Posts Tagged ‘patriarchy’

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This series seeks to help create a body of resistance literature that will chronicle the collective radicalization of a Black Masculinity movement that seeks to decolonize our minds and invent identities, in resistance, that transcend stereotypes. We will speak up and force the world to deal with us. Let the Black Masculinity movement begin.

The Story

I have recently been placing a lot of thought into what some would consider the feminist thoughts of Black women and the implications they held for Black men. I particularly explored 2 interesting videos by Black women that were very provocative but made powerful statements on a number of levels: Erykah Badu’s “Window Seat” and Nicki Minaj’s “Lookin Ass Niggas.” regardless of how anyone felt about either video, it was clear that these visual images along with their lyrical content made powerful statements that elicited a myriad of responses. For Black men, I think, there is a powerful statement being made in regards to Black female sexuality that should be explored.

Isis

Isis

Badu and Minaj

In watching Badu’s walking the street of downtown Dallas, Texas slowly undressing, part of me was just waiting to see if she was going to actually go all the way nude. But by the time she does and is shot down in the video closing the video with a short monologue stating:

They play it safe, are quick to assassinate what they do not understand. They move in packs ingesting more and more fear with every act of hate on one another. They feel most comfortable in groups, less guilt to swallow. They are us. This is what we have become. Afraid to respect the individual. A single person within a circumstance can move one to change. To love herself. To evolve.

-Eyrkah Badu

I found my arousal to be more intellectual than sexual. My first thought was ‘what the fuck does that mean?’ I then jumped on YouTube to watch the video again and take in the lyrics and the images that were being depicted. After the second view I was smiling and nodding because I respected the bold statement. On third view I was throwing my fist in the air because Badu, as only she can, had inspired thought, challenged the status quo, made a poetic and socially conscious stratement boldly and artistically. Badu’s statement – no doubt – incited Dallas officials to take legal action against her because the guerilla filming sought no approval from the city for its filming and her nudity threatened the integrity of the city and its ability to protect its citizens from nudity (lol).

Nicki Minaj who is one of the few female Hip Hop artists with mainstream visibility. I found Nicki’s Lookin Ass Niggas single to be fascinating. Especially when analyzed in conjunction with the video. Here is Nicki, scantily clad, sensually posed, and sexually alluring. However, the content of the song contrasts with what the visual images might normally suggest to a man. Even while Nicki stares coyly at the camera she tells her male onlookers to “stop lookin at my ass ass niggas” while arching her back so her ass is looking at you (whether you look back or not). Nicki let’s it be known that she is not going to forgo her sensuality or shroud her body to not be objectified by a man; she’s just not going to be objectified. Her sensuality/sexuality is not for make consumption.

The Problem

One of the most poignant comments that I have heard made me really ponder my thoughts about Black women and the appeal/sexual desire for Black women. It was when Erykah Badu — in response to the criticism of her Window Seat video said:

People are uncomfortable with sexuality that is not for male consumption

– Erykah Badu

So perhaps the problem was not integrity but some flaw in the patriarchal way that we view the female body and the contexts in which we allow it to occur publicly. Badu’s statement was such a powerful one  because it made me clear that the mainstream of American society is more accepting of nudity/sensuality when it is grounded in lust. One needs to look no further than popular television to see the growing trend of full female frontals and male backsides (that would have been taboo a decade ago) to see that we have become more liberal in our censorship and in what we consider improper. However, the country goes into an uproar when say Janet Jackson’s nipple is accidentally exposed during a performance or when a female music artists don outfits that look like lingerie or when a singer goes nude in a video to make an artistic statement. E. Badu is definitely onto something, especially in considering the Black female body.

The Point

When I truly consider the statement that Badu made, it really opens a window of consciousness of which I had previously been unaware. I had never considered the thought that a woman could wear something sexy and revealing and it not be for the attention of men. In true patriarchal fashion I never thought twice about this. Now that is not to be confused with the thought that some people (make and female) have in believing a woman is asking to be raped, harassed, groped, or grabbed because of what she’s wearing. I’ve never thought that but what makes sexism so sinister is that like other oppressive forms of thinking it situated itself in your consciousness in a way that tells you that it is “normal” and “truthful” and, therefore, okay to think and there’s no need to question it.

