“Just thinking about them makes me feel like I have swallowed shit.”
Howard Roundtree, Drylongso: A Self-Portrait of Black America
I remember sitting on a metro bus many years ago in DC and having two Ethiopian immigrants staring daggers of pure hatred into me. There seemed no rhyme or reason to their fathomless hatred, but of course, I knew what the reason was. I was African American; they were not. They were Ethiopians and like most of their ilk, they had picked up on the national prejudices towards African Americans. It was the same with the Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, Hondurans, Mexicans and other nationalities in Langley Park, Maryland. There was hardly a day in which one could walk out the door of one’s house and not hear your neighbors pointing, laughing, glowering at you—while making at least a half-dozen snide references to your color. It was always the same: negro, mono, mayate, blah blah blah, and often accompanied with a fat wad of spit or a beer bottle kicked your way.
Sometimes a mean and spite-ridden stare would suffice, or a bag or package hurriedly jerked away from you–as if you were going to steal it from them. And why wouldn’t you steal it? After all, your countrymen insisted to these hard-working immigrants, you were just a lazy, worthless “nigger” who got by on welfare handouts and food stamps, and spent your time getting drunk, or getting high, or chasing after other folks’ women.
But I wasn’t. I never did these things; never accepted a welfare check (as if that was such a bad thing, in and of itself), but try explaining that to these two dumpy characters near the Salvation Army depot in Langley Park. For these two, the mere sight of me and my face were enough to make them spit on the ground, and snarl, mono negro with absolute hate.
I felt a visceral hatred for these short, squalid sons-of-bitches, burnt to a crisp by the sun and looking as if they stunk of decades-old urine in their raggedy work clothes; I still hate them.
It was nothing new. That same year I needed to buy some headphones in Washington, DC. I entered a shop–well, I tried to enter the shop, but the white proprietor blocked me from entering. He glowered at me and said, “nope. Closed.” His shop indicated that its closing hours were at 8 pm; it was roughly 5:40. His attitude caught me completely off-guard; I guess I should have realized what kind of “society” I was still living in, that the pretense of DC’s racial and social integration was basically just that–a pretense.
Five years earlier, while working as a temp for the US government, I passed the White House on my way to work. The White House looked like a very dull, humble-looking residence in my eyes. A mother and her son passed me. The little boy, a dirty blonde sod, mutters without even looking my way, “I think I’m better than all of them put together.” The mother says, “you shouldn’t say that about Africans, sweetie.” The son countered with–and at this point, both of them looked at me with a kind of gleeful derision–“Niggers stink!!”
Nothing new in that, either. I remember white kids greeting me and my brother with disgusting taunts as we climbed through the jungle gyms of Wheaton Regional Park. I was only seven years old and yet I knew what “booga booga booga” meant; I heard it again, 25 years later in Bucharest, and again in Tunis in 2003. I’m sure there are African refugees who hear it all the time, no matter where they are in the world, even on the African continent–sometimes it seems as if most of the planet (thanks to social media) is morphing into Bensonhurst.
To this very day, I loathe them; I loathe every single one of these bastards who tried to shove me under the bus–or, to be more precise, into onrushing traffic–because of my race and ethnicity. I loathe every single one of those shopowners, students, truck drivers, flight attendants, pedestrians, escorts, grocers, club bouncers, editors, waiters, landlords, and above all, cops and security officers. I hated to see their twisted, smug faces, proudly ensconced in their newly acquired Yankee prejudices; it made me want to puke. Actually, to be honest, it made me want to grab a shotgun and blow their heads off.
If I could get away with it, I used to think to myself, I would do it without even asking why. In college I was dangerously close to picking up a gun. There’s no need to ask “why” when your back is up against the wall. One would be stupid not to despise one’s own tormentors and persecutors. One is not supposed to “love” insults, degradation and humiliation; it just ain’t natural.
We can die from them. Like choked by underbrush, heavy
weeds. We see him.
