DIALOGUE AND DISCUSSION ON EDUCATION, ENVIRONMENT AND RACE
So you say you are black. Really, really?
Objective Epistemological Thought and Research - the act of knowing through observing, experiencing, and doing.
Subjective Epistemological Thought and Research - the science and art of coming to understand the abstracts of any given subject.
I posted the above statements, as I am coming to understand them, for those that are relative to me, in order for them to place them into memory as they read this text. This was written with the Red Pill in mind and as the thought was delivered to me.
It really is amazing to me how long it can take sometimes for a thought to arise, particularly when the information is right before one’s eyes. I have been an observer and student of “race” for almost as long as I can remember. I can still recall vividly a bus ride with my great grandmother, when we were told to go to the back and my seeing all the “white” men (I was already aware of that misnomer) sitting while an old lady and her four year-old grandson had to stand because all the seats in the back were filled.
When I asked her why we had to go to the back of the bus, her only reply and explanation was, “Because we are Colored.” That was the first dart of shame and powerlessness that would be imprinted on my fresh brain for a condition I did not know I had. As time passed, I would see and hear many more examples of the race game and I just came to accept “that is just the way it is.”
It became clear to me that, in the place that I lived, the color of skin played a huge part in how one would be treated and what was expected of one. If it occurred anyplace else was never even a thought. It just was. For the record my skin color is medium brown or sepia, another description of my particular color. Back then, no one ever told me about slavery and, quite frankly, I do not remember when and where I first learned about it. It just kind of seeped in through stories and, much later, school.
The coding system was very confusing because it became clear to me that even people I knew well had different opinions about skin color -- what it meant and, it was equally clear, that there was a value attached to the various shades and hues of colored people. In other words, within what was supposed to be the Negro race were caste systems.
In my small sphere, we were termed as Coloreds, Negroes and Niggers. I was born in 1953 and, I can honestly say, until about 1966, I had never heard a person of color referred to as the noun “Black.” Whenever the word black was attached to a person it was an adjective, a not so nice one at that, nice in this case being gentle and kind, with many more connotations, all negative, than just skin color. It meant you were bad, nasty, mean, inferior, less than, and not shit. I can think of no word used to describe a lower condition, none! Therefore, anytime it was invoked, thoughts of shame and defect were attached with it.
One might be called a nigger, a motherfucker, a juju, and a host of other names meant to offend, but none carried the weight of black, especially when it preceded the noun. One can search history to get a time line on what people of color were called, but generally the words I offered were the main descriptors of what was believed to be a race of people.
By 1959, the word Negro was in vogue as I remember the short poem of unknown origins: “I am not a nigger. I’m a Negro and when I get to be a nigger, I will let you know.” Though some still used the terms Colored and Nigger, the word Nigger had several connotations, as it still does, based on context, inflection, and intonation. Unless certain vocal emphasis was placed upon it it could be a term of endearment or an invitation to fight. As a rule it was just an accepted noun of who we were.
Little did I know that, in the backdrop, things were occurring that, my world and the world as I knew it, would soon be turned upside down. Forces, events, things, and people were working to change the idea of what Coloreds, Negroes, and even Niggers were. Remember Blacks had not yet been born to any significant degree, though I might mention, some small groups had started to employ the term “black man.” However, that was in lands far away from Memphis, TN and, at the time, I had no clue that they even existed.
It was in late 1965 or early 1966 that small almost imperceptible clues started to be seen and heard. Almost as if they just seeped. In. Often tectonic plate shifting starts with just a small drift. Personally, it came to me in form of a picture that my aunt, who lived in Boston, had sent home. It was a picture of her friend, a gorgeous slim woman, wearing her hair sans hot comb or straighter and she called it a natural. I thought it odd that such a pretty woman would take away from her obvious beauty by wearing her hair “nappy.”
Sometimes, change just comes like that; and sometimes it comes with fire and violence, as it would. Sometimes, victims fight back, too, as they did in Chicago in the summer of 1966, I was there by the way, and Watts followed, then Detroit. So many cities started going up in flames, to the point that the times were called, “Long Hot Summers.” Concurrent with the urban rebellions was a meeting of the identity crisis that had plagued people of color since at 1795.
