I wrote and posted an article on Facebook titled ‘Onward and Upward’ on how African Americans can move forward in these times by being strategic and focus on what they can do to be in better control of their lives and communities. For this, I received some not too flattering comments and messages from some readers. I have grouped these comments and messages into two categories that I believe are common misconceptions about racism when being discussed. The first category consists of readers that suggest African Americans use slavery as a crutch and an excuse for their failures; While the second category includes readers that suggest, African Americans are continually guilting white people on the sins of their fathers.
Before I begin addressing these readers, I would like to let you know I’m not here to argue the rightness or wrongness of your comments and messages. I understand that your beliefs are a sum of your life experiences, and saying you are wrong is dismissing your entire life experiences and, as a result, your identity. My purpose here is to understand where you are coming from genuinely and shed some light from the African American perspective on things you may not be fully aware of, so we can better understand each other.
I’m sure some of you remember the catholic church sexual abuse scandal. Though this was a horrific act against kids, sadly, the bigger scandal was the coverup and the system that allowed the abuse to continue even after the church knew about these crimes. Some of the victims never made much of themselves due to the psychological trauma they suffered. They would transfer their pain to parents, siblings, spouses, kids, extended family members, and their community through the same sexual acts, violence, crime, addiction, and or total disconnection from society. However, some of the victims figured out ways to cope with the trauma, hide their scars, and live productive lives. But, because they live productive lives doesn’t mean their psychological injuries do not exist.
To the first category that believes African Americans use slavery as a crutch and an excuse for their failure, the difference between the Catholic story and the African American story is that in the Catholic story, the system that enabled these crimes to exist and continue was changed. While in the African American story, the system that oppresses and casts aspersions on the black man’s character still exists. African Americans continue to deal with the psychological trauma passed down from older generations inflicted by a system that has molested them for centuries. Being black in America is like competing against fish in the ocean, so when you say stop using racism as an excuse for your failures, you fail to recognize African Americans are competing in a habitat they aren’t supposed to succeed in. Trying to succeed in an environment set up for you to lose is tricky enough, without the psychological baggage.
To the second category of people that say African Americans are continuously guilting white people, to be honest with you, I’m not sure how to respond to this. But, one thing I’m sure of is I won’t say stop using your guilt as a crutch and an excuse to keep systemic racism alive. The fact that you feel guilty makes me want to believe you empathize with the African American story. Instead of beating yourself up about it, take action to help eradicate systemic racism. Play a part in rewriting the negative narratives of African Americans starting with yourself.
Despite all the trap doors, hurdles, and psychological warfare, African Americans still manage to persevere and thrive. Successful African American stories will continue to emerge. And to those that make something of themselves, it’s easy to look back at others and echo the same sentiments of using racism as a crutch and an excuse to fail. Don’t forget that this isn’t about individual achievement; it’s enormously larger than you. It’s about the system that continues to stifle our race and our communities. Because you have figured out a way to excel by hiding and coping with your scars doesn’t negate the fact you are still in a system that can quickly reopen and expose those scars.