By Mikel Kwaku Oshi Holt
“Am I the only one who takes a deep breath every time a horrendous crime is reported, waiting to hear if the assailant is Black?” asked Rev. Deborah Thomas during the “real talk” segment of services at House of Grace church recently.
Reverend Thomas’ “rhetorical” question came during a discussion about the sensationalistic killing of two nuns recently.
Obviously, thousands of African Americans around the country could relate to Rev. Thomas’ trepidation as was evidenced by the collective sighs heard in urban areas when it was announced the assailant was indeed a Black man.
We know it wasn’t a sonic boom or earthquake because it occurs hours after every sensationalistic crime of national significance involving a “Hue” man.
Reverend Thomas’ point may not have hit home to a large segment of the community, but it definitely stuck with me, as I too tend to shoulder the undue and awesomely heavy burden of embarrassment—yes embarrassment—and mortification just about every time a member of our “family” commits a horrendous crime.
That’s because I recognize the walls of apartheid are higher than those proposed by Donald Trump for the Mexican border. And the bricks are made from prejudicial clay and mud (slinging).
To many Whites, our women are welfare queens and baby makers; our youth are gang bangers, and our men lazy, immoral sperm donors who are criminally inclined.
These perceptions run deep in the American ethos, as is the belief by many Whites that we are inferior, intellectually and spiritually (many if not most liberals feel that way as well).
Every time a test score comes out showing an academic achievement gap, or poor proficiency rates, people west of 76th east of Holton—believe their ridiculous beliefs (or hopes) of our intellectual inferiority are justified.
(Oh, sorry, let me not forget the Southside, where a generation removed from the open housing marches the sons and daughters of bigots have kept those fires simmering. And “Up-north,” where they are selling record number of guns to protect themselves from Courvoisier and LeDonté Demetrius.
The same thought undergirds their assumptions when they note the Black incarceration, out of wedlock birth (70-plus percent of households headed by women) and homicide rates.
The fact that those statistics—albeit alarming—do not represent the majority of Black America, and equally important, are the byproducts of socioeconomic conditions and institutional racism, is generally not factored into the equation.
Nor is the fact that other ethnicities “facing encompassing poverty and similar racial barriers—Hispanics, Native Americans—find themselves reacting in similar ways.
I admit our condition is acerbated by cultural dysfunctionality. But that too can be traced to systemic racism dating back to slavery and the introduction of racism as a socialization paradigm.
Government policies that led to the castration of the Black male and his replacement by Uncle Sam as the head of household also contributed to our current plight.
Naw, those facts, engaging as they are, are rarely taken into consideration. Instead, White Americans see all of Black America through a prism tinted by prejudices and stereotypes.
For the record, there are some Black middle class who own those same type of glasses, and are quick to separate themselves, to slyly disassociate themselves, in an effort to claim citizenship in the larger—albeit racist—society.
Little do they realize, their disassociation—us vs. them strategy—essentially reinforces the stereotypes. Indeed, they reinforce the prejudices but only realize the truth when that Fox Point or Waukesha cop stops them, or that Brookfield Square store clerk ignores or follows them around the store.
Which leaves us—change agents of the communal family—both on the defensive, and, like Rev. Thomas, shouldering the burdens of extended family sins.
Every time one of the extended family harms, robs, carjacks or otherwise terrorizes the community we shudder, not only because they have transgressed, but also their acts fuel the fire of prejudice.
And if it’s a sensationalistic crime? We hold our breaths until the news reports shows an unflattering picture of the perpetrator, knowing the reaction of the White community if he’s Black—“see Martha, another one of those animals got loose and look what happened. I gotta clean my guns…”
Some of you probably understand the scenario but fall within the category of those who say, “who cares what they think.” Or, “if they are intelligent but still can’t figure out the causation and eliminate color from the equation, so be it.”
That’s nonsensical. You never go anywhere as long as you’re standing still.
Moreover, there is more at stake than stubborn pride or apathy.
Perceptions breed attitudes and attitudes undergird decisions. In other words, businesses don’t locate in areas where the owners perceive the populace to be immoral and violent. Teachers don’t teach animals. And police over-react to people of color differently because they assume we are all prone to violence and hate them more than the IRS.
Those realities, coupled with an overwhelming need to bring balance to the equation prompt many of us to constantly react to the stereotypes, to protect and reconfigure our image, to spread the truth whenever and wherever possible.
It’s not just a matter of righteousness, but practicality. There is also the rule of ethnic pride—we must preserve and protect our brand, otherwise we become what we fear and oppose most.
Our strategies are limited, but essential and must be multifaceted.
In fact, as we confront the larger community, we also must constantly tell our youth and invested adults that those who perpetrate are an anomaly, that they are not the majority, nor do they represent the community.
If that were not true, why would God have selected us as His Chosen People? Why would He have allowed us to get this far?
On the other front, we have to constantly remind White America of the truth, and why the media portrays us the way it does.
That’s why I’m constantly using my appearance on “Sunday Insight with Charles Sykes” to question generalizations and make distinctions between the terrorists and the good, who represents the overwhelming majority.
Black people are more spiritual—religious—hard working, creative, resourceful, forgiving, honest, brave, loyal, kind, courageous, mystical, homely, harmless, physical, sexy, prophetic, myopic, liberal, conservative, underwhelmed, engaging, communal, athletic, faithful, civilized, inclusive, diverse, tolerant, tenacious and trustworthy than any other ethnic group.
We are also disproportionately poor, unhealthy, frustrated and pissed off and always on the defensive because the world “is” after us.
If you’re to paint a picture of Black America, you have to take into account all of those adjectives. America won’t let us be a mere noun.
In addition to my obsession with taking absolutes out of the equation, I also make a concerted effort to provide a positive role model for our children and to White America.
I maintain my property above acceptable standards.
I always speak the Queen’s English when I’m around them. I maintain myself in a dignified manner, and open the doors for all White females, even for ugly and unappreciative ones.
I allow them to pass me on the road, rarely give the obnoxious drivers the finger, never litter and always say thank you, even when it’s on them.
I even apologize to ghetto storeowners when a jealous or inconsiderate Hue-man disrespects them.
And oh yeah…When I’m not dressed up (and we do out dress all other ethnicities, age differently and are kinder to lost dogs, stray buffalo and baby seals) I tend to wear a Vietnam Veterans hat or tee shirt. That serves two purposes: I generally get recognition for my service from White folks, but I also let them know I put my life at risk to protect freedoms I wasn’t afforded upon my return to these US of As (pun intended if you can figure it out).
It’s a tough job trying to defend, inspire and characterize the Black community.
And it’s sometimes a thankless job that wears on you emotionally, and physically.
But it’s also necessary, and there’s always a job openings available. The primary prerequisite is the ability to hold your breath any time there’s a horrific crime…