Should All Americans Embrace Their Blackness?

Professor Melissa Harris-Perry says that more people than ever should be able to relate to -- and learn from -- the black experience.

Posted:
 
highfive
Thinkstock Images

Terrorism. Labor struggles. Intrusive searches. Melissa Harris-Perry argues in a provocative piece for the Nation that the issues that have mainstream America up in arms these days have always been around for black people.

One example: Tea Party activists have argued for swift economic intervention to combat a near 10 percent unemployment rate. But when the rate for African Americans exceeded that for most of the past several decades, it led to stereotypes of blacks as lazy and undeserving instead of criticism of national leadership.

The rest of the country, she suggests, could choose to connect their current reality to issues that black people have been dealing with forever, and "learn from generations of African Americans who resisted dehumanizing processes of domination and inequality."

Read excerpts here:

In the months following September 11, my colleague Cornel West offered this insight: national political elites used the devastating attacks to promote the “niggerization of the American people.” West understood that long before 9/11, African-Americans were intimately familiar with terrorism. Through the Jim Crow century, they were routinely and randomly brutalized and murdered by well-organized groups of whites acting beyond the confines of the official state but with the tacit consent of their society. Under the shadow of lynching, black Americans learned what it meant to feel, as West describes, “unsafe, unprotected, subject to random violence, and hated for who they are.” After 9/11 far too many Americans, unaccustomed to this sense of collective intimidation, felt helpless to halt an unjustified war or the erosion of civil liberties. Thus, whether or not they were black, Americans were “niggerized” by the attacks.

... Few events more clearly demonstrated the blackening of America than the standoff in Wisconsin. Like the nineteenth-century leaders of Southern states who stripped black citizens of voting rights, public accommodation and civic associations, Wisconsin’s Republican majority dismantled the hard-won basic rights of Wisconsin workers. Like those Confederate leaders, the Wisconsin GOP used intimidation, threats and even the police against demonstrators and rival officials. As the saga unfolded, many Wisconsin citizens felt stunned that their once-secure rights might be eliminated. For a moment, perhaps, they glimpsed the experience of black men and women who watched the shadow of Jim Crow blot out the promises of emancipation.

... Today corporate greed, conservative ideology, manufactured right-wing populism and progressive complicity are making more and more Americans into, as Professor West might characterize them, "niggers." Rather than try to escape the pain of experiencing some small familiarity with blackness ... By embracing our collective blackness, perhaps we can find the fortitude and creativity necessary to face the continuing erosion of our national social safety net in the face of a persistent economic crisis.

If the ability of all Americans to see the commonalities between their current struggles and the history of the black experience results in empathy and more possibilities for a way forward, we're all for it.

Read the entire piece at the Nation.

The Root 100 People's Choice Awards  
Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM