In the wake of the grand jury deciding to not indict the officer that is responsible for Eric Garner’s death, and certainly not unexpected, more frustration flew out of the minds, hearts, and mouths of black folk around the country. We all know the problem is serious and we’ve made it known by shutting down Lake Shore Drive in Chicago and protesting all over this country. This is action. This is community. And often times those moments of unification happen amidst tragedy and injustice. The anger is real and it is righteous. And in righteous anger we can forget the reality that faces us sometimes. One reality is that as unacceptable as this policing situation is, things as massive as the establishment of law enforcement in the US doesn’t change over night. This is going to take time. And its going to take time because cultural awareness simply works like that. As a human race we’ve gone from pitting slaves and captives against warriors and beasts in the Roman Colosseum to having an international accord in the Geneva Convention about proper respect for all human life and this took over 1600 years!
So ridding ourselves of discrimination is a marathon, not a sprint and we black folk are going to need fuel. And the fuel I’m talking about are healthy hearts and minds. It can be incredibly hard to meet the challenges of life without the resources to maintain your happiness, to let the situation rob you of your peace of mind and to fill that void with bitterness. We have a right to our emotions, but also we have a right to seek and find real joy and contentment. In this continual, but reinvigorated fight we need to be mindful to take care of ourselves, so we have the fuel to go on as long as necessary:
—Mental health professionals, psychologists and the like are not just for white people. Something I’ve heard many times in my life is that “Shrinks/psychologists/head doctors are for white people!” But here’s the thing, people whose charge it is to help you figure out bad behaviors, bring closure to trauma in your life, and find the best life path for your current and continued happiness are not just for white folk. These three things I mentioned are integral to every human being living a good life. So if a stable and relatively happy life is desired, life can not be gone through without these processes. Now plenty of us have the self control to stop bad behaviors before they turn into huge problems, can process the ups and downs of life just fine, and are well organized by nature so they walk a good life path without having to struggle at it much. But that is not everybody, hell that is not even most people. We all need someone to talk to now and again to address these concerns, but sometimes family and friends don’t cut it, especially if you have a serious issue going on. Anybody can be schizophrenic, bipolar, or have borderline personality disorder among dozens of other conditions.
If you’ve got a friend who gets into a fight every time they go out, can’t hold down a job or a spouse for longer than six months before irreconcilable differences pop up, or they have an extremely hard time adjusting to new situations, or everything and I mean everything that comes out of their mouth is tinged with bitterness, if anyone you know does one or all these things something is wrong and they need help, because clearly they are not getting it on their own. But being ‘off’, is okay. It happens, sometimes life can overwhelm. The notion that mainly white people consult mental health professionals and that its some kind badge of honor that many black folk don’t engage in it fails to the miss point. Yes black people have survived and even thrived through a great deal of tragedy and turmoil and without a ton of external help by being strong. But being strong isn’t invincibility, and denying the aid of a resource to help us navigate choppy waters is like sending the rescue officials away in the middle of a tsunami. Things could end badly whether you go with them or not, life can be tricky like that, but the odds of survival and being intact are increased when you accept their aid. Please don’t let prejudice about consulting mental health professionals being ‘white-only’ take away options and alternatives for your personal peace.
–“You talk white” has got to stop. I believe we say this to each other because we believe that we’re losing a sense of self and identity when we use our oppressors language. In W.E.B DuBois’ Souls of Black Folk, he notes that we constantly live in a state of double consciousness, where we must alternate between two realities, two states of being. And we do this to survive in a world that is not of our own making. And language is an example of that bifurcation. There are times where our slang is perfectly suited to our point and other times when it is not. DuBois outlined that we live in this state all the time and it’s not going anywhere as long as we’re oppressed, internally and externally. So we needn’t fear we’ll lose ourselves if we speak differently.
Furthermore, there is something insidious happening when people use that phrase against another; they imply that using less slang, pronouncing and enunciating words per grammatical expectation is the sole purview of white folk. That this state of competent communication is best left to another group of people entirely. Its like saying, “You have no legitimate claim to this behavior, so why are you doing it? What you’re doing is the equivalent of cultural appropriation.” And since the black person who is accused of ‘talking white’ is more than likely well educated, the phrase also implies that intellectualism and education are the exclusive property of whites. But that phrase is a slur and is effective as Jim Crow in telling black people there are places they can’t go. For where ever proper speech is required that phrase strongly implies its a place black people shouldn’t be.
