Sometimes it amazes me when white people are shocked, shocked, to learn that black folks might be a smidge angry over that whole secondary status thing.
Not all white people are this clueless, but many are. Mostly because their lives are so insular. As a black person you have to interact and work with white people if you want a decent job and want to live in a decent place. As for white people, they don’t have to deal with us at all. There are plenty non-diverse places in every part of the United States were your only interaction with a black person would be while watching “Cops” or “Flavor of Love” on VH1.
When you never interact with the “other” America, where Rev. Jeremiah Wright and the “damn America” amen chorus jumping and shouting in agreement reside, you’re going to get a rude awakening in black anger 101. There is a lot of rushing to judgment.
This is worse than the KKK! This hate speech is deplorable! I don’t care what the context, you don’t damn America!
I won’t get at how hypocritical this outrage is considering a bevy of prominent religious zealots have “damned” America in recent years (Pat Robertson, Jerry Fallwell, John Hagee, et al). If it doesn’t bother you when Fallwell says our tolerance of “the gays” is why we were attacked on Sept. 11th maybe you need to sit down and shut the fuck up.
But back to black people being angry. I never get why this is shocking. I realize most white people don’t have a firm grasp on black history, but general American history teaches you how all us black folks got here. But for all the people who wonder why 40 years of progress after 300 years of slavery and apartheid still = pissed of black people, here’s a brief history of “Why Black Americans Are Angry”:
15) Project housing/inner city neglect. They were such pretty, clean buildings when low-income, working class families from the segregated deep south first moved into them, dreaming of moving up in the world. But cutting off city services, neglecting the neighborhoods around them and lax policing turned them into sorrow-filled hell holes were dreams were murdered on a daily basis. The government’s response to these problems? Indifference and excessive police force. Then finally, as in Chicago and St. Louis, tearing the buildings down, but never repairing the hopelessness and discrimination that created the initial blight.
14) Housing discrimination. Wow! You were fortunate enough to have worked your way up and out of poverty to the Middle Class. You want a house, but your Realtor will only show you homes on the north side and when you go to your bank for a loan you’re denied despite having better than average credit. Then you go to a more questionable lender who charges an interest rate much higher than what you should have to pay. Then when you move to the neighborhood it doesn’t matter that you’re an engineer for McDonnell Douglas and your wife is a school teacher. Every white person on the block vanishes and within two years the neighborhood is entirely black. But at least they were nice enough to leave a note saying, “It’s not me. It’s you!”
13) Rosewood, East St. Louis, Oklahoma and other race riots of the 20th century. When people think “race riots” most conjure up visions of the LA riots after the Rodney King trial. While that was a riot, it wasn’t really a “race riot.” A real race riot involves the murders and beatings of one racial group by another. There are plenty of those. The East St. Louis Riot of 1917 involved the murders, beatings and lynchings of black people. The government was slow to step in and stop the killings as they are wont to do when there’s a race riot. The Chicago Defender reported 150 blacks were killed. Other papers reported … nothing!
12) One-drop/Three-Fifths rule. I put these two together because they pretty much sum up two of the most ridiculous things about the black American experience. The “Three-Fifths” rule was a contrivance to count the non-voting slaves as residents so the political power brokers in the south could have more representatives (and more power) in Congress. Being counted as a voter when you, in fact, cannot vote, buttresses nicely to another bizarre law, the “one-drop” rule that designated that one drop of “black blood” made you black. This law was adopted by many states after the Civil War. Racism was a festering sickness of white paranoia that deemed it necessary to make all that is black anathema, unholy and taboo. These rules were essentially created to fight miscegenation and keep the white race pure. Just another nice way to say, “I hate you.”
11) Voter suppression. Popular in the south, but can be found anywhere blacks vote in numbers significant enough to tip the scales of an election. (See Ohio, Florida and the city of St. Louis, etc.)