Pull the election lever, and men die in Greystone, elec
trocuted, or are
beat to death on the comers of dirty cities. By heroes. These
killers’ heroes. Wd that they were our own. And not the
mad races killing
We have a nigger in a cape and cloak. Flying above the
shacks and whores.
He has just won an election. A wop is his godfather. Praise
Wop from whom
all blessings flow. The nigger edges sidewise in the light
breeze, his fingers
scraping nervously in his palms. He has had visions. With
rattles in his pockets. He is high up. Look, he signals. Turns,
cheers. He swoops. The Wop is waving. Wave Wop.
Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka), ELECTION DAY (Newark, New Jersey)
Everyone in my family hated “crackers,” whether they admitted to it or not. My great-great-great-grandmother, Virginia Brown, naturally did not love “serving” her “master”–a loathsome creep who literally spit on her in disgust. I’m sure far worse things had happened to her on that old Virginia plantation 165 years ago. However Grandma “Jenny” was not one to take an insult from a redneck lying down–not even if said redneck owned her. Later that evening she plotted to bash his bloody brains in and wound up doing just that…only to wind up on the gallows. Only a last-minute decision to sell Grandma to another master kept her alive. In the end, she fled the plantation–either for a maroon community or up North; we aren’t so sure what happened, but she did not stick around to serve another master.
Of course, most of us in the family weren’t quite so bold in dealing with the crackers. We simply smiled in their faces and lied to them and said otherwise, out of fear of job loss or beatings or worse. My great-grandfather was forced into the Army in 1917 (after giving birth to his first-born child, my grandmother). Upon signing up to fight in France on behalf of Uncle Sham, he stated his identity as “African”–no “negro” or “colored” or “coon” for him. As for that redneck who shanghaied him–and whom I’d met as a child many, many years later–I have no idea how Papa Phil felt about him, but I know good and goddamn well that he did not love the bastard.
I have no idea how my father felt when he saw his uncle lynched in Key West, Florida around 1936. Dad wasn’t quite eleven years old when it took place. I have no idea if this lynching was even recorded. But I’m sure my father didn’t love his uncle’s killers. I was not inside his head as he sat in that mess hall in Arizona in 1944, watching German POWs eating alongside white American soldiers, hoping they would leave enough food left over for his “colored” regiment. (One can see here how he and his “colored” regiment were seen in the eyes of their countrymen.) I do know that my father was not overjoyed to be called “Señor Stovepipe” by one of the professors at Harvard University. (My father was doing post-Graduate research work at Harvard in the late Seventies.) He most certainly did not invite that motherfucker over to our house for dinner.
I know goddamn well my mother was not pleased to work as a domestic for rich white trash back in the early fifties, and certainly not tickled to death to be served her meals in a fucking cat dish. She told me so. Some of her white employers, of course, weren’t entirely “trash”: some were quite benevolent and kind and thoughtful in dealing with her, and even encouraged her to continue her education at Virginia Union University. Yet when the Brown vs. Board of Education decision struck down school segregation in May of 1954, her kind and thoughtful employers wept copious tears as they read the headlines.
We hated them with the same passion as we hated the fucking redneck swine that threw rocks at our house in Adelphi, Maryland and made monkey noises at us. We hated the bastards who sicked a German shepherd on us at an Indiana gas station back in 1962. We hated the Cambodian immigrant workers at a Seven-Eleven in 1982 who treated us worse than any redneck would have dreamed of doing. We felt that White men coddled these “immigrants,” not because he liked them, but because he felt he could use them to further his own politically perverted agenda. The same way he used the Koreans, whom we saw popping up in black neighborhoods sometime in the late seventies and early eighties, and whom we quickly learned to despise. The Koreans–along with the Salvadorans, the Nicaraguans, the Vietnamese, the Syrians, the Nigerians, the Israelis, the Ethiopians and Haitians–in turn, began to despise us.
