What’s Slavery Got To Do With It? Everything.
On Learning to Love & Humanize Black People Amidst Scandal, Hate, & Technology.
Sadly, I have been to too many Memorials and Funerals in my short life. Most often in churches. And as must of you know, they are often more fiction than fact. Family members and friends make their way to the podium and say great things about the deceased. They speak about all of the person’s accomplishments and what they meant to them, leaving out all the scandal and the misdeeds of the deceased. Most times, none of it rings true.
But on 10 January, I saw something completely different.
That previous Sunday, while stopped at a traffic light, Anthony “Zin” Mills and Jonathan “Kokayi Danladi” Nichols, were killed in a car accident when the driver of an SUV, Semere Dawit, barreled into their Pontiac Vibe, traveling at speeds near 70 to 80 mph.
A memorial for Mr. Mills was held at brother jeff’s Cultural Center in Denver’s Historic Five Point District on 10 January and it was like nothing that I had ever seen before. Set to begin at 2pm, the family of the deceased arrived at 1pm to set up. Candles were lit, tablecloths were laid down for the catering, and people began to pour in.
Soon, it was standing room only as Brother Jesse Muhammad, award winning Blogger, journalist and unofficial official captain of Minister Louis Farrakhan’s Twitter Army and an active organizer in his native Houston, Texas, emceed the event.
I didn’t know Mr. Mills, but by the time all of the speakers came to the microphone, I had an idea about what kind of man he was. Mr. Mills was a loving, passionate, concerned Brother, who always made it a point to check on his friends and family daily. And not just a superficial check-in, that most of us are accustomed to. No, he made it a point to go beyond niceties to see how his loved ones were genuinely doing.
As people filed in, I noticed a large number of Denver’s Ethiopian Community, standing in the back. Men and women crying, holding hands. Many with their heads down, wiping away tears. I thought, “wow, this Brother was really known and loved.” But towards the end, I found out the truth.
The truth was revealed when a spokesperson for the Ethiopian Community came forward and said these words:
Good Afternoon. From the Ethiopian Community in Denver, one of our brothers caused this accident and we are here today in many numbers to share our sorrow. And this accident caused the death of, from listening to all the stories, of two good people. And we would like to share the sorrow with you and we are always on your side. And we are very sorry for the loss. It was an accident, a terrible accident, that takes the life of two good people. And we are here to share your sorrow. I’m sorry.
I had never seen anything like that before in my life. What a great act of Humanity.
Although, I’m sure it’s true among all humans, too often, we don’t show deep affection, care, and understanding to those close to us until they are gone.
Far worst, we do the exact opposite. We wait with baited breath for any hint of error. More often than not, a headline is all that is needed to get Black folk to turn against you. And once that tide gets going, there’s no stopping it.
It was once a common thing among Black people to not “air out our dirty laundry,” now every problem, every argument we have, we thrust it out into the world making ourselves open game for the world in general, but white people in particular.
Social media can be a beautiful tool when it comes to organizing and informing the community about social injustice across America, but more often than not it is used as a disgusting weapon against any Black person who makes an infringement on whatever we perceive as honorable and Black.
And we don’t discriminate.
A Wall Street Journal feature on RZA in the hands of white media turned a noble statement into a mini-scandal.
President Obama, for all his shortcomings, has done as much as humanly possible, policy wise (he definitely could speak out more on our behalf…) despite a Congress dead set on bringing government to a halt. Yet, in the Black conscious community, President Obama not only is called an “Uncle Tom,” but he’s called “weak,” “ineffective,” “a puppet.”
Even Minister Farrakhan, a man who has been fighting for the rights of Black people for over sixty years is not immune to this skewing with the same people whom He has been fighting for, parroting the words of white media.
And that’s just public figures.
On a day to day basis we commit crimes against each other, inflict pain on one another, rob, steal, kill, abuse one another in ways that far exceed what our open oppressor has ever done to us…or so it appears.
This long introduction had to be laid down for the basis of this writing is not something that people ever want to hear. We’d like to believe that because chattel slavery ended 150 some odd years ago that we left the chains back there and are a healed and “normal” people.
