Breaking Brown

May 12, 2011

the giant mind of james baldwin

What disturbs me most about my people is their resistance to congruent learning. Battles fought and won through blood and sweat, tears and flesh are now folly since the flashes of insight bought with the currency of long suffering are lost through our deliberate amnesia. In time, we lose sight of one eternal truth; that the universe compels us to lay only our burdens at its feet, not our lessons.

In this video, acclaimed writer James Baldwin shared the following reflection on the reaction of the west to a truly liberated person;

“…when you try to stand up and look the world in the face like you had a right to be here… when you do that… you have attacked the entire power structure of the western world.”

Yes, but who is standing up now? And don’t confuse standing up with the accumulation of material wealth. It is true that fully embracing your authentic self and creating a life which encompasses your grandest vision of yourself can result in wealth, but sometimes the opposite is also true.

The question I’m asking is who is standing up and looking the world in the face as if he or she has a right to be here? Learning the rules of the western world does not equate to standing up to the western world. African Americans no longer know the difference.

I digress (again)…, back to Baldwin. African Americans have a unique proximity to western power and have absorbed the blows of its destructive forces first-hand. Unlike some colonized groups who’ve preserved a bit of themselves via the sheer distance from their colonizers, the agonizing wretchedness of exploitation has always been near to us. We can feel its breath on the back of our necks.

We’re able to call bullshit quicker than most brown and black people because we know our abuser. Baldwin called bullshit when he said “we know that we are not bombing people out of existence in the name of freedom.” We know this because white people didn’t call what they did to us slavery or what they did to the native Americans genocide. We know better.

But some of us have fallen in love with our abusers and believe that we must try a little harder not to make him mad so that we can finally know his love. We show our affection through our overly zealous assimilation and by adopting positions which are foreign to our notions of justice.

We are silent and thus acquiesce as we watch our government enforce unlimited detention a la Guantanamo. We are silent not because unlimited detention without trial (ring any bells?) is something we believe in, but because of our proximity to our abuser. To the contrary, we think, “maybe if I become more like my abuser, I’ll be embraced as a “real” American”. Sadly, that ending will never be. Luckily, we don’t need anyone in this nation to tell us who we are. We are here. Our parents and grandparents died here. We are Americans and we do belong.


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