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“Darkness--Not of Skin, but Mind”

By       Message Dr. Lenore Daniels     Permalink
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Americans don't want to imagine that our racist history is actually an ongoing racist reality. We like to look at racism as a thing that has gotten better (if not gone away completely) and that the way black Americans are treated in society is actually colorblind (Philip Blimp, "The Source of Black Poverty Isn't Black Culture, It's American Culture," The Wire, 4/1/2014).

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Yes, in the United States, Americans prefer the idea that there is a problem with black culture. The other idea, not so popular with Americans, as Philip Blimp points out, is that "our country's structures and systems are biased toward white people." That cannot be! "Black culture" is the cu lprit. Americans are comfortable with that option. Black Americans are--well, violent, and, as Barack Obama and others invested in this narrative  insists, black Americans are an irresponsible lot!

You do not need the revelation of a "secret" document or series of documents to know that black Americans have a high unemployment rate--and it is not due to laziness or inferiority in 2014, or that black Americans are more likely to be imprisoned for minor offenses than white Americans, or that black Americans are more likely to be on the outs when real-estate development blows through their neighborhood, or that black American children are left behind after 12 years of public education. These facts are not secrets at all. For most Americans, they represent common knowledge, the natural order of life in the United States. It is less about boots lacking bootstraps or the even the lack of boots. Much more is at stake. Something Americans also perceive when they half-hardheartedly engage in debates on "racism." And that something for Americans is at once disengaging and yet eerily familiar.

Americans over a certain age recall, even if vaguely, and mostly with a grimace, black Americans, young, women and men, who embraced their inheritance of resistance. Hungry children, high unemployment, inadequate housing, poor health, and deficient schools were not signs of progress in black communities. Sitting at a lunch counter or on a bus or train next to whites was fine but not signs of progress. Marching and begging came to a halt. Neither had been progressive enough. The desire for self-determination and dedication to organizing and educating had opponents, many of whom were northern and self-proclaimed liberals and progressives. There was for them progress enough and the sight of blacks in the streets, in the schools, in front of government buildings--blacks everywhere, all  out-of-bounds terrified a white America that had become spectators, temporarily, to nightly news footage of angry black Americans.

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Bunker Hill! A storming of the Bastille! A Siege of Vicksburg! Swarms of locusts over the landscape! A blanketing of "blackness!" The abyss! The end of civilization!

What would be lost? And for whom?

If certain Americans over a certain age noticed the disappearance of the upright and proud, the "Afro," even the clinched fists, if they bothered to count the bullet holes lodged in walls and in dead bodies, or stopped to consider why the jails and prisons were suddenly filling with the black, brown, Indian, and immigrant communities or asked why the FBI infiltrated community and grassroots organizations even then, they remained silent. Inertia has benefits for the career-minded. Americans, southern, northern, conservative, and liberal, denounce freedom, contrary to the rhetoric, and, to this day, only acknowledge difference, particularly racial difference reflecting a mirror image of themselves, i.e., white America, which, in turn, reflects the centralized racism of the corporate/capitalists' ideology.

What has become institutionalized is this victory over "blackness."

The "imprisonment" of "blackness" is not only represented by the criminalization of black and brown America and the subsequent incarceration of the "criminalized," but also represents those stand-ins, that is, replacements, black and brown, for those disappeared and silenced. The replacements, those who relinquish hearts and minds and strive to "fit in," and once assimilated, embrace the narrative of "success," freedom, thanks to the "free" market. The replacements--without a trace of that history of resistance--are representative of a "blackness," pleasing in the eyes of white America. "Blackness" here, tamed and controlled, is put to good use, restoring and sustaining an "honored" tradition from which emerges an all-too-eager a cadre of Uncle Toms, snitches, lackeys, confidants, informants, agent provocateurs, token, chosen ones, "ascending" from the depths of the inner city, the "ghetto," from that "blackness," that abyss, as the narrative goes, to rise to safety, living in harmony among the "good" citizens, contributing to the goals of a corporate/capitalist state.  

Resistance, the legacy of black culture, is not only futile, but branded as a "blackness" that will no longer be tolerated, particularly from black, brown, indigenous, and immigrant communities. The replacements, high and low, support axiom that we live in a "free" country, and we have fought the good fight, and won! Freedom is upon us. It is up to us--as individuals--to seize the day!

Resignation, reconciliation--or death!

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How else has the structure and system, depended on the practice of violence, remained in place, if not by controlling the narrative motif of "blackness"?


Americans become acquainted with "the power of blackness" in childhood, where it is "consigned," as the late literary critic Harry Levin writes, to the "bedevilment of the schoolroom" (The Power of Blackness: Hawthorne, Poe, Melville). In a fascist state, banning the "enemy" and his or her presence and voice from the schoolrooms and the classrooms of higher education is just one step. Gather everything representing the "enemy's" cultural inheritance, that is, books, historical texts, films, and set them to fire is another. But images must become embedded in the mind, and passed down from generation to generation. No "deeply thinking mind," writes Levin, is to be "wholly free" from "the power of blackness."

Colorblindness is not an option in the classroom where the "visitations" of "blackness" begins as lessons in American culture: a "witches' Sabbath, a black mass," deep in the forest, a husband's suspicions, and serving as a guide, "the devil himself," a "black man"--compliments of a little story written by Nathaniel Hawthorne that does more in its unchallenged "innocence" to normalize white supremacy than the waving of a Confederate flag or the swastika insignia on clothing. "Black clouds", "black humor", "black days", "black sheep", phrases used everyday by anyone, makes negligible the debate over who can or cannot use the "n" word.

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Activist, writer, American Modern Literature, Cultural Theory, PhD.

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