But nothing can be further from the truth. Our behavior, the heinous behavior that we exhibit on a day to day basis — behavior that we almost always direct to one another — behavior that we would protest and riot over if done by someone outside of our race, is learned behavior.
In this writing we’ll address why now more than ever, we behave in this manner, the origin of our self-hate, how other communities act towards one another, and how social media and modern technology aids in our self-destruction.
But most importantly, we’ll offer solutions. Many of which will sound simple. But as the old adage goes “the simple things are often the hardest.”
Tryon’s Rat and The American Negro
For over 115 years, since W.S. Smalls’, “Experimental Study of the Mental Processes of the Rat,” scientists have used Lab Rats to study human behavior. Their contention is that the rat’s make-up is very similar to that of a human’s.
What Robert Tryon did would shake up the age old thought process that environment was the greatest determiner of one’s outcome. Tyron’s 1942 experiment in grafting was quite simple: he took the lab rats that ran through the maze quicker (he called them bright) and mated them together. He did the same with the slow rats (he called them dull).
Tryon conducted this experiment for seven (7) rat generations.
The results were revolutionary for the time. The product of two, fast rats even when raised by slow rats maintained their place as the rats that made fewer errors and made their way through the maze quicker than the slow rats.
Robert Tryon may have been a hell of a behavioral psychologist but an historian he was not. All he had to do was look at the Western World’s own 387-year old experiment — the people that came to be known as “Negros.”
While modern American history maintains the first slaves arriving in 1619 story, the British Historians have no such aversion and freely speak of Sir John Hardy Hawkins as being the pioneer of the slave-trade. (See: John Hawkins Coat of Arms below with the bound African circa 1568)
Whatever the case may be, enslaved Africans soon outnumbered their white enslavers. So the question is— how were the white minorities able to maintain control over the enslaved Africans who were the substantial majority?
A human generation is roughly 25 years. Now imagine applying the same time length of the Tryon experiment on the enslaved African — seven generations. From 1555, seven generations brings us to 1710 — sixty six years before the Declaration of Independence —by 1710 you had a new people. You now had the Negro.
Mistreatment of the Enslaved African
But the circumstance which struck us most forcibly was how it was possible for such a number of human beings to exist, packed up and wedged together as tight as they could cram, in low cells three feet high, the greater part of which, except that immediately under the grated hatchways, was shut out from light or air, and this when the thermometer, exposed to the open sky, was standing in the shade, on our deck, at 89'. Aboard a Slave Ship, 1829
Although the treatment of the enslaved African varied (which depended on the destination), one thing that was universal was the horrible conditions in which the enslaved were brought to the west. This bit of horror is now historically called The Middle Passage.
For the first 200 years — that’s right — 200 years, for the first two hundred years, 1 out of every 5 enslaved African died during the Middle Passage — that’s 20% of all that were captured. Conditions “improved” somewhat after 1750. Think of that. The conditions mentioned in the above quote (Aboard a Slave Ship) were an IMPROVEMENT.
It’s been said that sharks often followed slave ships awaiting the inevitable dead bodies that would be tossed overboard and many of the enslaved believed they were being shipped away to be eaten by their captors.
Dr. Metin Basoglu, an expert on torture, states that physical and psychological torture, when combined, are a recipe for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Basoglu asserts that helplessness is the most prominent feeling. He further states that anxiety and lack of self-worth derive from that helplessness.
The Middle Passage was just an introduction to a lifetime of torture.
Once the African was enslaved and carted on to the slave ship, European slavers separated the African by nation, putting the Fula with the Igbo, for example. This was to eliminate communication between the enslaved. They may have been chained together — but they suffered in isolation.
If they weren’t stacked on top of each other, the enslaved Africans spent the majority of the two month trip in an upright position amidst human waste, death, and the putrid odor caused by the immense heat and tightly packed conditions. Surely, sleep was just a result of exhaustion.
Note: sleep deprivation has been known to break the will of Prisoners of War producing, memory loss, confusion, even delusional thoughts.
Surviving the journey was a miracle unto itself. And, while we could spend the rest of this writing on The Middle Passage alone, our focus is more on the affect that this trauma had on the enslaved African. One can only imagine the fear, the constant panic, and the sense of helplessness that the African experienced as he was forced from the hulls of ships to the awaiting auction blocks to be sold into a life of chattel slavery.
