Life by nature is a conflict. A conflict with our inner self. The decisions we make and the decisions we do not, across a wide spectrum of choices. Conflict of one kind or another arises when we encounter our fellow man or woman. Since the dawn of humanity, our encounters have often been driven by tribalism, and an ‘us versus them’ attitude. The divisions that we see today in our society arose from a long history of opposing religious dogmas, greed, conquest, revenge, hatred, and a host of other adjectives and phrases that could be used to describe our species’ long past.
While we have come to agree that at the cellular level humans are one species, we have been divided today in many societies by the color of our skin. We have fought wars against one another based the minute differences of closely related cultures. Even within the same country or small village where the population seems to be homogenous, war and genocide have broken out. And no matter how many advancements in technology and medicine, or the vast improvement in economic conditions across the world, we seem unable to escape life ending conflict. No matter the speed at which our intellect and inquisition into our world seems to propel us forward, we revert predictably back to our animalistic impulses.
The United States of America or America for short, is a microcosm of that human history, within a fantastic project in theory that it has yet to live up to its own words in whole, though it has do so in part. The death of George Floyd was the spark that lit the flame for us as a society to finally recognize and deal with our ugly history. The deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery were parts of the incendiary components of a powder keg that had been building for centuries.
From my perspective, COVID-19, an unexpected pandemic gave us the opportunity to deeply explore our history. George Floyd was not the first black man to be killed in police custody. He happened to be the first when almost everyone was forced to remain home and could pay more attention than they typically would have to what was going on outside of them. There were no theatres to visit, no restaurants to dine-in at, or work events to attend. There were very few places or none depending on your location within our country, to close yourself off from the news cycle. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds buzzed with the latest related news. It was not that the conversation was new, the intensity of it was. We had the chance to honestly ask the questions of what we wanted as a society. We took the opportunity to delve into the lives of the men and women we held in esteem and hold them to account. Everything is now on the table, like it never had been before.
Slavery is a disgusting stain on our society and the history of our country. The freeing of slaves was a monumental moment of righteousness that failed to write the wrongs of 246 years of bondage, the transatlantic slave trade that preceded it, and the ensuing 99 years of segregation and injustice before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed. We must be reminded that culturally the Civil Rights Act did little to change the attitudes of most Americans. And we are not so far removed from the moment when Detroit and Newark burned in 1967, more so than the other 157 incidents across the country. The beating of Rodney King on national television is still a vivid memory just seven months shy of its 30th anniversary. We still remember the brutal killing of Amadou Diallo just 8 years later, and the acquittal of the officers responsible. It is essential that we recognize that the ugly stains of our past are still fresh. As we emphatically will “always remember 9/11,” the sons and daughters of slaves will always remember the injustices suffered by our predecessors. Until filmmakers and comedians no longer use these tropes in films, it is relevant. For our story tellers are expected to tell stories of meaning and relevance.
What does all this mean? You may ask what the point is in all this rehashing of history. It is simply that the conundrum we face is that the statistics do not align with the news cycle of widespread killing of Black people by the police. However, what it does is remind Black people of the long history of infractions against us for simply being born a shade or more darker than our European counterparts. The past hatreds felt directly by our parents and grandparents were features of conversations in our homes growing up. It existed in the background of encouraging statements like “you can be whatever you want to be.” It is the truth and lie that all parents tell their children. In our youth we do not recognize that so much of who e become is predicated on where we come from, who we come in to contact with, what we do, and the decisions we make against the conflicts in our hearts, minds, and souls.
People of other ethnic backgrounds must recognize that Black people in America, those specifically who are the descendants of slaves have a different gripe against our government and the power structure within this country. We all suffer. We all struggle. Yet, our struggle is not the same. We must stop grouping our “marginalization” together to achieve oneness at all costs. What many do not see is the internal struggle of Blacks in America in determining who they are as a people. This is the emotional baggage of lacking a culture outside of America that is truly our own. I mean that to say that there is no home country or culture that we can definitively point to as our own. Most of us have never been to Africa, we do not speak an African language, and African people who were not subject to slavery in America do not share our history. This is the very reason why I cringe when people said or say, “go back to Africa.” My friend, I have and many of us have never been there. And if we have, it is nearly as similar as visiting Jamaica. We are all black. That is the comfort. However, when it is time to go home, it is the US which we crave. We cannot have oneness with everyone else, until we have oneness with ourselves first. And furthermore, we must stop speaking of Africa as if it is one thing. There are diverse countries and cultures there as well. A Sudanese man would not welcome being called a Nigerian, the same way a Chinese man does not welcome being called Japanese.
