Volume 83: Personal and Public Reflections About Violence and African Americans

Posted on 12/04/2014

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In light of the recent tragedies regarding the failure/refusal to indict police officers for killing two unarmed African American men, I have decided to put #my3cents on the matter. We’ve all seen the visuals. There has been outrage. There has been vitriol. There has been demonstrations. There have been panels of “experts” assembled to “advance the conversation”. There have been justifications. There have been apologies. And there have been accusations. LOTS of accusations. From both sides…

I like to make my posts personal so my point is not lost in the web of opinion. The reader can just extrapolate the meaning because there is little-to-no room for judgment. My story is one of the relationship (or lack thereof) I have with my father. I’m not going to bore you with the details but, let’s just say he’s my inspiration for being so involved with my children. The multiple disappointments I have regarding our interactions would be an interesting case study for any psychology major. Bottom line: I am scarred for life.

The wounds may have healed, but the scarring remains…

Much like my birth, African Americans had no control over being brought to America. We were considered chattle (livestock). We didn’t speak the language or know the culture. As a child, I looked to my father to teach me how to be a man so I could be successful. African slaves looked to their captors to teach them how to navigate this strange new world. Imagine a life where you were relatively ignored or viewed as an expense until or unless you did something to shine a positive light on your master/father? Then, imagine if you didn’t do what you were told or made them angry, (or they were drunk). Then, you were beaten…

Self-preservation is a natural human response. Violence is not. Violence is learned. Violence is the expressed anger from a person/people who just wants an opportunity to be and feel safe.

African Americans have been told we were dumb, lazy, unintelligent beasts. We were bred to be laborers, because that’s what we were best suited for. This was the narrative that was spread and believed for hundreds of years. It was told so much that even we began to believe it. We accept that narrative as part of our collective expereince – even today. I’ve heard the phrase “n—gas ain’t isht” more from people that looked like me than the opposite. But that’s what they were taught. And their mother was taught. And their grandmother was taught. And their great-grandmother was  taught. I learned as a child that my value depended on what I could do for my captor/father. African-Americans learned that too. So we adapted to survive.

But violence was learned. Systemic violence. Xenophobic violence. Genocidal violence. Violence for pleasure. Violence for pain. Violence for personal and political gain. African Americans didn’t bring violence to America. America brought violence to us.

Fast-forward 400 years and, while the wounds of slavery have healed, the scarring remains. America spent the better part of four centuries projecting negative images and stereotypes on to African Americans. And guess what? We believed it. ALL of us. Whites and Blacks alike. I told my mother the other day that gambling is a harsh addiction because the addict can always recount the wins – even though they were far outnumbered by the losses. As an African American, I was taught about the wins through our history. I learned about Martin Luther King and Phyllis Wheatley and Sojorner Truth and Thurgood Marshall and Charles Drew and even Ben Carson. The wins are dangled in front of us like a carrott on a stick so we can continue to play life’s lottery. So we can forget about the losses…

The truth is the losses far outnumber the wins and America’s debt to us continues to grow. My father’s debt to my sisters and I has yet to be paid. And, much like America’s, I doubt it ever will.

Today, America steps back and bludgeons us with statistics on black-on-black crime. She absolves herself of responsibility because the playing field has been leveled (alledgedly). My father blames my sisters and I for his not having a relationship with us. He says our mother turned us against him. America says we’re “playing the race card” and trot out a few wins as evidence of our ability to succeed. My father remembers all the good times we’ve had over the years. Why? They were foreign to our existence. They were not the norm. Just like the wins by African Americans.

We learned violence. We learned to hate ourselves. And we learned that we could commit crimes against each other because that fit the American narrative. We struggled with our collective identity. I struggled with my self-identity. We love Ameirca but hate some Americans. I love my family, but hated my father. He was the reason I was here. He was the reason I have my family and my children. America affords us the opportunity for opportunity. And yet, she still holds us back by providing a constant reminder of our inherient deficiency.

Conclusion

I don’t blame the police for what happened in Ferguson and New York. They are doing what they have been programmed to do: Arrest criminals. And if you have been taught in both your personal and professional lives that African American men are criminal by default, what can we logically expect? I told my mother the way to break a generational curse is to not burden your children with your emotional baggage. My father had emotional baggage that he dumped into my (our) lives. It took me over ten years of self-destruction, reflection, progression, regression, milestones, and setbacks to become who and what I am today. But that didn’t happen until I decided I could not let his narrative be my own. African Americans have to decide to reject the violence we were taught. We have to reject the violence that has been brought. Instead, we need to cut our losses, stop counting the wins, and place one last bet. We need to bet on ourselves.

That’s just #my3cents…

Sillethoughts

“Peep my ver-na-cular cuz I don’t know how to act…”

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