Blackness in Question

I have stated on several occasions that I am American but I have been privileged enough to live in two other countries in addition  to being very proud of my Caribbean heritage. It has always amazed me that this country rigidly defines what is “black” and how often the definition of what black is bad. When I came to this country as a ten year old the fact that I spoke like a British-Canadian was deemed as “white.” By the next year, I understood this extremely narrow and dysfunctional idea. By high school I did not  allow anyone to question my identity. If they did, they ended up the victim of a terrible tongue lashing. I was raised to see the entire African diaspora as a unified entity, but a people that had gigantic diversity. This is a concept that used to large part of African American culture through the philosophies people like Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X. During colonial and independent America, mainstream culture was adamant about the inferiority of it’s black inhabitants. Over the years this ridiculous idea has been internalized by many African Americans especially in the last 40 years.

For the last two generations African Americans who trace the heritage to slavery in the continental United States have overwhelmingly accepted this bizarre idea. The idea that blackness is defined by poverty, immorality, ignorance and the ability to use our physical bodies absolutely preposterous. This idea of what black goes back to hundred year old definitions posed by white Americans. America’s denial of basic constitutional rights for African Americans was accompanied with various changing “facts” about how these individuals were unfit for citizenship. Early on the idea that kidnapped Africans were not entitled to basic human rights because they were “savages.” The same ideology excused the near extermination of the Native American population. A more refined idea provided the impetus for the American institution of slavery. African slaves were not Christian and therefore subject to a myriad of defects. American ideology held that slaves were lazy and social and sexually immoral, everything a good white, Protestant Americans were not.  After the abolition of slavery, scientific racism captured the mind of those who could claim full American citizenship. It was conjectured that Negroes were so medically frail and racked with disease that they would “die out” like the Native Americans did.

The idea that African Americans are immoral and chronically dysfunctional has slowly faded, but it still holds too much sway in this country. It is used as one of the reasons are school systems are not repaired, residential segregation is still the norm and that millions of low level non-violent drug offenders receive draconian jail sentences. America is at the brink of so many changes and faces so many challenges isn’t it about time that the statement “that all men are created equal” be the true sentiment if the land?

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