Coming Out Black, Something I Was All Along

Coming Out #Black #MLTVraceI watched one of my favorite characters on Television last week, Olivia Pope on Scandal, take a stand and symbolically announce to the world that she is a black woman. That may seem like a strange thing to say, but trust me it’s not. As people of color striving for our own personal greatness we are often put in a position of having to deny or simply not mention our ethnicity as it can impede our progress in many ways, distracting from the narrative we are trying to adopt. I saw that with our current President of the United States, Barack Obama, from the time he was elected. I was frustrated by the way he seemed to distance himself from being a “black” man. He was Hell bent on sticking with the message “I am the President” instead of “the first black President.” From a political stand point I got it. Just like I understood the similar messaging in the character of Olivia Pope. That’s the reality of our world, even our fantasy world.

The President finally stood up and said, “By the way, I’m a black man.” last year. Okay thats not exactly what he said, but that’s what I heard when he gave an impromptu speech about race in America after the Trayvon Martin verdict. That is what I heard, and I was proud. I was so very proud. Just as I was so proud of Olivia Pope in the Scandal episode.  Just as I hope that they would be proud of me, you know, if we were tight like that.

I thought that, like the President, I too had my coming out of sorts during the Trayvon Martin trial. I was very conscious of the content shift on my Facebook page at that time. I was worried about it because I wasn’t sure how my community would respond. I wanted to ease them into the idea slowly because I knew for some it would be a shock, you know that Miss Lori was in fact a black woman. it was hard on some. I did lose a few followers. But for others it was and has been a a welcomed door opening, inspiring many a discussion and lots of insightful discourse.

Last week I got my own shock. I realized that I had my racial coming out many years before, actually over twenty years before. I came across a term paper I wrote in March of 1991, my senior year of college at The Boston Conservatory. It was a very pivotal time for me for a lot of reasons. I was preparing to embark on the world as an adult with a college education. I was wondering those age old questions, “Who am I am?” and “What will I do next?” I was living alone for the first time in my life. Completely alone, no roommate, no live-in boyfriend, just me and my little TV on which the Gulf War was a constant broadcast. I was taking almost all of my classes at Boston Conservatory, save my Acting and Directing classes, which I was taking across the street at Emerson college, (because my BCM acting/directing teacher had sexually harassed me forcing me to supplement my education elsewhere). I was just a couple of months shy of turning 21  and stepping out into the world completely on my own two feet. I was pondering my space and contemplating how I wanted to occupy it.

This term paper assignment was big, not just because it represented a chunk of my grade, but because it was asking me, Lori Kathryn Holton, to think deeper about the world around me. I had to draw conclusions from what I read, what I was seeing around me, and what I knew from my own personal experience growing up. I would do all of this outside of the shadow of parental opinions, societal expectations or community moires. I would do it, write it, just me.

I don’t remember my process. So much of that time just scratches at the back of my memory. Too much of life has been lived since then. Yet, reading it, 24 years later to the month, I can feel the fire that was beginning to smolder within me at that time, the one that has turned into a full blown bonfire at this stage in my life. Before reacquainting myself with this decades old paper I assumed that it was my children who lit the match, but now I see that the spark has been there since before they were even a speck in my eye. I didn’t become this passionate advocate, this thinker because of them, I was her all along. Not to take anything away from the inspiration that my kids are for me, because they are indeed. But it is comforting to know this substance is a part of my core, not just something I adopted later in life. Sure I may not have had the tools or the company with which to cultivate it back then, but it was there. It was me. It is me. I need no longer question the authenticity of my fervor. It’s organically mine. And I gotta tell you. I am pretty proud of Lori, proud of her insight, then and now.

So on this thoughtful Tuesday, if you would be so kind as to indulge me, I would like to share my racial coming out paper, offering a little more of me to all of you.

 

SMILE On!

