Sunday, February 23, 2014

Shout Out To The House Niggas

Before I give a holla to the above mentioned house niggas, I need to explain exactly who they are. Have you seen the movie 12 Years A Slave? This would be my pick for this year's Academy Award. It's the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into a life as a plantation work animal.

Solomon starts out a well-educated urbanite, so viewers can somewhat identify with him as he makes his long descent into the heart of darkness to become a beast of the field and the property of assorted rednecks. It's a shocking tale. Plus, we are forced to look beyond the victim/villain black and white stereotypes of slavery to the complexities of an unjust system that some people fought, some people ignored, and some people took repulsive advantage of to benefit personally from human suffering.

Unfortunately, this impacting movie can have the wrong impact. Viewers tend to exit such slavery films with greater cynicism about the United States, rather than deeper insight into humanity. The extent to which humans of all colors and cultures have been willing to abuse power over others is more than a sensitive heart can ponder. Readers of my work Fresh Wind & Strange Fire know that slavery even worse than that of the South was practiced in Mexico in the 20th Century! (I interview the last living witness in the book.) Is the message to be learned from slavery that people of all colors are equally human or that people of all colors are equally animal?

What is the real take away from this film? That white people should sigh and pause for a moment of communal guilt? That brown people should feel victimized and demand days off work as reparation? Quite the opposite. Believing those with similar skin color to be our tribe with whom we should be lumped together is the same disgusting racism that bolstered all the beatings and lynchings in the first place. To paraphrase that Jesus guy, my brothers and clan are the people who do good, not my flesh or blood brothers.

Even the slightest study of history reveals that we're all descended from slaves and masters, heroes and motherfuckers. Yet, we obsess over the sins of our ancestors, because it feels righteous and often distracts us from the need to repent of today's evil deeds. Many of us are house niggas, going along with current systems of oppression that rest on the backs of our neighbors. Let me give examples.

1) The Australian executive who schedules a teleconference with his customer service reps in India for 10 am, right after he gets his coffee and clears off his desk. He is unaware and unconcerned that all his brown folks have worked eight hours in the call center with no bathroom breaks because the phones were flooded, then eight extra hours because the streets were flooded and the next shift couldn't arrive. After one hour of sleep, the slaves jump onto the master's conference call, because they live in a society where losing your job can put you on the brink of starvation. This executive is not so far from the blissfully and callously removed house nigga turning a blind eye to comrades.

2) The American worker who thinks government should prevent the outsourcing of his job. Even though fiber optic cables allow the guy across the globe to apply for work in Chicago just like the man across the street, this worker thinks the hungry muscled darkies shouldn't be allowed to take a white man's seat on the bus. Of course, he's wise to fear for his future in a globalized world, but life can be a struggle. That doesn't give us the right to shackle another man just trying to feed his family. Though I hope to keep my job, I respect the right of every person on the planet to apply for it. Being born in America is like being born white. It's not something you achieved or part of your character that entitles you to privilege or compensation. It's morally wrong to even ask for such, much less demand it.

3) The British journalist who whines like a little girl about the hardship of being black. He's young, rich, and handsome, but claims he's so traumatized by seeing the word "nigger" in a copy of Huck Finn from the company library that he must receive a month of incapacitation leave. His selfish drama contributes to media's myopic worldview that ignores the real oppression in third world fields outside the big house. Those who suffer under the brutal racism and caste systems so prevalent in many countries read about his pouting fit then wonder if anyone knows or cares they exist.

When the retired grandmas and wealthy Latinos of Arizona grew weary of mysterious strangers wandering across their ranches at night on their way to being exploited nannies or dishwashers for New Yorkers then voted to let cops ask them for identification, CNN screamed about racism for two months. When a hundred migrants were beheaded and buried in a mass grave by pale-faced cowboys in Tamaulipas, CNN responded only with the thought-provoking question: "Where the hell is Tamaulipas?" Do you think children rummaging for food in slum garbage piles get teary-eyed finding a news clip that Oprah may have received poor service in a Paris boutique because she's black? Sometimes hypersensitivity isn't very sensitive.

So, let me give a shout out to all the house niggas who dance in the balls in the big house, while pretending those toiling outside don't exist or don't really count. Let's learn from the past but not live in it. Let's work to abolish the oppression of rights that we unwittingly contribute to now - before our grandchildren make horrifying movies about our apathy. One great thing about travel is that it helps us avoid the inadvertant cruelty resulting from ignorance of the plight of others.

I'll never forget the day a friend and employee stumbled into the office where I served as director of training and communication for a global company. She was sobbing. Her devout Muslim family had been trying hard to get her married. They hosted the relatives of suitors who "inspected the merchandise" and found it unsuitable. Her poor family had scraped together several plots of real estate to offer as a dowry/bribe in a package deal, but still couldn't persuade anyone even to take her as a second wife housekeeper. I naively probed why this charismatic woman wouldn't sell on the auction block. She extended her chocolate hand and wrist. "You know Lyn, my skin is dark and there isn't much demand for that around here." My eyes are misty just remembering. May the Creator hasten the day when all his children can proclaim, "Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last!"

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