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A Teachable Racial Moment: Why Do Black Folks Stick Together?

March 25, 2012

Years ago, in graduate school, I was one of only three African Americans in my Master of Fine Arts creative writing program. That was in the fall; in the spring, one of us dropped out. And then there were two.

I remember sitting in my graduate poetry workshops surrounded by folks who didn’t look like me.  Whenever the issue of “race”—meaning Black people—came up, my White peers would turn to me and ask my opinion. Sometimes, I knew. Sometimes, I didn’t know. But what always sort of blew my mind is that my peers assumed that I could speak for all Black folks. When I, like, couldn’t.  But I would try anyway because I felt it was my responsibility to do so.

This is a common story among most Black folks who have integrated–let’s face it– mostly White spaces in educational, professional, and now with legalized interracial marriage, familial institutions.  But honestly, it doesn’t get any easier for any of us  to speak for the African American “race.”

Most folks in America who are of African descent came to this country as a result of the Middle Passage, the horrific, transatlantic journey withstood by Africans who were kidnapped into slavery. There are, of course, some Black folks on this country who are not descended from slaves, what might be called African-African Americans, folks who emigrated from the continent of Africa after slavery was outlawed in the USA, but those folks are in a very small minority in Black America.

And so, the common heritage that most Black folks in this country share leads to what is called “linked fate” among African Americans, a term explored in Michael C. Dawson’s book, Behind the Mule: Race and Class in African American Politics. Linked fate means that, for many African Americans, what happens to a Black individual is felt by many in the “racial” group, whether that event is joyous or tragic.

This does not mean that others individuals who aren’t Black can’t feel joy or sorrow at these events, but it does mean that Black folks feel particular emotions, as if the event impacted our own families. Linked fate means that I consider forty million people to be literal brothers and sisters.

Gwendolyn Brooks becoming the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize was joyous. Thurgood Marshall’s appointment as the first Black Supreme Court Justice was joyous Barack Obama’s winning the Presidency (and hopefully you don’t need a link for that)? The heavens opened up and angels sang an aria, it was just that wonderful, okay?

And by the same token, the lynching of Emmett Till in Mississippi was especially horrible for Black people, as was Martin Luther King, Junior’s assassination. And most recently, last month’s killing of Trayvon Martin, a young Black boy in Florida, has rubbed against Black linked fate, and reopened many traumatic wounds that really never healed.

Again, that does not mean that other people cannot be upset about tragedies that just happen—or don’t just happen—to involve Black people.  There were many  White Americans who wore hoodies this past week to protest the killing of Trayvon Martin, but just as many who admitted that pictures of their wearing hoodies does not rub against the same unfortunate racial stereotypes as pictures of Black males in similar garb.

Many White readers of my blog notice I use the terms “we” and “us” and “my community” when referring to African Americans. Those terms are also used by White supremacists, too, and I think that, frankly, it confuses White folks that I’m supposed to be about love and humanity and White supremacists are, like, not. Well, strangely enough, some of the same American history that was caused by White supremacy—a hate-filled, racist impulse–led to Black linked fate—a survival instinct. When you oppress people together, they try to withstand that oppression together.

But a funny thing happened on the (metaphysical) road to the City of Linked Fate. Some Black folks actually don’t feel linked up with other Black people. They are completely unconnected or at least partially. I am one of those partially unlinked folks who still loves the Black community. For example, while I voted for President Obama—and will do so again in November, believe that—I don’t always agree with him. And I don’t feel as if I must surrender my Black Passport just because Obama gets on my nerves sometimes and I decide to say so publicly.

Also, unlike many Black folks, I do not like commercial Hip Hop and I don’t think it’s a profound African American cultural production. (Independent Hip Hop is different, in my opinion.) I think it’s crappy, repetitive, and uninspired, I’m extremely bored by it, and I don’t like the messages of woman-hatred and LBGTQ-hatred that it propagates. And frankly, I think it attempts to take the healthiness out of Black sexual expression (of whatever kind) as well.

Those are just a couple of the ways I’m not linked to a supposedly monolithic Black community, and if you go back and read some of my other posts from the last two and a half years, you’ll find other breaks in the chain, too. I’m a complicated Sister, liberal sometimes and conservative other times.

Sidebar: And there are many Black folks who are complicated in their own ways, too. But despite that, we are Stone-Cold American Citizens and we have shown our loyalty to this country repeatedly, beginning with Crispus Attucks’ documented sacrifice. He was the first person to die in the Boston Massacre in 1770, which just had its two hundred and thirty-ninth anniversary this March.

But what I am not is “a good Black friend,” one of those anonymous, unnamed  sources that some politically conservative White folks are fond of trotting out these days when they want to say something mean or heartless or rude about Black folks and they want to get some back-up for it. Any time that I read or hear a comment that starts with “my Black friend says” or “I have a Black friend who disagrees with you,” I know my feelings are about to be hurt or that I am about to be angered.

