Racial hate and division brought on by vocal radicals is smothering the positive approaches and values displayed in my novel MURRAN.
From a recent article from the Canadian Globe and Mail.
Michael Brown’s death last year in Ferguson, Mo., created a new martyr for the black movement in America. Never mind what really happened: to many people, black and white alike, Mr. Brown was the victim of racist policing in a racist system in which all whites are complicit. If you question this narrative, beware. You will be judged as part of the problem.
But is it true? Is the system racist? Are all whites complicit? According to the most influential black intellectual in the U.S. today, the answer is yes.
“Here is what I would like for you to know,” writes Ta-Nehisi Coates in his new book, which is addressed to his 14-year-old son. “In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body – it is heritage.”
Is he correct? Is he mouthing a character named Armstead in MURRAN when he said:
Armstead pointed to a stocky, well-toned Black teen named Denzel—a Q-tip-like Afro encompassing his round head. “Has the Black Man progressed since being freed by the Civil War?”
“Just a few short decades ago,” Denzel replied, standing at attention, “it was acceptable to lynch a black man by hanging him from a tree.”
“And now?” Armstead asked. “Tell me. How does the white man lynch black people today?”
Denzel was quick to respond from rote memory. He had learned his lessons from Armstead well. “Whites destroy us by crowding us into ghettos and letting filth and despair put the final touches on our execution.”
“Correct!” Armstead bellowed. “In our white-dominated society, the Black man has been defined as evil and must be kept down. We see this suppression every day, in every Black neighborhood, in every black family, in every black child.”
He turned and walked back to the front of his desk. “The African-American is still a slave, still in bondage.”
Well, they’re both wrong. This is the language of division. This is the language that sends not a positive message but a negative one.
Here’s what another character in MURRAN says as a response. It’s from Grandma Abbey:
“Ask your Mr. Armstead this. Why did the professionals and middle-class blacks leave Harlem? Why did the corner Black business fail? Why did my Harlem deteriorate into a world of drug dealers, junkies, and other criminals surrounded by abandoned, pregnant, unskilled single women? Ask him that!”
She held up her hand. “I know he’ll say it’s all the fault of the whites who hate us. But he’s wrong.”
Trey could see that she was tiring and that the discussion had most probably raised her blood pressure. She took a deep breath.
“The whites did harm the blacks, but not in the way Armstead and those who think like him want to admit. They eventually gave the best and brightest of our people access to white middle-class jobs, white neighborhoods, and white opportunities. The middle and upper-class blacks fled Harlem and went to the suburbs of Queens and other suburban neighborhoods. That caused the Black institutions and businesses in Harlem—the successful Black community structure that was painstakingly created in there—to collapse when they left.”
She sighed. “That robbed Harlem of the butcher, baker, tailor, food store, liquor store, and other small businesses that were the economic fabric of Harlem. When those fortunate blacks left, it gutted the community of its social institutions and role models and left it to leaders like Malcolm X who preached Black Nationalism—defensive, reactive, hateful, and filled with the belief of the Black as victim—and who spend more time damning whites than affirming Blacks.”
She went on. “Every culture is a community. Disconnect the way a society operates from its culture, and it falls apart. That’s what happened in Harlem.”
Trey was surprised at her attitude.
Though tired from her diatribe, she kept going. “Did Armstead teach you about a black man named Du Bois?”
“Yes. He was one of the early black leaders. He wrote about the bigotry of the whites.”
“But I bet he didn’t tell you of what he thought of the white’s help? Did he?”
Trey shook his head.
She leaned toward Trey. “Remember these words, Trey. His words. Words that Du Bois came to realize too late in his career: ‘The Black has nothing but friends and may God deliver us from most of them for they are likely to lynch his soul.’”
Trey was silent. He didn’t know how to respond.
“And these words,” she went on. “‘There is a class of colored people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Black race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs—partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Black to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.’ Do you know who said that?”
Trey shook his head.
“Booker T. Washington. Did Armstead include his quote in your Black Studies class?”
Trey started to answer when she interrupted him.
“Forget it. He wouldn’t include that kind of truth in his material.”
She leaned back in her chair. “Tell that to Armstead from me the next time you see him.” She rocked toward Trey. “Better yet, stay away from him. He teaches poison.”
We better start looking for positive solutions to the Black America problem in this country before it becomes too late.
The article goes on:
The religion of structural racism allows everyone to duck the profound challenges still faced by the black community. It disempowers people and absolves them of responsibility. If structural racism is to blame for black violence, then communities will never be able to heal themselves. Mr. McWhorter argues that blaming white racism for the existential crisis in black communities like Chicago’s is a monstrous evasion. “Why do black lives matter more when white people take them than when black people take them?” he asks. “But you’re not supposed to ask that.”
In Mr. Coates’s world, race is destiny. (Never mind that the United States is increasingly diverse – to him it’s still black and white.) Like James Baldwin, he’s convinced that America can never be reformed. But Mr. Baldwin had a counterpart – Martin Luther King, who preached a narrative of progress, hope, and redemption. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” he said. The arc is very long indeed, but I think he was right.
Where is today’s equivalent of Martin Luther King? Tragically, he doesn’t exist. And if he did, nobody would listen to him. He’d be booed off the stage as an Uncle Tom. The tragedy of race relations in America today is that nihilism and rage are a bigger draw.
We need to create a new draw, we need to teach the 3Rs to the young of any color – and I don’t mean Readin’ Rritin’ and Rithmatic. I mean these:
Respect for one’s self and others. Taking Responsibility for one’s actions and for one’s community and the celebration of Ritual.
If we don’t teach these values to the young – whatever color – they will fulfill the African Proverb that reflects today:
“If you don’t initiate the young, they will burn down the village to feel the heat”