By Edwin Crayton/Opinion
The racist still has one significant advantage over the black person. From a block away the racist can usually visually identify black skin. This gives him or her time to formulate an attack or get a shot off. The simple truth is, in America, skin color is a kind of currency. This strange currency system works something like this: the closer your skin color is to white, the higher the value it will be given in the society. However, the closer your skin color it is to black, the less value society will place upon you. History provides the evidence. In the 18th Century, politicians passed legislation that said blacks slaves were each to be considered 3/5 of a man. For much of the 19th and early 20th Centuries, comics and actors painted their faces grotesquely black and ridiculed blacks. This was so socially acceptable that the first movie with sound—1927’s The Jazz Singer— featured the star Al Jolson, singing to his “Mammy” while in blackface. Pick up practically any dictionary and look up the words “white” and “black” and you will generally discover that the word white is linked to positive values and black is linked to negative ones.
The tradition of devaluing blackness in America and in Western Culture has been handed down throughout the generations. When you devalue a people you can treat them brutally while feeling little or no guilt. That is why the nation could in earlier eras feel comfortable profiting from slavery, then Jim Crow racial segregation and today still profits from more subtle forms of racism. But please do not jump to the conclusion that this one of those articles meant to blame white people alone for racist attitudes towards black skin. No. This article is meant to blame all of us. I am including myself in that. We all are guilty on some level of at least sometimes, having a negative reaction to black skin. That is because we have all been programmed to do so. In fact, our negative relationship to black skin is so embedded into our hearts and minds, we do not often realize it until an event reveals it or it slips out. For instance, in 1954, a psychological experiment by Kenneth and Mamie Clark, African American psychologists, used white dolls and black dolls to show the effects of racial segregation on black children. They gave groups of black children a black doll and white doll and allowed them to play with them. Then they asked the children to choose which doll was more like them. The black children predominately identified with the white doll. When asked to identify with the black doll, some children even ran out of the room crying— disturbed by the notion of having to identify with the black one. Today perhaps the negative reaction to black skin is not so easy to spot. But it is there. Be honest. If you were to turn on your TV and 95% of the people in the shows and commercials were black, would you change the channel? And if you kept flipping and realized all the channels were all black, would you call the station? Point is, we expect white people to be the dominant image in America. All of us. Even those who consider themselves anti-racist. Over the past months, multicultural groups of young protesters have been staging protests against violence against African Americans at the hands of police officers. They may protest as a multiracial group, but chances are they will return to neighborhoods with very little or no racial integration. And what music do you think many of these young protestors probably listen to? Would you really be surprised to hear the N word in many of the hip hop or rap songs pulsing through the earphones of these young people? In fact, when you hear the word “Nigger” today, is it most likely coming from the mouth of a young black person?
Solving police brutality will take good ideas and reforms. Although I must say, I do not think it is a good idea to defund the police. It will hurt blacks in crime-infested, poor neighborhoods. Solving the nation’s problem with black skin requires more than programs. It will take honesty, sober reflection and self-examination from every one of us as much as it requires outrage at tragic viral videos. You do not have to put your knee on a black man’s neck until he dies to react in a racist way. You can practice it more subtly, by noticing a company competing for to get your business is black-owned and determining they are not ready, based on nothing more than “feelings”. Or perhaps, you might hear the words “my black friend” slip out of your mouth before you can retrieve them. What is a black friend? Or a white one? Why the modifier? Or a young black rapper can deposit a large paycheck in his bank account, ignoring the fact that the hit song that made that money demeans the black community and uses filthy language, including the N word—adding to stereotypes of blacks. Yes, black lives matter. But black skin still matters too, even though it should not. How do we arrive at a place where it does not matter at all? A few thousand years ago, in Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus graciously gave those around him a simple formula that should help: 1) Love God with all your heart, soul and mind. 2) Love your neighbor as you love yourself. He said on these two commandments, basically the whole Bible is based. When we surrender to Jesus, we will begin to love God. When we love God, he transforms our hearts and helps us become new creatures. His standard of morality becomes our own. When we are transformed in this way, we are then empowered with a Holy Spirit that allows us to love others in the way that we usually love ourselves. When we love others, we are then much less likely to put them in a deadly chokehold or to discriminate against them. The Scriptures place a great value on love. It even says, God is love (1 John 4:8). It also warns that we cannot say we love God, whom we have never seen, if we cannot love our neighbor, who we see every day (1 John 4:19-20).
At the start of this article I put forth a scene of a racist who hated someone the split second he could see the color of his skin. How do we stop this racist? In the classic TV Show “Leave it to Beaver” Beaver’s dad told him one way you can stop a bully is by not becoming like him. We can stop that racist by not becoming like him and by honestly examining our own negative attitudes towards black skin. And yes, that applies even if your skin, like mine is black.
“White people and black people have one thing in common. Neither of them like black people.”
–Comedian Chris Rock
“If you’re white, you’re alright. If you’re brown, you can stick around. But if you are black, get back!”
–20th Century childhood rhyme, once used by children in the black community
“Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
–Jesus Christ, Matthew 7:12
The views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Natchitoches Parish Journal. If you have an article or story of interest for publishing consideration by the NPJ, please send it to NPJNatLa@gmail.com.