By: Kirsten West Savali, Your Black World
Recently, as many African-Americans stumble blindly through this “post-racial” society, there have been intense---often antagonistic---conversations surrounding the gnawing need that many of us feel to shoulder the responsibility of each and every one of our brothers and sisters.
Two schools of thoughts emerge. On one side, we have the individuals of African slave descent who understand that what reflects on one does in fact reflect on all of us in this intrinsically prejudicial society; one that aids and abets the enslavement of Black Americans through the “whips” and “chains” many of us willingly drape around ourselves. These people are not saying that’s it’s fair --- or even accurate --- but that it’s an ever present stereo-typical Black cloud that unleashes a storm of collective judgment upon bare heads unprepared for the relentless downpour.
Then we have the individuals who understand that we are each separate entities unrestrained by societal roles that have been etched in stone by a white patriarchy that gains massive quantities of wealth and power by keeping us corralled with our own internalized hatred. They hold contempt for the communal concept that demands patience, love and shared responsibility of both successes and failures. Not because they do not care; simply because they do not appreciate nor accept the shackles of racism that impede their individual progression in a society that labels us by the company that we keep.
How best to merge this widening chasm of resentment and disconnection? How do we acknowledge that we are blood relatives ripped mercilessly apart from each other, while still maintaining our personal convictions and perspectives?
First, we must acknowledge that we are family.
I know that doesn’t sit too well with the Talented Tenth who abhor being saturated with the grime of the other 90%, but we are family.
For this particular conversation, let’s use the working definition that a family is a group of people, whether through relation or circumstances, that actually gives a damn about those who share their genetic composition and cultural alignment. This is not to imply that we are accessories forever liable for every idiotic, asinine bit of tomfoolery that our family becomes involved in, but it does require that we be there for them when the inevitable character assassination attempts occur, or in the case of Troy Davis, the calculated state-sanctioned murders.
A family teaches so that the next generation is positioned better than the previous one. A family loves so that our children understand that we actually see them. We know that saggy pants and stripper antics are symptoms of the much larger problems of oppression and suppression, marginalization and disenfranchisement, not the problem itself. A family reads together and strives together and we don’t co-opt the individualism and capitalism of the dominant culture while out-sourcing our responsibility to each other.
No, it is not easy. There is no obvious, immediately identifiable return on the investment. My father, Theodore “Bubber” West, always taught me that people will more willingly give, share and advance the causes of those whom they know can reciprocate the favor.
There are no favors for those who choose to both defend and critique the most vulnerable in our communities.
There are no awards and trophies, no accolades nor applause. No pension plan nor retirement party when you at last retire your marching boots; no brass band that heralds your passing. All we have is a driving passion to progress our people forward. Yes, our people. I said it.
And, I’ll say it again --- our people.
Family, responsibility, collective, ancestry, oneness have become dirty words instead of the pillars of strength that they once were.
We need to get that old thing back and stop gazing at our community through the eyes of this nation. Would we recoil from affiliation if all were perfect? Would we shudder at the thought of being a link in a legacy that wasn’t tainted with the blood and dehumanization of slavery and Jim and Jane Crow? Would we grasp desperately at straws that differentiate us from each other in every single minute way?
There is an angry, defensive refrain whenever a Black person does something negative and the net is cast far and wide to reel us into the same “negro” boat: “It wasn’t me, why do I have to be grouped in with knuckleheads and video hoes and criminals?” “When a Black person is successful, why does that not reflect on me as well?”
My questions are many: “Who says that it doesn’t? Why are we more willing to separate than elevate? Why do we internalize the shame of negativity, and externalize the positivity? Why do we seek out the dregs to lynch side-by-side with society? Why are we more willing to attempt to merge into the shadows of a colorless society instead of standing tall, proud, and Black, basking in our uniqueness and diversity, while still embracing humanity as a whole?
What is so wrong with that?
At the end of day, I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a proud Black woman who is not defined by what society chooses to believe or disbelieve about me. I do not feel cornered by fallacious perceptions driven by BET, VH1, and Bravo. I do not accept ownership for the misdeeds of adults who should know better, nor children who couldn’t possibly because they were raised by the aforementioned adults. I do not live in fear that I will be painted with a brutal brush of immorality and depravity, then hoisted upon a pedestal as evidence of all that is wrong with Black America.
Still, neither am I a militant assimilationist who would rather fight my way unto a winning team with a stacked deck, knowing that the team I was born to play on has had lingering losing seasons and needs its players to step their game up, not bail at the first opportunity --- and I am proud of it.
My father also instilled a creed within me from an early age that I carry with me every single day:
“There is a destiny that makes us brothers; none goes his way alone. All that we send into the lives of others comes back into our own.”
If we are truly concerned with the progression of family and community, then we must first acknowledge that the legacy of Willie Lynch is poisoning Black America --- blurring the line between cultural disintegration and post-racial evolution --- then work collectively to create the antidote.
I am not brother; but am I ultimately my brother’s keeper? Yes I am --- and that is not some martyrized responsibility.
It is my privilege.
Kirsten West Savali is Senior News Editor at YourBlackWorld.com. She is founder and administrator of the Nomadic Poets’ Oasis, an online destination dedicated to the exposure and elevation of poetry, spoken word and the visual arts. She is also currently co-writing The Hole in the Wall, a piercing, Blues-tinged screenplay that delves into the bruised soul of a fatherless son in search of himself. Her provocative commentary appears in various publications and explores the interconnectivity of race, gender, politics and culture. Kirsten’s work can be found on ClutchMagazine.com, HuffingtonPost.com, AOLBlackVoices, Loop21.com, IllumeMagazine.com, BirthplaceMagazine.com and others. Connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter: @KWestSavali