If you ask the average Black person if they are aware of this history, most will answer with a resounding yes. Many will sight one of the many Hollywood produced slave movies. This history is almost common knowledge. But what’s rarely discussed is the real affect that this has on the present-day Black man and woman.
We hear tales of Guantanamo’s torturous record and feel a deep sympathy for those prisoners. It’s more immediate, close. Yet the pain of our own ancestors, the ones who fought to survive, the ones who endured a lifetime of pain and suffering just so we could be here are often overlooked…but I digress.
Transmission of Trauma…An Exclusive Club
Between 1941 and 1945, Hitler’s concentration camps murdered over 6 million Jewish men and women. This attempt at genocide, historically known as The Holocaust, is often touted as one of the most horrific acts against humanity in modern history and there are as many Holocaust museums and memorials as there are states in the Union.
The study of the affects of the Holocaust and it’s psychological ramifications by 2001 had generated up to 400 publications with the study becoming a field unto itself.
While most of this work has been done on a psychological level, neuroscience also has also taken a crack at the affects of Trauma. In an April 2014 article entitled (here goes the rat studies again) Implication of Sperm RNAs in Transgenerational Inheritance of the Effects of Early Trauma in Mice, Scientist have found that traumatized rats pass trauma produced behavioral & metabolic alterations to their offspring.
I once watched a movie where a white teacher, in her attempts to get her Black and brown inner-city students to be more humane, had them read the Diary of Anne Frank. What followed was a sequence of students reading Anne Frank: on the bus, in the school staircases, wherever they could — they were reading Anne Frank. The sequence culminated with a trip to a local Holocaust Museum.
Miraculously, the students were more moved by the atrocities faced by Jewish people, than their own daily struggles and trauma. They were moved to act, raising money in order to bring to their school a German woman who helped Anne Frank. They applauded her for “being so brave.”
Like all movies of this save-a-poor-Black-and-brown-student genre, it was supposedly based on a true story.
The world has been made to recognize the terror that the Jewish people suffered. Science supports the long-standing affect the trauma of The Holocaust has had on subsequent generations — terms like “mass trauma” have been coined to describe what they have and do suffer.
(Keep in mind, the impetus for rewarding Zionist their long-sought after land, Israel, was the Holocaust. A deal further sealed by the 1952 Luxembourg Agreement)
But what about Black people?
Life After Being Enslaved
If there are conditions which create a situation, I tend, as a student of society, to go beyond the guilt of individuals to look at the conditions. Ali Mazrui
Any mention of slavery will make the average person — white and Black — a quick historian. Be prepared to have someone who could not tell you when America declared Independence to rattle off how many years it’s been since slavery.
They’ll proclaim that it has been 150 years since we were “freed” and that that is ample time for us to shake off the shackles of slavery. And while people can pore over Ta-Nehisi Coates epic “Case for Reparations,” the conversation never goes beyond it being a think piece. There will be no Luxembourg Agreement for Black people.
As we’ve already pointed out, these new historians are neither sociologist nor behavioral psychologist. No one takes into account the mental affect that the brutality of slavery had on the enslaved. We’re also contending that the convenient historian has selective memory.
As with all things historical, what’s needed in this discussion is context. A look at history will show that the amount of time where we were able to exercise any freedom doesn’t even exceed two decades. And that time period, 1865–1877, Reconstruction, saw rise to Black Businesses, Colleges, Congressman, etc. But it also saw rise to the Ku Klux Klan, the plantation-like jail system, sharecropping, and shortly thereafter — Jim Crow.
The reality of “Separate but Equal,” originating in 1890 and continuing (on paper) until 1965, was yet another 75 year set-back. Amazingly (to some), Black people still excelled: we came up with inventions, produced magazines, journals, sports leagues, had theaters, all of these things — because we HAD to.
This time isn’t to be romanticized. We still had color issues, class issues, regional issues, ideology issues — we were not one unified body. At the end of the day, however, we had no choice. We could only live, shop, travel, obtain education in areas that were prescribed for us.
