When I was in high school, I read Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery. I do not remember much of it after 20+ years. However, I do remember one phrase. “When you walk into a room, the entire race follows you.” The idea Washington was trying to get across was that your actions would reflect on your entire race. If you come in a room, and you are rude and disrespectful, then all the white people in the room will see the entire race that way. If you are polite and courteous that will win favor and help to change the opinion of white people.
I am not going to bash Washington on my site. I feel his ideas and viewpoints were appropriate for their historical context. I do not consider Washington a sellout, I consider him a pragmatist that worked within the limits of the time. I do want to challenge this idea of the need to validate yourself to the world and show how this idea manifests itself on a macroscopic scale and a microscopic level.
I will begin with how it manifests itself on a microscopic level. I know, in my life, I have gone out of my way to work hard and behave in an ethical manner. I would like to say that my motivation was the high standards that I set for myself. I know deep down it is not. I realized that in this political and social system being black was already a disadvantage. If I was going to be successful, I could not give society any reason to halt my progress and label me as a stereotype.
This idea was detrimental to my personal relationships. The largest issue i had was to set myself apart from the stereotypical black man; I began to distance myself from all black people. I started to look down on spaces that were predominantly black. I went out of my way to assimilate. I considered living in predominantly all black neighborhoods as a symbol of low status. I prided myself on not being like THEM. I considered myself above other black people.
In addition to superiority to other black people, I needed to feel accepted by white people. The need to solidify by superiority led me to seek non-black friends. When I was around them, I felt that I was lucky to have any friends at all because I had low core confidence. I did not stand up for myself. There were many times I allowed them to say things to me that were horribly out of line. I felt powerless in the relationship. I felt if they felt I was too much trouble they would simply stop dealing with me. I felt like I needed to entertain them to keep them around. These “friends” did not see the inherent value in me.
My inherent lack of self-worth colored my perceptions of these relationships. However, being black my feelings of negative self-worth were reinforced by the society around me. I understand many white men do not feel validated and are push overs. But for a white man to get to this place he had to undergo some trauma specific to his life. Black people go through this regardless of nurturing and loving personal relationships early in life.
I will say that other black people manifest these same insecurities in a need to show off wealth, sexual prowess, or strength. I would like for blacks to understand the root causes of their suffering. The thorough understanding of your pain will prevent people from labeling some as “Uncle Toms” and others as embarrassments to the race. Once we deeply understand how insecurity affects us, we will not have these dismissive labels anymore. If a person sees another black person exhibiting Tomish behavior, know that it is a form of his insecurities and that you have the same insecurities manifesting themselves in a different manner.
On a macroscopic scale, you see this need to please in John Lewis’s recent Twitter statement on the Dallas police shootings. “I was beaten bloody by police officers. But I never hated them. I said, ‘Thank you for your service.” This tweet on top of being self-righteous is simply pandering to the white elite that wants stability above all else. It is similar to Washington’s ideal. He wants to show his benevolence. He is an example of a “good black”. The same thing happened after the Charleston shooting. Black leaders ran out to forgive the Charleston shooter even though the shooter did not ask for forgiveness. The examples of this behavior are too numerous to count.
It is impossible to analyze this behavior without fully understanding the history of the black empowerment struggle. So many of our organizations have been infiltrated and undermined by the federal government. COINTELPRO destroyed our most radical organizations such as SNCC and Black Panthers. To prevent white backlash, many other organizations and leaders go out of their way to prove that they are harmless. There is a very practical aspect of this strategy.
The other reason to rush to forgiveness is to hold moral authority. The only power that black people have in their struggle is moral authority. We do not have money, political power, military strength, but we know we are right. Also, our opponents know that we are right. Moral authority is how Dr. King accomplished what he was able to accomplish. He won people to his cause because they knew that what he wanted was reasonable. Dr. King’s protester’s ability to stay peaceful in spite of the most hateful abuse proved their exceptional morality. Morality won the sympathy of whites and together with the white allies they were able to change laws.
The old strategy had its time and place, but today is a new day. It is important that we fully feel and express our anger. Also, the offending party needs to ask for forgiveness. The offending party asking for forgiveness will do two things, validate our anger and ensure the forgiveness is appreciated, and a change in behavior will then occur. The principle of requiring offending parties to ask forgiveness is true in personal relationships and race relations.
If we are going to correct our behavior we have to understand forgiveness. Forgiveness is the act of releasing the need for retribution. It assumes that you were wronged, and it is morally acceptable to ask for retribution. The reason it is considered an extraordinary event is that in spite of retribution being justified the person relinquishes the right for an even greater good. Both the offender and offended need to realize this fact and mend the relationship.
If you are obligated to forgive to prove that you have the moral high ground, you will not fully endure the first stage of feeling the anger and expressing it. A person will also not fully realize that he is worthy and justified in his need to retribution. If a person does not go through this stage, then he can simply not grant forgiveness, just as a homeless person cannot give you $100, a man that has not fully felt his need for retribution cannot grant forgiveness. The offending party must also ask for forgiveness. The offending parties asking for forgiveness shows they understand the fact that they did something worthy of retribution and appreciate forgiveness.
When we rush to forgiveness, we only demonstrate that we have no power to act on our need for retribution. The rush to forgiveness reinforces inferiority complexes in black people. Once we overcome the idea at we need to prove our morality, we can start demanding treatment and recognition as equals. The real recognition of equality will have to be demanded by black people. Full equality will require a recognition of our rights by white people.
The idea that “Your race follows you into a room” is nothing more than an acknowledgment of your inferiority complex. Black people should be collectively working toward internally feeling equal to white people and externally showing their equality. To do this, a few individuals may speak violently or commit violent acts. We are not obligated to immediately denounce them or show how much we love our enemies. Black people must fully build our collective ego or as some call it the black “Nos”.