The hardest thing to do is to speak against conventional wisdom. When it comes to America, there is nothing more conventional and baked into the society’s thinking that the constructs of race and color. It has been noted for more than a century and a half that the original sin of America was slavery, few horrors match the insidious practice of turning humans into chattel and the brutal legacy of racism, bigotry and systematic oppression that has taken place since the introduction of the Triangular Trade.
To this day, we are dealing with the vestiges of the slavery and the way oppressors subdued millions by rupturing humanity based on skin color. Sadly, instead of making progress, it seems like we are taking steps backwards as politicians, pundits and opinion leaders keep tearing at historical scars with their rhetoric instead of guiding us towards redemptive conversations. There are few healers to be found, we are surrounded by a cast of flame throwers who set fires upon society and insist on inciting anger.
There is no healing to be found if we don’t have conversations. Yelling past each other and leading with accusatory tones only hardens hearts and ensures a further degradation of our discourse. But then again, the goal of the establishment is not to mend hearts but to keep us apart. I say this without bias to ideology, party or appearance, the default mode of too many people is to segregate humanity into subgroups as a way to cultivate a following and monetize our differences.
This is the reason why colors were assigned to humanity to begin with. If you think about it rationally, there is not one human being in the world who is truly “white” or who is truly “black”. Compare your skin to either of the two colors up top and you will see this to be statement to be true. I wrote in the past an article titled “We are not Black”, an assertion that led some to believe I was an apologist who was ashamed of who I am. To the contrary, it is precisely because I know who I am and whose I am not that led me to disavow a label that was always meant to dehumanize us. People who are named by others become the property of those who named them and in time the intention behind those names become their prophecy.
While I was living in Colorado, I befriended a college adviser named Duan Ruff, who used to always say “black is a position”. I knew what he was talking about immediately, I know that the label was imposed upon people of my complexion in order to “otherize” us and introduce a vicious form of tribalism into the public psyche. This is not to say I’m not sympathetic to the reason why these various labels were co-opted, but perhaps now is the time we stop co-opting and understand who we are without defining ourselves through the lens of someone else. Besides, as long as we color, we never understand the common struggles we all have. As long as we seek labels, tribalism will always flourish.
This practice of categorizing humanity and stratifying us into groups based on labels has been the most potent weapon in furthering the aims of racism. People who are struggling and who could otherwise work together to defend their common interests are instead fighting with each other. While some suffer worst that others, collectively we are all in a tub of simmering water as malicious economic policies and unfair trading practices are slowly drowning us in debt and indenturing with slave wages. But we keep losing sight of these facts and instead focus on our differences—divide and conquer has never been this effective.
I don’t write this article to deny our differences nor to diminish the unique traits that are inherent in each one of us. Neither is my aim to negate the historical wounds perpetuated against people who can trace their ancestry to the continent of humanity’s birth. If we are to find redemption at the end of the road, it will be because we know our intrinsic worth instead of gauging our value based on the labels imposed upon us by people who thrived and continue to flourish through our disunion. Click To Tweet
As the anniversary of Charlottesville arrives and media personalities on all sides try to gin up more rage and antagonize their followers, reflect on these things. Don’t let demagogues lead you into the gutter of antipathy, the only way we can overcome is if we refuse to give our hands to bitterness. Bob Marley once said “free your mind from mental slavery”, the biggest chains are not the ones at the feet but the ones placed in our minds. We are not colors, we are humans who are greater than the artificial constructs that divide us. #NotTheseColors
“The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” ~ Steven Biko
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
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