I didn’t consider myself a “racist,” and had no problems in dealing with anyone who didn’t hate me for who I was. But folks like this were as rare as hen’s teeth. All I remember was the glassy, snide, passive-aggressive contempt I received from Washingtonians who weren’t Black like me. I remembered being alone, broke, raggedy and cut out of every social circle imaginable. I didn’t like anybody in that shitty town. I didn’t like the “gooks,” “spics,” “hymies,” “Ay-rabs” and I definitely didn’t like “The Honky.” They didn’t like us, either, on principle–the principle being that “niggers” are inferior.
“I think it is a kind of suicide to like anything that hates you. If we are the only people who really want to be Americans, what is the point?” –Harriet Jones, Drylongso: A Self-Portrait of Black America
Back in the late 80s I spent most of my time in DC on Howard University’s campus. I wasn’t scared of dealing with downtown DC, I simply didn’t want to be bothered. Frankly, I found it a boring, overly conservative, sterile, sad little cow town, ringed with Victorian brownstones and shot through with gang violence. (DC’s homicide rates at that time–say, 1988-1992–were a ghastly joke.) At Howard, between classes, I barricaded myself in the lower recesses of the Undergraduate Library or the Founders Library. It had very, very little to do with shyness or any latent Asperger’s Syndrome and more to do with–well, my simply not wanting to be bothered. James Baldwin once said that a black man simply cannot go through life covered in the world’s spit. Of course, that’s true. But for me, sadly, much of that spit–while a student at Howard–came from my own people.
The Black Bourgeoisie treated me worse than any “hymie” or “spic” or “gook” ever did. The kind of trash I heard from random white and Latino louts in Maryland and DC I heard on Howard’s campus on a daily basis. I endured five and a half years under their hostile gaze, sticking it out to secure the education I felt I needed to get ahead in American society. But from today’s vantage point, I wonder if it was really worth it. No “chink” threatened to kill me while eating in the Howard U. cafeteria; “spic” girls did not laugh in my face when I tried to talk to them (they simply ignored me altogether) nor did “da Jooz” throw rocks at me, throw their coffee at me, spit at my feet, cheat me out of passing grades, or slam clipboards (or malt liquor bottles) upside my head. (They didn’t threaten to rape me, either.) In all fairness, some Korean deli owners did threaten to call the cops on me for letting them know they’d cheated me out of fifteen cents!
But I didn’t have to shop at Korean delis if I didn’t want to. With Howard I had no choice but to stick it out if I wanted a degree. I wonder if my reception would have been less hostile had I transferred to University of Maryland—not because the school was free of racism (a laughable thought, knowing what I knew about the State of Maryland) but because I would not be a target of self-loathing upper-middle-class negroes who saw me as their own personal punching bag. Seen in retrospect, I guess I should have dropped out and spared myself their misguided judgments—my skin not being dark enough or not being light enough; my hair being too long, too short, or too fucking nappy; my clothes not being flashy enough; my being too short or too tall; my not being muscular enough, not wearing the proper watch, not wearing the proper shoes or speaking in the proper accent, or what the fuck have you. Something was always wrong with me, in their eyes. It took quite a few years (and a novel about it) to realize that there wasn’t a damned thing wrong with me, save for my refusal to accept Howard’s childish definitions of what a “Strong Black Man” was supposed to be like. As a friend once told me in Howard’s cafeteria, many years ago, “you know what your problem is on this campus, Phil? Everybody up here is trying to get with the program. But you”—and he pointed to me with a laugh, half-derisively, “just want to be you. That’s not right.”
But I was right. What the hell is so goddamn wrong about wanting to be you?
Philip Lewis is just one Black schmuck among 43 million. This crap happens all the time in America (and elsewhere) if you’re Black. Of course you can just lie about it and pretend they are just illusions, that life is just “tough” and one needs to just get on with the dirty business of surviving in the American (read: World®) jungle. I can just hear the Booker T. type negroes now babbling in the background. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Step your game up. Go back to school. Keep your head to the sky and your eyes on the prize. Oh, yes, sweetie-pie. Nobody likes a “butt-hurt Negro.”
