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Jan. 21, 2022

Changing the Black American Narrative

For several years, I have celebrated Black History Month by posting the success stories of black Americans both past and present.  I do not discount, dismiss, or cancel the struggles black Americans have had while living in America, because these struggles are real. My goal with this celebration is to change the narrative of black Americans from one of “group victimization”, to a narrative that celebrates a group of people who truly have overcome. There is more work to be done, but it can’t be done, and we won’t achieve the desired results, if we continue to focus on the negative narrative of group victimization and routinely dismiss and discount the positive achievement of all black Americans. We won’t get where we want to go if we continue to believe and re-tell the narrative that the white man is out to get us and accuse certain politicians of being racist, when the career politicians are in fact the racist.

This podcast will be counter to what the MSM and the race hustlers sell the American public. Many people will dismiss everything here, without listening to anything I have to say. Some will listen but will dismiss the entire podcast the minute they hear something they disagree with. They will not accept this piece for what it is, which is an opinion piece.

I hope you will stay with me to the end of this episode. Part of the struggle we are having as a country is that we are not willing to listen to someone’s position on a subject we may disagree with. We want to believe the “official” narrative, and have predetermined that nothing will change our mind, even if those things are facts and truth. Thinking for ourselves might mean we’d have to stand alone, so it’s easier to continue to believe and foster a lie than to stand for truth.

 

Some of what I will share will be my opinion on this interesting subject and most of the information provided will come from an article published by Charles Johnson, on June 1, 2008, titled, “The End of the Black American Narrative”.

With the help of Mr. Johnson, I will take you through some of the struggles black Americans have endured. Additionally, I will ask why we can’t look at these struggles from a different perspective.

I’ll discuss what the current narrative of black Americans is and why it is destructive to the progress of all Americans.

I’ll share why I think we hold on to this negative narrative, despite the overall successes of many black Americans.

I’ll look at what Charles Johnson calls “the rich tapestry of the brown-skinned people”.

With the help of Mr. Johnson, I’ll discuss why we allow ourselves to be “blind to the obvious, leading us to see in matters of race only what we want to see based on our desires, and political agendas.”

Finally, I will share with you, what I believe the new Black American narrative should be, how we can share it, and live it, so everyone, regardless, of skin color, can become, “full-fledged Americans, with all the rights of American citizens”

 

Join me on this intellectual journey, so we can all grow, learn, discuss, and debate this issue as adult Americans seeking to improve our life, maintain our liberty, and pursue happiness.

 

The story of black Americans starts with violence, chaos, kidnapping and slavery. The stories we tell, and share are framed by this unfortunate beginning, creating the group victimization framework we refuse to move away from. In the 17th century, slave forts  were common along the west coast of Africa, where debtors, thieves, war prisoners, and those who would not convert to Islam were separated from their families, branded, and sold to Europeans who packed them into ships that cargoed 20 million human being to the New World.The 20 percent who survived the voyage, entered a New World filled with new horrors and heartbreak.2  The lives of these people was, for the most part erased. Every slave was now property, completely denied all sense of self-worth, for a slave owns nothing, least of all himself.For 244 years, America was a slave state, scarred by slave revolts, heroic black resistance to oppression, and horrific suffering.  The ending of the Civil War and its Emancipation Proclamation did not bring liberation.4 America slipped into what could be considered a version of apartheid. “Separate but equal” was clearly only separate. Black Americans were disenfranchised and stripped of their rights as American citizens.5  From 1890 through 1950 blacks were treated as second-class citizens.6  Members of every generation of black Americans saw their lives disrupted by race-riots, lynchings  and the destruction of towns and communities such as the Greenwood district of prosperous black Americans, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on May 31, 1921.7  With all of these events occurring, the challenge for black Americans, was how to force a nation that excluded black people from its promise of “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, to redress this grievance and to honor the principles that are foundational in our Constitution.8

These words, mostly from Mr. Johnson’s article, describe the framework of the black American group narrative. When shared, for the most part, it is always negative. I will not share the details concerning the horrors Africans faced when they came to America. I do not plan to speak about the inhumane methods of torture and mental and physical harm perpetrated on black Americans before and after the Civil War. Despite the difficult lives they lived, our ancestors fought daily for generations, with courage and dignity to change the negative narrative we hold on to today. Our ancestors would be discouraged to see black Americans continue to live as “victims” and use the “group victimization card” as the reason for bad behavior, failing in school, and failing in life.  

