The Poisoning of The Black Diaspora
While every act of racism is an act of prejudice, not every act of prejudice is necessarily racist.
February was considered black history month. However, I have since noticed a particularly disturbing trend lately and it appears to be more of a remnant of black history that still infects the present attitudes of blacks, particularly those living in many North American and European states. It appears there is still a portion of the black populace that largely hates other races and some of them have been drawn to this space — and probably for all the wrong reasons.
Now after doing an exhaustive review of the site content, I’ve discovered that the most popular posts were largely of material accentuating positive views about the black community. That means that while most visitors to this site are white, this blog receives a lot of traffic from black people. Inexorably, this means that some subset of this population will be racist.
I have encountered racist white commenters as well – I just never gave their comments the opportunity to see the light of day. The last thing I want to start on this space is a flame war. However, I was quite surprised however to discover that the attitudes of some black people towards individuals of other races were nothing short of acerbic, poisonous and even vitriolic.
Where could all of this vile angst be coming from?
I decided to spend the rest of Black History month interviewing black folks about their general attitude towards white people or generally people of other non-black phenotypes. I was quite frankly astounded at what I discovered. The rest of this post will seek to highlight the results of what I found with respect to these attitudes and how they correlate to today’s societies.
But first, let me establish some context:
For those of you who aren’t already aware, I am black. I am descended from slaves brought to the west from what is now modern day Ghana. I, like most members of my geo-political neighbourhood also have some mixed ancestry. My mother is a direct descendant of runaway slaves who gained their freedom from their white masters long before slavery was abolished.
My father’s ancestry however, is a little different. While most white people would consider my father to be black, many black people in my community would not. He is descended from a brown eyed, fair skinned mulatto woman and a black man whose forefathers were born into slavery at the hands of his future wife’s ancestors. There is a certain poetic justice about that.
…but alas, I digress.
My paternal grandmother is descended from a white jeweler from old England. He took unto himself a black woman shortly after slavery was abolished in England. My paternal granddad has a similar history, which dates further back into the 19th century. The only bits of the Caucasian DNA that remain are his cheekbones, his skin tone and the soft texture of his hair.
His father, my paternal great grand dad, is also a mulatto. His father however is a white trader from 17th century Scotland who was a former slave owner. He took unto himself a black woman in his old age shortly before the abolition of slavery, after which, he married her and her children took his last name. I still carry that Scottish last name some 200 years later.
My last name isn’t M’ptumbe as I suspect my paternal slave ancestors were once named. All of that has been permanently erased from the annals of history when the English and Scots took my 300 year old ancestors from Ghana. There is now white DNA flowing in my veins. So maybe everything I have to say about this issue may be tainted with the blood of white men.
..or so say my Black American friends who think such things matter.
My first real interaction with people of other cultures didn’t really happen until high school. There I met kids from all over the world. Quite a few of them were white and others were Asian. Back then, I never encountered anything even remotely like racism or racial prejudice. When I first heard such tales from people attending other schools, I thought it was curious.
It was not until my late teens to early 20’s that I experienced what at the time could be construed as racial prejudice. However, it was so mild that I took it more like a threat to my ego than a threat to my skin colour. I always found such people amusing, largely because of their stupidity. I didn’t realize that people would still be that backward in this day and age.
Today I have friends from all over the world. Literally. Some of them don’t speak any English, so that keeps me on my toes. I have friends from Kenya, Ghana, Lesotho, Ethiopia, South Africa, Germany, Spain, France, India, China, Japan, Mongolia, Israel, Denmark, Sweden, The Netherlands, Canada, the United States and the Caribbean. So I have been exposed to a wide cross section of cultures and have been fortunate to have seen quite a bit of the world.
Now I say all that to say this:
The attitudes that we have towards each other have everything to do with our environmental conditioning. When I first heard of modern day racism as a teen, the concept seemed rather implausible to me until I read about what was going on in America. This did not occur where I grew up. It largely appeared to be an American problem. They just wanted their slaves back.
If I were to think like a Republican, I could see how that would make them angry.
We never had crosses burned on our lawns or lynchings in our community. We never had a KKK to deal with. At worst, we had a condescending colonial British government. In fact, the first white people to be executed for murdering a slave happened in the Caribbean long before that ever happened in America. We never had a Civil War or a Confederacy of any sort.
Neither my parents nor my grandparents had to contend with racial segregation in society. We were never required to sit at the back of a bus, or restricted in the use of a public bathroom designated as “Whites Only”. We were never called “Nigger” but we were called “Negro”. Either way, we don’t get upset or offended when white people refer to us as black.
As it turns out, most other Caribbean nationals feel the same way.
