For those of you who follow this blog, you know that every once in awhile I take a break to take on race in this country. There is no better time than now, to do this again. I wrote this during the Furgeson riots and it’s clear nothing has changed. So, I thought I would share it again with a few changes.
Considering what’s happening in this country, I wanted to break down for all ya’ll why the riots and BLM and Devin Chauvin, and Amy Cooper and, and, and, are happening, because as much as you’d like to think you know, you don’t. You have no clue. This goes for black folks as well. As a society, although the information is available to us, it’s never been put in front of us in this fashion, so I’m going to break it down for everyone, black folks, and white folks.
Before I do, let me make something clear. I do NOT condone, support or agree with any of the violent protesting, looting, and bullshit that’s happening around the country. My message to my brothers and sisters, cut it out. We look like fools. With that said, I understand and empathize with the anger and frustration of the black community. I feel it too. I challenge my white friends who are complaining and bitching about the rioting and looting to stop and take in the wisdom I’m about to drop. As much as you’d like to think this is “simple.” It’s not. It’s very complex.
So here it is.
The reason the riots, looting, demonstrating and BLM is happening is because society is playing cat and mouse with blacks and the American Dream.
I know, you’re asking yourself, what the fuck does that mean? So, let me spell it out. Stay with me, this gets heavy.
Success in America is and has always been predicated on three very powerful elements, the American Dream, Choice, and Identity.
First is the American Dream.
All immigrants to this country and their decedents have leveraged a belief in the American Dream to be successful. It has been a cornerstone of their success. Immigrants and their families leveraged a powerful belief and uniquely American concept to build the greatest country on earth and further their lives. Every immigrant who came to this country came here with the belief that they could make a better life here than they could where they came from. They believed and bought into the American Dream before they ever stepped foot into this country. The belief in the American Dream is what propelled them to make the trek across the Pacific or the Atlantic Oceans or to cross the border from the south. It was the belief that America welcomed anyone and everyone with streets paved with gold.
This “dream” drove millions and millions of immigrants to the streets of the U.S. in search of a better life. It is the “belief” in this idea that if you work your ass off and try that you can rise up and be anything you want. We all know that the reality of the American Dream was not as rosy as the stories. There were ghettos, racism (against Jews, Italians, Irish, Mexicans, Germans, etc), corrupt corporations exploiting workers (lack of unions and labor laws) and more, but in spite of all the hardship, for most immigrants, it was better than their homeland AND they believed that if they kept forging forward, if not for them, for their children they could build a better life. They could get ahead. This vision called the American Dream was and still is a very powerful motivator for immigration and at the core of success in this country. There is NO success in America without it.
It’s the presence of the belief in the American dream that is at the core of all immigrants’ success in this country. The American Dream is such a powerful vision and motivator of success we still leverage it today, passing it on to our children in school and home. Phrases like; “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up.” And “If you work hard, get an education, you can do anything.” These messages are at the center of the American lexicon and America’s growth as a nation.
Second is choice: Because of the American Dream, people from around the world “chose” to come to this country. Choice is the second element of success in America. Immigrants chose the hardships; they chose the struggles, they chose the difficulties because they believed it would be worth it in the end. They chose to come to America and suffer whatever cards were dealt because they believed whatever difficulties they would encounter, America was better than staying in their home country. They believed America would give them a chance if they worked hard enough. Millions of other people didn’t choose to come to America for whatever reason, they chose not to put in the work, uproot their families, or suffer. The chose NOT to immigrate. But for those who believed in America and the American Dream, they chose to come here, and that choice can not be underestimated in the success of immigrants.
Third is Identity: This leads to the third element of success in America, identity. The one thing almost every immigrant who came to American brought with them was their Bible, their Torah, etc. Most immigrants who left their home country brought with them a piece of who they were. They brought their culture, their history, their food, and their beliefs. They brought their identity and like the American Dream, they leveraged this identity to pull them through the hard times. They prayed to their gods. They told their stories. They practiced their rituals. They leveraged their families. They connected with others from the same country in order to persevere. When things became tough, they leveraged their identity and sense of self to push through. Many immigrants learned the language and assimilated, but very few of the early generations abandoned their heritage and identity. On the contrary, they leveraged it to be successful. They integrated where they came from, into their new life. As generations passed and each generation moved further from their immigrant parents, heritage and identity became of less importance, but in the earlier generations, they were paramount to success.
With the American Dream, choice and identity being at the core of success in America, it is quickly becoming obvious why Black Americans’ have not achieved the same level of success in this country as all other groups, including other “blacks” who have immigrated from other countries. The American Dream was not part of their life. It was NOT something they passed from generation to generation, quite the contrary. The message blacks perpetuated from generation to generation, as told and reinforced by America is; the American Dream is NOT for you. Don’t even try!
There are only two groups of people in this country who lack “ immigrant status.” They are blacks from the slave trade and Native Americans. Neither one of these groups chose to come here embracing the American Dream. In addition, both had their way of life and culture stripped from them. Although I am fairly familiar with the plight of Native Americans, I don’t believe I’m qualified to speak to their situation, so I’m not going to. However, it is important to note that their circumstances are similar as it relates to this thesis, and their lack of success in America is similar to that of blacks.
Blacks (I use the term blacks deliberately because Africa is a continent, void of a single cultural identity, and very few descendants of slaves know where they came from in Africa) didn’t choose to come to America. They were brought here as slaves. The American Dream or choice was never instilled into blacks or part of their American experience. On the contrary, they were sent an entirely different message for 350 years. The message, The American Dream is not for you.
