I Relaxed, I Trusted, I Shouldn’t Have – And That’s On Me
I am alive. As I continue to watch the struggle of being Black in America, and the flurry of young black men being brutalized and senselessly gunned down like wild animals by bullying police officers all across the American landscape, it all evokes memories of my distant childhood and the rejected messages and conversations that my dear mother so eagerly wanted me to hear and understand. It wasn’t that she was paranoid or anything, but it was that she loved me so much, and my safety and well-being were of the utmost importance to her; this didn’t only apply to me, but it was the case with all of her children. The same can be said of most mothers as it pertains to her offspring; even in the wild kingdom. I grossly ignored her, and listened to my own experience, and as of today was horribly deceived by it.
Mothers and Suns often share a very special bond, as do father’s and daughters. My relationship with my mother was no different – my mother and I are still very close today. My mother was born in 1931 in the small Louisiana town of Bogalusa, Louisiana, located just outside the back door of the still highly racist state of Mississippi. My father actually moved to Bogalusa as a young teen (where he met my mother) from Silver Creek, Mississippi, in search of better opportunities than were afforded anyone of African descent living in Mississippi during that time. I can’t imagine there was much more in Louisiana for a black man than was in Mississippi during that time, but he came over and just like so many other descendants of slaves, somehow found a way to make it work. He was born in 1930, not too far away in the rearview of the “abolishment of slavery”, which any unbiased historian would tell you, wasn’t fully accurate. It had not been truly abolished, especially not in the south. I mean, lynchings were still taking place. The murder of 14 year-old Emmitt Till, one of the most horrific in recorded American history, happened in 1955 for godssake, and Jim Crow Laws were in full effect! These laws carried the power to incarcerate people for being unemployed. And yes, you guessed it, due to the lack of opportunities afforded to blacks in a economic system uncompromising to their predicament, thousands upon thousands fell prey to these wretched laws.
In the 1970s-80s, I was growing up in a slightly different time than they had, of course. I had no idea what true segregation was really all about. In every school I had ever attended, classes were filled with both black and white students, so there wasn’t much that I observed to be extremely strange or odd. We played together on the playgrounds and laughed together in the classrooms and during lunch and recesses. As I became older and more aware, however, there were a few things that began to stand out: The fact that every day after school, most of my white friends would be picked up by their parent or get on different buses and go to their neighborhoods, and we (the black kids) would either walk home or take the bus to our neighborhoods. Many of the poorer white kids took the same buses as the black kids, and didn’t live too far from our neighborhoods or housing projects, but there still existed separation between us, literal and figurative. These whites were who would be called today – and even then – “white trash”. This is a very negative term that I always abhorred and was very uncomfortable with. I would often wonder with the mind of a child, though not quite in these words – why are we separated after school but not during school? Why do we live in different and disconnected neighborhoods? Why can’t I see and play with my white friends away from school like I can my black ones? Where do they live and how far away are they from me? How do their neighborhoods and lives at home differ from mine? What horrible thoughts for a child to have to entertain! These are just a few of the questions and curiosities I held inside.
The conversations that my mother would attempt to have with me as a young lad were what I perceived to be racist in tone, but in retrospect, I realize they weren’t. I didn’t want to hear her because what she was saying was in direct conflict with what I was experiencing, or what I wanted to experience. I wanted to be happy just as any child or person does; I wanted to fit in, I wanted to live in a perfect world of acceptance by all, and I was trying to protect that desire at all costs, even at the risk of ignoring my mother’s precious and loving advice. I wanted to see the best, believe the best, and to trust that I was liked because of who I was as a person and a human being. My mother was only attempting to protect her child from a system that she knew was potentially dangerous and meant no good to a young black adolescent male. Of course as a child I couldn’t see things in the way she did; my experiences were quite different from hers. In my mind, my little world was already perfect to a great degree, and again, I wanted to keep it that way. Thinking this made me feel good. Instead of listening to her, though, I chose to trust my own representation of society and how it was being shaped for me. Against all warnings, I chose to unconsciously trust the system and those who had designed it, thinking it must have my best interest at heart. After all, I was only a child, so how couldn’t they? I didn’t see myself as a descendant of slaves; I rarely saw myself as less than human, or much different than anyone else. I knew I was just as smart, intelligent, funny, and talented as anyone else, regardless of my color. So why would I be treated differently, I thought? That was how I saw myself, but apparently not how the society around me did. I had some very kind white teachers throughout school, and I love them for the effort they made to break out of how there were undoubtedly raised to see blacks, to show what seemed to be genuine concern for my well-being. What conversations took place in their homes, I don’t know. All I can go by is how they treated me when I was with them. I would learn that this is how America works. The same people who smile and laugh with you, are often the ones voting for legislation to create hell for you. Racism has become more easy to hide. Because of the fight to eradicate it, and the growing unacceptability of it, racists have been forced to go underground and work from behind the scenes. Michelle Alexander makes this crystal clear in her book, The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. This is a highly recommended read for all Americans.