Whether or not I’m partially unlinked, I’ve got my own back-up, because I know there are going to be at least ten folks who agree with me in someone’s Black community. But I’m guessing that there are at least ten conservative White folks agreeing with another conservative White commenter, too, whatever side he or she takes.  So why the need for the anonymous “Black friend”?

Why not simply say, “This is how I feel, and plenty White people feel the same way”? It can’t be any worse than claiming the same one Black “friend” all the time. Seriously, Sugar, please bribe some more colored people to talk to you so you can actually fill a room once in a while, okay? I know it gets lonely sometimes.

And while you’re at it, why not go back and read some American history  going all the way back to 1619? (And that’s just on my African side; you really don’t want me to go all the way back with my Cherokee folk.) Why not understand that there’s a reason I have back-up in the first place?

When someone pushes other somebodies around—steals their bodies, rapes them, dumps them in the bottom of the ocean, sells them, sells their children, and oh, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera—that’s a series of traumatic events that creates back-up. These kinds of events connected Black people. They joined them together and their descendants together.

That’s why my family reunion is so big. We call it Juneteenth, don’t you know.

But now, if I ever get my forty acres that General Sherman promised, I might actually give up my very last remnants of linked fate and become somebody’s named “good Black friend” instead of just an anonymous one. But give me my land first. Then we’ll work the rest on out.

.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Estellita Bellerand permalink
    March 25, 2012 6:36 pm

    I have now come to appreciate your style writing and topics. I came upon your work by referral and I am so pleased I did. Your work is well written, insightful and factual.
    Thank you.

    With Kind Regards,
    Estellita

    • March 25, 2012 8:18 pm

      Thank you so much for saying that–and for reading the blog! I hope you return.

      Pax et Amor,
      HFJ

  2. Barbara Soloski Albin permalink
    March 25, 2012 8:12 pm

    Well I consider myself your friend, obviously not your only white friend, but a fb friend. Because I am Jewish, I don’t know everything about Judaism, not at all, I will try to answer your question, but I may fail. PS I don’t like every Jewish person I meet!

    Now that I got that out, my husband’s family escaped Germany during the years before WWII, they are the remainining (although dead now) Holocaust survivors in both our families. Germany, with as much difficulty as they could, allowed people to file claims when the wall came down. Of course the proof, in detail, needed was to come from us,(attorney needed) oh yes, Herbert’s family ran for there lives with very little. Took us about 20 years to settle with the German government, no the Russians did not return anything, the Germans found many excuses not to return many pieces of property, and don’t ever ask me to talk with a Nazi as I don’t feel one bit better for receiving what was rightfully my father-in-law’s anyway. Actually my in-laws were not German, they were from Latvia (had lived for 20 years in Germany before the war), hence the name Albin, and my family was from Poland, there was no one left alive in Poland.

    Let me tell you, even when you get the 40 acres and the mule, you are still going to be bitter. There are some things that money can’t buy. Your posts, Miss Honoree, are always so good, please keep them coming, they enrich my life and help me to try and understand yours. I am not perfect, but I am trying.

  3. Barbara Soloski Albin permalink
    March 25, 2012 8:13 pm

    Yikes should have done a better job of editing. I am so glad Miss Honoree you are not my professor, you would fail me. Although I would bring you nice bookmarks, etc. xo B

  4. March 25, 2012 8:26 pm

    Wonderful, as always.

  5. March 26, 2012 12:06 pm

    You never fail to educate me and to move me.

  6. denise Coles permalink
    March 26, 2012 2:39 pm

    Whoever wrote this, my accolades to you. Wow! I think people, whites, blacks, and everyone in between forget that this SLAVERY debacle went on for over 400 years. While I don’t believe every white person had slaves, I do believe they should have done something about the ones that did. They had 400 years in which to do so. Granted there were underground railroads, safe houses, etc. etc. etc., but could we have had a congress that thought this was okay for four hundred years!!!!??? Shouldn’t it have not lasted THAT long?

    Furthermore, if something is done for 400 years, to reverse it probably would take another 400 years of extra special treatment—to undo the psychological effect slavery had on a whole race of people (a new race created here through rape and child abuse from the white master). Our roots were snatched away from us–forever gone (we did not have ocean liners, jet planes back then)—the life we were stolen into consisted of cleaning a white man’s outhouse, his wife’s bloody menstrual underwear, vomit and snots from other children…. I don’t want to even begin in on the painful picking of cotten, chopping of wood, pulling mules along, etc. etc. etc.

    • Lilly permalink
      September 26, 2012 3:42 am

      They came as slaves; vast human cargo transported on tall British ships bound for the Americas. They were shipped by the hundreds of thousands and included men, women, and even the youngest of children. Whenever they rebelled or even disobeyed an order, they were punished in the harshest ways. Slave owners would hang their human property by their hands and set their hands or feet on fire as one form of punishment. They were burned alive and had their heads placed on pikes in the marketplace as a warning to other captives.

      You would think this was about the African slave trade, in fact it is about the Irish Slave trade.