We disrespect our ancestors when we look back and only discuss the horrors, they experienced. It is rare to hear someone speak about the many black Americans who learned to read and write while enduring the repulsions of slavery.

We fail our ancestors when we do not praise them for raising families and doing everything possible to keep their families and traditions alive after working for their master.

We insult those who lost lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when we mourn their deaths but do not ask, how did all those black people become so wealthy during this period in Oklahoma? Why aren’t we doing the same thing in 2022?  

We dishonor our heritage when we talk about “what we would have done” if we were slaves. We speak in a manner implying our ancestors did not have the guts to stand up for their own freedom. We come home from work, complaining about having “worked like a slave”. We blame all our shortcomings on slavery. “We are how we are because of slavery.” I recently listened to a podcast, titled “The Kay Talks” that shared this concept. I’ll discuss this podcast later.

Our ancestors sacrificed every single day they were on this earth. There are many others who did so much. Many more we do not know, who, with no desire for fame or notoriety, kept the faith, demonstrated, went to jail, helped change unjust laws, and even died so that Americans of all backgrounds might be free.9.  I do not know what keeps us from finding the diamonds in the rough as we look at our ancestor’s past. I do not know why we dismiss their success and hold on to the hurt they endured; for even in their darkest hour, they believed one day they would be free. Their desire and prayers were that we would not be encumbered by the evils perpetrated upon them.  Their desire was that we would build a framework of prosperity upon their foundation of pain. It’s hard to build that framework when we continue to embrace and wallow in the evils of the past.

As I stop to think about how to articulate the present black American narrative, I believe it is best for me to share the words of Mr. Johnson, for his words speak clearly concerning what the black American narrative is. His belief, as is mine, is that we need new stories grounded in the present, leaving behind the painful history of slavery and its consequences.10   My interpretation of his statement is not to cancel our painful history, but to begin a narrative that is not unnecessarily and exceedingly stiped in the negativity of our past.

In the words of Mr. Johnson, “This unique black American narrative, which emphasizes the experience of victimization, is quietly in the background of every conversation we have about black people, even when it’s not fully articulated or expressed. It is our stating point, our agreed-upon premise, our most important presupposition for dialogues about black America. We teach it in our classes, and it is the foundation for both our scholarship and our popular entertainment as they relate to black Americans. Frequently, it is the way we approach each other as individuals.”11   Unfortunately, it’s challenging to revise the negative narrative, when those who have completely embraced the group victimization narrative attack those trying to change and improve our story.

Many people continue to place a heavy emphasize on the “experience of victimization”. The need to dismiss, forget or rewrite the stories that tell of the horrible experiences many blacks have had in American is not the goal. The goal is to place the emphasize on the successes and the positive achievements many blacks have had throughout history despite these difficulties. This statement reminds me of a black architect, Paul Williams, who taught himself to draw upside down, because the people (white) whom he was pitching his work to, did not want to sit next to him. He designed homes for wealth people whose neighborhoods he was not able to reside in. Despite, these challenges, he succeeded, and paved the way for anyone who wanted to continue down this road. As I stated earlier, those who created major wealth in Greenwood, did so in the 1900’s, maybe earlier. We focus on the destruction and the pain and suffering that occurred May 31, 1921, when the real story is how did these black Americans achieve their wealth during this period? We complain that the story of Greenwood is not taught in schools, but again, I would suggest that we are missing the boat because we are not asking the right questions and we are not promoting the positive aspect of Greenwood. When I have shared my stories of black Americans who have achieved great things, during Black History Month, I always point out their struggle, but conclude with their drive and desire to succeed. I point out that the only person holding you down or keeping you from achieving your goals is you.

If you’re struggling to achieve your goals, don’t change your goals, change your plan.

 

I am appalled to hear stories of young black people who cannot read, write, or do basic math in the year 2022. The opportunities to learn and teach yourself, if schools are inadequate, are available. To complain about this and attempt to place the blame on everyone but yourself, and accept the easy way out, dishonors the lives of those who learned to read and write knowing if they were caught, they would be tortured or killed. Black Americans have been told they are dumb and not smart enough to do many tasks. A percentage of the black population, mainstream media, and our government sells that narrative hard, attempting to keep black people down, all under the pretense of trying to right the wrongs of the past. The stories of successful black Americans are categorized as sell outs, anomalies or the stories are just not told. This “success” cannot be achieved by everyone so don’t try to achieve it and remember we are still trying to “overcome” the scars and evils of years gone by. Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan and others believe that successful black people give black Americans a false impression of progress, and believe that their success, does not change the old narrative of group victimization. Minister Farrakhan and others who push and profit by this narrative are themselves, successful black people. Why, then, do they continue to push the narrative that all black Americans cannot achieve what they have achieved? You start a movement or a revolution, with the intent of it eventually coming to an end. Why are so many unwilling to accept the success of black Americans as evidence that the lives of black Americans have improved? Americans of every race cannot move forward to develop improved relations when the rearview mirror is twice the size of the forward-facing windshield. I am not suggesting we erase the past or not acknowledge the struggles both past and present, but we need to move forward and acknowledge the many accomplishments of black Americans, from our past as well as those making inroads today. If we do not do this, racial unrest will continue, and our country will continue to see the expansion of the racial divide.

 

So why do we hold on to this negative narrative? In my opinion, it is because we are infatuated with the past. Many don’t want to believe that we have overcome, because it takes away from the glamour and glory of being a part of the struggle. We want to be a part of something that is bigger than ourselves and we don’t want the good old days to slip away. It’s like the “Glory Days” Bruce Springsteen sung about. We don’t want to acknowledge the strides made “after the epic battles for specific civil rights in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, after two monumental and historic legislative triumphs – the civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and three decades of affirmative action that lead to the creation of a true middle class, a people oppressed for so long have finally become polymorphous.”12 We don’t want to admit that many organizations including the NAACP are struggling to get new recruits, not so much because the organization isn’t needed, but more so because the role of the organization needs to change but leadership will not change, keeping the organization stuck in the past. The inability to get new recruits is viewed as black Americans being ignorant of their history and unwilling to participate in the ongoing struggle. We fail to recognize that such organizations served a purpose, reminding each generation of black Americans of the historic obligations, duties and dangers they inherited and faced, but the problem with any story or idea or interpretation, is that it can soon fail to fit the facts and become an ideology.13  Susan Griffin in her 1982 essay, “The Way of all Ideology,” wrote, “When a theory is transformed into an ideology, it begins to destroy the self and self-knowledge…. No one can tell it anything new. It is annoyed by any detail which does not fit its worldview…. Begun as a way to restore one’s sense of reality, now it attempts to discipline real people, to remake natural beings after its own image.”14. 

This is where we are today.

You cannot disagree with this group victimization narrative because it is the new ideology, and it must be passed on and continued even though it can do very little of the things we need for it to do today.15.  I believe, as Mr. Johnson does, that we receive comfort in holding on to ideas received from our parents, teachers, relatives, the schools, and churches we attend, and our culture, rather than original ones of our own.16   We have what are referred to as “official” stories and explanations and endlessly repeated interpretations of black American life. I am not “allowed” to share my unique story if it ruffles the feathers of the old narrative. My story is discounted and considered fictional if it does not line up with the “official” stories. We need to view the black American narrative as one that is still being written, one that is partial, open-ended, mysterious, never fixed, and incomplete. A narrative that is subject to revision based on new evidence, which we can be sure is just around the corner.17.    

What is this new evidence, and where is the proof that the narrative is open-ended, and still being written? The evidence is in the fact that black Americans have and do hold CEO positions, high level positions in our nation’s government, to include a former president, a current vice president, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and a Justice in the Supreme Court. Back when Mr. Johnson wrote his article, there were over 10,000 black Americans holding positions in elected offices around the country. We now have the first black woman to be elected as the Lt. Governor of Virginia. We have black Americans as mayors, police chiefs, best-selling authors, MacArthur fellows, Nobel laureates, Ivy League professors, billionaires, scientist, stockbrokers, engineers, attorneys, physicist, toy makers, inventors, astronauts, and chess grandmasters.18.  This is the abbreviated list of accomplishments black Americans are making and yet these stories are not shared to the extent that the group victimization narrative is shared. The narrative is still being written because every day, more black Americans are ascending the ladder of success despite the continued regurgitation of the group victimization narrative.

Our churches as well as the media (social and mainstream) play a role in this. The voice of a pastor is assumed to be one that is sharing truth all the time and is rarely questioned. For what we find, is that from the pulpit, feelings, and faith trump facts.19. 

 

Early, I mentioned a podcast I had listened to that, in my opinion, blamed a lot of the troubles black men encounter on slavery and racism. In her episode “Depopulation Through the Jail System”, with Jakala Breon, Ms. Breon did attempt to put some blame on black men, but not enough.  I’m not here to run down her podcast; however, I do want to address the issue I have with it and use this as an example of the media providing information with no statistics, evidence, or facts to back it up claims. A media platform, where “feelings trump facts.”