White men did once speculate that we didn’t have souls. But I guess after being able to buy black slaves from African kings for decades, one is not exactly hard pressed to see how they came by that conclusion. Never the less, they did tell us about their religion where we could be saved by the blood of Jesus. So I guess they changed their minds about us having souls.
We did have educational and employment opportunity inequality problems though. However, that was largely because we couldn’t afford to go to the prestigious Catholic schools all the white kids did (at least, not while my father was a boy). I however lived to fulfill that dream while my father lived vicariously through me. That’s where I met some of my white friends.
Getting a job in the Bank as a black person was next to impossible too, at least until new legislation was passed during the 1960’s to make that sort of thing illegal. So while my piano playing dad couldn’t get into any of these institutions, my much darker skinned mother did. In fact, the only persons my mother fought on her way to the very top were other black people.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because I get it.
The Poisoning of Black Americans
I understand why Blacks in America and Europe in particular can have such a rotten attitude towards white folk. I understand why some black people think all white people should be exterminated. I understand why most black folks think I’m making up excuses for whites and Asians when I tell them that racism is a form of prejudice from which none of us are exempt.
You have been culturally broken. Your culture as an African diaspora has been poisoned by years of oppression at the hands of white men. That kind of thing will push any decent human being to the edge of malevolence. I can’t possibly relate to the kind of hate that some of you must feel. That’s why I feel sorry for you — all of you. The nature of such hate is poisonous.
…perhaps even carcinogenic.
Our conditioning is different. So ultimately, our views will be different. However, I wonder how many black people realise that their reason for feeling this bitterness towards white folks is a recursive vector? If you were not environmentally conditioned in the way you were growing up, you would probably have a better attitude towards non-black people of other ancestry.
Did you also realize that while the cause of your attitude is understandable, that continuing that attitude will not change your experiences? Do you realize that hatred is by definition an infinitely recurring emotional decimal? There is no excuse for racism – irrespective of the direction in which it is manifest. That’s why people like Obama and King appear to be naïve.
The racial tension some blacks feel towards white folks is a function of the society they live in. Blacks living in societies populated largely by black people (like myself) typically don’t feel the same way. We have fewer reasons to dislike white people than you do. To give you a better perspective of what I’m talking about, I would like you to consider some of my experiences:
When I walk into a store owned by Asians, they have never followed me around (not even when I was in China). However, I suspect that may have something to do with my not looking like a gangster, with my pants falling off, my hat turned sideways and a massive gold chain around my neck. Some blacks feel they have a right to dress this way without being racially profiled. I suspect they’ve never been owners of a liquor store that was robbed by gangsters.
I have been intentionally snubbed for opportunities that were passed to the nearest white person. However, I usually used those events as opportunities to demonstrate that I was better than the person who was selected over me, ultimately changing the attitudes of the white people who were guilty of the snubbing. We usually end up being friendly afterward.
I have never felt targeted by traffic police while driving in a white man’s country. Then again I rarely break the speed limit and I always use my indicators when changing lanes. The one time I got pulled over by a traffic cop, we spent the next 45 minutes laughing and chatting about our cultural differences. That may have largely been sparked by my Caribbean accent.
On my first visit to New York, I got lost in the subway system. I sought out a black person for directions since that seemed like the most natural instinctive thing to do. The first person I asked, a black dude, got mad at me because I didn’t understand what he was saying. I later learned that he was speaking using a dialect known as Ebonics, which he failed to identify.
It was a white policeman who finally came to my aid. Pretty odd, don’t you think? Here I was, a newbie in the most incredible city in the world and all of my expectations about how “bad” white people were turned out to be totally unfounded. I even made friends with some Jewish teens in a comic book store where we laughed and chatted about beautiful black women.
In fact, I can probably count on one hand all of the negative experiences I’ve had with white people. They were responsible for my education. They were responsible for my ability to speak other languages. They single handedly created my career of choice and brought my ancestors out of the chaos of Africa to a place that is far better socially and economically.
There I go “making excuses” again. So let me put this back into perspective:
I once helped a white woman at the airport in Germany find her luggage. She was terrified of me when I first approached her to help. Then again, she was only 5 feet 4 inches tall and I towered over her. So asked her if she spoke German — in German: “Sprechen Sie Deutches?“. The ice was broken. We exchanged pictures and Chinese horror stories on the flight out.
I’ve never been harassed at an international airport by customs or immigrations officers in North America, Europe or Asia. Then again, I usually fly dressed business casual, even when I’m going to visit family. I never fly dressed too casually. I’m always toting either a jacket or a long sleeve shirt. I never wear baggy jeans. I think the TSA has quite enough to worry about.
I have had white folks abuse my friendship for their own personal gain. However, I’ve never been held up at knife point by a white person. A black person has done that to me though. I have been called a “monkey” by racist Chinese nationals — in Chinese. However, I have been called far worse by blacks living in inner city neighbourhoods who can barely speak English.