ML

 

When Will Freedom Ring…the disintegration of the young black male

By Lori Holton
Liberal Arts
March 27, 1991

In preparing to write this paper I asked myself, “Can I present my opinion without becoming passionate?” I have spent my life coping with the fact that I’m from two areas of society. Both the white and the black “worlds.” As a younger person I found myself in response to black opinion papers too be reacting with great surprise and disturbance. I didn’t understand why the papers/articles seemed so hostile. Now that I’m older, and have a greater insight into my own culture, I recognize the reason for theta passion mistaken for hostility. It directly parallels the problems faced with decolonization. Is there a way to decolonize without becoming violent? After writing this paper I personally have come tot eh realization that there isn’t a way to separate the passion form the issue. Decolonization is inherently violent.

What is happening to our bald males today? is it really anything new, or are chronic problems resurfacing? Africa was colonized by force hundreds of years ago. African people were taken, transformed from free spirits into slaves for the white colonialists. Just as the clothes were ripped from their backs, so was the culture, history and racial pride raped, pillaged and “left for dead.”

“Divide and conquer,” famous words of war wisdom. They also apply equally to the idea of colonialism. When colonizing one seeks to substitute one’s own ideas and moral codes for the existing statues. Then, in order to keep the natives in line, colonialists convince the natives that society is a group of individuals,

“…where each person shuts himself up in his own subjectivity and whose wealth is individual thought.”

(Fanon, p47)

“The order is given to reduce the inhabitants of the annexed country to the level of superior monkeys in order to justify the settler’s treatment of them as beasts of burden. Violence…seeks to dehumanize. Everything will be done to wipe out their traditions, to substitute our language for theirs and to destroy their culture without giving them ours…fear will finish the job.”

(Fanon, p15)

The Africans were divided and conquered just as they still are today. It took American political society forty years to impose sanctions against South Africa in response to their atrocious apartheid “objective justice.” How long will it take before we truly invest in our own plight? American racism did not die with Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy Jr. and Malcolm X in the 60’s. We have yet to completely overcome. Case in point: Los Angeles. Over the last ten years under the direction of a documented racist police chief, Los Angeles’ settlement budget for police brutality has risen form approximately $850,000 to five million dollars. Almost all of these cases were racially motivated.

Presently four white Los Angeles officers are being charged with assault because they openly and brutally beat a black motorist after stopping him on the highway. Not only did these four officers excessively beat this man into “submission,” but they did it in front of two audiences. The first was made up of eleven of their own colleagues. These officers who took an oath swearing to protect the people, fight injustice and uphold the law, stood by and did nothing. The second audience was, unknown to the assailants, an eyewitness with a video camera. (Welcome to the wonderful world of technology.) Finally they are caught with their sheets off. The racism is out and available for all the world to see. Even the President of the United States, (George H. Bush), was forced to pick up his remote control and tune in to this obnoxious display of aggression.

Don’t forget about the good ole’ police chief that I mentioned earlier, (the President certainly hasn’t). The one who has been documented making racially charged statements. He’s still here, and still has the full support of the White House. Even “Jason” of Halloween recognized his time to retire avoiding “overkill,” but Police Chief Darryl F. Gates obviously doesn’t have the same press agent. Police Chief Gates insists that this “incident” is an isolated one, and that police brutality is a sensationalized phenomenon. In the meantime, the settlement budget continues to rise and the “super cops” run free. The frightening truth is that if this videotape did not exist this “isolated incident” would be tidied up underneath another clean white sheet, just like the hundreds of thousands of other cases that occur in Los Angeles and other cities. Which further proves that it’s going to take more than blatant evidence to turn some of the world’s ignorant minds on.

