I don’t think I’m in denial but I definitely feel some despair, frustration and annoyance at the reports and gatherings I’ve attended on disparities between Black (and other people of color) and White People. It doesn’t matter the category: health care, health issues, stress, education, finances, marriage, incarceration) the conclusions are generally the same – Black people have worse outcomes, the situation is dire, the reasons are: poverty, racism, lack of access, systems of oppression, lack of personal responsibility, and so on.
When I’ve walked away from some of these gatherings, I’ve felt knee-high to a grasshopper because the findings cut me low. I’m only able to walk away at all because I’ve learned in my mature years not to absorb statistics or anecdotes or stay stuck in the historical, and have my armour up.
I want to yell at the top of my lungs, what am I supposed to do with all this information? Should I throw in the towel? Develop a drinking or drug habit to anesthetize myself against the pain? Believe what is reported is absolute, irrevocable truth? I once, naively, wrote a follow-up letter to a funder of conference on disparities asking what the point was. I say, naively, because I actually thought I would get a response. I got nothing; zip.
In recent weeks, I’ve been getting lots of emails urging me to watch the CNN special series, “Black in America” with Soledad O’Brien. The series will air on the 7/23 and 7/24. The most recent email says, “A sorority sister had the privilege of meeting with Soledad O’Brien and actually SEEING this premier, and what she saw brought tears to her eyes and anguish, frustration, and a sense of helplessness to her soul.” The email writer also said “I personally challenge you to watch it WITH your children, especially your sons, if you have any, uninterrupted.” The series will focus on Women and Families on Wednesday and the plight of the Black Man in America on Thursday.
People are actually urging each other to watch something that will bring a feeling of helplessness to our souls? Why? Why would anybody voluntarily want to watch information that is going to cut them that low. And why would anyone want to watch this with children? Are we saying to them and each other – this is our fate? Are we urging that we stay in the realm of probabilities and ignore the possibilities? Are we so willing to continually have our noses rubbed in what we aren’t rather than what we are?
How about a new paradigm? How about looking at the percentage of Black men who aren’t incarcerated? How about looking at the Black octogenarians and centernarians and determining how they managed to live long and healthy lives despite an inhospitable climate, continuing discrimination, and a racist society? Let’s look at the Black couples who do marry. Let’s look at the Black fathers who are responsible – and there are many. Let’s look at those who achieve against the odds and figure out how they do it and how to multiply these triumphs!
Instead of talking about slavery let’s talk about African-captivity and resistance.
I am up-in-arms about staying stuck in one part of our reality and holding it up like it is an unavoidable pattern and a complete portrait of what being Black in America means. I must have hope, I must cope, I must look at those of us who are as much as I work for those of us who aren’t. I refuse to stay in a victim place. Otherwise, I will just give up.