The headline she uses to promote her podcast is “An episode discussing Jakala Breon’s thoughts on the depopulation in the black community amongst black man. The system, JAIL is what’s holding our men from using their creational tool.” I’m wondering what creational tools she is talking about.

Her premise is that the black population is decreasing because black men are being locked up and can’t have or be with their families. This is a tired old story that continues to be shared by all forms of media and believed by all. Yet, with little effort, it is easy to discover that perhaps, one reason for the “depopulation” in black communities is the abortion rate. I’ve talked before about the availability of abortion clinics in black neighborhoods. Her emotional pitch for this story is great, but with no mention of the fact that black women tend to abort their babies at four times the rate of white women, causes her story to sound like one of the “official” stories we’re allowed to tell and must believe, no questions asked.   Perhaps this is the reason, among others, that she perceives a decrease in the population in black communities. We all must stop selling the lies and believing the “official” stories that are just not true.

Ms. Breon’s story reminds me of an interview I saw many years ago of  a young, attractive black woman. She was educated and employed, but regrettably single. She believed she was single because, in her words, all the black men were locked up in prison, making the pool of available men small. At the time, I was single. I was not nor have I ever been in prison, and yet this was the story she was going to tell, and she was sticking to it. Too many black men locked up in prisons, the “official” story for all the misfortunes of the black family.

 

Here are why these “official” stories don’t work and do more harm than good. We are not culturally homogenous. A quick look shows West Indians make up 48 percent of the “black” population in Miami. In major cities in America, 15 percent of the black American population is foreign born- Haitian, Jamaican, Senegalese, Nigerian, Cape Verdean, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Somalian- the rich tapestry of brown-skinned people as culturally complex in their differences, backgrounds, and outlooks.20   

My parents were born in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Their upbringing was not at all like that of blacks who grew up in America. The culture, language, traditions, and food were very different.  After coming to America, I recall being ridiculed by a black family because I did not know what grits were. People from the Virgin Islands do not eat grits. This is an example of why these “official” stories don’t work; they don’t apply to this richly diverse group of people. We all have unique stories to tell, that don’t fit the narrative of group victimization. The color of our skin may be the same, but our stories are unique. We didn’t all grow up in the “ghetto” or have ancestors who were slaves. We aren’t all a part of a gang, a majority of us do not come from single parent homes and many of us have never been arrested of gone to prison.  Many black Americans are doing better- in school and business- than native-born black Americans.21   However we choose to view black Americans, we will always find them to be a complex and multifaceted people who defy easy categorization. My goal is to challenge, culturally and politically, an old group narrative that fails to capture even a fraction of our rich diversity and heterogeneity.21. Have black Americans experienced social and cultural problems as we move into the year 2022? Absolutely, however, these are problems based more on the inequities of class, and these same problems appear in other groups of people as well.22 It is no longer the case that the essence of black American life is and must be based in racial victimization, and disenfranchisement, a curse and a condemnation, a destiny based on color in which the meaning of one’s life is created before you are even born. 23 Businesses and organizations have created unnecessary “Inclusion and Diversity” positions, with the purpose of diversifying their workplace. Most of these positions are held by black Americans. The company and the person holding the position, have bought into the group victimization narrative without looking at the diversity within the black population. This diversity exists in all segments of American culture. It is overly simplistic and insulting to categorize people under the all too convenient labels of “Mexican”, “Asian”, or “European.”24 All Americans are a rich tapestry of all kinds of people, who are culturally complex in their differences, backgrounds, and outlooks on life.

 

This narrative follows the adage of if you repeat something long enough, eventually it will become truth. As we continue to tell the same stories repeatedly and are “forced” to believe they are true, we dismiss what once was true and replace it with theories that become the ideology we follow. Black Lives Matters (BLM) is an ideological group that insist we believe what they say, even when it clearly makes no sense nor lines up with reality. Groups such as BLM and other with their stories of fear and struggle “can blind us to the obvious, leading us to see in matters of race only what we want to see based on our desires and political agendas.”25.  

In the piece by Mr. Johnson, he writes about how for 50 years, black Americans were blind to an obvious truth about Emma Dunham Kelly-Hawkins.