I once tried to assist a white consultant who was contracted by the Government to discover alternative fuel sources for the Caribbean. He was having problems with his e-mail. He first refused to let me touch his computer, even though my mostly white boss could do the same. I suspect because I was black, he felt less comfortable around me. I assisted him anyway, by walking him through. We fixed his e-mail. Now I’m the only guy he calls when he has an issue.
When I was in Germany, a pastry shop owner once refused to sell me hot crossed buns because I was black. So my white friend who was with me called the police and had him arrested. I later went back to that pastry shop in 2010 – 4 years after the original incident. My white friend wasn’t with me this time. The same man not only sold me hot crossed buns, but he gave me a free Danish. He didn’t seem to remember me at all. I soon discovered why:
His son is married to a Congolese woman. Black African women are all the rage in Germany, especially with the younger German men. It appears that his eyes were opened. He even hit on one of the Bahamian girls who accompanied me to the pastry shop. I still think they’re in shock at being hit on by an older white man. You see what cultural exposure can do for you?
I have been given preferential treatment at a bar in Canada once (along with a black man from France). We were out with four other white guys. The man complained that Affirmative Action makes him feel like he is being treated as though his skin colour is a disability. The white men who were sitting with us reminded him that by the same argument, if the bar tender had served one of them first, he could be considered prejudiced by the black patrons.
He’d be damned either way!
I felt a little embarrassed that this is what it has come down to. Even if white people wanted to do right by us, they would be jeopardizing their image just by trying to be nice to someone black, because many of us black folk feel that there’s no way they could genuinely want to do that. With that kind of attitude, even the white people who aren’t racist eventually become racist. So in some sick twisted kind of way, black people are actually their own worst enemies.
And this is the reason why:
I’ve never met a black native from North America who spoke any of the indigenous African languages. I’m sure they exist; I’ve just never met one. I have however met many white folks who speak one or more indigenous African languages. I always thought this was curious as many blacks love to talk about being proud of their heritage, and yet know so little about it.
I find it surprising that there are black people living in the west who actually believe that most white people are racist, when virtually every rich black man living in North America owes his wealth to a market populated mostly by white people. If you ask the rappers and other Hip Hop musical artistes out there, it is mostly white people who’ll go out and buy their records.
Speaking of Hip Hop, I find it disturbing that black people of North America embrace a musical form that debases women, embraces the wanton and indiscriminate use of foul language and glorifies violence and gang life. This is very intriguing, since very few of them have learned to celebrate the beautiful, harmonic a capella of African choirs singing in their native tongue.
You’ve got to hear the South African National Anthem sung a capella to really understand what I’m talking about. It is absolutely beautiful. Melodically, it’s my favourite national anthem, with the American anthem being the only other (in terms of complexity) that could give it a run for its money. Yet music like this is either largely unheard of or unappreciated in Black America.
I’ve heard many white comedians insinuate that it’s unfair that black people don’t have a word that packs the same kind of punch as “nigger” for white people. Still, it is not white people who use the pejorative most frequently — it’s black Americans. What’s worse, is that the word is only a pejorative if a white person uses it, because of their strained racial history.
What these white comedians fail to understand however, is that the only reason why the word continues to pack the same kind of punch it does, is because black people have now appropriated it as some sort of colloquial pronoun for their males. By a similar contrast, the Inuits don’t call each other “eskimos” and the Han Chinese don’t call each other “chinks”. So why do black people in America continue to refer to each other as “nigger“? I still don’t get it.
The fact that the most popular form of music among blacks is at times so crass may answer that question. The Jamaican Dancehall lyrics are similarly crass, homophobic and misogynistic. The lyrics for many Caribbean Calypso songs of late have taken on a similar texture. I don’t know if a similar trend exists in Africa. If it does, it may point to a pervasive genetic factor.
I somehow doubt black Africans are anywhere near this foolish though. With the exception of middle Africa that is still undergoing revolution, I’ve met enough educated black people from South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, Mozambique and others, to know that African cultures have not so decayed. It’s as if black people became less human the further away from Africa we got. That is only a perception anyway. There are still some dangerously ignorant cultures in Africa.
The Disconnection Theory
In South Africa, racism and segregation had survived for some 30 years after the United States liberated its black people socially. Yet, if you query most black South Africans now, you will not find a similar propensity for racial hatred surviving today. So why does this hatred still survive in such palpable proportions in America and Europe where such conflict had subsided?
The answer lies in the fact that they are a disjointed people. Living in a white man’s country isolates black people from their true heritage, obscuring the real value of their cultural roots. As such, many grow up without a true sense of identity, that still remains largely preserved in Africa and even in some Caribbean countries where the richness of black history is still taught.
