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