On Race Manipulation.
I heard a statistic recently that caused me distress. It was that 25-33% of White people “owned” African people who were slaves in the U.S., and that a small percentage “owned” the majority of Africans forced to be slaves at that time.
This disturbed me at a visceral level because it made me realize that the manipulation has been much deeper than I ever realized.
These dynamics of manipulation are much deeper than I can articulate, but I will try my best, through my own words, and the words of many others.
“Between the races we cannot dig too deep a gulf.” ~ 1500s French Colonial Official. cited in Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage, Katz, p35
Jessica Gordon Nembhard, an African scholar and activist, describes the post-slavery reconstruction period in her book Collective Courage, recounting how unions like the Knights of Labor had both European and African people as members and were able to accomplish things that would have been considered radical in the 1960s.
It was only after ultra-right wing terrorism and corporate sabotage targeting such unity and empowerment that unions in the United States became well-known in the succeeding generations as being uniformly prohibitive and racist to African people.
What is this history we carry? It has its masks and its truth, and the truth is so difficult to understand when history is forgotten.
I’m of African, Japanese, and European descent, born in Mexico, raised mostly in the United States. I’ve traveled in many circles, found friends and teachers among many peoples: Palestinians, Egyptians, Africans from many nations, Mexican Americans, Native people, many mixed-race people, Europeans, etc. Always drawn by authentic, good-hearted people, I found them everywhere.
For this reason, likely, I’ve always found the racial dynamics in the United States to be very difficult. For example, I remember once being disturbed when a friend who is not White saw a random White person from a distance and grimaced in disgust. It disturbed me to see this because something had gotten into her and was causing her to be sick.
I’ve been profoundly disturbed to hear many White people imitate urban Black people in what starts as an imitation of “cool” and quickly moves into mockery. The examples could go on and on.
There is so much ignorance and difficulty in seeing each other as equals, which is to our collective loss and for the gain of very few who do not respect the fact that the grassroots are equal in worth to the so-called elite.
Obviously, there are major power imbalances and terrible history that is fueling the ignorance and disgust at one another. The amount of suffering that has been, and continues to be, inflicted is immense. The amount of manipulation has perhaps been even greater. I write this because the sickness is being compounded by groupthink and generalizations about others, in many directions.
Who taught us to think so naively and simplistically? Who taught us, for example, that all White people are automatically responsible for the actions of a system that has not listened to any grassroots people since its inception?
To this, some will say, “White people benefit from the system more than others.” And of course, yes, they do, as a rule. Many have become very sick as a result. To me, this is a form of the manipulation, and is a great loss to White people.
Jesus himself said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” It’s no profit at all, and we can see this in so many ways. The poisons are numerous.
The system, which chose white-skinned people as its primary material recipients and primary spiritual losers, also “allotted” other things to other peoples in different proportions, and has us misunderstanding each other as a result. Native people were “gifted”some very little land, while African people got none at all.
As such, African people have become much more an urban people, while Native people are more rurally-based, putting a false wedge between them. All of us have been flooded with drugs and alcohol to “ease” our pains, despite the stated vigilance of the system to protect us from killing ourselves in these ways.
I could try to explain this manipulation and all-but-forgotten history in a fountain of words, but instead will let others speak them.
“The entire country has been based ever since 1619 on the effort of keeping Black and White people apart because if there were a coalition, a real coalition between Whites and Blacks, then Senator Easton would never have had a job, for one thing.
You would have never heard of Governor Wallace, and a great many other eminent Americans whose entire role depended on the continual subjugation not only of Blacks, but of Whites and Blacks.” ~ James Baldwin, 1963
“I always felt sorry for White people, especially in Europe. [Laughter from audience.] Well, no, think of it. This is what they never tell you in school. I don’t know one university who has the guts to say what — the way that it really was. I mean — what was it that got off that boat? Conquistadors, right, these men. What were they drinking? Orange juice? Coca Cola?
No, we were attacked by gangs of alcoholics who themselves were oppressed by a feudal system that — it hit them before it ever got to us. There were serial killers on the thrones of Europe and nobody says it. There were serial killers on the thrones of Europe! That’s what was going on in Europe.
Ferdinand and Isabella, it was the Inquisition and nobody ever says it in Native Studies! We were ‘discovered’ during the Inquisition. It was the worst possible time for European people to be going all over the world and meeting the Indigenous people of the world. It was terrible timing. But it wasn’t because they were White. It was bad leadership.
Every now and then you can get bad leadership in a group. That’s what was going on. It takes the racism out of it. It wasn’t that they were European. They were being oppressed by those same people. Their job was to come over and oppress Indigenous people where they found them…
The same time in Europe, Henry the Eighth was on the throne. He didn’t just kill a few wives, my friends. Hundreds of thousands of people tortured, murdered, because he wanted it. In Eastern Europe, Vlad the Impaler was on the throne when Native Americans were ‘discovered.’ Charming. Vlad the Impaler, that’s Dracula. That’s what happened.
And nobody says it! Say it! Because it takes the racism out of it. Bad leadership. We need good leadership. We need it in our communities, we need it in our homes. We have a dysfunctional world. We can fix it. Good leadership, start it in the home, start in the community, teach it in the schools. It’s good.” ~ Buffy Sainte-Marie, 2013
This history is deep, much deeper for all of us than can be said in this short article. There is so much more to say about the manipulations that are happening to all of us, and about who we really are and what we are actually capable of.
We are responsible to transform the history we’ve inherited, in all its pain and possibilities. We were given that task because we have the ability to accomplish it.
Understanding the history we’re dealing with and the nuances within our lives — as well as understanding who the true enemy is, the true forces causing this mass misery — is crucial, instead of making shallow generalizations that mask history and create deeper sickness and false labels.
These things are said in order to steer us away from a sickness that was never really ours. From my own experience, I know we are more susceptible to sickness when in pain, when in grief, and so I say these things for that reason. Because I know these times; I have felt them in my body; I have lived them in my spirit.
We all carry so much historical trauma, and the healing will truly involve us building ourselves and each other back into health. So I say these things as a prayer for transforming and healing, rather than being manipulated in our pain.
In honor of our forebears, those who bore this before us, like Dr. King, Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, and so many others, who knew we have to live with deep health and see each other with spirit and dignity. Malcolm X left the sickness drowning this nation briefly and his vision healed; he abruptly changed his course, changed his words.
In honor of all those many who came before us, who worked beyond the sicknesses constantly thrown on us, who left us legacy after legacy, path after path, vision after vision, voice after voice, we can create something beautiful, profound, the dreams of the Nations.
Chelli Stanley is a person of this age, very much seeking, believes in our potential depth of contribution to all of life. A farmer, writer, someone who has lived in many places and learned from life, she can be reached at Writings Through Chelli.