We as Black Americans must rail against the notion that we are immigrants. The definition of an immigrant is “a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.” I do solemnly affirm that my people were here upon this landmass before the Declaration of Independence was drafted and signed. My ancestors were slaves of the British Colonies, slaves of a young United States of America, and set free upon this soil. Over time through the loss of life and many injustices, and more importantly through the courage and sacrifice of our Black American heroes, we have come to live in relative peace and comfort.
What Black people must recognize is that the United States of America is our birthright. This is our country as much as anyone else. Our slave ancestors helped to build this country alongside the people who enslaved them, the immigrants who joined over time, and the children who were natural born Americans. My grandfather and our predecessors did not “fight in THEIR wars,” we fought in OUR wars. We defended the land where our families lived, the soils that nourished us, and the trials and tribulations that allowed us to endure so many horrors. We must remember that our people are a massive part of the soul of America, having invented rhythm and blues, soul, rock and roll, and hip hop music.
White Americans as an entire group are not our enemy, and there is no proverbial “they.” Racist whites are our enemy, but also the enemy of Americans as a whole. They are the minority and not the majority, and we must recognize this. Systematic or Institutionalized racism is a buzz phrase of the modern news cycle to keep us steeped in the victimhood that is more connected to our history than our present condition. What we need from whites and other ethnics groups are what we have been given in the peaceful protests of today. It is in this solidarity that America will live up to the words of the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution of the United States, and The Emancipation Proclamation, and of course The Civil Rights Act ushered in by the heroes of that movement.
What we need from White Americans and other ethnic groups is investment in our communities for the advancement of our people. Nonprofit and other civic organizations play a major role in evening the odds for people in disadvantaged circumstances. We need the wealthy members of other communities to invest in these organizations, but more importantly individuals who possess the talents and abilities to achieve greatness in business, politics, and so forth. Not just in working for organizations established by others, but those established anew by Black Americans. For until we control the politics, economics, media, education, and law enforcement of what we call “Black Communities,” these communities do not truly exist.
The challenge of the previous statement exists in a community within a larger community. We do have to establish our own communities, we must police them at the civilian level, and we must live in them with our own if this is important to us. Because we are American, and because we are descended from Africans, and because humanity is truly one thing, we are attracted to everyone else. Blacks, while sharing a common ancestry, history, and experience, like all other cultures are not a homogeneous group of people. We do not all think, act, and approach life the same. However, we more than others have an expectation that we should all be and believe in the same things the same way. We must as a people stop ridiculing others, harping on political affiliation as a means of establishing or disapproving blackness, and we must purge the ugliness of our communities that are steeped in drug, gang, and criminal culture. We are so much more than this, and it spits in the face of those who fought for our freedoms. It is not that we are all involved, but we accept too much of the worst of our brethren. And as much as we would like to point a finger at everyone else as the culprit, this behavior calls into question our conviction for freedom and justice.
These conflicts exist in so many of us as Black Americans. Are we Americans or are we Africans from one of the many countries along the western coast? Are we an accepted member of this country or marginalized members of a society that treats us with a benign neglect? Will we look for “them,” to accept us or will be affirmed in our position as a value part of the Earth, no matter what society tries to do to determine our worth?
In closing, I say I am a Black American man of African descent and my ancestors were once free on the African continent. The tides of history led them to the lands of the Native Americans where the American Indians inhabited the lands. They lived in indentured servitude and/or slavery, until they were set free after the civil war. Marginalized they were, they fought for their full rights of American, and I am the benefactor and standard bearer of their sacrifice. A full-blooded American who does not seek acceptance by any man or woman and need not to be given anything. I will be rewarded in life by the merit of my own work and die like all other men. I will hope for the day when humanity will brush aside their petty tribalistic difference and we can find oneness. For one day the sun will burn the surface of the Earth so thoroughly that nothing will grow again.
Ameer Washington was born and raised in the city of Newark, NJ. Ameer attended Temple University from 2001-2005, earning a bachelor’s degree in economics. Ameer has more than 20 years of experience in the non-profit sector, and currently serves as Chief Executive Officer of Boys & Girls Club of Newark. His passion is helping people – especially youth, realize their full potential and to believe that what they aspire to do and become is possible. Ameer’s other passion is writing, having published five works of fiction and two collections of poetry. He writes here, not as a professional or representative of his organization, but as a black man, and citizen of these great United States of America.