by Dr. Boyce Watkins
I have a view of white America that is not built on being unnecessarily angry at anyone, but I have no fear about being justifiably disappointed by the lack of accountability being taken for the role that white America has played in creating the condition of my people: We fill up the prisons for things that white guys get away with all the time, we are overrun with poverty as white families enjoy the wealth that was stolen from our ancestors, and black kids are blowing each other’s brains out with guns that politicians and wealthy people are allowing to be sold in black neighbhorhoods rather than their own.
There is plenty to be upset about and we shouldn’t be afraid to say it. I won’t even talk about the massacre on Black Wall Street, that’ll make me so angry that won’t even be able to finish this article.
But here’s the thing: After you’re done being mad and making your case, it’s important to realize one undeniable fact: Nobody cares what you think unless you make them. The Democrats would rather march for gay marriage and immigration than take serious stands on mass incarceration and black unemployment (when’s the last time you heard a prominent Democrat make the black unemployment crisis a top priority? If this were happening to white people, it would be the top story on the news every day of the week). No one cares that nearly half of all black men can’t find a decent jobs or healthcare. Nobody cares when our kids are uneducated and left unable to compete for scarce resources and opportunities. The only thing that matters is whether or not we care about ourselves enough to fight.
But some of us still believe that “the man” controls our lives. We’re led to think that some invisible hand determines whether we’re going to be happy or sad, whether we’re going to be wealthy or whether we’re going to win. If history has told us anything, it’s that other people DO NOT want us to win. It’s up to us to decide how our story is going to end.
So, here are a few ways to know if you’re allowing racist white people to control your destiny.
1) You spend the majority of your time complaining about things that white people will and won’t do for you: Have you ever noticed that person who loves saying, “You know, the white folks won’t let us do it,” “let me tell you about the white folks on my job,” or “They’ll never let a black person go that far in the company!” In fact, many of us have made these statements on multiple occasions (I know I have). But when I came to my senses, I realized that this line of thinking, after a while, can be counter-productive.
Yes, racism gives us a great deal to be upset about, I speak about racism all the time. But every time we complain about a problem, we should at least start seeking out ways to overcome the problem in our personal lives. Sitting around and festering in your misery is not the way to create the life you really want, so there must come a point when you are busier finding solutions and healthy distractions than you are focusing on the thing that’s causing you so much stress.
When the racists in my job at Syracuse University were treating me unfairly, I decided to start my own business and triple my salary by becoming an entrepeneur. An easy cure for racism was knowing that I’d found a way to win and had no reason to upset with the jealous bigots down the hall. I refused to let them drag me to the insane asylum.
Hopelessness is a tempting sedative to ease the pain of difficult situations, but we must avoid the temptation of this drug at all costs.
2) You get upset when white people don’t like you or are afraid of being labeled the “angry black man/woman”: It’s very difficult to challenge abusive conditions while at the same time maintaining favor with the descendants of your historical oppressors. In other words, white America will never congratulate us for fighting for true equality (that’s why they don’t EVER mention Malcolm X in most white-funded black history museums): For white America to give us permission to excel is like a basketball team cheering on their opponents for scoring the most points. There is a difference between someone LIKING you and someone RESPECTING you. Standing up for yourself may earn you well-deserved respect, but it is not usually going to win you very many friends.
This is where self-esteem comes into play. If you love yourself, then you don’t need someone else to love you. If you are loved by your own people, then you don’t need the racist down the hallway to think you’re a good guy. In my own life, I can say that getting love and support from other black people eased the stress I felt when my white colleagues tried to tell me that I was inferior to them (of course I told them to go to hell when they said it). Our speaking honestly and forthrightly about the injustices endured by our people might cause some to naturally complain about our behavior. But if we show up as a mighty collective force, they will get nervous when they see us coming. That’s what I mean by RESPECT.
There’s an old saying that “Great women are RARELY well-behaved” – the same thing is true for great black people.
It’s hard to get what’s yours while being polite about it. Sometimes, you’ve got to be willing to FIGHT.