10) You’re not worthy of dying for this country. What do the Civil War, World War I and World War II have in common? They were all wars black men weren’t good enough to die for. It didn’t stop black men from fighting for the right to die in them anyway, eventually succeeding in dying for their country in the hope that surely, SURELY if I show the ultimate display of patriotism, to want to fight and die for America surely I will be finally recognized as a man. So they fought and died and when the survivors came home America was still racist, but I’m sure no black people are bitter about that. I’m sure it doesn’t bother black World War II vets to not get any kudos until they were ancient. Or, in the case of the Buffalo Soldiers, dead.
9) “Bad blood.” I know that the whole “the government created AIDS to kill black people” sounds kooky. I don’t believe it. But considering their was an actual immoral study on syphilis that allowed the disease to run its deadly course on black men and infect their families despite the discovery of penicillin as a treatment, you can understand that we would be a little suspicious of damn near anything.*
8) Separate but Equal. Plessy versus Ferguson was the Supreme Court case used as an excuse for decades to make life exceedingly miserable for blacks while simultaneously reinforcing long held beliefs that blacks were not human, not equal to whites. Protecting the “purity” of the whites, blacks were denied entry into all places deemed for whites. Apparently we had the world’s biggest case of racial cooties. The kind of cooties that get you separate and inferior facilities.
7) Reparations. I’m not a pusher of reparations. I don’t think there is an amount of money that could be paid to make up for slavery and institutionalized racism. But there are always going to be people, furious, wondering when their 40 acres and a mule are showing up.
6) 100 years of Lynching. See? This is why there is no amount of acceptable money that could ever be paid to make up for killing people for the sake of killing them. For being terrorists. For terrorizing millions of people living primarily in the South and lower Midwest. You just don’t want to know what could make up for that. For killing people for sport, for any excuse, then taking pictures next to their ritualistically burned and mutilated corpses, then turning those pictures into postcards to mail to your friends. Just as the Nazis couldn’t kill 6 million Jews without the consent of German citizens, the Klu Klux Klan couldn’t terrorize and murder blacks if they weren’t endorsed by the members of the white southern community who supported the politicians, sheriffs, police officers, businessmen and other upstanding individuals who were more than happy to don white robes, burn crosses and massacre people.
5) Police brutality. Rodney King was not an isolated event. Rodney King happens every day, all across the US because blacks are deemed as being more violent and less important than whites when it comes to crime. It doesn’t mean anything to sodomize a man with a plunger or open fire on a man reaching his wallet or taser a woman over and over or rough up a youth because his pants hang low or beat a confession out of an innocent person. The color of justice in this country is painted in the blood of cruel indifference and apathy.
4) Katrina. This shouldn’t be a shocker to anyone, but black people are pretty pissed about Hurricane Katrina. They’re angry that the preparations for the hurricane were so slipshod and flawed. They’re angry that for days people were trapped, starving, dying of thirst or drowning to death. They’re angry that no one seemed to care. They’re angry that when people sought help they were denied it. They’re angry that blacks were branded as “looters” for seeking supplies at water-logged Wal-Marts and their angry about all the misinformation and wild speculation that went on. They’re angry that promises were made, but never fulfilled. They’re angry that black neighborhoods that had existed for hundreds of years were gone, never to be repaired. They’re angry about the trailer homes that are stinking of poisonous formaldehyde. They’re angry because of the gentrification taking place in their neighborhoods. They’re angry because they want to come home, but can’t because their jobs and homes are gone. They’re angry because insurance companies won’t pay damages on their homes. There are a lot more reasons to be pissed, but you get the drift. Many people have wondered if this is an issue about race. While the incompetence of the Bush Administration that weakened FEMA and glossed over forecasts did not initially have a racist slant, the lackluster response and tepid rebuilding effort reeked of “fuck all y’all.” Was it a mere coincidence that the people the government was reneging on were poor whites and a large majority of blacks?
3) The uneven justice system. This ties in with police brutality and the indifference when it comes to black crime. Black defendants are disproportionately given harsher sentences than white defendants for the same crimes. Drug laws are overly punitive towards blacks. Incarceration rates are higher. Violence towards black women and children are overlooked. When blacks go missing, irregardless of age or gender, little attention or resources are focused on finding them. When crimes are committed where blacks are the victims, the police or prosecutors do not make an adequate effort to protect witnesses. Sometimes it feels like the number sin in America is to be born a black person who is three-fifths of a white person therefore not deserving of justice.