And yet once you get that “prize”–the cushy job, fat salary, house in the suburbs (or a condo or loft), fly girlfriend/wife/boyfriend/husband, bad-ass car and every goddamned thing that goes along with it–you will soon realize how sour those grapes are. It is only a matter of time before the veneer of “success” begins to peel off and you are left with the bare bones of your raw feelings. You begin to wonder if “The Struggle” to get all that stuff was worth it. It wasn’t worth it. Especially when you find yourself being harangued by neighbors for having a barbeque (when your fellow white neighbors aren’t). Especially when you find yourself being told to leave a restaurant (when your fellow white diners aren’t). Especially when you find your face on the ground in a pool of your own blood for having been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and your white friends are standing around, wondering what the fuck just transpired. Hustle-porn sucks; it’s bad for your mental and physical health.
The sheer hatred you feel for everyone around you, especially for people who aren’t Black, is still there; it merely went into hiding for the time being. Your education and your wealth will not shield you from the world’s contempt. Neither does your popularity nor your sex appeal, nor your feelings of good will towards your fellow human beings. You can still be a Bakari Henderson and have a bunch of Balkans beat you senseless on some god-forsaken Greek island. You can be Phil Henderson and have a junkie punch a hole in your mouth right outside your own fucking doorstep, right here in Berlin, and have the cops make light of your injury. You realize that deep down, you never really liked living in this disgusting sham of a “Western” civilization; furthermore, it never liked you. The hatred is mutual. You’re just fooling yourself. The entirety of our contemporary civilization—morally speaking—is predicated upon hatred. Economically speaking, it’s built on highway robbery; politically, it’s predicated on murder.
You want to be nice, you want to be liked, even respected (the hardest thing of all to achieve in a “civilization” that views you as a beast), and yet you realize in the end that even in the eyes of your loved ones, you’re just…well, Black. You’re not supposed to be as smart as everyone else and certainly not smarter than everyone else. And when you insist upon being just as smart or smarter the subtle ostracism begins; you want to believe that it’s all an illusion, that maybe it really is just you; you’re the one at fault here.
Of course, you are at fault in a sense–you’re at fault for not abiding by the world’s expectations of what a Negro should be. These expectations are, by any moral standard, completely unacceptable.
“…I wanted to get away; I wanted to leave Cleveland and Ohio and all the United States of America and go somewhere I could escape the thought of my parents and my brother, somewhere black people weren’t considered the shit of the earth. It took me forty years to discover that such a place does not exist.”
–Chester Himes, The Quality of Hurt
And then the nation at large wonders why a certain segment of Black America is full of hate. There’s nothing to like about our predicament. Idiotic celebrities like Kanye West, Beyonce, Lil Wayne and their ridiculous lot don’t count; they are simply the minor details in a long, ugly, bloody story–the story of our fucking captivity. America spends billions of dollars a year spewing out Negrophobic propaganda worldwide (much of it masquerading as “entertainment” and “crime statistics”) and yet Americans feign surprise when “darkies” like me say I don’t like you. Americans are surprised because–to be perfectly honest–they refuse to see African Americans as human beings.
“And how are we supposed to feel about all of this? Well, fine of course,” writes mauludSADIQ on Medium.com. Of the late Michael Brown, SADIQ writes, “(He) was vilified… He had marijuana socks. He stole cigarillos. He cursed at the officer. The same newspapers and magazines and blogs that looked for all the possible humanly things that could have pushed poor James Holmes (mass murderer of 12) over the edge, dedicated an equal amount of pages to the ‘dark, criminal past’ of Michael Brown.”
Oh, yes. We are supposed to feel “cool” after our mothers, fathers, brothers or sisters or aunts or husbands or wives are randomly gunned down by some fucking lunatic Negrophobe. We are supposed to feel somehow “spiritually enriched,” or take some sort of bullshit “philosophical” attitude after enduring tons of abuse at the hands of the American (read: global) power structure. America routinely robs you of your humanity and if you, the “darky,” don’t bow your head and meekly smile, then you’re an aggressive ape. According to whites and whitified non-whites, of course. “Because,” SADIQ writes, “The reality is — like Isma’il Latif has often pointed out, our role for white people is to entertain them, cheerfully. Anything beyond that…is seen as aggression.”