The Black female body is not an object to be consumed nor is her sensuality/sexuality a commodity to be possessed. These things are an extension of her identity and are shared at her discretion. No man (or person for that matter) should think themselves entitled to or worthy of that gift. If she wants you to have it, she’ll let you know (“nigga nigga”).

 

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

 

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This series seeks to help create a body of resistance literature that will chronicle the collective radicalization of a Black Masculinity movement that seeks to decolonize our minds and invent identities, in resistance, that transcend stereotypes. We will speak up and force the world to deal with us. The first step is to come back to ourselves.

The Story

I met an African woman at an eating area near my job once. I used to see her there early in the morning smoking. One day she came up to me and asked me if I had a light for the cigarette she held in her hand. I looked into my backpack and handed her a lighter. As she lit her cigarette she smiled and we made small talk. I found out she owned one of the restaurants in the area. She kept looking around her as she smoked and I asked her what was wrong. She laughed and said that her husband and children didn’t know she smoked. I asked her if that’s why I would see her chain smoking in the mornings and she laughed and said yes. She said she couldn’t smoke at home. She said that her husband was African as well and that where she was from women didn’t smoke or do things like that — that it was frowned upon. She said that women are held in high regard but they are expected to be and act a certain way or it is considered shameful to their family. When I heard this I had a mixed reaction. Part of me thought it was nice that Black women were revered but then I thought that if that reverence pressured them into ways of being that didn’t come naturally then maybe that’s not such a good thing. I asked her how she felt about that and her reaction was almost as mixed as mine. She liked that women were treated with reverence but she didn’t like that they were boxed in terms of behavior.

Long after our conversation I kept thinking about the things she’d said and the way she’d said them. And then I thought about my reaction and thoughts about what she’d said. It took a few months for me to really come up with the words to articulate, but when it came down to it, I thought that the whole thing was about desire and possession from the male gaze.

The Systemsblack madonna

In thinking about that meeting with the woman I met, I thought about Black women in America and they suffer a similar dynamic of oppression. America being an imperialist, capitalist, white-supremacist, patriarchy shapes the mainstream opinion through the gaze of men (usually rich White men). That gaze when placed upon women often offers only 2 stations in life: madonnas and whores.

The reason for these polarized options for women lies in the systems of oppression that shape the majority of male thinking. Most specifically imperialism and patriarchy. These two systems impress upon the male thinking and direct the male gaze in such a manner that creates an oppressive presence to women.

Imperialism teaches the male mind to conquer and possess that which is desired. For example, the colonists who fled Britain in search of freedom desired a country of their own and they stumbled upon America and despite finding it populated with people, they sought to conquer those people and possess their land. This is the sentiment that American ideals teach men is manly, masculine, and/or appropriate male behavior.

Patriarchy teaches the male mind that women are objects separate and different from men. Patriarchy objectifies women through the validation of physical differences chosen by natural selection to create male and female. This distinction is further exploited by patriarchy and social conditioning to create a position for women that is separate (as it should be to some extent) but not equal (as it never should be) to men. This objectification makes a dynamic between men and women where women are objects to be desired by men and (through imperialistic teaching) conquered and possessed. This is the American male gaze which mostly offers women two options: madonna or whore.

Madonnas and Whoresisis9

The madonna is desired for her purity and self-sacrifice. She is the archetype of everything good in a woman from the imperialistic patriarchal gaze. She is the madonna: almost a goddess, to be worshiped for her chastity, her devotion to man, and her willingness to sacrifice herself for his cause. Even when she is not sought after to be possessed physically through sex, marriage, or slavery, she is possessed through the males fantastical reverence and worship of her. Don’t be fooled that this is not oppression, it very much is. It is the most insidious form of oppression in that it manifests in the likeness of love — a doppelgänger of affection. The oppression takes place in that it does not allow the woman who is relagated to the Madonna position to be human, flawed, full of contradictions, imperfections, desires, and urges. She is the Madonna meant to sit quietly on eternal captivation of her husband and son (almost never daughter). She is a statue to be attended to and never engaged.

