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Just like the lotus flower, we too have the ability to rise from the mud, bloom out of the darkness, and radiate into the world.— Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha)

Black America

Dear Black People,

Well, I guess that’s a start. I know who I want to write to, but finding the language to articulate precisely what I want to convey is difficult, perhaps even impossible. But I’ve set my manuscript work aside anyway because I feel the need to write something about the recent killing of Bowie State University senior and U.S. Army 2nd Lieutenant Richard Collins, III, who was stabbed to death on May 18th by white nationalist Sean Christopher Urbanski. It is uncanny that Collins was murdered on the same day that white female Tulsa officer Betty Jo Shelby was found not guilty of the murder of Terence Crutcher. As a writer and a “race” historian, I am supposed to be able to, at least in theory, critically analyze tragic events such as these and help readers make sense of the senseless.

I don’t think my difficulty writing this piece stems from the fact that I have chosen to write an open letter to us instead of an article about us. Perhaps my dilemma has to do with the fact that I don’t have anything to say or at least not anything new. As Cord Jefferson asserted in his article “The Racism Beat: What It’s Like to Write About Hate Over, and Over, and Over,” “racial trauma is widespread . . . writing anything would be to listlessly participate in the carousel ride: an inciting incident, 1,000 angry thinkpieces, 1,000 tweeted links, and back to where we started, until next time.”

I certainly don’t need to remind you of the painful reality that there is going to be a next time: today, tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. The renowned law professor Derrick Bell was right when he argued in his book Faces At the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism, “racism is an integral, permanent, and indestructible component of this society.” Indeed, it is woven into the very foundation of this country despite its lofty rhetoric of “liberty and justice for all.” And it is the elusive promise of that rhetoric which is at the center of Black American rage. As James Baldwin stated, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” His predecessor W. E. B. Du Bois first captured this sentiment in his book The Souls of Black Folk stating:

One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

Keeping ourselves from being torn asunder is, to use the words of Ralph Ellison, “a tricky magic.” I would go so far to call it a miracle. How have we survived so much for so long? The physical and psychological brutality of the Maafa, slavery, Jim Crow, beatings, lynchings, rapes, bombings, medical experimentations, and murders; and the centuries of racialized disparagement via science, politics, and popular culture all sanctioned by a predatory oppressor whose very sense of superiority, in fact, whose very existence relies upon our denigration and dehumanization. America has worked overtime to convince itself and us of our “innate inferiority.”

Yet, at the same time it unabashedly and unapologetically appropriates (read: steals, copyrights, trademarks, patents, and markets) our inventions, biological cells, mannerisms, language, music, styles of dress, hairstyles, lips, and even our asses because the white psyche assumes that it owns everything and everybody and thus can take freely without acknowledgement or compensation. As Ellison aptly asked, “What would America be without Blacks?” The answer is culturally and financially broke!

But despite the Black wealth which has been central to the enrichment of this country, our contributions continue to be denied and in fact, hidden. As Dr. Carol Anderson highlights in her book White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, America has employed numerous strategies to undermined Black advancement and achievement since Reconstruction. The Thirteenth Amendment is evidence that we were never intended to be a free people. As the video 23 Ways You Could Be Killed If You Are Black in America demonstrates, to be Black and free is an oxymoron.

Now once again we find ourselves in collective mourning due to justice denied and another senseless killing. It seems the more emphatic we are that “Black Lives Matter,” America’s response is, “No they don’t!”

Today we are bearing witness to what Dr. King identified fifty years ago in his speech against the Vietnam War as, “a symptom(s) of a far deeper malady within the American spirit.” In his book Columbus and Other Cannibals, American Indian scholar Jack D. Forbes called this malady “cannibal psychosis” in which “the ‘cult of aggression and violence’ reigns supreme,” and is characterized by:

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The aggression against other living things and more precisely, the consuming of other creatures’ lives and possessions . . . Brutality knows no boundaries. Greed knows no limits. Perversion knows no borders. Arrogance knows no frontiers. Deceit knows no edges. These characteristics all tend to push towards an extreme, always moving forward once the initial infection sets in. From the raping of a woman, to the raping of a country, to the raping of the world. Acts of aggression, of hate, of conquest, of empire-building.

For certain, this disease has been around for thousands of years. But as Forbes contends, cannibal psychosis is like any disease that goes untreated or has no vaccine. It gets worse with time; and has now become a global crisis of epic proportions as “exploitation thrives. The exploitation of children, of love, of women, of old people, of the weak, of the poor, and of course, the intentional commercial exploitation of every conceivable thing.”

What is most unfortunate is that many of our community leaders, elected and self -appointed, have this disease or are enablers of it. I won’t name names. You know who you are.

Make no mistake, America is an empire. Its culture and policy has always and continues to support an imperialist agenda despite its “sacred” rhetoric and founding documents touting democracy, or promises of reform made by politicians during election season. As Bryant Gumble aptly stated about American racism, “You can't pay, dress or educate your way out of this.” Indeed, nor can we march, sing, boycott, sit-in, petition or vote our way out of this. We live in a society whose very culture is to, as Gumble further stated, “denigrate people of color.”

The eradication of racism has never been a part of the American agenda. I know this is of little solace in this time of unabated grief and fear; but the fierce urgency of now demands that we face this inconvenient truth and devise new strategies for healing and liberation for the sake of our own survival, and that of our children. This is what it means to “Be Woke.” But first you have to get woke!

Let’s start by dissing the “Dear White People” and “Dear White America,” appeals. White people are not as ignorant about racism as they pretend to be. Case in point, when anti-racism activists Jane Elliott asked a room full of white people to stand up if they wanted to be treated like Blacks are in this society, the gaze from the audience and the fact that everybody remained seated tells us as Elliott stated, “That you know what’s happening; you know you don’t want it for you. I want to know why you are so willing to accept it and allow it to happen to others.”

The answer in a word is privilege. The hard truth is white people, even our staunchest allies, love their privilege. Acknowledging privilege, as many white liberals and progressives do, is one thing; letting go of it is another matter altogether; but our freedom cannot wait! As Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams contends, “Our healing cannot wait until the structures [of oppression] acquiesce, are dismantled, or come undone.”

How then can liberation possibly be achieved? I don’t know the answer to that question; but you and I must work smarter, not harder for our individual and collective freedom. It is quite evident that we must go back to the drawing board. As Bell admonished, “If we are to seek new goals for our struggles, we must first reassess the worth of the racial assumptions on which, without careful thought, we have presumed too much and relied on too long.”

Okay, I think I’ll stop there. I know I haven’t told you anything new or said anything you haven’t already heard. I just wanted to write this open letter of love and support to My people, or as poet Margaret Walker put it, “For My People.” I close with her meditation of lovingkindness and pray it becomes our guiding light for the difficult road ahead:

For my people standing staring trying to fashion a better way
From confusion, from hypocrisy and misunderstanding,
trying to fashion a world that will hold all the people,
all the faces, all the adams and eves and their countless generations;

Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a
[un]bloody peace be written in the sky. Let a second
generation full of courage issue forth; let a people
loving freedom come to growth. Let a beauty full of
healing and a strength of final clenching be the pulsing
in our spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs
be written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men [women and children] now
rise and take control.

arica-coleman-16

Love you much,

Arica L. Coleman