Saturday/Sunday, April 11-12, 2009.
Racism and prejudice do not always flow from hatred. Their genesis is simpler, as I wrote recently in my column for Nassau Guardian (the Bahamas): “There are degrees of racism, but they are all founded on the singular proposition that one group is intrinsically unequal or inferior to another.”
Such racism becomes diabolical when it is fastened to power and used to degrade or destroy a category of people based on capricious racial codes intended to serve systems of supremacy, both social and economic.
Many of America’s Founders were learned men committed to the idea -- if not the fact -- of equality. They were also slave owners who “loved” their chattel so much that even enlightened men such as Thomas Jefferson, America’s third President, appears to have produced at least one child with his slave Sally Hemmings.
Yet these women and their offspring typically remained the property of their masters, unable to attain freedom or escape the bondage of slavery and the attendant racial prejudices.
That form of slavery has ended. But many of the accompanying racial prejudices and traps remain. As Jefferson proves, sexual relations or even intimacy with a black person does not mean that an individual is not a racist or does not harbour deep racial prejudices.
Even though one of your best friends may be black, that doesn’t mean that there is an acceptance of the equality of black people. This is a symptom of the Special Negro Syndrome, a well known trap with, shall we say, various hews and tones.
One version: “My friend may be black, but he isn’t like the rest of those back folks.” As noted last week, there is also the Barack Obama version adopted by some whites: Either he’s mixed race or really not like the majority of his kind.
Just because one supported Obama or even voted for him does not suggest the absence of racial prejudice as indicated by the remarks of his now Vice President Joe Biden, who, during the nominating contest gave us his version of the Special Negro Syndrome:
“I mean, you got the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”
Then there’s the variation of this syndrome perversely adopted by some blacks who are ashamed of or ambivalent about being black, but grateful when whites see them as being “just like us.”
The subtext: being white is the benchmark against which a human being is to be measured. Is there any wonder why some blacks bleach their skins?
Some blacks are thrilled after a white person congratulates them on their mastery of the language or their intelligence or on how cultured they seem, while failing to recognize the inherent racial prejudice in such a pat on the head.
Suppose a black person went up to a white person and patted them on the head with this praise: “You speak well for a white person. I’m impressed. Are there others like you?”
An enduring trap of our racial past is the number, though rapidly declining, of black people who still require the recognition of white individuals to legitimize their humanity and accomplishments.
To wit, “He or she is a credit to their race.” Ever notice that this is rarely said about a white person? So Mr. Obama is a credit to his race, while Mr. Biden is a credit to whom? White America? This is a comment one would expect from a white supremacist group or a skinhead, not an enlightened individual of any race.
Though an obvious trap, the subtext isn’t even subtle: “Most black people are inferior, but you’re the exception. Congratulations.” Well, many congratulations are in order and the congratulatory notes should start flowing.
The real story and the larger text of which we should take note is not black failure but black success against what the white author David Blockmon describes as the “repeating tsunamis of violence against black people”. It is a story with many chapters in the Obama Presidency.
The talented African Americans with whom he has populated his administration are not outsized exceptions. They are indicative of the vast pool of black individuals at every level of American society who give lie to the Special Negro Syndrome.
They include Cabinet Secretaries Eric Holder (Justice), Susan Rice (UN Ambassador), Lisa Jackson (Environmental Protection Agency Administrator) and Ron Kirk (Trade Representative).
The list also includes White House aides such as Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Deputy Chief of Staff Mona Sutphen, Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Robert Nabors, Domestic Policy Advisor Melody Barnes, Political Affairs Director, Patrick Gaspard, Deputy White House Counsel Cassandra Butts, and Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, among others.
What makes for success or failure for people of any group is a mixture of individual ability as well as the familial and social context in which these abilities are supported or not. It is not inherently a matter of one’s skin tone.
In both black and white America some people will succeed more than others, not because of their colour but because of innate gifts. Not every little black boy in America can or will or should become a Colin Powell. Whether black or white the Powells of the world will usually succeed. Likewise, not every little white girl can or will or should grow up to be Hillary Clinton.
Many phenomena or notions that we label as black or white are both. To show how asinine and thoughtless is the idea of “black on black violence” consider the converse: “white on white violence.”
“The New York City Police Department announced today that there has been a spate of white on white violence across the city.” If you didn’t know better you would be alarmed. It turns out that this was a normal day of crime with people usually killing people they know and who live in their neighbourhood.
Is there any wonder then that black people kill black people, Latinos kill Latinos and-- guess what? -- whites kill whites?
But when white people annihilated one another during the Nazi Holocaust, during Stalin’s purges and gulags, during World Wars I and II, during hundreds of years of war across Europe, during Milosevic’s terror, during civil wars and revolutions in the United States, France, Britain, Spain and Russia, we never heard the line white on white violence.
But if there is genocide in Rwanda or civil unrest in Haiti or a deadly shooting by an African American of another in Los Angeles or a fracas among black teenagers in Nassau, the spectre of black on black violence is raised.
The subtext? Another racial falsehood and devious trap: “Blacks are inherently more violent than whites. See how much they kill each other! They obviously can’t govern or police themselves.”
Violence is a human phenomenon, though those with imperialistic and colonial ambitions have used it more ruthlessly and efficiently than others.
What about white on black violence which resulted in millions killed through the Middle Passage and millions killed on the African continent including those exterminated in the Belgian Congo alone at the whim of King Leopold whose ghost continues to haunt the modern day Democratic Republic of the Congo.
White people have killed far more black people than the converse. Yet rarely do the words white on black violence cross the lips of those ready to invoke the “monster” of black on black violence.
Violence is abhorrent whether perpetrated by black or white people. A lingering and insidious form of violence is the devious racial traps which continue to deny the inherent dignity of black people. Both blacks and white should work to dismantle these traps before they claim more witting and unwitting victims.
Next week, in Part 3 we will review some of the foundations of today’s racial traps, including the groundbreaking work of Douglas Blackmon, the author of Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.
Simon is a young Bahamian with things on his mind who wishes to remain anonymous. His column 'Front Porch' is published every Tuesday in the Nassau Guardian. He blogs regularly at Bahamapundit and can be reached at email@example.com