(First posted on my tumblr – but I’m recharging this blog for more medium and long form work and reviews)
Today, I heard and read a few things about how some people black people are setting the race back to some random date in the past. It’s usually into the Civil Rights era, as it is seen as some sort of reset period (which may need a short post of its own.) Specifically, I saw a tweet from nobody cat downing Bomani Jones for going on ESPN and “setting (black people) back 25 years.” I’m going to put in my very amateur, semi-educated two-cents as to why we do this.
As it usually goes – a black person does/says something completely ignorant, in wide view of white people. Black people, and “enlightened” non-blacks throw their collective arms up in disgust, and say “this guy/woman/bitch/nigga/nigger just set us/progress back 25+ years!”
First of all, that’s stupid.
If I got out in the middle of traffic, pulled down my pants, and shook my man parts in the intersection, that doesn’t create regression with black people. It doesn’t undo what Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X did. It makes me a candidate for a tasering and testing for crack cocaine, but it doesn’t take forward progress away. (See what I did there?)
Second, it’s regressive to even believe that a singular act could set a group of people back. That line of thinking dates back to when we (I’m a Negro) were slaves. It was engrained that good behavior would create favor with the plantation owners. One step out of line by an apparently rebellious or degenerate slave, and all us gone gettit fruhm massa!
This is something we are continually repeating, and because it’s been in our collective psyche for so long, we parellel everything said or done,right or wrong, to those ridiculous and outdated contexts. It’s that post-slave mentality that I see from a lot of the supposed black leaders that hold us back. (Like right now, it’s more about “Let me put on this suit and do my soft shoe in the name of Trayvon Martin/whatever shit I can get into to stay relevant.”) They want to be seen – not by other African Americans in this context – but by the mainstream media – which is controlled by white people. We are still putting on the face, unnecessarily denying assuring that black people are still good wholesome people, even after a negative act a black person does, while completely exclusive and singular. ”Taht was just hem, massa….whee dount all acks lahk dat suh.”
It lends to a greater question of how black people view themselves (and to an extent how others view us). People are first individuals, with their own moral systems, regardless of cultural upbringing. Does Jeffrey Dahmer or Adolf Hitler or some rambling trashy bama represent all white people? Obviously not. So, also obviously, some gangbanging Vatos doesn’t represent all Latinos. Why are they never said to be setting back their races? The reason and differences lie solely on the fact that blacks were slaves. That realization isn’t always made in current times, because it was such a clearly cruel act that happened long ago.
But what I personally believe is that black people are still getting over the trauma of first being slaves, stripped of identity in the Passage. Then, suddenly, we weren’t slaves – but are tagged with a new identity as the progeny of slaves. The descendants of 3/5ths of an actual person. So no matter how singular an act is, it’s a black mark on the entire race, at least psychologically. When we doubt ourselves as a group, that is when others openly and/or subconsciously (and maybe subversively) doubt the viability of our existence, and we feel it.
But there isn’t a reason for us to do that anymore. It’s about holding individuals accountable, to the man or woman, not to a race. ”We’s free now!” We need to act like this was always the way it should have been, and not that we are lucky to have made any progress at all.