Not monolithic, and why I don’t celebrate the 4th of July
Not sure where to begin on this one.
It’s July 4th, and I don’t normally celebrate the true meaning of this day, although I’m happy to have the days off. As far as I’m concerned, this day — the day that the US declared independence from England — also marks the day that they needed a little help building the new country. Guess where they got that help? So, while the day is commemorated with fireworks, gatherings and good food, for black people, it’s tantamount to whooping it up to celebrate the inception of slavery. And as I said, I’m happy for the days off, but I won’t be getting a cake with a flag on it anytime soon.
This is not a lesson taught in schools.
As a matter of fact, when we’re young and in elementary school (or grammar school, depending on your region), we learn about other countries. Inevitably, the teacher will ask whose parents come from Italy, and we hear all about being Italian. Whose family is from Greece? Students might’ve raised their hands, and took a moment to tell us about their culture. Lather, rinse, repeat for any number of countries. In my class, I didn’t have the benefit of other black kids who could tell direct stories about Africa or the Caribbean, so the black American kids didn’t really have interesting stories to tell and since the assumption was that we were all descendants of slaves, the white kids – with their pride in their various ethnicities — were left to assume that we were all the same, which is the very wrong assumption.
I could prattle on ALL day about all of the different factions of black people, and how regions within the US impact our upbringing and viewpoints. I’m of the personal opinion that much of the separation among black people can be taken back to slavery when Africans were captured from several countries — many of which spoke different languages and couldn’t communicate with one another — and lumped together, while slave masters prohibited communication in their native tongues, despite their refusal to teach them the English language. The dissension began there and was furthered when slaves were separated by skin color, with favor given to the light-skinned slaves, (an issue that continues to divide us), who were typical products of rape by the slave master. Black women are portrayed as oversexualized to this day, due to the narrative that we were wanton seductresses who tempted slave owners. (blech!)
You see, it made sense for slave owners and white people, in general, to dissuade camaraderie and encourage ignorance among slaves, because it lessened the chance of slaves bonding together and rising up against them. Perhaps the inception of white fragility.
Fast forward 400 years, and there are still clear separations. While we share the presence of melanin, our viewpoints vary. Just as Italians, Greeks, Lithuanians, etc., aren’t culturally aligned with one another, there’s not always alignment among us either. I, personally, don’t align with Caribbean culture, nor will I fit in with traditional African cultures. I have an east coast family, so I’m not really at home with black people from the deep south. Within Chicago, I’m a south sider, and there’s a legendary rift between the south and west sides of the city. Nothing wrong with those other factions, but it is what it is.
When we factor in the socio-economic differences, white people vary dramatically . . . and so do black people. Early in my career, in my most hated job, I worked with a woman – Noreen (her real name, because I don’t care), who was racist (and an aging ho, but I digress). We were walking down the street together one day, and there was a homeless black man who was probably drunk, and trying to talk to us. Noreen asked me to “translate” because she didn’t “speak black.” I was visibly and audibly unhappy about this, and she looked at me as though she would have no idea why I would be annoyed. Some time later, I referred to “her people” who were from the trailer park, and when she looked equally annoyed with me, I winked at her — a gesture that was lost on her, but made me happy.
Also, just like white people, there is a distinct division between honest people and criminals. I laugh when white people introduce black-on-black crime as a supposition that we don’t care about our own lives, which begs the question of why they should jump on board with Black Lives Matters. It’s funny because it doesn’t make sense on multiple levels. I think of it as, simply, crime, because I don’t align with criminals (irrespective of skin color), and I can’t explain why they do what they do, nor do I take responsibility for them. People love to ask: “WHAT is going on in the black community? Why are there so many shootings?” Hell, I don’t know. It could be a gang war, or maybe it has to do with drugs, OR perhaps it has to do with the reduced income levels, which always results in an increase in crime. I wish I had an answer.
Circling back, the bottom line here is that we were taught differences between white people, and they weren’t taught ours because nobody knows what to teach them, and they don’t want to be taught by us. Because of my upbringing, I know a lot about various cultures – Italian, Jewish, etc. But most of my childhood friends can’t reciprocate their knowledge of mine. So many white people, when they think of us, believe we’re all the same.
At my second most hated job, which was only a few years ago, I worked with a woman known as my Crazy Racist Coworker. I would use her real name (because again, don’t care), but if you follow me on FB, you’ve read the stories, so in the interest of consistency I’ll refer to her here as CRC. That said, CRC once told me, after I received accolades from a black partner in the firm, that “you black people all stick together.” So, I said “Bitch, do you watch the news?” CRC, with her po-dunk hicktown beginnings and eventual venture into the “big city” where she nestled comfortably into the most homogeneous neighborhood that she could find, made a LOT of groundless suppositions. CRC, who has never taken the time to honestly get to know one person of color, assumed, again, that we’re all the same.
Not sure if a lot of white people realize this, so I’m going to spell it out really clearly. We are all very different, and can’t be expected to provide one viewpoint on anything. That’s why, when I’m asked to be the ambassador of black people for some of my melanin-challenged associates, I always qualify the answer with “well, I can’t speak for all black people,” because I cannot. You’re just going to have to truly get to know a wide range of us and round out your opinions.
But back to the point . . . black people have had a long history of not being able to trust members of alleged “authority,” and victimized by white people who wanted to hold us back, with the belief that we are “savages” as originally defined by white people during the times of slavery, which extends to modern day, as intimated in the media. It’s all psychological warfare, really.
The tables have turned, because it’s now time for white people to have a seat and learn something from and about black people. We live in a world that they don’t know, and we have experiences that are unrelatable and in many cases unfathomable to them, but necessary to understand.
All of that said, the ONE thing that all black people DO agree on is that there need to be laws in this country to protect us from the very people who are supposed to be in charge. Y’know, the descendants of the delightful people who wrote the constitution — where it’s stated that we’re all created equal — and conveniently retreated to their plantations to whip slaves who weren’t considered to be people at all? Again, I digress.
And here we are in 2020, marching for the right to simply stay alive. But this time we’re educated, and we’re amazed that FINALLY, a meaningful number of white people understand that murders by police and generally brutal treatment of black people by a range of white people – from shit-kicking morons to self-righteous Karens to corporate assholes who implement institutional racism to the President of the United States – is complete bullshit and needs to cease.
Honestly? I hate Trump, and I’m super embarrassed that we have a failed businessman and reality TV star as the leader of our nation. (If you voted for him, congratulations! Now we’re on Survivor.) BUT, I can only be grateful that he’s so polarizing and awful, because it took someone like him — a man who role models violence, makes fun of the physically disadvantaged, grabs women by the pussy, should I really go on? - to cast a bright light on our problems. If he exists only to move this movement forward, I guess I can forgive his parents for having him. Also, the absolute best part about this whole thing is that a very disconnected group of people (by design) with similar physical traits can get on the same page about wanting to see reform.
Hoping for something different to celebrate in the coming years, and I wish everyone a happy day, however you choose to enjoy the great weather. Oh, and put on a goddamned mask