Perhaps that was the reasoning behind the call for African Repatriation among the black diaspora during the early 20th century. It’s just that Africa was in no better state of maturity then than the European and American lands to which blacks had either been taken (through slavery) or fled (to avoid civil war or political persecution in Africa). So what’s the point really?
They would have leaped out of the pot and into the fire.
An Intellectual Challenge
I once asked a white Actuarial Science student why he felt that most sciences are populated by white people. He insisted that he couldn’t answer that question without being offensive. After I asked him if he thought that I would find it offensive, he relented and told me that white people have placed themselves in a rather precarious position regarding black people.
He continued that every white man has a racist lurking inside him, just as how every Christian has an anti-Muslim prejudice lurking inside. The trick is to be intelligent enough to identify when such prejudicial propensities may emerge and to diffuse them with a deliberate attempt at being open minded. That’s not so easy to do, as evidenced by the racism surviving today.
So the challenge is this:
As black people, should we assume that all white people are racist and lump them together in the same pot as the people who actually are or should we give every individual an equal opportunity to prove himself? If we chose the former, then by the same logic, Caucasians could lump all black people together, using whatever negative black stereotype they like. While they wouldn’t be 100% correct, they wouldn’t exactly be 100% incorrect either. Every stereotype has some truth to it. That does not sound like a situation where anyone benefits.
Racism vs. Prejudice
I concede that our environment will forever alter the way we think about the world and the people living in it. But this is not a viable excuse to continue thinking in a negative way. Either way, only some kinds of thinking are sustainable. While the hate some feel towards other races may feel justified, it ultimately prejudges the large majority of those who are innocent.
There is a very thin line between prejudice and racism. While every act of racism is an act of prejudice, not every act of prejudice is necessarily racist. Some white people would never marry a black person – but they would never treat black people any differently from their kinsmen. Is that prejudice or racism? Can you spot the difference? How are you any different?
There are certain human responses that are primal and instinctive. Every time a black person reacts to the knee jerk response of a white person’s reaction to them, they will interpret it as racism. Black people seem to react no differently to homosexuals of whom them know or understand little. All knee jerk responses are based on prejudice. Black folks are not exempt.
Just ask anyone in the homophobic society of Uganda.
Racism however, is a whole other ballgame. Racism is based on prejudice, but prejudice isn’t inherently racist. It is not racist to prefer sexual partners of a particular race. It is not racist to identify with people of a particular race over another. It is racist however, to think that any one race is intrinsically better than another for any number of unverifiable political reasons.
A Human Propensity
Before we accuse Caucasians of being violent, remember the genocide in Rwanda. Remember the genocide in Darfur. Remember the gangland violence in Southern California. Remember the crime statistics in Washington. Remember how the Sino tribes created a single Chinese empire. Remember the killing fields of Cambodia. Recall the Nanking incident. Remember 911.
Inhumanity is a human propensity — Caucasians hold no monopoly on it.
Similarly, before we accuse Caucasians of being racist, remember those of you who have said yourselves that you wish black people had their own planet or that white people should be eliminated. Remember how you thought Obama was naïve and that I was giving white people an excuse to be racist. If I were to justify the racist comments of Black folks, why shouldn’t I also justify the racist comments of white people that were also deleted from the discussions?
Wouldn’t that make me a hypocrite?
I don’t deny that Caucasians can be racist. However, you can’t deny that they also have the capacity for great acts of humanity. For when disaster strikes around the world, I don’t see many aid organisations run largely by black people coming to their rescue. I don’t see many black people fighting for animal rights or asserting the lie that all men were created equal. In fact, in all this noise, it appears that black folks have largely forgotten who abolished slavery.
Slavery ended nearly 150 years ago. Yes, I get that even then some white people continued to make life hard. But remember that you can vote. Remember that you can become a filthy rich NBA star, a football pro athlete, a news anchor, a college graduate, a famous actor or musician, a medical doctor, and if you apply yourself, even the President of the United States.
These things were enabled by white people. In fact, I want all my black readers to take a look at the following video. It addresses the surprising origin of ice hockey. I suspect many of my black readers who see this will feel a resurgence of anger. But before you do that, I want you to take a close look at the people who were behind the discovery. It may open up your minds:
The world those black Canadians lived in is a very different world from the one we now live in. Every time a black person succeeds, your excuses lose their credibility. So consider all the black people who spend more of their time succeeding and less of it complaining about the loud few who are trying to stop them. Yes there is still inequality in the world. However, in today’s world, it is less about what you can achieve and more about how hard it is to achieve. So my brothers, you have officially run out of valid excuses. I challenge you to open your mind.
■ E-mail: accordingtoxen[at]gmail[dot]com