understanding black suspicion
"The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.” - rev. jeremiah wright
To understand black suspicion you must understand where it comes from. Mine was born out of the kind of parlor talk you hear in old shotgun homes in the deep South. In the summer evenings at my grandparents' homes, after we'd eaten dinner, when the wind would begin to stir up and cool things down, the old folks would become reflective. They'd look out the window over the horizon and begin to hum hymns. These folks were from an era where children spoke only when spoken to, so when they eventually started to talk amongst themselves, you either found your way outside, or you did like me and got still, quickly. As they talked, I'd lean back and slowly begin to inhale their stories; first hand accounts of things too unimaginable to ever forget. They would matter of factly speak of lynchings, decapitations, cross burnings, home burnings, people burnings, cold blooded murders, men falsely accused of rape and murder, chain gangs, cheated sharecroppers, and some even held passed down stories about slavery. These elders didn't just know the stories, they knew the names and faces that went with them. They knew plot, and subplot. Like what became of that family of six after the father was killed for trying to form a local farmer's union. They knew America in a way my young eyes and ears had yet to see. They knew American the untold.
The echoes of those stories lived forever in my ears. As a young Cub Scout, when we'd start every meeting staring at the flag saying the pledge of allegiance, I couldn't help but feel a bit removed. "Why are we worshipping that flag", I thought. More importantly I'd ask myself, "what exactly does this American flag stand for?" In my young mind, the white stars stood for white people. The red was for blood. And the blue? I figured the blue must be synonymous with all the people with the blues. I definitely saw my share of those people. Sure, something about Carl Lewis winning a gold medal and running around a track holding an American flag made me proud as a young person. Not so much because he was from America, but more so because he had succeeded in spite of America.
In my mind, there were two Americas. My block, my home, my friends and family, my community, that was my America. That's the one I loved. It wasn't perfect, but it was honest, and I always knew where I stood. That America gave me more joy than I could ever imagine. It's also where I saw the loss of freedom, the pain of injustice, and the embarrassment of inequality. My American had an easily accessible history, that was constantly given to me orally, by people who knew it all too well.
Then there was the other America, the one that stood for freedom, justice, and equality. The one that went to war too often, eliminated anyone perceived as a threat, held deep dark secrets, and always appeared to try to keep certain people down. The face of that America didn't look like mine, and that America told different stories, or different versions of the ones I had already heard. I didn't trust that America. In fact, I was fearful of it, and in some ways even hated it. Trying to understand the complexity of how to balance these two polarizing notions proved a bit much for my young mind to wrap itself around. All I know is as I grew older, I grew more skeptical, forever searching for the truth that lied beneath; no matter how sinister, conniving, and self serving that truth was.
“For God’s sake, learn to look beneath the surface…. And remember, you don’t have to be a complete fool in order to succeed. Play the game, but don’t believe in it—that much you owe yourself…. Play the game, but play it your own way—part of the time at least. Play the game, but raise the ante….Learn how it operates, learn how you operate….You might even beat the game….” (an excerpt from Ralph Ellison's "The Invisible Man")
Racism definitely played a huge part in my skepticism. It's one thing to hear stories about how "wicked" the country is, it's another thing entirely to live it first hand. I had severe asthma as a child. It'd flare up when it was bright and sunny, or when it was cold and wet. And it always seemed to flare up when we were in rural settings. I still remember falling ill once in Macon, MS., my mom's hometown. We were there visiting one summer and out of the blue, my chest got tight and I started having difficulty breathing. My folks did what they'd always do when I got sick, took me to the closest place for treatment. This particular time, it just happened to be a private hospital, about five minutes away. Upon entering the hospital through the front doors, we were quickly told to "go 'round back". So we did. We followed the sidewalk around the back to find to our surprise, a colored waiting room. It felt like some Twilight Zone sh*t. Suddenly my folks looked sicker than me. We immediately left, and drove to nearby Columbus. I struggled breathing during that entire thirty minute car drive, until I eventually received medical treatment I should have been able to get much earlier. The year was 1980.
I am simply an accumulation of all my experiences. The good, the bad, and the aunt Ester ugly. The black experience is extremely diverse, encompassing all economic and education levels, yet, you can't deny it's rooted in but one history. And that alarming, continuously repetitive history, is directly responsible for my current opinions. I've seen too much to trust my country, so I don't. Nor should I. Yes, I have a good job, I have no convictions on my record, and for all sense and purposes, I'm living the American dream. But just because I'm sitting at the table does not mean I have to "drink the Kool-Aid." I've seen people who drank the Kool-Aid shipped back from overseas in pine boxes. I've seen some exiled from corporate America while others went from fame and glory (Michael Vick) to being shipped off to prison. Why? Because having a warped perception about who and what America is, is dangerous. It's self maiming. It's injurious and malignant. Too many of us are confusing things being different, for things being better. And there's tons of evidence that this is simply not the case. That's why I can't help but to scan the crowds every time I see Barack Obama walking into a sea of people. I know our history. So my black suspicion has me forever fearful of the sound of a lone gun shot, a martyred black leader laying in a pool of blood, chaos abruptly breaking out in the streets, all while some unlikely assassin is quickly passed off as the killer.
No, I don't think some idiot named Lee Harvey Oswald killed president Kennedy. Nor do I think some country bumpkin named James Earl Ray killed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I don't think the lunar landing proceeded microwave popcorn, Atari, and the internet. I don't think AIDS originated from somebody having sex with a monkey. And I definitely don't think some guy in the middle of the desert with little more than a video camera, named Bin Laden, master minded the 9-11 tragedy. What I do believe is, it's easier for America to vilify those who speak out about their suspicions than it is for America to give meaningful explanations. See Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
When black suspicion appears on television or radio, it comes with the tag, black militant, or black power enthusiast. When it appears in newspapers or books it comes with the tag black liberal, or ex-patriot. And when it appears on record, the artist who created those records are labeled as radical, or simply, sensational. So I put my black suspicion into a blog, where it will surely become lost in an endless sea of bloggers. And when these words finally do happen to wash up on the sandy beach of your mind, before you put your label on me, I just want you to know something. I'm not crazy, I don't hate white people, and I'm not some conspiracy theorist. I'm simply a man, with a healthy mind, and a black experience. The country wants us to believe it's one thing, and I genuinely believe it's something else. Greatest country in the world? Okay, maybe. But at whose expense? Via the demise of whose religion, culture, or existence? I've already seen that kind of "greatness" at the expense of my own people, native Americans, and now illegal aliens. This is why I'm suspicious. Too many falsely convicted felons look like me. Too many unarmed martyrs look like me. Too many poverty stricken neighborhoods, full of people, who look like me. And too many war torn countries full of people who don't look so different than me. Unfortunately, these are the situations America lies to us about. The fact that I can see a truth other than the one American gives us, and you can't, doesn't mean anything's wrong with me. However, it may mean something's very wrong with you. One luv.