The whore is the other woman. Her station is low and unrespectable. Because of that station she is expected to bear the lowest treatment and to succumb to the males filthiest urges. She is the un-revered object that is meant for possession, use, and disposal. The whore is the antithesis of the Madonna: she is common and  tangible and all of the desire for her possession is related to that which has already possessed her and/or her willingness to subservient to man. There is a freedom to be obtained from the whore in that, unlike the Madonna, the whore requires nothing (whereas the Madonna requires reverence and devotion). The whore shares a similar oppression as the Madonna because she too is not human: she is not allowed to have feelings and she is not worthy of true love.

The Problem

The issue is that women are just as complex (if not more) creatures as men. There is no 1 or 2 archetypes that describe every woman. Nor can any archetypes describe any individual woman who may move through a number of characteristics associated with anyone archetype or stereotype. Her development should not be constrained by a singular period of her development in which she explored any aspect of herself. Often men are afforded the benefit of having a period of exploration in which he can be and act in complete opposition to the man he one day becomes; however, he is not condemned to wearing a scarlet letter for his actions. In many ways women are not expected to uphold the stringent requirements of the madonna position. But they are usually looked down upon if it is ever discovered that they have not. Opening_of_the_Mouth_-_Tutankhamun_and_AjaThat is a problem. Like all human beings, women, should be allowed redemption as much as the next guy. to assert that a man can have a faze of ‘sowing his oates’ and asserting that a woman does not or shoudl not have similar urges is preposterous. Women, like every other human being on this planet, is flawed and is growing and learning within the their own developmental capacity. That should never make her less or more of a respectable woman. It should, in fact, make her human. Just as much human as any man.

The Point

The issue is that these 2 options of madonna or whore leaves no room for women to assert themselves as both sensual and sexual beings without the restriction of the male gaze. They are boxed in, by the male gaze, as 2 polarized extremees for which most women would fall along the spectrum (making them more human and equal to men) rather than one or the other. If we are to interact with women in a contemporary sense and allow them the freedom of personal expression that is offered to men, then we will have to realize that not every madonna is a goddess and not every whore is a disposable object. Women, like men, are capable of a diverse and contradictory arrangement of actions and values that may or may not be aligned with these traditional thoughts.

Women have every right to be a combination of traits that might fit within some of these traditional modes of thinking without their being bound to the extreme of the requirements for either. Women, like men, are human beings capable of a myriad of thoughts and behaviors that do not constitute any one persona. If we are to heal the connection between men and women, the imperialistic, patriarchal standard of the male gaze must be sacrificed to allow women the privilege and opportunity to be completely human: however flawed and imperfect that may be.

I’m not just sayin’; I’m just sayin’,

An Angry Black Man

 

 

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This series seeks to help create a body of resistance literature that will chronicle the collective radicalization of a Black Masculinity movement that seeks to decolonize our minds and invent identities, in resistance, that transcend stereotypes. We will speak up and force the world to deal with us. The first step is to come back to ourselves.

The Story

At this time in our country there is an interconnection of struggles. As a macrocosm, the larger struggles affect those on the smaller levels. For the Black community this means that now alongside our own struggles for justice, equality, developing a national identity, and healing the Black family connection, we also have the struggle of economic survival, the struggle to maintain our cultural heritage, and the struggle to gain greater representation in the public discourse.

In the wake of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, there have been, naturally, waves of criticism. However what I find most troubling is that from many of Black voices seeking to critique the President’s initiative there is a single issue they all seem to have: that the initiative focuses on Black and Latino boys. While no one denies the very specific issues that Black and Latino boys and men face in this country, there seems to be a objection to addressing those specific issues exclusively in one initiative. Most problematic is the criticism of Black people against the initiative. I’m sure the initiative will not be without its flaws or its kinks to be worked out — what initiative or policy has ever started out as great and imperfect? However, most of the criticisms from the Black voices demonstrate divisive thinking that doesn’t serve the greater interest of anyone.