      The Irish slave trade began when James II sold 30,000 Irish prisoners as slaves to the New World. His Proclamation of 1625 required Irish political prisoners be sent overseas and sold to English settlers in the West Indies. By the mid 1600s, the Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat. At that time, 70% of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves. Ireland quickly became the biggest source of human livestock for English merchants. The majority of the early slaves to the New World were actually white. From 1641 to 1652, over 500,000 Irish were killed by the English and another 300,000 were sold as slaves. Ireland’s population fell from about 1,500,000 to 600,000 in one single decade. Families were ripped apart as the British did not allow Irish dads to take their wives and children with them across the Atlantic. This led to a helpless population of homeless women and children. Britain’s solution was to auction them off as well.
      During the 1650s, over 100,000 Irish children between the ages of 10 and 14 were taken from their parents and sold as slaves in the West Indies, Virginia and New England. In this decade, 52,000 Irish (mostly women and children) were sold to Barbados and Virginia. Another 30,000 Irish men and women were also transported and sold to the highest bidder. In 1656, Cromwell ordered that 2000 Irish children be taken to Jamaica and sold as slaves to English settlers.
      Many people today will avoid calling the Irish slaves what they truly were: Slaves. They’ll come up with terms like “Indentured Servants” to describe what occurred to the Irish. However, in most cases from the 17th and 18th centuries, Irish slaves were nothing more than human cattle.
      As an example, the African slave trade was just beginning during this same period. It is well recorded that African slaves, not tainted with the stain of the hated Catholic theology and more expensive to purchase, were often treated far better than their Irish counterparts.
      African slaves were very expensive during the late 1600s (50 Sterling). Irish slaves came cheap (no more than 5 Sterling). If a planter whipped or branded or beat an Irish slave to death, it was never a crime. A death was a monetary setback, but far cheaper than killing a more expensive African. The English masters quickly began breeding the Irish women for both their own personal pleasure and for greater profit. Children of slaves were themselves slaves, which increased the size of the master’s free workforce. Even if an Irish woman somehow obtained her freedom, her kids would remain slaves of her master. Thus, Irish moms, even with this new found emancipation, would seldom abandon their kids and would remain in servitude.
      In time, the English thought of a better way to use these women (in many cases, girls as young as 12) to increase their market share: The settlers began to breed Irish women and girls with African men to produce slaves with a distinct complexion. These new “mulatto” slaves brought a higher price than Irish livestock and, likewise, enabled the settlers to save money rather than purchase new African slaves. This practice of interbreeding Irish females with African men went on for several decades and was so widespread that, in 1681, legislation was passed “forbidding the practice of mating Irish slave women to African slave men for the purpose of producing slaves for sale.” In short, it was stopped only because it interfered with the profits of a large slave transport company.
      England continued to ship tens of thousands of Irish slaves for more than a century. Records state that, after the 1798 Irish Rebellion, thousands of Irish slaves were sold to both America and Australia. There were horrible abuses of both African and Irish captives. One British ship even dumped 1,302 slaves into the Atlantic Ocean so that the crew would have plenty of food to eat.
      There is little question that the Irish experienced the horrors of slavery as much (if not more in the 17th Century) as the Africans did. There is, also, very little question that those brown, tanned faces you witness in your travels to the West Indies are very likely a combination of African and Irish ancestry. In 1839, Britain finally decided on it’s own to end it’s participation in Satan’s highway to hell and stopped transporting slaves. While their decision did not stop pirates from doing what they desired, the new law slowly concluded THIS chapter of nightmarish Irish misery.

      The White people you refer to in respect of the slave trade include, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, British, Danish and French, there 50 countries in Europe that is a total 12% that engaged in the slave trade.

      The Black people, you fail to mention engaged in the slave trade are by nations, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Senegambia, DRC, Angola, Mozambique, Madagascar, Angola and Uganda, there are 57 countries in Africa that is a total of 33% that engaged in the slave trade.

      The Irish of North America went through the same rubbish as the Blacks of the North, who is repatriating them? It really is time to stop thinking the white people owe you something and start being the self sufficient community you claim to be. I as a white Irish woman owe you nothing, those of Irish origin make up 12% of the population of America, this does not include those Scots-Irish category who are not ethnically Irish but English/Scot planters brought to Ireland during Cromwellian adventures in Ireland, and removed by force by the Irish following rebellion. This 12% owe you nothing either, nor do the Jews, Germans, Polish, Russians and the list goes on.
      Now there is a history lesson most here wont want to read, its clearly does not fit with the victimized and ‘Whites owe us’ mentality of Black America.

  7. Jennifer Lane permalink
    March 28, 2012 1:01 am

    “-—”Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe unto that man by whom the offence cometh!” If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
    With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have born the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” Abraham Lincoln, The Second Inaugural, March 4, 1865

  8. Lonnie guy permalink
    February 14, 2013 10:32 am

    The Irish did suffer but you left out one part . You see the irish were not considered white back then as they are today. The irish became white when they joined in with the eutopeans to discriminate on us. You see the irish never overcame racism . The irish disrespected their members who suffered by giving up their culture to be white. You cant compare us to them

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