Where is the real war? Who is truly our greatest threat, Saddam Hussein or our next door neighbor? Are our sons and daughters in more danger in the Gulf or on their own city streets? On Oprah Winfrey’s Prime Time Special the other night nine year old Jessica said that her mother won’t let her play outside much anymore because she might get shot. Another young nine year old of an affluent background said that she is afraid to go downstairs in her own suburban home at night. She fears her clear glass window because she believes that anyone could come in the front gate and blow her away. Finally Jeffrey, a young black nine year old, expressed his hatred for the gang and drug domination in his neighborhood. It makes him so angry he wants to kill someone, but he is forced to keep those feelings bottled up inside so that he won’t get shot. he admits though, that his anger is piling up and that one day someone may try to mess with him and he’ll turn around and go “POW!”

We are losing our black males. They are self destructing right before our own eyes. Today more college age black males are in jail than in college, and the leading cause of death for young black males is shooting at the hands of another young black male. One might wonder how this can be when this is supposed to be an age, for the black society, of “brotherhood.” The fact still remains that even though they recognize their brother, they have yet to unite with “him” in consciousness. Even more importantly the black male is struggling for his manhood, just as he has since the beginning of colonization.

“If he shows fight, the soldiers fire and he’s a dead man. If he gives in, he degrades himself and he is no longer a man at all; shame and fear will split up his character and make his innermost self fall to pieces.” (Fanon p15)

What little Jeffrey feels everyday walking down the gang infested streets of his neighborhood is what Africans feel in South Africa, and what slaves felt in the cotton fields of Mississippi. They all feel trapped, powerless and since they can’t act out their frustration aggressively against their oppressors they do t, with the slightest provocation, to their “brothers and sisters.”

“While the settler or the policeman has the right the livelong day to strike the native, to insult him and make him crawl to them, you will see the native reaching for his knife at the slightest hostile or aggressive glance cast on him by another native; for the last resort of the native is to defend his personality via his brother…By throwing himself with all his force into the vendetta, the native tries to persuade himself that colonialism does not exist, that everything is going on as before, that history continues.” (Fanon, p54)

Colonization has for years used the “divide and conquer” method on Africans, stripping them of their humanity, leaving many blacks encased in their oppression.

“Many blacks were wallowing in the morass of self-pity and confusion, inhibited by frustration and weighed by despondency, hopelessness, and self doubt…the black man has become a…shadow of a man completely defeated…bearing the yoke of oppression with sheepish humility…” (Fanon, p55)

This mental enslavement has been passed on form generation in one form or another. Current socialization projects to children and adults the belief that what they have is not enough. They’re taught that their own reality is shameful and that they should want more power, more materials, more money, more ecstasy. So our youths look for ways of escape, they look for a better “feeling.” Today’s children and adults use drugs to escape their own painful existence, or simply because they’re not satisfied with the natural high that their own life brings them, they want more. On television we see sex, money, power. We see the fast women, the fast cars, the beepers, the wads of money, the designer clothes, all symbols of prestige bad recognition.

“Control of education, the mass media, the legal system, and culture allows the ruling elites to manipulate popular consciousness and achieve the desired consensual legitimacy.” (Fanon, p56)

Most children want to be a superstar in some manner, and they work very hard a achieving their goals. Unfortunately opportunities for poverty for poverty stricken and minority, (specifically black), individuals are limited. Many of our children have, early on, already had doors slammed in their faces. Our children know difference between right and wrong, but they often don’t have the right amount of support and self-confidence to stick  to their convictions. So they make do with what they’ve got. Today most of what they’ve got though is drugs and gang affiliation. If you become a drug dealer you can have the beeper, the cellular phone, the wads of money, the fancy cars, the designer clothes, and most importantly you can have respect fueled by fear. They feel they are beating their oppressors, but they’re doing it at the price of their own people.

“We have seen that the native never ceases to dream of putting himself in the place of the settler.” (Fanon, p52)

Unfortunately many of our black youths believe that there is no other way that they will “succeed.” In some ways they’re right. Based on what society’s definition of success is, inner city youths have had to turn to violence and crime to achieve their goals of “passage.” From the beginning of their lives they are informed of their “place” in this increasingly hostile world and the limitations intrinsic of the position. they find some way to fight. They fantasize about “muscular prowess,” just as their forefathers did. Survival of the fittest.

