Words by Kokayi Nosakhere
As someone who proudly identifies himself as a Black nationalist, I struggle with the social perception that I am equal to the violent (white) racists who opposed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement. The mis-perception is that I do not agree with Dr. King’s popular high ideal that all of humanity is one. Or, that the solution to racism in America is to close the door to the past and begin anew, treating each other as Brothers and Sisters.
While it is agreed that injustice still agitates America’s social fabric – for example, it’s hard to deny the reality of police brutality in America after a five years of cellphone videos making it viscerally plain – public opinion believes that this injustice is against the will of the average “White” citizen. By and large, “White” Americans do not view themselves as the oppressors of “Black” America, especially as interracial coupling and biracial children provide ample demonstration that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is correct, on a personal level “White” Americans are not racist.
Towards a View of Shared Oppression
Following the explosive event of Officer Darren Wilson killing unarmed teenager, Mike Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, Abdul-Jabbar wrote, “Many white people think that these cries of outrage over racism by African Americans are directed at them, which makes them frightened, defensive and equally outraged. They feel like they are being blamed for a problem that’s been going on for many decades, even centuries. They feel they are being singled out because of the color of their skin rather than any actions they’ve taken. They are angry at the injustice. And rightfully so. Why should they be attacked and blamed for something they didn’t do?”
To public opinion, Black nationalism, in the form of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, appears to deny the fact that White America has changed since the Civil Rights Movement and is no longer individually racist. White America desperately argues that it knows “Black lives matter,” so why say it? Why not agree with Dr. King and connect instead to a greater, more unifying narrative expressed as: “All lives matter;” so that White people do not feel excluded from the process of healing the injustice? The phrase, “Black Lives Matter,” sounds divisive, implying that the average White person is responsible to address the injustice he or she knows his or her individual hands are not producing.
That paradox, that the individual “White” person is born into a system dripping with the blood of the genocidal act against Native Americans and the enslavement of African persons, yet he or she feels absolutely powerless to reform, or correct, that fundamental injustice in real time, is the trap White Supremacy creates for White people. It is the dark side of “privilege” – a privilege most (poor) White Americans are completely oblivious too. In many ways, White people feel just as oppressed by White Supremacy as “Black” people do.
The white anti-racist activist – and borderline abolitionist – named Tim Wise, despite brilliant delivery, is no more effective in communicating racial realities in America to White audiences than a Black nationalist such as Minister Louis Farrakhan is.
In response to Ferguson, Wise wrote: “I think this, more than anything, is the source of our trouble when it comes to racial division in this country. The inability of white people to hear black reality—to not even know that there is one and that it differs from our own—makes it nearly impossible to move forward. . . .The history of law enforcement in America, with regard to black folks, has been one of unremitting oppression. That is neither hyperbole nor opinion, but incontrovertible fact. From slave patrols to overseers to the Black Codes to lynching, it is a fact. From dozens of white-on-black riots that marked the first half of the 20th century (in which cops participated actively) to Watts to Rodney King to Abner Louima to Amadou Diallo to the railroading of the Central Park 5, it is a fact. From the New Orleans Police Department’s killings of Adolph Archie to Henry Glover to the Danziger Bridge shootings there in the wake of Katrina to stop-and-frisk in places like New York, it’s a fact. And the fact that white people don’t know this history, have never been required to learn it, and can be considered even remotely informed citizens without knowing it, explains a lot about what’s wrong with America. Black people have to learn everything about white people just to stay alive. They especially and quite obviously have to know what scares us, what triggers the reptilian part of our brains and convinces us that they intend to do us harm. Meanwhile, we need know nothing whatsoever about them. We don’t have to know their history, their experiences, their hopes and dreams, or their fears. And we can go right on being oblivious to all that without consequence.”
The current racial tension is a lose-lose situation. It doesn’t seem to matter how much love the individual White person exhibits towards individual Black people, each act of injustice, on the national level, paints that loving White person as an oppressor.
The Threat of People of Color Safe Zones
On Friday, October 9, 2015, I did not rest my head on a Washington, D. C. hotel pillow. I am a graduate of the original Million Man March. With friendships in all walks of life, I connected with another Alaskan, Drew Cason, and crashed at his apartment.
I last saw Cason, who is White, at the Hip Hop Summit, conducted by Global Block Alaska. He’s a tremendously compassionate person who has spent the last two years inside the national capital learning the ins and out of America’s governance process.