3) You predict your future success by whether or not you’ve gained favor with powerful white people or establishments: It’s easy to think that befriending the right billionaire can get us ahead, or that gaining favor with our superiors might open doors for us in the future. These factors may help us along the way, but we can’t forget that there are typically many ways to skin the same cat. This means that, even if these relationships dry up, there are other ways for us to achieve our personal objectives without hoping to receive a blessing from some benevolent white guy.
There are some of us who feel that the grip of white power is so great in America that there is barely any reason to get out of bed in the morning. I feel sorry for those who are so mentally defeated that we think the racists hold the keys to our future.
In fact, I remember a girl I knew in college who told me ” I don’t know why you study so hard every day, you are only going to go as far as white people want you to go”
I saw this poor woman recently. She only went as far as white people wanted her to go. Unfortunately, her defeatist thinking had turned her entire life into one failed effort after another, mainly because she felt that other people controlled her future. I actually feel sorry for her.
Bust through barriers, Never Ever bow to them. You are not meant to be a slave
4) You are convinced that being a polite, well-behaved negro is the thing that separates you from the rest of “us”: Of course there is merit to being a good person in general, but don’t fall for the misconception that black people are only punished or denied opportunities because we are lazy or unethical. One of the reasons it’s so difficult to fight the mass incarceration epidemic is because millions of blacks are convinced that “those criminals” don’t deserve any rights at all. However, the tide is turned once they have their own confrontation with police and realize just how easy it is for a black man to be arrested (You hear that Henry Louis Gates?)
In academia, I’ve seen many black scholars fall for the misconception that their university had never hired or promoted an African American in their department because every black person who’d ever applied for the job was either lazy or unqualified. We often sit idly by and watch another person of color get pulled through the mud because we believe that if we quietly mind our own business, we’ll be safe from harm. Unfortunately, when we are convinced that the rest of our people are denied opportunities because they are all less capable than ourselves, we are feeding right into white supremacist outcomes. This is why so many corporations are able to boast horrifically discriminatory hiring records without so much as a peep from black employees about such a grave injustice.
5) You’re fearful of being associated with too many other black people on the job: I once had a colleague who told me that she deliberately avoided associating with other black people at work because she didn’t want to receive a hostile reaction from her white co-workers. Unfortunately, her strategy only served to dilute our collective power when she was on the verge of being fired from her position. By isolating herself in this way, she made it easier for her opponent to attack her.
Remember that there was a reason that it was once illegal for slaves to congregate in large groups. There is also a reason that police typically investigate when large numbers of black teenagers gather together in one location. It is due to a fear of collective action and what might happen if we were to actually stick together. Black people are amazing when we work in unison.
6) You believe that white is almost always better:
Some of us hold onto an interesting double standard when it comes to whites: We think that white businesses are more efficient than black ones. We believe that white universities are better than HBCUs. We’ll spend $250 at Walmart, but gripe about spending $25 with a black-owned company. Collective economics is not always our strong suit.
Have you ever noticed that white people are never clamouring to attend our universities the way we fight to get into theirs? They also don’t spend a lot of time worrying about what we think or asking us for support (other than Democrats using black votes in order to stay in power). Now mind you, we have a right to demand things from whites, such as reparations for both slavery and the War on Drugs, but we can’t allow their reactions to us to determine how we are going to map out our future.
White is not always better, we know this. Yes, they have talent like the rest of us and access to expertise and resources, but there is something deathly wrong with a community that is as determined as ours to give our resources away to the descendants of our historical oppressors and to also lean on them for advice. In fact, opression breeds mental illness, and many of us are infected. Racial harmony in America is not going to be achieved through any government program or by holding hands and singing “We Shall Overcome.” It’s going to occur only through the volatility of struggle and a commitment to being courageous enough to stand on our own two feet.
No one controls your destiny but you. When you fall down, keep getting back up. Never be afraid, never surrender and never take your eyes off the prize.
That’s how you create a future worth fighting for, and that’s how you leave something for your children.