“The last shall be first and the first shall be last…For if the last shall be first, this will only come to pass after a murderous and decisive struggle between the two protagonists.” (Fanon, p37)

Yes, we are at war, everyday, and right in our own backyard.

Not every young black male gets entangled in this web of destruction. Some do find those few open doors and begin the long road upwards. Nevertheless, not every door is a complete and honest salvation. I’m speaking of the entrapping United States military service, the grand rapist. They lure unsuspecting youths into a glamorized indentured servitude. It’s not difficult when a child knows that he can either carry a gun on the streets or one in boot camp. Not much of a choice. The black society makes up a mere 12 percent of the American society, and yet they form 1/3 of the forces in Gulf. Many of the youths that went to war were of single parent families and are needed by their parents to help support the household. Some parents were falsely told that if their child is an only child they wouldn’t go to war. Others were told of aid and benefits that simply do not exist, especially where the National Guard is concerned. We lost a grossly disproportionate amount of clack soldiers in the Vietnam War. More than likely we would have seen history repeat itself in the Gulf War were it to have been extended. There’s no doubt that the future will bring more atrocities and thus rob the black society of even more upstanding youths.

So let us take inventory. The majority of our black males are either in the Armed Forces, jail, gangs or working low income jobs. Only a fraction are in college and on the ladder towards middle class and beyond. Why? No, it’s not because they’re lazy, or because their brains are smaller than other peoples, (myths of the past still festering in ignorant mouths). More likely its’ because of their lack of identity and unity. They were robbed of their masculinity hundreds of years ago, and they have yet to fully retrieve it. Through shame and fear white society has made the black male into a modern day savage. It’s forced him to choose violence as a means of survival.

“The exploited man sees that his liberation implies the use of all means and that of force first and foremost.” (Fanon, p61)

Just as in colonized societies such as aSouth Africa he most arm himself against his oppressors.

“In the native’s eagerness, the fact that he openly brandishes the threat of violence proves that he is conscious of the unusual character of the contemporary situation and he means to profit by it.” (Fanon, p74)

This proves dangerous for all because…

“The atmosphere becomes dramatic, and everyone wishes to show that he is ready for anything. And it is in these circumstances that guns go off by themselves, for nerves are jangled, fear reigns and everyone is trigger-happy.” (Fanon, p71)

It’s time that American society redefined its’ social order. Our own President continues to echo the phrase “new order,” but is he really speaking of a culture of unity, or the continuation of oppression and prejudice simply highlighted by an advanced technological society. Fanon reminds us that “when the nationalist political leaders say something they make quite clear that they do not really think it.”

So where does that leave the black society? Will hey be continually forced to actively fight for their existence. Is decolonization “always a violent phenomenon” as Fanon puts it? Will everyone begin to follow in the footsteps of Milwaukee Wisconsin’s Alderman McGee, and literally declare war on the city and its’ abundance of crime and deprivation? America the land of the free and the home of the brave. The great white melting pot. When will America set the record straight and do right by all of its’ people. I have to agree with the article “The Cultural Mandarins” “If this is to be a truly common culture, we need a new inclusive paradigm that recognizes the many histories and traditions…” We are all important, and we need to work together towards a communal awareness. Some of us have already made that step forward, but many of us have yet to. Like little Jessica said, “I dream of a world where I am free to be me.”

 

 

Here are the notes my teachers wrote for me after grading my paper an A:

Lori,

This is a very substantial paper-even a publishable one. If you were to submit it somewhere, (graduate school, a Journal, magazine, e.g.)I do have a suggestion. You might consider making Fanon’s book more prominent in the early part of the paper-highlighting how relevant his book is, not only for third world countries but for an analysis of the resistance of black males in the Colonial U.S. Then continue as you have-interspersing the very appropriate quotations as you develop this important thesis.

 

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