Today I have my own children, and up until now we have taught them to see themselves just as we do – as equal, because they are. We have taught them to be virtually colorblind- to expect to be treated no less than the valuable human beings that they are. Today I feel that this was a little naive of us, so I’ve added a little caveat. Let me explain. We didn’t fail by teaching them to be colorblind per say, but by neglecting to make them aware of the unwritten, unknown, invisible disadvantages that come along with being Black and/or poor in America. Their mother and I have succeeded in teaching them the power of self love and self empowerment, but failed to educate them to the fact that the society in which they would exist may not actually be colorblind towards them, as we have instructed them to be towards it. Sure, there are many people, including white people – in talk and in action – who claim to not see color; which is really tough to do, especially in America. The foundation of America’s systemic architecture never viewed people with darker skin – or non white skin for that matter – as equal or deserving of the same privileges. Not the Native American, not the African, not the Filipino, not the Japanese, not the Guatemalan, not the Korean, not the Chinaman, not the Cuban, not the Mexican, not the Brazilian, nor the Palestinian. Historically, they seemed to be all just casualties of Western convoy and conquest. Over the centuries since slavery, the laws have been slowly, systematically, and cunningly augmented to continually enforce and support racist, caste, and slavery ideologies through the use of over policing in poor and black neighborhoods, mass incarceration, the building and development of the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) school to prison pipeline, and the creation of American ghettos across the American urban landscape. Even though I have European, African, and Native American blood flowing through my veins, in America I’m only considered and seen as Black, with little weight given to the complex, multi-racial aspects that truly make up who I am biologically.
In America, this counterfeit colorblindness that exists is indicative by the the single fact that the Unite States Constitution was not written, and was never re-written, to take into account and consideration the well-being of the African descendent, for he was never intended to be a permanent part of its society outside of the role of a slave. The “freedom” that Blacks in America have today is the result of a great miscalculation on the part of the master architects or “founding fathers” of the American Empire; an oversight of the slaves’ strength, resilience, and will to fight and rise up against the oppressions that had long caged them. The rights that come along with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights for every American citizen has always been a grey area for Blacks, and in many ways still are. There has never been any open apology for this great crime against humanity, no reparations paid to offset the loss of both life and the opportunity to create generational wealth that could have helped stabilize and empower a group of people that had been gravely oppressed for more than 400 years. Surely they could use an economic boost that is beyond social welfare programs, which only serve to perpetuate a search for more of the same. But I suppose that such a lift might pose too large of a threat to the system, and we can’t have that now can we?
I should have been a little less trusting of you, and more trusting of my mother. No one loves me like she does; what on earth was I thinking?! I should have been a little less optimistic in my belief that the society to which I was raising my children to go out into and become loving, value-contributing citizens in, might not embrace them in the same way as they would embrace it. I trusted that my Suns would be allowed to dress and express themselves in whatever way they choose (as long as they were not violating any laws or harming anyone) without the worry of being profiled, harassed, and hunted down on the streets like some kind of prey. I trusted that you would protect them, respect them, and value their lives as you do your own children. You don’t, because you don’t see them as you do your own – the way that I see yours as my own. I can see it so clearly now, and I can’t change you by myself, but I can change me, and I can re-educate my own. I will not teach them to stop loving or to stop trusting, but simply to be more keenly aware of what surrounds them behind the drape of reality.
My misunderstanding of your intent is totally on me. It’s on me that I gave you so much credit, entrusted you with what means so much to me, and expected so much of you as it pertained to the value of my life, my children’s lives, and the lives of all people. I shouldn’t have.
20 BradfordSpoke 14
Bradford Speaks is a Life Architect, Coach & Youth Speaker, who desires to wake up the world to see one that it could exist in if only it could employ more love and less hate and war. He seeks to speak to and inspire our youth to live at a higher level of consciousness, to see themselves as their brother’s keeper. He is also an author and self proclaimed philosopher. You may visit his company’s site, Bradford Speaks Life Management, LLC to learn more about his work, and to schedule individual sessions or book him to speak to your youth organization.