The Problem

The phrasing of the arguments against the exclusivity of the initiative’s focus is the tell tale sign of the petty divisive minds behind the thoughts. These critics are not saying that the problem is that the initiative focuses on Black and Latino boys; they’re saying its a problem that it doesn’t include girls.

The author of one article that I read stated that:

But when black men occupy space at the center of the discourse, black women lose critical ground. I wish these struggles did not feel like zero sum struggles. I wish that black men — Barack Obama included — had the kind of social analysis that saw our struggles as deeply intertwined.

Whoa. That comment is sophomoric in sentiment, realistically ignorant, intellectually stagnant. This particular author cites for paragraphs the specific disparities and struggles that are evidenced in the lives of Black and Latino men and somehow ends with this conclusive thought, which in itself produces the same divisive logic that the author chides the President for.

The fractured relationship between Black men and Black women bears the strain of these other struggles along with the gender specific issues that we face on a daily basis. The weight of these struggles sits on our shoulders like the world on Atlas’ back. We are strained and frustrated and all we really want is for some things to change. Our thirst for this change is the crux of the rift between Black men and Black women. We have allowed our justice to blind us to the singular truth of how we have survived the tragedies that have been inflicted upon us over the last decades: we belong to each other and we are stronger together.phonto-2

Reconciliation

I would never assert that things such as misogyny, male bashing, and racism do not need to be addressed; they do. However, that is not an excuse for us to approach the topic any kind of way. We have become selfish and capricious in our battle against these attacks on us. Where we should be examining the threat and discovering its roots so that we might yank them from their grounding, we go into a blind rage that makes us see anything different from us as an opposition and, ultimately, a threat. This is the only way that I can fathom that Black men and Black women could ever suggest that we are enemies of each other.

I, personally, as a Black man have and always will love Black women. They have always been one of the most beautiful and intriguing beings I have encountered on this planet. I was given life by a Black woman. It was a black woman’s arms that first held me. It was a Black woman’s lips that first kissed me. It was a Black woman’s disappointment that first convicted me. It was a Black woman’s pain that first cut my heart. It was a Black woman’s love that forced me to become a man. It was a Black woman’s support that helped heal my hurt. It was a Black woman’s presence that first made my dreams seem real. In short, I cannot speak for every Black man, nor can I wholly explain the hared and anger some Black men may feel towards Black women but I cannot believe that they are the majority. It is also my love for Black women and my desire to see Black men and Black women, as a whole, reconciled to one another. That love demands that we be critical of one another — but not for the sake of uplifting ourselves at the detriment of the other. That wouldn’t be love at all: not love of one’s self or love of one’s community.

If only one party in the relationship is working to create love, to create the space of emotional connection, the dominator model remains in place and the relationship just becomes a site for continuous power struggle.

– Bell Hooks

The Point

Only a mind that has not yet been decolonized would think that there is room for only one struggle. America is full of struggles happening simultaneously and not every one is in opposition to the others. Mainstream society, the media specifically works from rules that do not have a vested interest in anything outside of itself as an institution (as most institutions do). Often there is only 15 minutes of attention given for any major event that has ties to a deeper struggle. These event s are serv

There is a balance that must be found between loving one’s Black self, loving Black women, and loving other Black men. There is no need to choose one and forsake the other — I have no idea where we have come up with this notion, which is a complete affront the very concept of Love. That would be like asking a parent to pick one child to love and hate the rest: it’s illogical, unnecessary, and it is the sign of an immature soul ignorant of the truth about Love. Love does not use ultimatums, generalities, and extremes. What makes Love such a powerful force worth reverence is that it can be all things at all times to all people. Love would never ask one to sacrifice one’s self in its name — we invented that idea. Love does not have a shallow reservoir for which a person much choose to not love too many things or too many people for fear of running out. There is enough Love to go around. Love is what we most lack right now and it is what we most need.

