Imagine for a minute what it would feel like as an adult if you were once kidnapped from you parent’s home, your siblings thrown out of the van in transit to your captor’s abode only for you to raised in quarters where you were kept in the basement away from other children. Imagine the pains of wondering what happened to your parents and the home you once knew. Imagine the suffering that comes with realizing that the new “home” where you grew up taught you that you were lesser than the other kids who always had more toys while you were given toys that none of the kids wanted.
For “black” Americans, the horrific scenarios I painted don’t have to be imagined, these are scars that are coded deep in their DNA. There is a reason I use the word “they” instead of “us”, as a first generation Ethiopian immigrant—even though I’ve experienced racism in my life—I can never really understand the burdens that African-Americans carry that have been passed down from generation to generation. Included in this anguish is having their identity stripped away and their existence being distilled to a color that doesn’t describe their hue and that was always meant to dehumanize people who can trace their lineage back to the continent of humanity’s birth.
Adding insult to injury are political cottage industries that have, and continue, to use African-Americans to further their own agendas as “black” folks continue to fall further behind. At its foundation, the US political system is rooted in a systemic form of racism that is dependent on keeping “black” folks at the bottom of the social ladder and turning their demands for justice into wedge issues that both parties benefit from. While Republicans maliciously otherize African-Americans in order to scare their base with racist dog whistles, Democrats just as treacherously leverage their most loyal voting bloc to promise changes every election cycle only to forget about them and work against their interests the minute the last votes are counted.
However, this skullduggery extends beyond Republicans and Democrats; the truth is that our political and social order is premised on a caste system that segregates humanity based on race and an endless list of manufactured identities. Opinion leaders on all fronts are propagated and paid to gin up resentments and incite people to fight one another based through the prism of those identities. Resentments are fomented and grievances inflamed in order to distract people from their common struggle and instead turn fellow strugglers against each other.
This is not to diminish that there are true injustices that lead to the level of acrimony that has overtaken our social discourse. Neither is this to discount the nefarious impact of racism and the way “black” people are disadvantaged for no fault other than being born with too much melanin. However, there is a wider game being played beyond race, the reality is that humanity is being sacrificed at the alter of capital. While it is true that “black” folks have borne the brunt of burden over centuries in ways that is unparalleled in human history, there is a more insidious scheme that is making life harder and harder throughout the world. The original sin of America has yet to be atoned for; a century and a half after emancipation, too many African-Americans are still being judged and valued not for the content of their character but the color of their skin. Click To Tweet
Sadly, instead of addressing the root causes of racism and the socioeconomic inequalities that are indenturing “black” people into a life of dependency, demagogues who profit from people’s misfortune insist on just manipulating our emotions. “Black” people are convinced by the liberal establishment that their enemies are “white” people and “white” people are likewise duped by conservatives into believing that “black” people are out to get them. Both sides triggering each other as pundits, politicians and media professionals laugh all the way to the bank as they get paid by the plutocrats who benefit from our dissension.
This has been the story of America since the Civil War, poor whites who were being pillaged as sharecroppers were hoodwinked into believing that their foes were African-Americans who had zero influence over “white” people’s lives. Legions of Southerners rose up to defend the Confederacy even though that very system was impoverishing most white folks while concurrently brutalizing “blacks”. Democrats and Republicans have been using this divide as a political strategy ever since the Great Reconstruction, even though they have flipped their core constituencies, especially after Nixon utilized the Southern Strategy, the net-net is that both parties are intent on tearing open historical scars every election cycle in order to keep their respective bases in line through fear and antipathy for the “others”.
The reality is that poor “blacks” and poor “whites” have a lot more in common than they are led to believe. Most Americans—irrespective of the identities we glom on to—are getting fleeced by a scheme that transfers wealth to the top 1% and grinds the rest of us into dust. Instead of realizing this fact, we have been reduced to fighting about who has it worse. A consensus is made impossible by the sheer volume of acrimony that is directed at each other which ultimately prevents a coalition of the poor, working and middle-class from materializing.
Like Malcolm X once said, Republicans are like wolves and Democrats are like foxes when it comes to two political parties and how they treat African-Americans. Year after year, over 90% of the “black” vote goes to Democrats, in return for their loyalty, African-Americans are told time and time again to wait until the next election before their issues are addressed. Even though their rhetoric might be different, when it comes to economic policies and the end-result of their legislation, there is not any daylight between Democrats and Republicans. Both parties are appendages of Wall Street and the uber wealthy, neither party has any interest in actually taking steps to address the generational poverty and dearth of opportunities that has condemned millions of African-Americans to a life of perpetual social and economic insecurities.
So-called “African-American” leaders are propped up by mainstream media to continually arouse the passions of the aggrieved and to exploit their wounds in order to line their pockets with money from the very system the pretend to be against. “Black” opinion leaders like Al Sharpton on the left and Candice Owens on the right make it their mission to sheepdog their followers into the arms of parties that have no interest in their welfare. The talented tenth that Du Bois envisioned could lead “black” folks out of the wilderness has instead been conditioned to believe to chase for self at the cost of collective success.