In 2005, Holly Jackson, then a doctoral student of English at Brandeis University was given the assignment of writing an entry about Kelly-Hawkins for the African American National Biography. After checking birth records, and other documents, Jackson realized that Kelly-Hawkins was not black as five decades of scholars had assumed, but white. Yet all the evidence to suggest her whiteness was clearly present in the books she wrote. Her characters were repeatedly described with “blue eyes, and skin as white as ‘pure’ or ‘driven’ snow”. Even more fantastic are the theories literary scholars came up with to explain why Kelly-Hawkins made no reference to race or blackness in her two novels written in the 1890’s. Fifty years of scholarship based on these mistakes, articles, dissertations, courses in African American women’s writing that include the works of Kelly-Hawkins, turns out to be an illusion created by the blinding intentionality of those who wrote about this white author based on a tangled knot of beliefs and prejudices, their concept of her completely distorting the facts.26. Of course, when the truth was put forth, efforts to downplay it were enacted. Ms. Jackson made this relevant observation: described as an “enormous historical misconception,” she said, “there is so much at stake here, because all the writing has been done based on a false assumption about race.” In wondering how such overwhelmingly white text successfully passed as black for so long “in the absence of any corroborating historical data?” Finally, she said, “We have stretched our understanding of how black women have written in America to incorporate texts that do not fit.” 

As you recall some of the things I have said in this podcast and look at the events of the past few years, you must ask yourself, I’m I really being presented with the truth? Does what I’m being told, match what I am seeing with my own eyes and hearing with my ears?  As we continue to hold on to a narrative that no longer works, and force feed Americans a narrative laced with misleading, outdated ideologies, making them fit our desires and our political agendas, we mislead others for our selfish gain. BLM is a group with this as their goal. The so-called black leaders spend more of their time telling us about the struggles, the civil rights movements, the marches, and the need to rally so we can “overcome someday.” They never speak of the progress, or the successes made among black Americans because it could mean we won’t need them any longer. We must open our minds, step out into the real world, and look at the situations around us. We must stop believing the ideology pushed on us by social and MSM and think for ourselves. We must assume the position of epistemological humility, which is a healthy skepticism about what we think we already know.

We don’t know everything about anything, but when we are not allowed to question anything, problems develop. As black Americans we must be able to openly question everything, especially the narrative of group victimization.

 

So, what should the new black American narrative be, if the old narrative has outlived its usefulness? The new narrative should sing of the success of black Americans. We can and should tell the amazing stories of those who came before us, who against all odds made things happen. We should celebrate great poets such as Gwendolyn Brooks and great musicians like Donaldson Toussaint L'Ouverture Byrd II, or the long list of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs who are paving the road to success for all Americans. “We need new and better stories, new ideas and new vocabularies and grammar, not based on the past but on the dangerous, exciting and unexplored present, with the understanding that each is at best a provisional reading of reality, a single phenomenological profile that one day is likely to be revised, if not completely overturned.27  We need to journey into the future with an understanding of our past, not letting our past define us, but allowing it to propel us into bigger and better success. We need to have people who are willing to be the foundation upon which their family and generations to come will be built upon. We must share our unique family histories and differentiate them from the “official” stories retold. We must think for ourselves and know that just because you can’t snow ski, or swim doesn’t mean I can’t.  We must ask and answer questions about our families and understand if we are going to become great, enfranchised Americans, then we must support and defend the documents that give us the opportunity to pursue happiness. We must acknowledge our differences as black Americans, that those born in the south probably have a different perspective on life than those raised in the west.  These stories that develop the new narrative, are not and should not be viewed as “absolute truth” but as very tentative thesis that must be tested every day in the depths of our own experience and by all the reliable evidence, we have available. 28. These will become narratives of individuals and not groups. The complexity of wanting to be a part of a group while at the same time being recognized as an individual, with specific unique goals and accomplishments or failure, is the struggle we all go through. Our new narrative must elevate us and proclaim our successes and proclaim our accomplishments.

 “What is it we want? What is the thing we are after?” W.E.B Du Bois answered the question, in his address delivered in 1926 at the Chicago Conference for the NAACP, titled, “Criteria of Negro Art”: “We want to be full-fledged Americans with all the rights of American citizens.” But we desire more than that. We want a world that is beautiful, we want not perfect happiness, but plenty of hard work, the inevitable suffering that comes with life, sacrifice and waiting, all that, but, nevertheless, a life lived in a world where men know, where men create, where they realize themselves and where they enjoy life. It is that sort of world we want to create for ourselves and for all Americans.  

 

We must never downplay or forget the overall history of any American, but we cannot let that negative history rule our outlook on life and prevent us from seeking and obtaining life, liberty, and happiness.