Before I went to bed last night the attached meme surfaced in my timeline on Twitter. I’ve had the misfortune of seeing this ignorance before but apparently it is making the rounds again. There are a number of troubling aspects about this meme. However in this post I will focus on only one: the way it reveals a disturbing amnesia regarding the Civil Rights Movement.
In our alleged ‘post-racial’ era a certain fiction has gained traction. The continued racial disparities are supposedly not due to white supremacy. No, the inequality between White and Black Americans is supposedly due to the failures of Black culture. If Black Americans would simply do better they could leave behind the ugliness of racism and take their rightful place at the table of America’s bounty. White Americans continue to discriminate against us and look down on us-not because of any flaws in the way they are raised-but because we Black Americans somehow provoke ill-treatment due to our ‘bad’ culture and behavior. This meme illustrates this flawed mentality. If young Black men would all dress like the men in the top portion of this picture then of course ‘they(White Americans)’would take us seriously. The fact that there are Black Americans who truly believe this perplexes me. I know that many aspects of the CRM are neglected in our schools. Yet to think that wearing suits and appearing ‘respectable’ in the eyes of White America will change our situation shows a deep ignorance of the CRM and the our experiences in this nation altogether.
In the photos of the CRM Black people tend to be impeccably dressed and well-behaved. Indeed, our Black coeds were the epitome of dignity and reserve while having condiments dumped on their heads and getting spit upon when integrating restaurants. Our schoolchildren were quiet and dressed in their Sunday best while police shocked them with cattle prods during peaceful protests. Our student activists were wearing crisp skirts and pants when they were attacked with dogs and fire hoses. But their sharp attire and dignified carriage didn’t save them from the ugliness of racism. It cannot and will not save us either. The enduring problem with race relations in the United States of America does not stem from what Black Americans say and do. All the sharp pressed suits, conked hair, code switching and other attempts at assimilating and attaining validation from Whites will not change what ails us.
We must get a painful, ugly truth about the nation of our birth through our heads: America was not founded for us. While we are striving to make America evolve we have to keep sight of how she started. For Black Americans this means understanding that we were brought here as a source of labor and not as heirs to the American Dream. The vaunted Founding Fathers did not foresee a multiracial democracy which acknowledged and enforced the rights of Black Americans. Our clothing, music and demeanor are not what needs to change: it is the fabric of this country itself that must be transformed.