Over a few drinks, Cason and I discussed the effect of the Pope’s visit to D. C. and ran up and down the annuals of American history exploring solutions to most of our current problems. I grew hungry, and asked if anything was open at 1:30 am. Cason assured me that Washington D.C. nightlight guaranteed it.
Within minutes, we faced 14th Street, a fork in the road. Towards our left was darkness. No street lamps were on. Men and women disappeared into what I assumed were bars. A few silhouettes lingered before stoops, animated in laughter and conversation.
“That’s the Black section,” Cason said. “We can go down there but I’m not really welcomed.”
We had no other response other than laughter to the paradox that social dynamics are such, as a White person, Cason is essentially separated from many he would perceive as fellow human beings.
“I just left that section about five blocks that way,” I said.
Cason and I turned towards the right and walked into more familiar territory, with a diversity of Americans interacting with each in unity under fully lit street lamps.
My Attendance at The Holy Day of Atonement
Surrounded by two million versions of myself, the Million Man March on Monday, October 16, 1995 radicalized me. The memory of that day is positive, like the feeling of a family reunion. The emotion of love was thick in the air. It was one of the high spiritual moments of this lifetime for me. So positive is the memory, that the controversy surrounding the moment is almost minimized.
The Million Man March was controversial because the Nation of Islam, the premier Black nationalistic institution, organized it and White people were not invited.
Due to the trauma-based bond established under slavery, from Black America’s cultural perspective, nationalism is the philosophy that the only solution to the racial problem in America is for Black people to separate from White people into a territory within the United States. Any attempt at integration is vain and condemned to failure. Several generations of living apart are needed for each side to heal from the trauma-based bond which birthed the nation.
This view is not without credence within white thought, and was championed by President Abraham Lincoln following the Civil War, right before his assassination. He met with leaders from the formerly enslaved and suggested governmental funds for a relocation program. This program became Liberia.
The idea of separation is problematic, because it solidifies White people, individually and collectively, in the undesired role of oppressor. Black people who adhere to separation as a solution are perceived as deniers of White people’s basic humanity. The position is considered racist. The idea that Black people who desire to separate are in the position of the abused wife who wants a house of their own, not rent an apartment owned by their Father-in-Law, being blamed for breaking up a good family, instead of seeking an end to the abuse, is a difficult concept to translate to White America.
In 2000, James H. Cone III and Joseph L. White, wrote in a book entitled, Black Man Emerging: Facing the Past and Seizing a Future in America: “The Black/White perceptual gap, compounded by generations of suspicion and hostility, interferes with the mutual understanding and communication that is essential for effective biracial problem solving. Black and White Americans are like two people who have a bad marriage but for complex reasons have decided not to divorce or even establish separate households. A divorce would cost too much in alimony and involve splitting up the assets, so they are faced with the dilemma of trying to get along on a day-to-day basis.”
For most of Black history, a people of color safe zone, or space where White people could not come, was illegal. Being human, Southern Whites knew Black people did not like enslavement. “Stealing away” to find a space where the psychological pain of being enslaved could be released was precious to Black people. It kept many from going insane or committing suicide. The existence of that psychological pain also terrified White people because it reminded Southern Whites that Black people did view them as oppressors, despite the psychological programming.
Out of these safe zones, Black culture developed to help its practitioners navigate the tumultuous waters of our American experience. We endure the paradox of suffering from those who do not view themselves as the cause of that suffering.
The Radicalization of “Black” America
In the face of current events, it is hard as a Black person to look at this request as anything other than insanity. Against her will, my friend Iman Josey, who recently moved to Texas has to explain this paradox to her two sons. On the Friday I connected to Cason, in unity, a video surfaced showing a Black high school student being slammed to the ground by a white police officer. The incident happened in the city, Iman and her children recently moved too. To complicate the situation, a second white police officer is present and does not stop the first officer from violently detaining the Black teenager. White teachers appear who ask students to stand back.
Iman’s sons are smart enough to see exactly what you and I see when we watch the video. This is a clear act of oppression, in the form of physical violence. It looks racially-motivated.
The idea that neither the teachers, nor the police officers, would claim personal responsibility for creating an outcome classified by those who watch the incident as oppressive, silently gives credence to the Black nationalistic perspective that separation is the only answer.
Black culture is designed to absorb the excuses of the cop and still see the humanity of those making the excuses. I am trained to look at the incident from the perspective of the officers and teacher and make their case for them.