I’m not sayin’; I’m just sayin’,

An Angry Black Man

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A series, inspired by the CNN special, dedicated to race related identity issues concerning Black people in America.

The Story

More than any other group in America, the Black community has been thoroughly colonized into embodying the tragic American Nationalist identity. That identity being framed by imperialism, white-supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy, flaws the ideologies produced by American culture. For the ideologies of the Black community, this is dangerously problematic.

American Nationalism

The framework of American Nationalism instills, in Americans who embrace it, a way of being and acting that is anchored by certain values and principles that justify these behaviors. For instance the fact that part of American Nationalism is an imperialistic world view and a white-supremacist domestic view means that those who embrace American Nationalism, inadvertently approach people who are non-white as non-American and anyone non-American is engaged with an air of fascism that relegates those individuals to being inferior because they are different. The other part of the American Nationalist framework is capitalism and patriarchy. Both of these ideologies provide the groundwork for hostile interpersonal relationships between citizens. In America, it is capitalism that creates social class and patriarchy that promotes gender supremacy (for males ofcourse). Capitalism with its promise of an economy not regulated by the government and the opportunity for anyone to ‘make it big’ is America’s greatest delusion. However, many Americans support and protect capitalism (usually the ones who have made gains within it or at least have the potential to). For Minorities (and by minorities I mean non-white ethnic groups and women) the playing field of capitalism is a mountain that begins on a slippery hill beneath the plateau that White Americans usually begin their climb. This means that because we begin with a deficit of financial resources and because of discrimination our ability to accumulate financial resources through working income or income generating assets, the playing field is not leveled. Since the capitalism relies on competition to obtain the greatest gains and the only way to be competitive is to have access to financial resources, which we can scarcely accumulate, then, in truth, we are never let into the game let alone allowed to play. This creates hostility between the haves and the have nots. It creates a social class system that surrounds material assets, prestige, and power. The 99% of Americans who do not and my never obtain such wealth, spend their lives working to try and obtain it. For minorities it becomes an obsession. For Black people, in particular, it becomes the standard against which we measure our lives, social standing, success, and self esteem.

Party to Privilege

It is from this obsession that if Black people have fought for the equal opportunity to access those things that they feel will allow them to climb the mountain of capitalistic success. Enter Affirmative Action. This piece of legislation opened doors for Black people — doors people still didn’t want open. So, even when Black people got there, they were met with resistance, discrimination, and prejudice. Being surrounded by an environment like that on a daily basis with no space to nurture, heal, and resist the bombarding messages, is dangerous. It often fractures the psyche of that individual as they try to reconcile how they have finally arrived but not really arrived at all.

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The national middle class which takes over power at the end of the colonial regime is an under-developed middle class. It has practically no economic power, and in any case it is in no way commensurate with the bourgeoisie of the mother country which it hopes to replace. In its wilful narcissism, the national middle class is easily convinced that it can advantageously replace the middle class of the mother country.

– Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

Those individuals who have been offered a seat at the welcome table and become party to privilege soon find that entry to these spaces and access to these opportunities does not erase the hatred that sought to keep them out. Instead the hatred just finds other ways of expressing itself and limiting the potential. This is something I have often seen in academia. I remember meeting Black students who were attending or had attended prestigious white universities. I remember all too often they looked like the walking dead. There seemed to be something hollow behind their eyes and they were defensive. These were the people that I saw viciously criticize their own community. And not in the tough love kind of way, they did it the way someone from outside the community might do it: with ignorance. What happened was they had gained access to this new world and in order to survive they had to assimilate. That brought a level of detachment from their own community. So that they could no longer understand their own people — and in many cases these students had always gone to predominately white schools and, therefore, never really had a sense of understanding Black people beyond their families. That is the cost of the ticket when you want to sit at the table of the privileged and even while you are allowed to sit and eat as a guest, you will never be considered a resident.

