Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Paradox Report

During the Great Migration and Civil Rights movement there arose a phenomenon labeled "The Northern Paradox."

During that period black folks were fleeing the South at historic rates to escape from the violent, stifled lives awaiting them under the steel-toed boot of Jim Crow. By train, bus and automobile, millions and millions of black folks fled oppressive regimes with the goal of reaching Promised Land of the North. With their departure and arrival they reshaped the landscape of this country.

But, as most black folks know, the North was only a Promised Land in the sense that it was nowhere near as horrible as the South. Discrimination, violence and mistreatment were quite prevalent in the North, but the sadistic attitudes of Southerners were thankfully in less prevalent in their northern brethren. Northerners still viewed black people as inferior sub-species unfit for certain jobs, homes and opportunities, but they were less likely to expect the all-encompassing subservience that was the norm in the South.

So, these recent black migrants were confronted with a more subtle form of racism than they were used to. There were no signs telling them their business wasn't wanted in bars, but when they would drink from a glass, the bartender would let them know they weren't welcome by breaking the glass as soon as they finished their beverage. Housing discrimination was the most rampant form of bigotry as the nascent practice of redlining confined black folks to overpriced slums and deprived them of the simplest way to accrue wealth in early American society.

However, it was harder for black of the North to protest these injustices when their Southern brethren were being lynched, attacked by dogs and raped with impunity. The discrimination was clear and obvious, particularly under the modern lens, but during that time it seemed like Northern blacks had a good deal, at least to those white folks who would have had to sacrifice to do better by them.

That was the Northern Paradox, and understanding it is key to understanding the Modern Paradox that black people and all people of color labor under today.

The sliding scale approach to examining racism tends to make it easy for people to ignore persistent and debilitating injustice because there is always someone else doing things a little worse. In modern times, the most outrageous forms of bigotry are often so few and far between that they have been deemed sideshows with little real impact on minority life. Even those forms of discrimination that limit black folks are labeled inconsequential when compared to the advantages we currently have compared to our ancestors.

The meritocracy myth has joined with the Modern Paradox to erect a web of deceit and deprivation whose gossamer strands belie its tremendous strength. Black folks are still bound by the practices of the past, but as we travel farther away from the most heinous crimes of this country's history, it becomes easier to allow them to fade into the Great Beyond while ignoring their present day impact.

That is the paradox of black life in modern America. Surrounded by an oasis of opportunity, but plagued by the persistent feeling that you may never be able to truly find rest.



Brotha Wolf said...

Agreed. No question about it.

Susanne said...

This is a clearly presented hypothesis that absolutely MUST resonate with all thinking people (of color) with any connection to the USA.

Big Man said...

You would think so, but you'd be surprised.

Tom said...

Not only folks of color. It's accurate, it's shameful. And even by the self-serving measure of the country taking advantage of talent it's crazy.

Raving Black Lunatic