While watching Ta-Nehisi Coates’s recent interview on Bill Moyers discussing his recently published and much discussed piece in “The Atlantic” regarding American slavery and reparations, he made a comment at around the 17 minute mark that caught my ear: “White Supremacy is something we ALL have to reconcile with”.
Ta-Nehisi Coates then went on to say “To confront the reality of white supremacy in America is a terrifying prospect for African-Americans”.
Coates’s statements reminded me of the controversy surrounding Kanye’s use of the Confederate Flag on his apparel last year and brought back thoughts that I had at the time surrounding it: How is it that the iconography of the Confederate Flag is associated with such pain and yet the American flag is not?
If the Confederate flag is synonymous with 250 years of slavery then is not the American flag equally as synonymous with 135 years of Jim Crow, Separate but Equal and Housing Discrimination? Is it not synonymous with the 3,000 symbolic strange fruit that represented Black bodies, murdered via lynching during the Jim Crow era in which even the revered FDR deemed the backing of anti-lynching legislation too high of a political loss to enact policy against it? Furthermore, is not the American flag symbolic of the mass incarceration of African Americans and the racial control of “Stop and Frisk”?
Yet African Americans pledge allegiance to it, defend it, even wear it on apparel with little of the pain that is associated with the Confederate flag.
All of this leads me to think that what Coates is saying is that by African American people reconciling with the reality of American White Supremacy & not the idealised mythological construct of America is to confront the reality that in as much as they identify as African-American, African Americans are a people without a country. Refugees. A people stuck between two worlds with no land to claim their own as were the Jewish disapora before the creation of the modern state we now know as Israel.
Where can African Americans go for acceptance/belonging? Too “American” to go back to Africa and yet not fully able to enjoy the privileges of their “American-ness” in a White Supremacist society because of their Blackness.
As Ta-Nehisi Coates stated “What are we supposed to do with that information? The despondency, the helplessness contained within those words are unable to fully capture the impact of this reality.
It’s the reason why African Americans, if even by default due to the pressures of White Supremacy have long shouldered the idealised notion of America because the psychological cost is too high for African-American people. Yet by remaining so connected to the idea that America and it’s representative icon, the American flag, is representative of THEM it is akin to what psychologists call “Stockholm Syndrome” a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with them.
Thus, the African American identifies and aligns with the idea of America, the proverbial “land of the free the home of the brave” because the alternative is more uncomfortable than the reality, which makes it all the more tragic. However, it remains a reality that Ta-Nehisi Coates says African American have to come to terms with if the nation is to move forward and heal- despite the psychological consequences.
As I ponder these thoughts in this “post-racial era of civil rights regression”, I recall Malcolm X, who remains as relevant to us now as he did then.
“One of the things that made the Black Muslim movement grow was its emphasis upon things African. This was the secret to the growth of the Black Muslim movement. African blood, African origin, African culture, African ties. And you’d be surprised — we discovered that deep within the subconscious of the black man in this country, he is still more African than he is American. He thinks that he’s more American than African, because the man is jiving him, the man is brainwashing him every day. He’s telling him, ‘You’re an American, you’re an American.’ Man, how could you think you’re an American when you haven’t ever had any kind of an American meal over here? You have never, never. Ten men can be sitting at a table eating, you know, dining, and I can come and sit down where they’re dining. They’re dining; I’ve got a plate in front of me, but nothing is on it. Because all of us are sitting at the same table, are all of us diners? I’m not a diner until you let me dine. Just being at the table with others who are dining doesn’t make me a diner, and this is what you’ve got to get in your head here in this country.
Just because you’re in this country doesn’t make you an American. No, you’ve got to go farther than that before you can become an American. You’ve got to enjoy the fruits of Americanism. You haven’t enjoyed those fruits. You’ve enjoyed the thorns. You’ve enjoyed the thistles. But you have not enjoyed the fruits, no sir. You have fought harder for the fruits than the white man has, but you’ve enjoyed less”.