An old term, black, was being transmogrified through powerful poetry, fiery speech and oh God wonderful melodic, song. They were spreading it through the lands by word of mouth, newscast and especially radio. The term black, which was once laced and infused with inferiority, was gradually coming to be redefined as beautiful, powerful, and dangerous. No one forced it on us. It was the first time that by choice Niggers, Negroes, and Coloreds had dared to define themselves and they did it not only in protest, but to un-shame the word and its various definitions. They did it to shake up the white man’s world and to let the people see who the ostentatious cripples among them really were.
One by one we, yes, we, those of us who had the courage and fortitude, made individual decisions, choices that we would take an adjective of scorn and endow it as a noun of beauty, power, and choice. I distinctly remember that day in late 1966 when I threw off the college cut and told my father I was wearing a natural and his only reply was, “Keep it neat.” That was the beginning of my blackness. You see, to become black and to be black, was more than just a name; it was defiance. It was not a goddamn trend or fad. It was a statement to one’s self and any observer that the man, the system, nor history can contain or define me, but more importantly, shame me, through language. I can take the very words it used and redefine it as something great!
If you were not alive and aware to some extent during those times you can never be fully aware of what happened, what it looked like, and what it felt like.
There are no words to describe that fully. Even, ‘the loom of language” has it limitations to weave the complete texture of what it was like. If you were not there, you can never fully be Black, because the times were different when you were born. We had a different intent.
Being black is no longer a protest. What are you protesting? Who are you protesting? In fact, the very people who resisted being black and who went under cover because, we, the youth among them, looked upon them with scorn and ridicule for displaying such cowardice in the face of unity. Try as they might, they could not shake our determination; so, they appeared to acquiesce, they mingled and out blacked us it seemed. Aid by the media and Madison Ave and business who jumped upon what they saw only as a fad, something to make money off of “black is beautiful” hit main stream America and black power soon went out the door, dead, mort, extinct.
So please young people do not dishonor those of us that made a choice under threat of arrest, violence, isolation, being fired, denied entry, “blacklisted”, “blackballed” jailed convicted and murdered. We were your black people. We arrived in a small window, a rip in the Matrix before it could react and only those of us who were extant at the time and conscious of the decisions we made under those particular and unique circumstances can truly and really be black as it was defined by us. Please consider that.
Al Lewis Copyright August, 2012
Thank you for sharing your viewpoint. It definately caused me to think about how being black came to be. It caused me to have more insight on why Tommie Smith and John Carlos did what they did. They took a stance. They stood for something no matter what the outcome would be. They and a few other brave individuals made the decision to stop accepting things as "it is what it is." I often wonder if and when will individuals who are in positions to influence will decide to take a stand and be a voice. The black people you speak of Al are role models, visionaries, and leaders in my opinion. Now role models excel in sports, are rich and/or famous yet take no stance or have a voice. What is there to complain about? This is now our country too and we have a black president in office! What could we/us black folk possibly complain about?
War means to confuse or to perplex and I have a small understanding of what has been and is happening. My idea of who did what during the time period identified as the civil rights movement is far from the entire truth. It was not until coming among a few bold people, that I have and still am learning what actually happened, who the players were and what happened to them. My mind has been at war, I mean confused or perplexed. The history books used steered me away from those real black men and women who fought, died and/or were imprisoned for change. I felt a sense of pride with my fro and owning a pick with the black fist. I felt pride listening to black music that spoke of black pride, black power and fighting the power etc. What were we really fighting? Where was this power? The ability for those in positons of power to take that movement of real black men and women, who took that stand and be able to divert or channel that energy into a commercial market so to speak helps me to get a little peak at the construct, the way it ticks and morphs. Almost as a hampster stepping in the wheel running as fast and hard as it can, then stepping out of that same wheel in the same cage but yet now believing it is now in a different location. Namaska God, thank you for helping me to gain one more piece to this puzzle.
Wow!! Your words were powerful!! This really lit a spark in me! Do you mind if I share your story...including your copyright of course! This should be shared!!
This may be the spark.!