Sometimes Black folks are so hard on Black folks.
To much attention and fanfare, actor Romany Malco published an article last week in Huff Post outlining his take on the Trayvon Martin case. In a crisp and spirited litany, Malco aligned himself with the chorus of folks who have decided that the Trayvon Martin case is not just an issue of racism, but really about the failure of the Black community to take responsibility for our communities, the images of ourselves we give economic support to, and how we educate ourselves. Malco writes:
I believe we lost that trial for Trayvon long before he was killed. Trayvon was doomed the moment ignorance became synonymous with young black America . We lost that case by using media outlets (music, movies, social media, etc.) as vehicles to perpetuate the same negative images and social issues that destroyed the black community in the first place. When we went on record glorifying violent crime and when we voted for a president we never thought to hold accountable. When we signed on to do reality shows that fed into the media’s stereotypes of black men, we ingrained an image of Trayvon Martin so overwhelming that who he actually may have been didn’t matter anymore.
Though his statement appears powerful, it actually was nothing new. In short, Malco reiterates a conversation we’ve all heard before at the dinner table. It is often launched at Black youth in particular. Mistakenly, it’s a position even I used to believe. Namely this idea that instead of hollering racism, it’s up to Black people to get ourselves together. It’s essentially Black on Black shaming, and it’s not necessarily “wrong,” it’s just intellectually lazy, relies on myths of Black deficiency, and ignores the necessary context of how racism has operated and continues to operate in this country.
I understand that sometimes talking about racism can feel like a futile crutch. I get it. Folks do not want to feel like victims. We want to ardently believe that we only need to stand up and take ownership of our communities, that the world is laid out for our survival, and we just need to tap into our own will and persistence. And yes, we have to have the conversation about our own individual efforts to take responsibility. But the fact of the matter is that we must talk about institutional and systemic racism in order to debunk many of the myths that get perpetuated about Black communities.
For instance, there are numerous studies and facts that directly contradict the ideas of Black laziness or misdirection. Study after study will reveal that Black folks work just as hard and care just as much about education as other folks. Rather than just blaming ourselves, we have to talk about the lack of economic resources given to our schools and communities. In terms of hip-hop, of course we shouldn’t be supporting rappers that promote misogyny and violence. But we need to remember that it is white suburban youth consumers and corporate media giants that played the largest roles in the proliferation of mainstream rap. In terms of drugs, a recent study was just released showing that poverty, rather than drugs, can be the biggest hindrance to a child’s success. And in fact, Black youth reportedly consume fewer drugs than their White counterparts. This all underscored by the fact that the only reason these myths were given fodder were because of conservative strategies that have attempted to capitalize on the racial antagonisms and resentment of working class Whites. We must remember that the idea of the “drug-ridden” and “welfare queen” ghettos were part of a conservative strategy born out of the 1970s to fight against the gains made by the Civil Rights Movement. We could also talk about mass incarceration and how Blacks get harsher sentences for similar crimes committed by White folks, the list goes on and on.
But to some extent, this conversation goes beyond just facts. Malco’s statement was widely circulated, and reflects sentiments I’ve heard from many members of our community. So the deeper issue at hand is this: how do Black folks feel about Black folks? The real issue is, do we see ourselves as strong, resilient, and hard-working people? Do we see ourselves as loving people who are working to sustain each other? How is it that all someone needs to tell some of us is that we’re lazy and ignorant, and we just buy into it without much criticism? The irony is that Malco argues that we need self-love, but his statement takes the position that is the very antithesis of loving ourselves.
Racism is real. It is not some fictitious scapegoat that Black people rely on for the sake of argument. Black on Black shaming ignores the facts of how corporations, the government, and other institutions continually create and sustain policies that harm Black communities. Now this does not mean we are hopeless victims, there are many opportunities and means by which Black people can still achieve success and uplift each other. We do not have the luxury of making excuses. But what we also can’t do is act like our communities are only struggling because we’re just a bunch of lazy, good for nothing, twerkin, molly-poppin, gangbangin, weed-smokin, ignorance-lovin, ne’er do wells.
If we really love Black people, and if we really want us to succeed, then we can’t keep perpetuating Black on Black shaming. The conversation must be around how both individual responsibility and racism plays a role in our lives. We can’t keep surrendering to these ideas which rely on conservative myth and “ pull yourself up by own bootstraps” thinking in lieu of facts.
The Black community deserves more.