By ANTONIA WILLIAMS-GARY
I am spinning with a variety of reactions to the suicide bombings, terrorists’ attacks, an outrageous public lynching (Richard Collin III), and other equally horrific happenings around the world, and in this country, yet I’m trying hard to avoid having a knee- jerk response to all the swirling ‘news.’
What is not new is that another white man ‘co-opted’ the black experience. When Bill Maher self-identified as a “house nigger,” presumably to distinguish himself from having to actually work in a field (by invitation during an interview with Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse), he thought his response placed him in a position of perceived privilege. By making that distinction, he denied the horrific experience of so-called “house niggers!”
Let me remind everyone, they were slaves too! I’m sure that each has his/her own individual narrative of suffering, compromise, individual acts of heroism, as well as feats of super-human sacrifice.
By the way, Nat Turner, an early leader of the freedom movement, was, by the standards of his day, a “house nigger:” he could read the Bible and was used as an itinerant preacher to keep the slaves around his territory docile!
I am constantly amazed at the hubris of folk (white, black, brown, et al) who remain ignorant of history-and of human behavior, who continue to justify their personal comforts by perpetuating the myth of division. Yes, that includes many black folk who have bought into the narrative mythology of how to ‘make it’ in America!
Take LeBron James, the very rich, basketball star, who, after one of his homes was vandalized with a racial slur last week, took a moment in between the NBA championship games to remind us that no one is immune from racial hate crimes in this country.
I have grown so weary of the constant divisions that keep us from looking at real resolutions to being at home, and in peace, in the USA; i.e., Democrats vs. Republicans; blue states vs. red states; rich vs. poor; white vs. black; immigrants vs. ‘natives’; rich vs. poor; urban vs. rural; rust belt vs. developed; field hands vs. house niggers, etc.
What to do?
We can all take a page out of the recent immigrant experience of Hasan Minaj, a comic of Muslim-Indian origins. He talks about how his parents (and by extension all immigrants) pay what he calls the “American Dream Tax.” That tax, he explains, takes a little bite of humanity out of people. In his stand-up routine, Minaj recounted how his father once reacted to a hate crime against their business by sweeping up the debris left in the streets from the window breaking, not reporting the incident to law enforcement, but explaining to a young Minaj how their presence in this county required them to behave better than the average citizen: to become more acceptable, hence, making good behavior one payment on the American Dream Tax form.
By that standard, black folks’ American dream tax has been paid up for centuries! In fact, we have built up such a surplus that the notion of reparations (a refund) would bankrupt the country if we were ever cut a check for our unpaid share paid toward civility; one or two riots, insurrections, and other forms of legitimate freedom-seeking protests, notwithstanding – we’ve been saints!
But everyone already knows that. Remember the fear of many southern white slave owners, when they realized how disproportionate the population of slaves were over their numbers, lead to the adoption of draconian rules for punishing runaways; hyper-vigilance against uprisings, using poor whites as ‘patrollers’, etc., and how so much of our current legal system is built on that legacy.
(Lest we forget, Billie Holiday left us with a song about the southern ‘strange fruit’ ripening from the blood of black bodies.)
I recall a variation of this poem I wrote over thirty years ago in response to a question from some well-meaning white folk who asked me about the cause of the 1980s Miami riots:
“Right thinking folks don’t bend my ear with your wasted breath and sympathies. Talk to you mothers, fathers, sisters and daughters.
You neighbors the ones you should exhort.”
I have changed my mind. I invite the conversation. Anywhere. Anytime.