As these instances of police brutality towards Black members of the community increase across our nation, it makes you think back to a time in our country during the 60s, 70s, and 80s when police brutality in the Black community was at an all-time high. There would be innocent children and men being beaten, shot, and killed followed by a sequence of peaceful protests just for the police to come in with their high powered water hoses and toxic bombs to shut things down. An organization that is supposed to serve and protect the Black community has manifested into a gang whose mission is to kill and destroy the Black community. When you take a bird’s eye look at the state of our nation, it becomes apparent that these random police shootings are a direct effect of the system of White Supremacy that has nurtured and promoted negative attitudes within mainstream America against people of color. Its roots have been traced back to the system of slavery where Blacks were taken, stripped of their natural identity, denied human rights, and treated worse than animals. The racial oppression we witness and experience today stems from a strategic system that has been enforced for hundreds of years.
During the period of slavery in the United States, racial oppression served a very important role – to keep Whites in power and to keep Blacks (or Negroes as they were called at the time) disempowered. The slave masters used many techniques to keep their slaves in line; the most dehumanizing of them all was beating them when they disobeyed or broke the rules. The beatings were so gruesome and frightening to the point where Blacks attempted to escape the harsh treatment of their masters by running away. If they were caught, they suffered beatings and sometimes death by hanging. The slaves were given one main job, which was to pick cotton and work the land. During this time, agricultural farming was how they worked, lived, and survived, so to the slave masters, having someone to work the land and tend to the crops was necessary to their existence. The system of slavery served a purpose greater than just to oppress a group of people. It was the mechanism by which America was established and developed. It’s often said that the pilgrims couldn’t find any other people who were as strong as the Africans to work the land so they chose us. So through a hopeful lens, one can view racial oppression as a byproduct of White Supremacy, as opposed to it being a cause of it.
On the other hand, one can view racial oppression quite differently and see Whites who support the system of slavery and White Supremacy as evil, heartless human beings. Because Blacks have forgiven the former slave masters for what they did to our ancestors and have accepted the fact that maybe, just maybe slavery served its purpose and was rightly abolished, but yet there still seems to be many traces of discrimination and oppression fueled by racism and values of White Supremacy. According to the law and what’s written on the books, slavery is illegal and does not exist, therefore we live in a post-racial society. Meanwhile, Blacks are still experiencing the residual effects of a system of slavery that was abolished over 100 years ago. Some would like to refer to this pain and suffering as Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder, which would hold some weight if we weren’t constantly reliving it day-to-day and we lived in a post-racial, post slavery society. The reality is, what we are experiencing today is only a modern day form of slavery where Blacks are being targeted and mistreated because of a system of White Supremacy. If you were to talk to Blacks who lived during the period right after the abolishment of slavery and talk to Blacks living today, you would learn that much of their experience is still the same. Blacks are still being racially profiled, arrested, and thrown into jail; Blacks are still being pre-judged and looked down upon by Whites; Blacks are still viewed as inferior, weak, uneducated, and powerless by mainstream society; Black children still struggle with getting a proper education in school; Black women and men still are discriminated against in the workforce and are held back from getting certain jobs. I know this, because I am a victim of it and see it happening every day.
Despite laws and rules written to make America a country that’s equal and free, the reality of what Blacks are experiencing is the complete opposite. It makes you wonder, with so many years since slavery being abolished and things are still the same way they were, what kind of changes have been really made to eliminate racism? And are the efforts and changes that have been made being offset by other practices to further keep Blacks oppressed? So that you have a group of Americans who are truly against the system of White Supremacy and racial oppression working to bring about healing for this country and unite the races, while there still exists an overarching system of White Supremacy maintained by proponents of racism. It reminds me of the game of tug of war where you have a team of people on one end trying to pull the rope from the team on the other side. The team that usually wins is the side with the most people or the most manpower.
So essentially, what we have in America is a game of tug of war – a team of conservatives who are in favor of keeping their power, therefore being proponents of the system of White Supremacy versus the other team who is fighting to gain power, meanwhile trying so hard to pull the rope from this other group who is much more stronger and powerful. If one group wins the game of tug-of-war, it’s at the expense of the other group who gives up their power by letting go of the rope. Many African-Americans have let go of the rope and given up on trying to regain the power that we once had as a race when were were living in Africa as kings and queens. Many African-Americans have accepted the system and are comfortable with the way things are. Some of us don’t see that there is a problem of racial oppression that exists, as many of us claim to not be oppressed – though they have been victims of racism and discrimination and are indirectly and directly impacted by the system of White Supremacy. Many African-Americans hold views, beliefs, and values that further perpetuate their oppression and the system of White Supremacy by buying into it, sometimes at no fault of their ow; it’s how they have learned to survive.
Many African-Americans will revere Caucasians as smart, educated, and strong, meanwhile turn to another fellow African-American and call them a “Dumb Nigga.” Some African-Americans are offended when a White person calls them a racial slur, but will glory in the idea of being called a “real nigga” or a “bad bitch” by another Black person. Many of us don’t see ourselves as intelligent, strong, and powerful, so when you do see a Black person “make it out of the hood” and go on to become successful, it’s almost always assumed that they got there by luck or by affiliation with White people, instead of by their own strength, intelligence, and power.
There have been instances where I’ve experienced racial oppression and also have been the culprit of it towards my own peers and family through microaggressions and talking in a condescending fashion. It’s much easier to point towards another person of a different race who is being racist towards us, and much more difficult to acknowledge moments when our own beliefs, attitudes, and values are racist in nature. It’s also very difficult to accurately attribute my experiences of feeling depressed and oppressed as a byproduct of racism when I have been conditioned to believe that we live in a post-racist society and have encountered experiences that were inconsistent or contradictory to the system of White Supremacy (i.e. being a successful entrepreneur and having the ability to network with people from different racial backgrounds to achieve my goals and dreams). For the sake of keeping one’s sanity, turning a blind eye to the racial injustices in America is much easier than looking it dead in the face.
Moving forward, it’s important to take a look at racism and see whether negative experiences Black people encounter are a function of racial oppression, individual choice, or common human experience. Because race is such a salient factor in our society, it’s very easy to point every problem that exists back to racial inequality and the system of slavery and White Supremacy. While we know that negative stereotypes, attitudes and beliefs concerning Black people do exist within the minds of both White and Black people alike, and that those beliefs permeate through all facets of our society, including government, education, health care, parenting, media, and religion, it is equally important to be mindful of one’s own racial biases and prejudices that serve to maintain this system of White Supremacy.
For me, I’ve made an effort to be conscious of my own identity and change the way in which I see myself. It’s often said, “It doesn’t matter how others see you, it only matters how you see yourself.” I prefer to believe that it does matter how others see you, but more importantly, how you see yourself. When I came to an acceptance of who I was as a Black woman and what that meant in a White racial society, I knew that I was on the right track to restoring my sense of self. So many African-Americans have become alienated and separated from their true selves. We’ve become acculturated into mainstream culture and have adopted a different way of thinking about ourselves that is different than who we were before we were brought to America. We have been made to think of ourselves as inferior because inferiority is what we’ve been taught and a state of mind we have been conditioned to live in. As long as we are not too loud, too outspoken, and too intelligent, we are safe in the presence of White people. But the moment we become educated, verbally expressive, and resistant to the status quo, we become even a bigger threat. So it’s like, we’re damned if we do and we’re damned if we don’t. I would rather be damned for being the person I was born to be than damned for being anything less.
Copyright June 7 2016 Danielle Leach All Rights Reserved