Give the Color Black a Well-Deserved Rest

Every group is the “new Black” | Image By:
Every group is the “new Black” | Image By:

In his analytical study, The Ideologies of African American Literature, Dr. Robert Washington asserts that, “In preindustrial structures of domination, the ruling group typically controls not only the subordinate group’s economic and political life, but also its cultural representations—namely the ideas and images inscribing its social identity in the public arena. In this country that ruling group has always been white Americans and the primary subordinate group has been Blacks.

Washington goes on to explain that in this relationship the dominant group defines what symbols, expressions and meanings are representative of the subordinate group. These representations emanate from the dominant group’s ideological biases toward the others. Words and expressions have historically been manifestations of those biases. Black is the only color defined in dictionaries by the use of negative adjectives. For example in the American Heritage Dictionary, black is equated with evil, wicked, dirty, soiled as from soot, depressing, angry, gloomy and sullen. It is quite evident that the intent was to create a negative and destructive image of the color black and all objects and persons associated with it. Conversely, the color white is associated with perfect human beauty, especially female beauty.

Historian Dr. Winthrop D. Jordan exposed the manner in which the two colors have been juxtaposed throughout history. He wrote in his award winning book, White Over Black, “No two colors implied opposition as white and black. White and black connoted purity and filthiness, virginity and sin, virtue and baseness, beauty and ugliness, beneficence and evil, and God and the devil. These identifications are necessary in order for whites to justify their historically misguided belief in the inferiority of the Black race to them. Over decades, anything or anyone considered black was viewed negatively. Even African Americans did not want to be associated with their color. Skin lighteners, hair straighten formulas were very fashionable.

The term experienced a brief reprieve during the Black Arts Movement when both writers and musicians made black a term of endearment. Maya Angelou glorified the word black in her poem Phenomenal Woman, Stokely Carmichael gave it strength with his cry “Black Power,” and James Brown sang of black pride with “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

But the reprieve was short lived and the color black is once again equated with negative images and connotations. kYmberly Keeton, a brilliant, talented, artistic young sister believes the term slipped back into darkness at the turn of the century. Ten years later with the release of Helena Andrews’ memoirs, Bitch is the New Black, and three years after her book, with the Netflix series, Orange is the New Black, the color was again under severe attack.

I personally take a great deal of pride in referring to myself as a Black man. I am blessed to have been born into a Black family and to be the descendant of great Black men and women who survived an abusive and sick system of exploitation. They made it up the rough side of the mountain, and left us with a legacy of strength, beauty and love. There is nothing negative or hateful about them at all.

I reject the suggestion that bitch and Black women are synonymous. My wife, sisters and my daughters are not bitches nor are the millions of other beautiful Black women who take pride in their race and color.  And the insinuation that prison life is somehow a part of Black life is blatantly false. There are approximately one million Black men and women locked up (which I agree is far too many) out of a total population of thirty million. Three percent is not a fair representation of the Black race. If these writers must equate a color to a negative definition and meaning, why not title their works as Bitch is the New White, and Orange is the New White and give black a well-deserved rest.

Don’t Blame the Young, Blame the Adults

Image Credit: The New York Times |
Image Credit: The New York Times |

The central city communities predominantly occupied by African Americans are under an outright siege. Gunfire, death and destruction dominate the streets, and law-abiding residents are fearful for their lives. However, in no way is the attack from outside invaders. The perpetrators live within the communities being terrorized on a daily basis. If that is not strange enough, the terrorists are the young men and, to a certain extent, women who escape the reality of their existence by joining gangs.

In many ways they are similar to the 19th Century outlaw gangs that ruled the wild wild west. Much like the Dalton Gang, Billy the Kid and others from the past, these young people view themselves as outcasts, un-welcome intruders in a country they believe does not belong to them. They outright reject American principles and values as being hypocritical, and they view education as a useless endeavor. These young marauders perceive the police as their enemy, and their leaders as self-indulging charlatans only interested in their own economic well being, gained on the backs of the oppressed and down trodden.

Often their heroes are the brothers who have been locked up in the past or are doing time because they defied the system, and are willing to pay the price for that defiance. These young men. who have no problem pulling the trigger and taking a life, choose to take their chances for survival by joining forces with others who believe as they do.  Their outlook on life is both hedonistic and pessimistic, and that is an explosive combination for self-destruction.

It must be noted, however, that our young men did not get this way without our participation. And that participation is not of a positive nature. We have brought them into an absolute dysfunctional living environment. From their birth, pathological cultural institutions to include the family, the schools, their music, and even the church surround them. Positive images are usually missing in their lives. They often grow up in an environment of drugs, sex and crime. Usually the music they hear is not about love but sex, the images they see are of entertainers with tattoos on their face and all over their body, pants down below the waist and gold chains around their neck. Their life’s motto is to get what they can right now because tomorrow is not promised to them. And this becomes especially true when they attend the funerals of their young friends who have taken a bullet for the cause.

What all this reveals, is that we need to analyze what got us to this point and then consider a new paradigm different from the past. The great historian, Dr. John Hope Franklin, advised us that if you have a problem, look to the past for the source and then you can deal with it. We need no longer to bemoan our situation, but come up with new ideas and relevant approaches to turn this situation around. And it starts with the adults facing the fact that we have failed our young, and now need to find ways to rectify that failure.