As an everyday Black man in America, Dr. Donald E Grant Jr. thanks President Obama and Mr. Holder for looking into the Souls of Black Folk and speaking their truths.
This week we saw the door of existential racism kicked open in a way that modern America had not yet seen. Two of the most visible black men in America exposed the ills of racism that much of our “colorblind” society vehemently denies. On July 16, US Attorney General Eric Holder outed himself at the NAACP’s 104th Annual Convention (held, coincidently in Orlando, Florida).
Mr. Holder identified himself as a victim of the racism that has an unfortunately high success rate at creating psychic injuries for each Black man that walks this land. Holder recounts several experiences, including how even as a federal prosecutor he, “…was (erroneously) stopped by a police officer while simply running to a catch a movie. Mr. Holder indicated that Trayvon Martin’s murder resulted in him having a conversation with his own son—a conversation he hoped he would never have had to have. “I am his father, and it is my responsibility, not to burden him with the baggage of eras long gone, but to make him aware of the world that he must still confront.”
Mr. Holder, the 82nd US Attorney General, the first African American to hold this post, brazenly told the world how he was unfairly profiled for what many refer to as DWB or Driving While Black. It’s pretty easy to dismiss the racist experiences of everyday Black men like myself, but is it equally as possible to do so with two Black men like Mr. Holder and Mr. Obama, men who effectively challenge stereotypes across several domains? Men who neither experience secondary gain nor earn social capitol from their disclosure. After Holder’s speech, in an effort to reduce the natural tendency for dissonance resolution, conservatives accused the Obama administration of politicizing the Trayvon Martin slaying, minimizing the authenticity of Holder’s experience.
On July 20th President Obama “thought it might be useful to expand on (his) thoughts” as it related to the Trayvon Martin slaying. Mr. Obama, after the verdict was initially read, stated in part, “we are a nation of laws and the jury has spoken”. Since President Obama first took office in 2004, many have criticized the perceived luke-warm attention dedicated to issues of race and discrimination on his part. Intellectuals like Dr Cornell West and journalists like Tavis Smiley have been unrelenting in their efforts to question Mr. Obama’s commitment to the struggles of Black America.
What inclined the President of the United States to take his mulligan on this issue? Many people have a sole history of fair and equal treatment on this soil. They have a hard time believing that our country, in its contemporary state, continues to wound Black men with both the literal and figurative bullets of racism. To bridge the gap of dissonance one may minimize or even dismiss another’s experience with disparate treatment. Is it possible that this land is fair and just if even the people who have pulled themselves up by their proverbial “bootstraps” experience discrimination and bigotry? Dissonance says no its not. Cognitive dissonance affords some the luxury of denying the authenticity of Mr Obama and Mr Holders disclosures in order to maintain their paradigm of a fair and equal America. After all, since both ideas can’t be true at the same time, someone’s paradigm has to be sacrificed: Guess whose?
The great poet and freedom fighter Bob Marley sang: “Propaganda and lies is a plague of our lives, how much more victimized before we realize.” The concern with the propaganda of which he speaks is that it not only references the images and messages delivered, but also those that are strategically omitted. It is my belief that our President and Attorney General felt vital to their Black souls to tell their stories of non-uniqueness. Mr. Obama said, “There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store.”
When he added, “That includes me”, I felt in some small way seen and heard in a way that I had not before. Mr. Obama continued, “There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.” Although it is rare that I would routinely seek external validation, I found myself exhaling a bit differently as my experience was validated by ‘the head of the free world’.
Is it possible that these disclosures will force dissonance resolution in a different direction? Will people be honest enough to say that perhaps the world is not as I see it? Perhaps these Black men who have aligned themselves with Black men across the world in this common experience are being authentic. Will members of privileged groups be able to see that racism is still a very real factor for contemporary Blacks? Or will we continue to deflect the insidiousness of racism as did 11 time NBA-All Star retiree Charles Barkley with his assertions that “there are a lot of Black people who are racist.” Mr Barkley added that “…sometimes when people talk about race, they act like only white people are racist. There are a lot of Black people who are racist.”
I don’t disagree that Blacks have the capacity to be prejudiced and discriminatory, but due to the social caste system of America and the pigmentocracy resulting from European imperialism, Blacks don’t have the collective resources to be ‘racist’ as a group. I believe that Mr. Barkley, whom I respect as an athlete and outspoken Black man, is unconsciously attempting to dilute the veracity of a long overdue American dialogue in an effort to maintain dominant culture comforts. I think it’s time for everyone to get a little uncomfortable.
Will the world take the testimonies of Holder and Obama seriously? Do we hold the capacity to meet our society where it actually is and take to task the evils and inconsistencies that exist? The atrocities created by the privatization of the prison system, the Rockefeller drug laws, the disparate child welfare paradigms, the intentional media vilification and emasculation of Black men? Racism penetrates all crevices of our society and as a result of the monolithically dangerous images of Black men, we have suffered significant inter-generational wounds that require immediate attention.
In 1776 Thomas Jefferson, owner of over 200 slaves and father to four Black children wrote about “self-evident” truths that created all men as equal with several “unalienable rights”. Over two hundred-thirty five years have passed since Mr. Jefferson penned these words. Not only has the unalienable right of a child to go to the store and come home alive not been realized, people have the audacity to blindly believe that the Declaration’s preamble has, in fact, become actualized. As an everyday Black man in America, I thank President Obama and Mr. Holder for looking into the Souls of Black Folk and not just speaking their truths, but risking their political capitol to speak out and normalize this experience so common to every Black man I know.