The Bible says that Christians should be a little strange.
You know, set apart from the world, living their lives using a different measure of success and happiness. This commitment to peculiarity is a key component of most faiths.
I often find that black people in America are a peculiar people.
In many ways, we're separated from mainstream America and even from other minorities. As a result of our unique experience in this country, we've developed our own special customs and outlook on the world. While that outlook is not shared by all black people, it's fairly common.
And that outlook contains a lot of self-hatred.
I know that was an abrupt transition, but I wrote it that way because I received an abrupt reminder of the depths of African American self-hate earlier this week.
My real job involves me writing news stories. In this job, I interact with the public on a fairly regular basis and I am exposed to a pretty large cross section of society. Since the majority of my stories are about crime, and black people are disproportionately affected by crime, I deal with a lot of black people.
And guess what y'all?
We don't really like each other.
When Hurricane Katrina ripped apart New Orleans and the Gulf Coast it exposed many of the inequities and injustices that had been hidden from much of America for a long time. It also re-opened many racial wounds. Sadly, the most egregious of those wounds were the ones that relate to the way black people see each other.
See, one of the most common refrains since the storm has been that those "refugees" have moved into new areas and messed things up for everybody. When FEMA was looking to place emergency trailers for evacuees in communities that sustained less damage during the storm, residents in those areas often fought harder than the Sunni and Shiite. They cited concerns about falling property values and increased traffic problems, but, most often, they were worried about higher crime.
And, sadly, it wasn't just white folks making these complaints. I sat in governmental meetings where I heard black people use the term "Section 8" like it was an epithet. I saw them make snide remarks about lazy black people who didn't want to work and who only wanted to have babies and rob people.
These types of sentiments have not evaporated since the storm. On Tuesday, I had a woman call me at work to discuss some burglaries in her neighborhood and it wasn't long before she noted that everything went downhill once those "Katrina folk" showed up. She tried to be polite, but it was clear she viewed these interlopers as unwashed barbarians invading her pristine neighborhood.
The woman who called me was black and the Katrina folk she mentioned were black. But, it was obvious from her tone that they weren't her type of black folks.
I remember when federal officials first decided to re-open some of New Orleans' public housing complexes after the storm. One of my friends said both she and her father yelled "Noooooooo" when they first heard about the plans on the evening news because they were convinced that undesirable black people were going to move back home in droves and ruin the city.
While there is no doubt that some residents of public housing complexes commit crimes, the sentiment that re-opening public housing would hasten the city's fall into chaos was more suited to an idiotic bigot than this intelligent black woman. And even though she admitted some shame at her thoughts, it was obvious that she believed they were rooted in reality and brutal honesty.
Look, I'm not trying to argue that black folks have some sort of monopoly on self hatred. Latinos, Asians and white folks often make denigrating comments about certain segments of their communities. But, sometimes it seems like black people take a special pleasure in tearing each other down.
It's shocking that although black people are constantly battling to avoid having negative stereotypes applied to them by other ethnic groups, we gleefully embrace those stereotypes when talking about each other. We easily assume the worst about other black people, and are rarely willing to give each other the benefit of the doubt in our daily interactions. Oh, we'll cut some shady black politician a bit of slack, but when it comes to that group of young brothers hanging out on the corner, our first reaction is to call the police and turn on our alarm systems.
Now, I'm not blind to the reality that many black people have internalized the negative stereotypes applied to our race by mainstream America. Nor do I underestimate the impact this negative imagery still has our our collective psyches.
But, I sense something even more insidious at work. See, I think that many black people consciously and unconsciously believe that a willingness to make negative comments about our race is proof of an ability to think critically and objectively. For far too long we've been told that it's impossible for black people to ever move past the issue of race and just be Americans. Consequently, I think many of us, even the well-intentioned among us, think that being willing to criticize seemingly uncouth and irresponsible black people is a sign that we are ready to assume full citizenship.
How many times have you heard a black person preface the use of a reprehensible stereotype with the phrase, "You know I have to keep it real...?" How often have you heard black folks say "I know we shouldn't air dirty laundry.." before launching into an all out attack on some segment of the black community? It seems like most black people believe that the easiest way to display their intelligence is to launch into a litany of complaints about the black community at the slightest provocation.
Now think about the last time you heard a white person make similar statements?
If you're like me, the answer is very rarely. White folks attack those they view as "white trash," but they rarely do so in an effort to prove their objectivity or fairness. Many of them assume that their white skin automatically makes them objective no matter what type of ill-informed bile spews from their lips. Other minorities may show signs of self-hate in their critiques of each other, but none of them has taken it to the level of black people.
Look, attempting to prove our worth by tearing down other black people is extremely counter-productive. Not only does it breed division and anger, but it also helps to brand successful black people as deviations from the norm. It also reinforces racist mindsets, particularly in people who are just itching for a reason to write off black people as a whole. We don't need to prove our citizenship to any other ethnic group because our birth certificates have been filled out with the blood of slaves.
Accusing other black people of bringing down the race, even as a joke, shows a level of self-deprecation that has crossed the line into self-hatred.
Don't be so peculiar.
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