It’s time to Break It Down!
Monday was a holiday. Typically, during holiday weeks, I recycle a redux version of a previous post. Not today. Like Dré, I had something to say. Something I needed to say, and something you needed to know. Carry on.
Not every great dilemma is destined to be distilled and viewed through the prism of race. Let’s be clear, however, race, despite being merely a social construct, was literally invented to keep the Black man down. And for ages, across the world, it’s done a hellava job.
Gomes Eanes de Zurara, a Portuguese chronicler of the European Age of Discovery, a lesser light whom most non-historians probably never heard of, pretty much single-handedly composed the lie that effectively invented racism. He was commissioned by Alfonso V, King of Portugal to compose a glowing biography of the African adventures of his beloved uncle, Prince Henry the Navigator. Zurara completed the Chronicles of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea in 1453, a book in which he described all the various people of the myriad countries in Africa as a distinct group, beastly and inferior. This was the first European book written about Africa. Of course, in direct contrast to Zurara’s slander, some of the most sophisticated cultures of the time resided on the African Continent. Not coincidentally, despite serious fakery, the Portuguese were contemporaneously pioneering the North Atlantic slave trade. They were the first to do it, so to speak. It became immediately convenient to have a justifying narrative to assert the inferiority of African people to the church, to other people, and notably, to themselves. With the stroke of a pen, Zurara invented both Blackness and Whiteness…because Blackness alone would have served no purpose without Whiteness. So let it be known, racism did not start based on some misunderstanding between groups, or cultures. It started based on a lie; one that has been perpetuated for over five and a half centuries.
In 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois prophetically foretold: “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” It is a well-known sentence that is rarely quoted completely. Du Bois goes on to describe the color line as “the question of how far differences of race . . . will hereafter be made the basis of denying to over half the world the right of sharing to their utmost ability the opportunities and privileges of modern civilization.” In The Souls of Black Folk, he says it is “the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea” and says, “It was a phase of this problem that caused the Civil War.”
There is no denying Dr. Du Bois’ prescience. After all, here we are, nearly 120 years later, and the problem of the color line is still front and center. Fast forward more than 110 years after Du Bois’ pronouncement, to the summer of 2016, and the first Issue of OTHERING & BELONGING EXPANDING THE CIRCLE OF HUMAN CONCERN, in which john a. powell and Stephen Menendian wrote: “The problem of the twenty-first century is the problem of “othering.” In a world beset by seemingly intractable and overwhelming challenges, virtually every global, national, and regional conflict is wrapped within or organized around one or more dimension of group-based difference. Othering undergirds territorial disputes, sectarian violence, military conflict, the spread of disease, hunger, and food insecurity, and even climate change.
Clearly, powell and Menendian expanded the dimensions of the debate to include a host of additional variables, including people and issues. For the purposes of this post, I will continue to highlight race and the American condition. Although the enlarged conversation warrants further discourse, I’ll have to revisit that at another time.
For now, just know this. On June 27, 2022, 25-year-old Jayland Walker was involved in a traffic stop in Akron, Ohio that after his fleeing, devolved into the final encounter of his life. News accounts report that he was shot by police, as many as 60 times. On July 4, 2022, 21-year-old Robert Crimo was involved in a traffic stop in North Chicago, that after his fleeing resulted in him being detained and arrested. Some might consider it important to note that Crimo is the lone person of interest/suspect in a mass shooting that resulted in killing 7 people and wounding dozens more during an Independence Day Parade in Highland Park. Consider it noted.
Yes, Walker is Black; Crimo is White. Yes, there have been many instances with comparable circumstances, and similar results. This is America! For all its alleged greatness, there is still a lot to work on, particularly when it comes to race, and as Du Bois framed it, the problem of the color line.
Unless we, here in America, gird our proverbial loins, and commit ourselves to confronting, deconstructing, and neutering this behemoth of a problem, we are assured of staying mired in the quicksand of America’s original sin.
Anti-CRT advocates and folks who claim to adhere to constitutional originalism fail to acknowledge and appropriately address the Constitution’s odious double malady, first of ignoring Black people, then secondly, of relegating us to 3/5 status. In short, the United States was founded by men who owned slaves, and who did not extend equal rights to women. We can, and in fact, we should, stop pretending all the documents they wrote were infallible. Oh, by the way, to celebrate July 4, 1776 and simultaneously ignore January 6, 2021 is the epitome of hypocrisy. Full stop.
Slavery, like it or not, is an irreducible fact, not some throwaway guest worker clause, or involuntary relocation plan (both euphemisms that are actively applied today), and it is an indelible black, no pun intended, mark on the ego-inspired notion of “American Exceptionalism.” George (no, not Washington) Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Contemporary America asks all of us to take the “blue pill,” and forget how we got here. The best and most compelling counterpoint to that ill-conceived plea is that there is a cadre of Americans who are never going to permit that to happen. We are here, America is our home, and we are not going anywhere. You can forget about those go back to Africa, or Mexico, or India, or China, or Japan, or fill-in-the-blank Muslim country jeers and sneers. We are here, and what’s more important, we don’t just sing America, We Are America…Oh Say Can You See Us…now. That dear friends and family, is “July 4th In Black & White!”
I’m done; holla back!
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