For Lack of a Better Word

It’s obvious to anyone who tunes in to social media, watches the news, or reads the paper that racial tension in this country is a serious problem. Some people would blame the rhetoric of certain political figures, but I disagree. These figures haven’t inspired feelings of hatred in anyone, but rather lent bravery to people who already harbor these feelings, encouraging them to wear their rancor like a badge of honor. I can’t call all of it hatred, though. Some honestly believe that “political correctness” results in an imbalance regarding certain freedoms. For example, I recently read a post regarding the celebration of southern heritage. Some people were vehemently opposed, others were in favor. Those in favor wondered why they couldn’t openly celebrate white heritage, when blacks could celebrate their heritage without being beaten up by the media. The comments section was filled with negative opinions on the matter, most of them regarding the freedom blacks apparently have to embrace being black.

I’ve come to the conclusion that what people actually have a problem with is the word “black”. I’ll admit the word can be downright cringe-worthy in some settings. I’ve overheard coworkers spit the word out like a spoonful of salt, unable to tolerate the taste of it on their tongues. It’s like a wretched disease, this “black” thing. At the mention of a celebration of blackness, some folks will immediately become offended, demanding the right to celebrate whiteness. Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: white people actually do celebrate their cultures. I have personally attended festivals honoring Greek, Italian, Irish, Polish, and German traditions. Annually, patrons roam the streets in t-shirts bearing the flag of the nation representative of their lineage, taking in the sounds of bagpipes, or Nino Rota, or the strumming of a mandolin. No one cares that these festivals exist. I certainly don’t, because I have eaten delicious food at all of them. The big difference is that white people don’t need the all-encompassing word “white” to define them. The majority of white person I’ve met have been able to identify the various countries their ancestors hailed from. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for most blacks. I can trace my roots to a plantation in rural Alabama where my ancestors were listed in a property journal and sorted by age and gender.  I have no idea where they actually came from. If I did, I could proudly celebrate Gambian, Nigerian, or Senegalese genealogy by having a parade, setting up tents for vendors, and playing the music of my homeland without ruffling feathers because everyone recognizes the need to embrace one’s culture to a certain degree. An Angolan parade wouldn’t cause people to squirm uncomfortably in their seats. In fact, I’m willing to bet that many white people would find themselves in attendance, probably as eager to try new foods as I always am.

The elephant in the room known as slavery prevents the recognition of our true heritages. Instead, we are relegated to Juneteenth, a celebration of the abolition of slavery. As it is in our nature as human beings to crave a sense of belonging, we cling to the only thing we can readily identify with: our blackness. It’s not the point of this post to point fingers, or shame anyone. I am not holding white folks accountable for what their ancestors may or may not have done to mine. I am merely trying to explain the concept of blackness for those who don’t seem to “get it”.

Back to the post that inspired this haphazardly written rant. The thing I was most confused by was the fact that southern heritage was automatically deemed white heritage. Why is this so? The south has never been occupied solely by white people, as far as I know. Why are assumptions made on both sides regarding who southern heritage can be claimed by? Southern heritage doesn’t belong to white people, nor does it belong to black people. Southern heritage belongs to anyone who can trace their roots to the south, period. What it should be is a celebration of cornbread, corn on the cob, watermelon, fried chicken and sweet tea. Not a celebration of ethnicity and division. Sadly, a southern heritage festival will always ultimately be about race, because unaddressed feelings of anger and hurt still exist. Southern heritage celebrations will continue to be filled with parades of folks flying confederate flags, and said flag flyers will pretend not to understand how a strip of colored cloth could possibly be off-putting. We will continue to conjure up feelings of oppression in matters of happenstance, all the while turning a blind eye to actual injustice. And while blacks and whites at the bottom of the totem pole view each other with antipathy, the true oppressors observe our distractedness in amusement.

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