Many people believe that the relationship between the black community and the white community can change with little more than people in the black community coming together as a collective and just saying no after centuries of subjugation. Once black people say no then we can take control of our own destiny with little interference from our white counterparts. While the sentiment may sound hopeful and even common sense, it is naïve and under appreciates the damage done to the black community at the very beginning of our relationship together.
When the captured Africans made their debut at the plantation I seriously doubt if these black people simply said okay to their subjugation. Many resisted and some were severely beaten down in order to gain their submission. The biggest and baddest African who put up a challenge was tortured in high profile fashion in order to make him or her an example to the other enslaved people. Once other black people saw the person with the most fire have their flame extinguished through the harsh treatment, they would submit with little fuss. Once the first submission is made, subsequent submissions become easier to make.
With each submission the people in the black community made to white community another brick was laid on the wall between the dominant class and the submissive class. In fact, it is not difficult to imagine that in order to keep the wrath of the white enslavers at bay the black community on the plantation would actually become proactive in trying to keep each other in the subservient role. Black people who became the extension of white people’s will were more likely to be promoted as a leader of the black community. In essence, from the beginning the dominant white culture has had an active hand in developing the perception of what is an acceptable African American.
This behavior continues in modern day America. Black people who operate outside of the dominant culture’s definition of what is acceptable black behavior are not welcome. Black people who wear their ethnicity proudly and do not conform to an existence that requires their ethnicity to be watered down to acceptable levels are kept at arms length from the main culture by most people. For example, black people who wear their hair without having it straightened or cut to minimal lengths are unacceptable in most people’s work environment. Our natural appearance is unprofessional. Black people who embrace an African based religion instead of the more orthodox belief systems are more likely to be shunned and minimized. The superstitions of Christianity or Judaism are much more palatable than some African based superstitions that are nothing but superstitions.
Every black person who tries to define their self as they see fit will be vilified in the public. Barry Bonds is facing perjury charges for not admitting to using performance enhancers even though he never failed a drug test. Michael Vick is in prison for dog fighting while people who murder black kids in boot camps go free. Even the issue with the Jena Six was a case where the white district attorney wanted to make black teenagers pay for their insolence against the white community. And the latest example of a black man having the audacity to stand before white people with a resilient spirit is John White who was convicted for trying to protect his family from an angry drunk mob of white youths.
We see these cases and many others just like them on a regular basis. Black people who refuse to succumb to the dominant culture’s wishes are regularly made examples for their impertinence. Behavior that barely registers from white people can be stretched out of proportions to become federal cases with black people.
However black people who submit and toe the line do well and prosper. Black people like Bill Cosby who make comments saying that the black community isn’t doing its fair share to end this reality of subjugation are the types of black people who are promoted and rewarded for their obedience. Black media moguls like Oprah Winfrey and Earl Graves who use their empire to promote black people conforming to the dominant culture are hailed as role models of the African American community. It isn’t hard to see the parallel of today’s system of reward and punishment with the plantation’s version.
So black people can stand up for themselves and engage their spirit of resilience when it comes to dealing with the white community. But black people who fail to conform need to prepare themselves for the worst. The dominant white culture still controls the vast majority of the wealth, the courts, the government, the media, and almost anything and everything else. The spirited black person might face unemployment and be unable to provide for the family. Or, if the black person is financially secure, they might find themselves on the wrong side of the law for behavior that barely draws a nod in when it is a white person facing the circumstances.
In order to avoid trouble it is so much easier to simply conform. The black community could resist as a unit. But then all the dominant culture has to do is make an example of one of us and many of us will fall right back in line. Once some fall into submission it is easier for others to conform and submit. After the first submission the subsequent submissions become easier. Next thing you know you will have a whole community being subjugated. And there are way too many black people standing ready to reap the rewards of being obedient and never casting an ill word the white community’s way. There will always be a black person ready to step to the front and say that other black people need to stop their wayward behavior and just submit.
Just saying no to subjugation sounds good. But it’s a lot more complicated than that.