The Civil Rights Movement changed that…and not for the better.
Black businesses closed or sold out to large, white corporations , Negro Leagues (and Black people’s interest in Baseball) disappeared, Black athletes abandoned HBCUs and their talents filled the pockets of white universities, Black neighborhoods swiftly became drug flooded ghettos, Black on Black crime reached epic numbers — all of this — all of this after having so-called Freedom. So what happened?
What happened is what happens to “developing” countries all over the world. What happened is the Black community suffered from brain drain.
According to Merriam-Webster brain drain is when “educated or professional people leave a particular place or profession and move to another one that gives them better pay or living conditions.”
Sure, there are Black lawyers, doctors, scientists, engineers — most of whom work in white-run law firms and hospitals, do research in white universities and publish in white journals, and innovate for companies that rarely benefit Black people.
While countries as “advanced” as Israel suffer this problem, Israeli’s make it a priority to address it. Recently, a newspaper man & philanthropist, Mortimer Zuckerman, dedicated $100 million to a STEM program which President Netanyau said would, “help bring back home some of Israel’s most brilliant sons and daughters, allow them to advance their own careers here and in so doing contribute to Israel’s growing scientific excellence.”
Israel, one of the largest world economies, recognizes the importance of holding on to it’s “best.” No community or country thrives without the top amongst them, whether that be in sports, entrepreneurship, science research, whatever; role models are needed — but that’s just one small part.
The larger part, and this will bring us to our conclusion, part of what Zuckerman and President Netanyau are appealing to, is the Jewish person’s identity and loyalty to his or her Nation.
Integration, as it was called, actually led to not just the disintegration of the physical Black community but the disintegration of the concept of the greater Black community. We are at a place in time where we have to convince Black people that they even have a responsibility that extends beyond their individual selves.
What happened to the “being your best because you represent us” mentality?
Then he ordered me, “Prophesy to the Spirit, Son of Man. Tell the Spirit, ‘This is what the Lord GOD says: “Come from the four winds, you Spirit, and breathe into these people who have been killed, so they will live. So I prophesied as I had been ordered, breath entered them, and they began to live.” They stood on their own feet as a vast, united army. Ezekiel 37:9–10
I don’t know anything about white funerals, but I’ve been to enough Black ones to say that there is a universal line heard at all of them, “shame it took this to bring us together” (or some variation of that).
It’s no more clear what it was about the Mike Brown case that made people unite anymore than why the Rodney King ignited nation-wide protests. We are all accustomed to the constant murder and slaughter of our people by law enforcement. Something about these incidents made us say, “enough is enough”
The fuel for our unity was at first slavery — which of course, was the inciting incident. “Africans” from various nations were brought together; united in oppression, united in having their culture stripped from them, united in being taught white superiority and Black inferiority. That unity was enforced as slavery morphed into Jim Crow; no shackles, but the ideology was the same.
Through Civil Rights, Black Power, Islam, and other groups centered on Blacks redefining themselves, the once enslaved African began to have pride in his and her self. Children were given Kiswahili and Arabic names. We created schools and traditions for ourselves and up until the mid-70s, it appeared that Black people, similar to Reconstruction, were making a turn for the positive. Integration ended all of that.
We thought we “made it.”
With gentrification, the elimination of the service force, increase in college tuition, and a strong push towards so-called conservative politics, there will be an increase in all of the factors that make the disenfranchised poor turn on each other — a reality that sets the stage for more police brutality. Unfortunately, it appears that it’s going to take more injustice, more displacement, and sadly, more death for us to recognize our humanity.
Black people have never stopped being a loving and compassionate people. We are still that. Just not with each other. That’s not by accident. It was whipped, shackled, bred into our DNA. But we unite in oppression. We unite in adversity. But we shouldn’t need that to bring us together.
People speak disparingly about Social Media and other technology due to it’s dehumanizing characteristics — having the ability to spew whatever comes to mind at the height of your emotions is surely a negative attribute. But the entire Black Lives Matter movement was made possible by the advent of the quick, worldwide communication that technology allows. That should continue to be the case but we should not lose sight of our humanity. We should not wait on the “perfect storm” to unite us. We are all we have.