This native bourgeoisie, which has adopted unreservedly and with enthusiasm the ways of thinking characteristic of the mother country, which has become wonderfully detached from its own thought and has based its consciousness upon foundations which are typically foreign, will realize, with its mouth watering, that it lacks something essential to a bourgeoisie: money. The bourgeoisie of an under-developed country is a bourgeoisie in spirit only.

– Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

The Talented Tenth

It is from this kind of experience that W.E.B. DuBois formulates his theory of the Talented Tenth. I remember reading The Negro problem for the first time and I remember the distaste I had while reading the essay, The Talented Tenth. I kept re-reading it because all of my professors went on and on about DuBois and I had researched the term after hearing one of my professors make mention of it to the class by telling us that we were as college students part of the talented tenth and that we had a duty to fulfill. So I kept reading this essay and I kept thinking, this motherfucker is elitist as hell! I finally decided that regardless of what anyone thought, that whole theory was bogus and problematic and that DuBois wasn’t all that to me. It was some years later when I returned to DuBoise body of work and discovered that he, himself, had later denounced the entire idea (now why the hell doesn’t anyone ever talk about that?! I guess because talented tenth is catchy and sounds nice).

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When I came out of college into the world of work, I realized that it was quite possible that my plan of training a talented tenth might put into control and power a group of selfish, self indulgent well-to-do men, whose basic interest in solving the negro problem was personal; personal freedom and unhampered enjoyment and use of the world, without any real care, or certainly no arousing care as to what became of the mass of American negroes or of the mass of any people. — Selfishness is even more natural than sacrifice.

– W.E.B. DuBois, The Talented Tenth Memorial Address

DuBois, with an emphasis on education as a means of liberation, built this ideology in the hopes that other Black people who, like him, were finally gaining access to higher education, would lead their people. However, what he found beyond the safety of the academy was a much different reality. This revelation that he makes in his address clearly describes what has become of the Black middle class/Black Bourgeoisie, which by DuBois’ estimations would be the academics. Today’s Black academics take their seat at the welcome table and the only true concern that they have is to secure and retain their place and enjoy and use the world to secure a better place at the table of white-supremacy. That is our talented tenth.

The Guiding Hundredth

In his memorial address, DuBois revisioned his idea of the talented tenth of what he’d learned of the world outside the academy and the theories of Karl Marx and more radical minds. He then suggested that we realize that the struggle would have to be a “group-leadership” in which not just a few elites would change the destiny of the people, but the people themselves ‘with clear vision of present world conditions and dangers.”

This, then, in my re-examined and restated theory of the “Talented Tenth,” which has thus become the doctrine of the “Guiding Hundredth.”

-W.E.B. DuBois, The Talented Tenth Memorial Address

For whatever reason, it is only quietly noted that the concept of the Talented Tenth is an ideology that would never produce its intended results and would, in effect, create internal tensions for the Black community. Yet, we continue to glorify and glamorize it because, like well trained Americans, we want to believe that we are superior and privileged (even though it’s only supposed to be a tenth of the Black population which means some us were not meant to be Talented Tenthers). That is tragedy.

The Problem

The problem is that without first decolonizing one’s mind, a Black leader will stumble blindly through the imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Because they have not redesign and realigned their desires and values, they will only replicate the same system they sought to oppose.

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It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being determines their consciousness.

– Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

Institutions are how ideology is passed along and sustained. This is not to say that any institution, by itself, is evil or bad. This is simply to say that it has an inherent flaw because of the system that designed it and that it must serve. For example, institutions of higher learning are excellent places for intellectual growth and scholarly development; however, most of these institutions serve at the pleasure of the federal government which allocates finances to students through grants and loans to students. So while indirect, there is a level of control beyond the institutions governing powers and that influences what gets taught, how policies are formed, and how students are engaged. So to enter an institution of higher learning is a worthwhile endeavor but one must struggle constantly to retain one’s own sensibilities and ideologies.

The Point

We must recognize that every institution by its inherent design holds the danger of leading us back into the imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy that we are trying to free ourselves from. If anything institutions lure us into them with the promise of freedom and change and once we are there they bombard us with their ideologies. It is an attack on radicalism. The attack is not an overt one; it is a gentle touch that soothes and a sweet voice that hypnotize and convinces us to pledge our allegiance to the lies once more.