2) “Jim Crow.” Jim Crow laws were the direct result of Plessy versus Ferguson. These were created to segregate the races. To this day, despite integration, many southern high schools don’t hold proms out of the fear of black boys and girls dancing with white boys and girls. Destroying Jim Crow consisted of being tortured and attacked during non-violent protests, being murdered for speaking out, being assassinated for leading a movement, having your churches bombed and homes burned, being mutilated and mistreated, being beaten by police and soaked by water hoses. The fight also involved false imprisonment, human rights violations, illegal wiretappings, being spat upon and verbally abused. So why would anyone still be mad when after all that segregation still exists in many parts of America due to white flight and redistricting?
1) Slavery. You say, “It happened so long ago. My family never owned slaves. How could you still be mad? You weren’t a slave, your parents and grandparents were slaves, so really? Get over it already.”
If only things were that simple. Slavery is the set up, the root, the origin of all black anger and resentment. Behind every frown, holler and painful cry, behind it is our nation’s shameful legacy of slavery. America’s unique brand of “once a slave, always a slave and oh by the way, you’re children are slaves” bondage was so demoralizing, so punitive, so humiliating that it still shapes both black and white America’s views of each other.
This racist conceit was created by white intellectual elites (See Thomas Jefferson) who wanted to justify bondage when they were fighting for their own liberty from the British. They branded blacks as inferior, subhuman, violent, child-like, sexually perverse brutes meant only to serve whites. When you’re not seen as human people can do unthinkable things to you or ignore your pleas. And despite being here for 300 years black Americas are still fighting to buck the inferior, brutish, perverse stereotypes we are consistently labeled with. You can’t have an honest discussion about race without talking about slavery’s impact on how our country views race.
There has never been a full apology or formal recognition of the legacy of racism and slavery. There has never been a national conciliatory effort to cure the ills of Jim Crow. There has been no apologizes for the failures of our government involving Katrina. No apology for the people prosecuted and sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit. There has been no effort to right the root of our wrongs. There are only scraps tossed here and there and cries of “when will you get over it” when there was no true acknowledgment of the root of “it” to begin with.
Why so reluctant to apologize? Because our nation doesn’t want to acknowledge its failings. Because many whites don’t want to “own” the crimes of their forefathers, government, neighbors, friends and family members. And who would want to own this? This wretched past of cruelty and pain. Who would want to recognize it and mend this fence? No one wants to because the fear is that once the apology is through will there be a debt owed. Will there be demands for acknowledgment, payment? Will there be lawsuits? Will there be reparations? Will there be revenge?
There are other slights and horrors I could have listed: the rape of black female slaves, minstrel shows, the pain and violence surrounding integration, health care disparities, a flawed and broken educational system. I could go on and on, but for what if others don’t understand that you can’t flick your hand and wish it all away. Not when we’re marked with the sin of our country in the color of our skin.
I’m sorry if those cries are hard to hear. I’m sorry if hearing black anger offends whites. But you can’t call it racist when Pastor Wright’s polemic sermon was true. Our government has committed sins at home and abroad and has atoned for nothing. We have never apologized for anything we did to another country or minorities in the United States. Our own policies failed us and we were attacked. Everyone acted surprised, but any one who follows international relations knows that many are angry over injustices, some perceived, some true. We’d been attacked before and ignored the warnings. None of this should be a surprise, unless you’ve turned a blind eye to it all and only chose to here the popular fictions you have always heard, “America is great. America is good. America can do no wrong.”
This is a dangerous line of thinking that would only take us farther away from reconciliation and continue the divisions that exist between a world of black anger and a world of white indifference.
*Originally number six erroneously said that the men in the study were given syphilis by the individuals working on the study. In actuality the majority of the men in the study already had syphilis but the disease went untreated as part of the experiment. Thanks for the correction, AC.