White Westerners (and their flunkies) view it as “aggression.” Others on this planet who have suffered similar oppression see otherwise. “They tell us we are making Spring,” writes Ghania Mouffok, an Algerian writer. “But you say we’re making war. A Tunisian friend of mine said to me, ‘they treat us like dogs and they’re surprised when we turn into wolves.”*
No, the slavery never ended; it merely shape-shifted into newer forms more pleasing to the eye and senses. In this new slavery one could become a billionaire like Oprah or Bill Cosby, or even a President like Barack Obama, and yet still find yourself vilified and boxed in whenever you refused to conform to white expectations of what a “good nigra” is supposed to be. Bill Cosby was foolish enough to believe that he could get away with the kind of shit that Roman Polanski got away with. Oprah was foolish enough to believe that her hundreds of millions (and her US passport) would shield her from the humiliation she received at a high-end Swiss boutique; apparently “negers” don’t by 40,000 euro purses. Obama was foolish enough to believe that being the President of the United States was sufficient unto itself. It wasn’t. (Ever heard of Leon Blum?)
Perceptions? Well, what do you think? “And it is this perception that Black people have to deal with on a day to day basis. And it is this perception that leaves so many unarmed Black people dead at the hand of fearful officers. Until we deal with that perception, nothing will change.”
The “perception,” simply put, is that the African is not a human being. This is the perception of the very people who control the entirety of the United States of America. Don Donnie has already made his “perceptions” perfectly clear, as has CNN, Fox News and all the other international US propaganda machines. It is inconceivably bad, and has been for untold decades.¹ When America tells the black person to “calm down,” it’s as if they were addressing some entity not quite animal, not quite human—three-fifths of a human being, according to their dear Constitution.
No, we don’t like you. We don’t have to like you, let alone love you. Yes, many of us have turned into wolves as a result of this blind hatred and gleefully cannibalized each other–like Ms. Mouffok suggested, we shit where we eat; many of us act like monkeys, pantomiming the very same fantasy of the savage ape that our masters imposed upon us–as if, in pushing against the walls and bars that hem us in, we merely strengthen these same walls; the more idiotic among us have come to enjoy this obscene captivity, some going so far as to call it Paradise.
Yeah, such a thing really is possible in this neo-liberal bizarro world we live in. It was certainly possible under Keynesian capitalism and God forbid, even under the bullshit mercantile capitalism that existed in the Old South before the Civil War–where even Negroes could own other Negroes provided they had their fucking “free papers” and a bit of cash to spare (and the “right” complexion).
I don’t love you. Who is to say what that will mean. I don’t
Love you, expressed the train, moves, and uptown days later
We look up and breathe much easier
I don’t love you
Amiri Baraka, The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones
For some strange reason some of us still do actually love Uncle Sam (I’m not one of them, however), since there is such a thing called Stockholm Syndrome. There is also a thing called “gaslighting” and “narcissistic parenting.” I bring up the latter because white America interacts with every single one of her “minority groups” the same way a narcissistic parent would interact with her children. The parent plays favorites with her children, lives her pathetic life through them, picks a golden child (in the case of America, this “golden child” would be christened a “model minority”) to use as a yardstick against her other siblings; and naturally there is that one child who is raised while the others are spoiled. The one child who is treated like garbage, who is “gaslighted” from the cradle, and made to bear the burden of the whole family’s sins, is– of course–the little Pickaninny.
*As a side note: “white” Tunisians are notorious for their shitty treatment of “black” Tunisians; in fact, they “treat them like dogs”.
¹When the late John A. Williams visited Haifa in 1967, he noted that so-called “Arab leaders” in Haifa were “far readier to discuss American Negroes and their ‘high crime rate’ than they were their own situation”. (Williams, John A. Flashbacks, Anchor/Doubleday, 1973)