Like Darren Wilson, the two officers standing there are just doing their jobs. The high school student is supposed to comply. If he does not comply, it is socially acceptable in a monstrous system to use violence to force compliance, even if that compliance is unjust. I can imagine the teachers arguing they are doing their best to act out of compassion by asking the other children to stand back. The child on the ground is already a victim. The compassionate teacher’s new goal is to prevent the other children from becoming victims of the monstrous system the teacher feels she has no power to stop. A cop has a gun. The teacher is not prepared to risk her life to correct the injustice happening before her. The system, being monstrous, would act against her, making her one of its victims.
The officers and teachers are forced, by societal forces, to enforce what they know is fundamentally criminal injustice.
And, it is that very paradox that radicalizes Iman’s sons. No Dr. King sermon of humanity’s inherent oneness is going to stop the message that it is socially acceptable to limit the arc of their lives, even under the presence of a twice elected Black President.
Neither can I. As I approached the National Mall, walking onto to it accompanied by Black men and women from across the country, I noticed my phone stopped working. Others noticed it too. Word quickly spread that a media blackout was happening. MSNBC, Fox News and CNN were nowhere to be found. Nor, was BET, or Black Entertainment Television, broadcasting the March live, like it did 20 years ago.
Perceiving the exclusion of White people from the March, the monstrous system responded in the only manner it could. It didn’t matter that President Obama, could perceive this act as oppressive, or that individual anchors, such as a liberal like Rachel Maddow, could perceive the blackout as an act of oppression, both do not possess the power to reverse, or protest, those orders. Their silence is radicalizing.
Just like in 1995, attendees estimate a million Black people came together and because such gatherings – although historically illegal – are built on the principle of justice, the outcome was peace. Not one act of violence occurred within the gathering. In addition to that, the men of the NOI cleaned up after the people, posting the pictures after the March. If that those outcomes are perceived as a threat, worthy of a media blackout, the reaction within “Black” America is a radicalization.
“Black” Twitter became furious at BET’s collusion. The fact that Viacom now owns BET, instead of a “Black” man named Robert Johnson, was not lost. In response, a boycott was announced over social media of the BET Hip Hop Awards show the following Saturday night. The action was honored and ratings fell from 3 million in 2014 to 1.8 million in 2015.
The Daily Show, using comedy, communicated how random White people heard retaliatory violence in the March’s slogan, “Justice, Or Else.” The correspondent, Roy Woods, Jr., remarked, “No wonder white people write all the horror movies.” When the organizers of the March were asked what the “Or Else” meant, Student Minister Nuri Muhammad answered, a boycott of the last business quarter.
I have not had much conversation with White Americans about what the boycott means to them, so I cannot speak on it. It appears to be threatening because it is an act of unity against the injustice that is American society for Black people. By asking Black people to specifically redirect their economic activity towards Black businesses, I can see how it appears racist, because it is not in alignment with Dr. King’s promoted dream of American unity. The boycott is a public act of revolution – of separation.
Putting Meaning the Slogan: Justice or Else
To move forward, I feel it is needed. It is isn’t until the individual White American begins articulating that he or she feels anguish over the injustice being experienced by Black America in their lifetime, not 500 years ago or even 50 years ago, but today, in 2015, that a solution to racism in America is going to happen. The tension is becoming so great that White Americans can no longer effectively shy away from the existence of racism and say, “My hands are not doing it.” The abuse is real. Ignoring the abuse is not going to make the abuse go away.
If there is any lesson the “Justice, Or Else” movement begun on October 10, 2015 has to give America it is this: Black people have endured slavery, segregation and are now being asked to endure mass incarceration. It is too much. We do not wish to continue living in a society that requests we endure injustice without a viable program to end it in sight. White Americans arguing that “all lives matter” as a means of absolving themselves individually of personal responsibility for addressing racism or using the tactic of silence because one is clueless as to the solution is radicalizing “Black” youth, who are actively suffering the abuse.
We are heading towards a new civil war – and I don’t see any Black people who view themselves responsible for it. If White America wants to avoid a splintering of the Union, White people have to address racism among White people, whether they feel personally responsible for racism or not.
Failure to effectively address racism in America will result in Black people choosing to create a way out of America, or else watch ourselves be crushed by our friends and family members who deny a holocaust happening right before their eyes.