicious manner. Consider for a moment, that the Panthers, at the behest of Eldridge “Papa Rage” Cleaver, forged an alliance with the Peace and Freedom Party, a group of white radicals, because it served the interests of the Party at that particular moment. The Panthers are a great example of the utility of alliances and coalitions with like-minded groups, regardless of their race/ethnicity. Those who disagree with the above assertion know little about both the Panther legacy and the black struggle for racial equality.
Unfortunately, phrase-mongering rabble-rousing Cultural Nationalists who are quick to speak, yet slow to study, are not only comfortable spewing vitriolic hatred, but also often encouraged to do such by adoring audiences. Little do they know, that such a backward political stance stunts their political power as it alienates all around them regardless of race, class, or gender.
I have dealt with Cultural Nationalists long enough to know that they will both ignore and deny an easily accessible historical record that proves that inter-racial alliances were a hallmark of the BPPSD. It is for this population that does not mind existing under a yoke that is equal parts illogical and shockingly uninformed that I include the following quote by BPPSD co-founder Huey P. Newton.
According to Newton, the African-American activist community “…must also be able to realize that there are white people, brown people, red people, yellow people in this world who are totally dedicated to the destruction of this system of oppression, and we welcome that. We will always be open to working with that.”
I am quite confident that luminaries of the African-American freedom struggle such as Newton, Hampton, Baldwin, Du Bois, and King are rolling over in their graves at the ascension of a black political platform that rests upon nothing more than divisive hate-filled rhetoric. Put simply; such rhetoric not only fails to represent black leaders who came before us, but also guarantees that none of the previous mutually beneficial alliances that aided our community in its pursuit of liberation are possible today. Contemporary so-called black leaders have efficiently placed themselves in a box of irrelevancy that they cannot escape.
Despite the euphoria that many of these new activists feel after hearing a profanity-laced rant against some yet to be identified “white man,” the truth of the matter is that such rhetoric serves as a highly imperfect substitute for a well-thought out political agenda. Not to mention that such hate-speech has yet to move the struggle forward one iota. Trust me when I say that it never has and it never will.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017
Far too often, we find the explanation that we so desperately seek for contemporary issues in the experiences of those who have come before us. The current pessimism of so many African-Americans in regards to America is such an occasion.
Encouraged by an understandably limited vision clouded by many blind spots regarding racial matters, the white community continues to ask the centuries-old query of, “Why are blacks so angry?” In yet another example of why it is so important to read everything that you can get your hands on, the most lucid explanation for African-American anger comes from what many would consider one of the least likely sources; the dreamer, Martin Luther King, Jr.
Unfortunately for the sake of racial reconciliation, the path to seizing a solid understanding of “Why are blacks so angry?” requires the white community to do the impossible, forgetting everything they think that they know about both Black America and American racial matters. Until such a Herculean task is accomplished whites will never be prepared to understand an African-American viewpoint of America that vacillates between skepticism and a growing sometimes uncontrollable hatred.
Experience has taught me that most Americans are either historically illiterate or tend to forget historical occurrences that conflict with the worldview they desire. These realities sit at the core of white America’s view of current race relations, particularly their tendency to advise African-Americans of the path that their ancestors traveled to first-class citizenship and access to the American dream. Despite whites most fervent attempts to restructure the historical record, according to Dr. King, African-Americans did their absolute best to integrate with an overtly hostile America during the highly contentious Civil Rights Movement. According to King,
Negroes of America had taken the President, the press and the pulpit at their word when they spoke in broad terms of freedom and justice . . . The word was broken, and the free-running expectations of the Negro crashed into the stone walls of white resistance.
In many ways, African-Americans foremost gripe regarding America is found in its failure to in the words of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass to “leave the Negro alone” as he diligently attempted to work toward the elusive American dream. It was whites inability in both the private and public sector to “leave the Negro alone” that birthed frustrations, despair, and disappointment among a population of individuals who placed their hope in the myth of meritocracy, the belief that if you worked hard enough, the American dream would eventually be achieved.
It was the alluded to rising frustrations during the Civil Rights Movement that made the adoption of Black Power politics by African-American activists not only predictable but also totally understandable for reasonable minded people.
It is within the context of rising racial tensions that Dr. King reminded his white contemporaries that the arrival of Black Powerites was directly attributable to America breaking its vaunted promises. According to King,
Many of the young people proclaiming Black Power today were but yesterday the devotees of black-white cooperation and nonviolent direct action.… If they are America’s angry children today, this anger is not congenital. It is a response to the feeling that a real solution is hopelessly distant because of the inconsistencies, resistance, and faintheartedness of those in power.
Disappointment produces despair and despair produces bitterness, and that the one thing certain about bitterness is its blindness…When some members of the dominant group, particularly those in power, are racist in attitude and practice, bitterness accuses the whole group.
This continuous pattern of America breaking its promises regarding what many believed to be basic principles led to the continuing pleas of moderate Civil Rights Leaders for a continuation of patience falling upon deaf ears. James Robert Ross comments on this unfortunate position when he remarks that
Each time the black people in those cities saw Dr. Martin Luther King get slapped they became angry, when they saw little black girls get bombed to death in a church and civil rights workers abused and murdered they were angrier; and when nothing happened, they were steaming mad. We [Civil Rights Leaders] had nothing to offer that they could see. Except to go out and be beaten again.
It is most certainly not a stretch to attribute much of the past and present anger within Black America, particularly among males, to frustrations regarding their lack of access to much-ballyhooed American principles and Horatio Alger stories. Make no mistake about it, the referenced anger is a logical by-product of the broken promises that have undergirded the black experience in America. White America should not look for the cessation of such emotions until the path to freedom and justice is cleared of unnecessary obstacles and they take Douglass’ advice and “leave the Negro alone” when they see him progressing forward.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017