day before I observed this young man, I spoke to Prof. Michelle
Alexander by phone (see “Interview: Michelle Alexander, author of The
New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,”
13, 2010). One statement stood out: Black Americans have been
stigmatized! Black Americans in the U.S.
are responding to this stigmatization, that is, to the shame of
being labeled criminal. Our response to this stigmatization
isn’t limited to the young Blacks who embrace the stigma of the
are many ways in which Black Americans are continuing to respond
to the campaign on the part of the government to neutralize us.
Yet, many of us, as Alexander observes, refuse to acknowledge
that the for-the-people-and-by-the-people-government has repeatedly
betrayed Black Americans.
tell ourselves that if only young Black people would stop committing
crimes, things would be different. There’s a level of shame in
that Blacks don’t want to believe there’s a system in place against
us are not only complicit to the government’s agenda as it relates
to Blacks, we are also blind to the idea of justice as it relates
is right. Blacks don’t want to believe there’s a system in
place against them.
of the first wave of legalized segregation, Jim Crow, didn’t want
to talk about it, and talk pointed to local
culprits: police, sheriffs, maybe a mayor or two, a governor,
or the Klan who was often the police, the sheriff and the mayor,
too. Riffraff types so dissimilar to the beloved Kennedy or Johnson,
the big, all caps GOVERNMENT, the Calvary, arriving on time, in
the spirit of Lincoln!
all memory of the Struggle: A good many Blacks accepted the
same conclusion already offered by the government to explain why
others are poor or why these others are not advancing economically.
It’s not the government. Maybe it’s us or that King or that Malcolm or
those Black Panthers. Those Black young militants. Not
think that subsequent generations, my generation in particular,
would have recognized the big, all caps GOVERNMENT in the assassination
of Malcolm, Martin L. King, Black Panthers and other community
activists. You’d think that Black Americans since 1968 would have
noticed that the Calvary came, but not to
save Blacks. The Calvary came in 1969 in Chicago but not to save Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. It came in 1985
but not to save the 11 Black residents, including 5 children,
on Osage Avenue in
Philadelphia. You’d think
there would be a recognition that self-determination is an empty
term if it’s still white America who determines the few who will
be offered the opportunity to tell the story of how they “got
over” obstacles without ever speaking up and asking why
the obstacles of inadequate schools, poor housing, absent jobs
were there in the first place. Who is responsible for the obstacles
when the Calvary, led by Ronald Reagan, brought the War on Drugs
to the Black community, Blacks accepted some if all of the law
and order package, including the stigma of the Black as criminal
- a stigma, Alexander tells us, that we are still responding to
in our own way, but certainly not in any unique way.
showcased the spectacle of the stigma.
many enslaved Blacks determined that freedom was neither the government’s
nor the plantation’s definition of the term, and sought at the
risk of death an alternative definition, others were content in
bragging privileges. I work in the Big House! I’m almost not
in the year 2010, don’t we have evidence of cultural genocide
when we hear the people’s narrative subverted so as to be conducive
to the neutralization of the Black memory of struggle?
conversations have I had with Blacks in which the conversation
ends up less a conversation and more a display of school-yard
I have a doll!
I have two dolls!
My father is a store manager!
My father is a doctor!
on the weather and try to discuss climate change and the topic
changes immediately. I work for the School
District and when the weather…
on the neighborhood and try to discuss the racial division and
the topic changes immediately again. My son is a police man
over in district…
never ends: My daughter is a district judge…
My granddaughter works for [so-and-so, so-and-so,
and so-and-so] and she’ll move up to director…
and I are not criminals - but the others are!
this routine of shame because, to use Alexander’s words, ‘the
stigma of race has become the stigma of criminality” (The
New Jim Crow).
on Drugs hasn’t only created a racial caste system that criminalizes
Black behavior or neutralizes Black culture, it has also, I would
argue, created an environment in which some Blacks announce their
guilt (whether or not they have committed any crime)
by, to use Alexander’s term, “embracing” gangsta culture.
On the other hand, there are many Blacks who, for the most part,
are always proving their innocence. (I’m in the Master’s
virtually not Black!). Sadly, too many Black Americans still perceive
as their audience. What is new here?
When will the Stepin’ Fletchit routine be put to rest!
the Calvary has arrived. It looks like Lincoln, Kennedy, and Johnson - the
big, all caps GOVERNMENT - coming to save Black America.
the blame game? Hardly.
refusal of Black Americans to acknowledge the government’s role
in sanctioning what appears on the surface to be race-neutral
rules, protocols, and laws but that nonetheless facilitate the
stigmatization of Black Americans is to collaborate in furthering
our cultural and physical demise. A government that can and does
support and fund the dispersal or death of millions of other racially
and religiously different people can and does support and fund
the prisons, the inadequate schools, the glass doors that remain
closed to many of us.
us to accept a government that by any means necessary continues
to call and to deliver the shots - at us?
isn’t in the Empire’s dictionary.
remembered our African and African American ancestors (including
those not chosen by the government as appropriate role
models or honored because they’ve been whitewashed), we’d stay
focused on justice for all our people who endured enslavement,
dehumanization, and demoralization in the U.S.
some of us would rather drop our cultural values and convictions
to comfort white Americans. We remain silent or engage in a well-recognized
routine. So it is with Prof. Henry L. Gates. He’s not crying racism
now because it’s not a personal encounter with the authorities
who saw a Black and recognized a nigger. Gates wants
to discuss these others: Africans. In his article, “Ending
the Blame Game,” New York Times, Gates wants white Americans
to know that Africans sold Africans to Euro-Americans.
of reparations for the descendants of those slaves generally ignore
this untidy problem of the significant role that Africans played
in the trade, choosing to believe the romanticized version that
our ancestors were all kidnapped unawares by evil white men, like
Kunta Kinte was in ‘Roots.’
“untidy problem,” “significant role” of Africans, and the sarcastic
“evil white men” educate us to how we’ve been sadly mistaken to
believe that Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, France, and the U.S.
individually and collectively made economic gains, indeed, whole
empires on the back of those Africans who toiled in slavery in
Tim Wise writes in his response to Gates’ article, “Racism, Reparations and the Politics of Blame:
Pardon You,” Gates is recasting history! In Counterpunch,
May 7-8, Wise points out what should be obvious: “Africa
did not benefit by the complicity of some of their own with that
the contrary: the depopulation of Africa
limited the growth of African economies. Ten to fifteen million
Africans were shipped to the Americas by 1800, while numbers
at least that large died either at sea or on the march from their
homes to the coast. At least 25 million, and more likely as many
as 50 million lives were lost to Africa due
to the system of enslavement. At the very moment that Europe was
growing in population - enriched as they were by slavery - Africa
was witnessing a rapid loss of peoples.
Wise argues, is due not only because a “certain group committed
a wrong,” but because “the wrong led to the unjust enrichment
of an entire nation (the United States) and a continent (Europe), at the expense of those enslaved.”
textbook writers take note: You have an African American collaborator
in Prof. Gates! He’ll be happy to serve!
ways in which we respond to the stigmatization of Blackness in
this post-racial era and how we, rather than confront the stigma,
embrace it, and thus betray our ancestors.
stars abound in high places as well as low. When will the shame
reparations shouldn’t be limited to the period of enslavement,
Alexander argues. What about the oppression and exploitation as
a result of legalized segregation and the current legalized racial
caste system that maintains a cap of the economic mobility of
think we would use our intelligence to debate this issue rather
than entertain a certain element of white America
who still expects to see Stepin’ Fletchit if not the criminal.