—We have to take chances on each other and give each other the benefit of the doubt. From conversations with friends and acquaintances to comment boards online, one thing that breaks my heart time and time again is seeing black people rip into each other. ‘Hoes ain’t s*&#’, ‘Niggas ain’t s&*%’. ‘They marching in the streets while they killing each other down the block.’ ‘Black folks are like crabs in a barrel.’ When it comes to proclaiming the problems or bad behaviors that black people (like all people) sometimes display we can be as bad Rudy Giuliani! Now as noted in my previous post, we had the deck stacked against us. We had oppressors attempt to ruin our self-worth and spirit, so us having moments of divisiveness is not unexpected and we’ve persevered anyway. Sometimes though, we castigate each other so much that we end up losing a lot of respect for our peers and our community in the process. It’s time that we really begin to lift each other up. After the protests have calmed down because they will, (we haven’t had a major moment like this since Rodney King, except for a smatterting of them for souls like Latanya Haggerty and Trayvon Martin) I hope that we continue the fight for respect for our lives from white establishment and it’d be great to see that respect grow exponentially with us too.
Because its the everyday behaviors that count towards change. Marches, sit-ins/die-ins, contacting elected officials, and community organizing are great, great avenues in the march towards progress. Activism is needed always. But the everyday behaviors that I am talking about are giving the benefit of the doubt to people we normally don’t, to judge less and put more positive energy into them; specifically to not assume that the black male teenager in the white tee and sagging jeans is just another nigga. To not assume a woman is siddity or broke because of her job/hair/fashion/financial status/etc. To not assume that a black woman enjoying herself in the club is just another ‘thot’ and nothing else. To not assume that the person without a place and a car is incapable of doing better to provide for themselves. To not assume that a black owned operation is guaranteed to be lacking in efficiency and good customer service. And if it is, never support it again instead of trying to help the proprietor make changes by voicing constructive criticism. These are all things I’ve heard black people denigrate each other on and I have far too many examples of this. And because of this mentality we take so few chances on our own, afraid they’re going to jip us, cheat us, hurt us, lie to us, use us; that we don’t connect and bond with each other. And connecting and bonding to each other are necessary precursors to social change.
We have to respect each other enough to really listen and integrate the knowledge that is learned and then use it. The people that you take a chance on with these little behaviors that uplift them are just like you and me, struggling to live life because regardless of where and what you were born to, life can be brutal and we all share in that truth. Taking these chances on each other (even if they are merely thoughts) can illustrate trust and a desire to cooperate with each other towards something far greater than ourselves.
I direct this at a very specific place, the heart. I don’t want to just list whats wrong. We have enough people doing that and to no great effect I might add. I want to discuss our hearts, our souls, our ways of being, and the solutions to these complexities. I want the kids at a local high school who’ve been in the shadow of gun violence to not suffer from PTSD. I want the kid down the block not being scared to carry her/his back pack and show she’s/he’s intelligent, they could be the person who finds the next effective treatment for cancer! I want that guy who just finished doing a dime and goes to his local church only to be told that he can’t use the computers to learn software and look up jobs because he appears to be an unsavory element (true story) to have somewhere else to go where someone will take a chance on him.
Sometimes we get so angry and frustrated with each other that we forget to be kind to ourselves. To love ourselves. We have non-profit work, church work, anti-violence work, economic enfranchisement, and anti-recidivism work happening all over this country. We have black people fighting with legislatures, becoming social workers, starting better eating programs at local schools, teaching kids how to get involved in politics, showing students the wonders of math and science, working with chambers of commerce to bring businesses and jobs to our communities. We do so much for each other and it seems to get acknowledged so little sometimes. We are not crabs in a barrel. We are and have always been warriors on the front lines. We never had a place to retreat and regroup. We’ve been working tirelessly for over two centuries to raise the quality of life of black folks. The system, the white monolith, constantly tries to deny us personal peace for our souls; to stop is us from being the succor, the salve, the balm to each other for when life just seems to flatten you. And I don’t want to give them the emotional, physical, and spiritual energy that we need in reserve for our own lives and within our own community anymore. I just don’t.
(There is only one more article in this series. Thanks for reading and I promise nothing else will be this long! 🙂