For 250 years blacks from Africa were stripped of their languages, their religions, their rituals, and any and every other thing that identified them as people. They weren’t considered humans and were told and treated this way for over 25 generations. Bought and sold, families were constantly ripped apart; children and spouses commonly sold 100’s if not a 1,000 miles away from one another. They were forced to procreate like animals in the interest of producing better workers. They were separated into good and bad blacks, field niggers and house niggers, pitting them against each other. This system, lasting 250 years, is one of the world’s greatest human atrocities as it created, for lack of a better term, a new race of people. America has done what no other society has done to my knowledge; they literally and physically created a new race or culture of people. Stop and think about that for a minute. Black Americans, African Americans or whatever you want to call us were socially engineered, created from a system designed to exploit them for the bigger and broader benefit of others simply because of the color of their skin.
After 250 years of slavery, blacks suffered another 100 years of oppression and humiliation at the hands of Jim Crowe and Plessey v Furgeson (separate but equal). In essence, for 350 years, it was reinforced that the American Dream did not apply to blacks. The system was established to systematically deny the American Dream to blacks by its citizens and the American institutions equally. The American Dream has no place for blacks, has been a central theme of America for almost it’s entire existence.
Lacking immigrant status, blacks from the slave trade have lacked the key elements for success in this country; 1) belief in the American Dream, 2) choice, and 3) a cultural identity. Blacks didn’t choose to come here. They didn’t choose to give up their language, their homes, and their homeland for a better life. They were violently ripped from their homes and then literally chained up for 25 plus generations. In addition, their identity, language, and their sense of self and pride were systematically stripped from them. They were hollowed out as people. Slave owners understood the power of identity and culture in creating strength and hope and therefore were extremely deliberate in eradicating anything that would or could allow blacks to persevere in any environment other than complete and utter servitude.
This is why blacks in America don’t perform as well as Togo’s, Nigerians, Liberians, etc. who come to this country today as immigrants. It’s also why blacks haven’t been as successful as other immigrants (Germans, Irish, Jews, Italians, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese etc), THEY WERE NEVER IMMIGRANTS. They didn’t choose to come here. They didn’t have their cultural identity to leverage for strength, and they spent 350 years being told the American Dream didn’t apply to them.
Fast-forward to today and what you have is a population of people socially engineered (man, that’s hard to say) as servants for 250 years, then forcibly and emotionally forced to society’s edge as undesirables for 100 additional years only now to be expected to have their shit together. The question then becomes, what will it take for blacks to believe the American Dream does include them? What will allow them to chose to “immigrate” here and not feel like a hostage? By immigrate, I mean emotionally. Yes, they are here. But too many don’t feel wanted. Thus the argument of two Americas. What will it take for more blacks to put 350 years of messages reinforcing the fact that they are not wanted here and that the American Dream is not for them behind them? This is what we are fighting today. This is at the core of today’s challenges.
Blacks are being asked to get their shit together, and I’m one of the people saying we need to. We are being compared to other groups who successfully assimilated to this country under entirely different circumstances and that’s not fair. We’re being asked to “immigrate” after the fact. When choice was denied after we were told the American Dream wasn’t for us, after our identity, and culture was torn away. This is a monumental task. One too many people underestimate and rarely respect. It’s like a wound trying to heal without a bandage. Every little thing aggravates it, at times making it worse through infection. Healing like this takes time and lots of attention. Healing an open wound is a delicate process.
Every police shooting of an unarmed black man, every racist comment from an NBA team owner, every time a man is dragged behind a truck by white men, every time a father tells his daughter she can’t date a black guy, every time a black person is profiled or pulled over because they are black, every time a black person receives a harsher sentence than a white, every time an Amy Cooper uses color to call the police, it’s a reminder or a suggestion that American Dream STILL is not for blacks.
This is why blacks have not succeeded as well as all other groups in this country (with the exception of Native Americans). This is why the riots, the protests, the looting, and BLM and the rest happens. It’s because we’ve been denied the very things that are required to make it in America; choice, a belief in the American Dream and a sense of pride that comes from one’s identity and culture (Over the centuries, we have carved out our own unique Black Culture. I am not saying we don’t have one, but that is a more complicated discussion to be had a different time).
The George Floyd murder by a policeman is aggravating the wound. It feels like same messages of the past, the messages telling Blacks, you’re not welcome. The riots, and looting and protests are happening because too many blacks have not chosen to immigrate to this country. The past two weeks are happening because too many blacks are in many ways still searching for an identity. What is our ” culture?” Who are we? Ferguson is happening because too many blacks don’t believe in the American Dream, and every “perceived” racial injustice reinforces what they’ve been told for 350 years, the American Dream is NOT for you.
Until the three key elements of immigrants to this country can be instilled in the black community, nothing is going to change. Until blacks buy into the American Dream, nothing is going to change. Until blacks choose to emotionally immigrate to this country and believe they can create a better life by doing so, nothing is going to change. Until blacks can find and embrace what it means to be “black” in America and who we are and what our culture is, nothing is going to change. Until white Americans accept the impact of their systematic deconstruction of a race of people and the impact it has on the subsequent generations, nothing is gonna change. Until white people accept racism exists and openly and aggressively fight to eradicate systematic racism, nothing is going to change. As long as white people tacitly or openly condone racism and support the system(s) that maintain the inequities and injustice nothing is going to change. Until white people stop defending themselves and stop denying racism is an issue in this country, nothing is going to change. Until white people AND black people change, nothing is going to happen.
How we got here is unprecedented. George Floyed, Amy Cooper and Ahmed Arbury aren’t isolated racial incidents. They are the legacy of 350 years of people living without the American Dream. Somehow, someway, blacks have to find a way to embrace the American Dream, AND whites must find a way to convince blacks the American Dream is real for them too. If we don’t there will be another more looting in the street.