Instead of solutions, we are treated to a never ending caravan of carnival barkers who use people’s agony as click-bait and revenue streams. We once had giants like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Fred Hampton who came to the eventual realization that only by connecting the plight of poor “whites” and poor “blacks” could the suffering of the marginalized be alleviated. For their efforts, they were greeted with bullets. In their place rose legions of race hustlers on all sides who have zero interest in helping the forgotten masses aside from using their pains as stepping stones to fortune and fame.
This is why I don’t put any stock in the Black Lives Matter movement. Even though I am very sympathetic to the sheer scale of frustration and indignity that was manifested by the way too many African-Americans are treated as second-class citizens in a country that their forefathers enriched with their sweat and blood, I also realize the reason why a billionaire funded the organization and why mainstream media kept pushing that narrative. Here is what I know, billionaires and the establishment do not get behind causes that could actually lead to justice, they only endorse movements that feed into the divisions and keep people at each other’s throats.
I know a lot of “white” folks reading this might be shaking their heads in agreement thinking that “black” people are being used, but a lot of them don’t realize that they are being played the same by “white” voices of resentment. People like Hannity and Limbaugh are only different from Sharpton and Jackson in skin hue and rhetoric, they too are making millions by ginning up animus and stoking cynicism. There is a simple playbook that aspiring pundits and “opinion leaders” use when they want to be embraced by the establishment, play one side against the other and feed into the division and mainstream media will elevate you, those who speak of solidarity and dig at the root of oppression are silenced by exclusion or execution if their voices gain a bit too much traction.
There is a reason why Donald Trump almost won reelection even though he fiddled while COVID burned the world and he had all the likeability of herpes. Images of “black” folks blaming “white” people and deriding “white privilege” was cunningly deployed by Trump and right wing media to demonize black people and feed into the fears of “white” people. Moreover, “white” people grew resentful about being blamed for something most of them are not responsible for, after all most “white” people are leading lives of economic anxieties too and the vast majority of “white” people do not wield the levers of power. Not only is casting the sins of a few immoral, it is counterproductive for turns would be allies into foes and perpetuates the social divides that make it impossible to address the root causes of inequalities and injustices.
This is the con game they keep playing on “white” people and “black” people alike, the powerful figured out a long time ago that the best way to keep people perpetually exploited is by dividing them and then getting them to bicker among themselves. The very notion of race was manufactured by racists for this exact reason; the stratification of humanity based on artificial constructs was always meant to splinter society in order to deprive people apart. America has taken this ages-old tactic and perfected it to a tee. This is the reason I keep using quote marks around the brands “black” and “white”, these heinous labels which don’t truly describe ANY human being’s color were foisted upon us in order to dehumanize one and elevate another.
This is the same tribalism that was weaponized to subdue the continent of Africa and is currently being deployed in my birthland Ethiopia. By elevating one group and then convincing the rest of society that the elevated group are the reason why everyone else struggle, a nation is fractured and a vicious cycle of strife is unleashed. The thing is though that most of the people from the elevated group are leading lives of stress and uncertainty, but most from that group are so happy to be at the faux-top that they end up defending a system that is impoverishing them. Likewise, “minorities” who are being bludgeoned financially and emotionally end up blaming the whole of the elevated group and feeding into the fears that keep the elevated group wedded to the status quo. Sounds familiar? This is what they are doing to us here in America.
After spending four years of Trump’s bigotry and delusions, in will step Joe Biden and the Democrats to kindly continue policies that transfer wealth from our communities into the bank vaults of the plutocracy and compassionately bomb nations that never attacked us. These are chains you can believe in!
At the risk of preaching to my fellow African-American brothers and sisters for I truly will never know the level of hurt, anger and the tears of your ancestors that you hold in your heart, I will say that folks who are out to inflame your emotions and telling you to “get in their face” are not looking out for your interests. It is one thing to honor the sacrifices of your ancestors and to remember their pains, but being stuck in anger will only destroy you from within without advancing the cause of justice an inch. Moreover, if you really want to get your voices heard beyond the people that are already listening to you, there is a way to covey those stories and tailor your message so that people are not put into their defensive postures.
Your pains are not made any lesser by linking them to the struggles of others who are feeling pains too. Trust me when I tell you that there are a lot of “white” folks who also are alarmed by the militarization of the police or how the government is intruding into their lives. There are a lot of “white” people who will relate to you when you tell your stories from a place of vulnerability instead of blame. Some could dismiss this as being an apologist or being “soft”, but going the opposite direction and continuing to feed into the passions of people that could one day erupt into civil strife will not end well for us or anyone else. We are about 13% of the population with less than 1% of the guns, be careful of those who advocate conflict for if the bullets start flying it will be our children who will be littered in the streets.
The only chance that we have to actually deliver change and have a government that works for us is if we are able to reach across the racial, social and ideological lines and realize that our fates are tied together. This is only possible if we learn to be more empathetic, to listen to one another instead of letting our emotions be riled up and stop being bamboozled to assail each other. We don’t have to monopolize pains in order to get our voices heard, to the contrary speaking without collective judgement opens hearts and could eventually open the doors towards inclusive justice.
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