This plaque that I speak of is a phenomenon called gatekeeping or some people refer to it as policing. Either way you cut it, we become the enforcers of black respectability and instead of admitting we all know a “Daquan” (which is a problematic viewpoint of black masculinity) we in our public and personal spaces become the black people police. We judge the choices of our entire group by our personal viewpoints and choices. We promote a bootstrap mentality that is so far from our cultural tradition. We even tote individual choices as the cure to all that ails us.
I know its simple. Too simple. Over simple. And you haven’t bought in yet but stick with me.
I would argue that black people find themselves in a precarious situation. We are in a fight for our collective story to be recognized, suffering from the trauma of generational systemic oppression, all while living side by side with the “colonizer “and having no “homeland” or physical land which to speak of.
I can explain it as best: as having an awareness of the collective suffering of your people while those who have caused that suffering proceed with life as usual. You are watching a movie in which you’re told to aspire to a certain quality of life and then blamed for not being able to reach it. Imagine for every generation, I have passed down an history of your family that is told by schools books not written by you and that leave out many details. I make this history about single heroic actors instead of unified agenda that involved compromise and creativity. I give you half the information and then without so much as a thought on how that impacts your psyche, I say okay now don’t see color, work really hard, try to be white like and everything that has occurred in your family is your fault but you should be over it by now.
But all of this aside, black Americans (I know that others including those African and Caribbean descent have a complex story) but Black America, is my framework for understanding the world and my lived experience so I write from that vantage) continue to work and love and live against the odds.
Black Americans are being killed by other black Americans in ways I didn't think was possible. This violence looks and feels different and I was made aware of it acutely one night at a bar with an friend of a friend gave her viewpoints on homelessness and a missing young girl by the name of Relisha.
An acquaintance was there and she started talking about “breeders” women who she said didn’t deserve to be mothers and how being homelessness means keep your legs closed and don’t bring a baby in this world her tax dollars support. I tried not to argue back because I realized in those situations I tend to get very upset, but I couldn’t be quiet. I left and I started thinking about how violent we are with each other. How are words are often designed to cut each other down, point out what we didn't do and have no grace or space for the complications of a life that is not understood from a lens or viewpoint not of my own. How we are taught to be so hard on one another. How compassion is secondary to criticism. How violent words get passed down from generation to generation. How self hate and IRO become litmus test for how acceptable and mainstream you are. There is a reason we are taught very finite ways of understanding success.
If you have ever said any of these things lets talks!
Black People are like crabs in a barrel
You can’t give Niggga’s shyt
If you can’t take care of your kids why have them
My tax dollars should not support your weave habit
If they would just pull up their pants
White people don’t make us kill each other
The list goes on… and on and on…
What is inherent in each of these statements in two things that trouble me? A) Distance from and lack of responsibility for those in need in our community. It’s why most people who work in non-profits and do “mission” work in the traditional sense are young white women. (I understand the paradigm that exist in communities where we cook each other meals and serve each other informally that aren't often recognized) But I would argue this is largely been co-opted by the non-profit industrial complex as not valid forms of caring.
We are all responsible for a world where Relisha can go missing and a world where middle class African Americans distance themselves from people of a different class. We are all responsible for a world where the message we send to low income children is get out and don’t look back.
B) We don’t love each other and therefore our critiques are often disguised as advice or information but are problematic because what would we be willing to give up to make sure everyone who looks like us is cared for?
Anyone who believes collective progress can happen without collective outrage, collective action and collective sacrifice is naive.
Additionally I am not a fan of having these talks in front of non-friendly audiences. (Bill Cosby), we don’t do it on national TV, we do it community and individual level and absent of a relationship these things sound like critiques that are void of the care and concern these conversations merit.
How to we build up instead of tear down?
How to we talk openly but move the convo away from one about interpersonal interactions to institutional and systemic realities?
How do we translate personal narratives into political and economic power?
I believe we make individual choices. I make them every day. To get up and try to love people. To understand their choices even when I don’t agree. To work for justice even as I may sacrifice personal comfort sometimes. To operate out of a place of love rooted in black self-determination and liberation. Anything else to me is just shallow.
Black on Black violence whether in the streets of urban areas or in the classrooms of academia is dangerous. We can’t not build collective economic and political power if all of our time is spent deciding who is at fault.
Classism without commitment is just critical.
And its time we stop our deadly assault on each other.