Unless we fundamentally change and radicalize the ideologies of our culture, we cannot expect our institutions to do anything more than replicate what has been. Traditional institutions, as they are, cannot save us. This is the lesson to be learned from DuBois’ work on the Talented Tenth and the revision of that theory which became the Guiding Hundredth. That the only thing that will result from elitist, fascist thoughts that are supported by the ideals of American Nationalism, is division, selfishness, and a stagnation in actual progress. If we, as a Black people, are to fight this battle, we are going to have to do it together: as equals, as comrades, as a people.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

References

DuBois, W.E.B. “The Talented Tenth Memorial Address.” 1948

Fanon, Frantz. “The Pitfalls of National Consciousness.” The Wretched of the Earth.

Marx, Karl. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.

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The Story
This tale begins with a revolution. Thirteen British colonies decided to reject the authority of Parliament and break from the empire. The motivation was a wave of liberal thinking that refused to support the aristocracies of Britain. This was the American Revolution which resulted in the Declaration of Independence and the establishment of the United States of America.
The ideology that fueled the revolution and set the tone for the national identity of the United States is best described by the philosophers of the time:
To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and person, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.
A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprical, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal to one amongst another without subordination or subjection, unless the lord and master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will set one above another and confer on him by an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.
– John Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government
But there is another and great distinction for which no truly natural or religious reason can be assigned, and that is the distinction of men into KINGS and SUBJECTS. Male and female are the distinctions of nature, good and bad the distinctions of Heaven; but how a race of men came into the world so exalted above the rest, and distinguished like some new species, is worth inquiring into, and whether they are the means of happiness or of misery to mankind.
                     – Thomas Paine, Common Sense
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It was the revolutionaries hope to convince and assure the colonists that there was no reason that they should be held under the will of Great Britain. They sought to do so by dismantling the notion of aristocracy and the ‘God-given right to rule.’ In order to do so, they took a stance on society that suggested that all men are created equal by natural design. Once independence was achieved, the United States continued to develop their national identity according to the ideology that had won their independence. This is how we can see the appropriateness of the poem that was placed onto the Statue of Liberty:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
– Emma Lazarus, New Colossus
It is then easy to see why the United States would create a national identity that is built on being a refuge for the oppressed. The United States fashioned itself as a global crusader of justice and equality.
Imperialist White-Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy
(4:26 – 8:41)

This term was coined by Bell Hooks to describe the interlocking systems of oppression that are all functioning simultaneously at all times. Hooks’ genius has offered us a completely revolutionary way to think about our place in society. Often we stratify the systems of oppression in society and choose to place those that directly affect us at the top of the list. However, at all times, all of these forms of oppression are at work and an individuals place in society is affected in some way by these systems. It is these systems that make up the framework for the America’s national identity. In order for any American to understand their station in this country, they must at all times consider the systems at work and the way that they affect every person living within them.

One of the most important things to remember when discussing American Nationalism is to remember that it is not actually about identity in the way we would usually think of it. Often we think of individuals as having identities. So we think about imperialism, white-supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy as aspects of individuals personalities or the things that certain individuals do. This is incorrect. These things are social systems.
The crucial thing to remember about patriarchy or any other social system is that it’s something that people participate in. It’s an arrangement of shared understandings and relationships that connect people to one another and something larger than themselves.
– Allan G. Johnson, Patriarchy, the System
American Nationalism is formed through social systems which require participation is significant because it then suggests that without social acceptance, these systems will fail. In order to gain social acceptance from individuals institutions, such as family, religion, academia, legal systems, and mass media, are infused with the characteristics of American Nationalism. Then the institutions convince individuals to believe in and buy into American Nationalism of their own free will.
The Problem

The fact that the United States sought to create a national identity was not the problem — that part is logical for a fledgling country. The problem is that America sought to force its identity upon its inhabitants and its ideology on the world. America required. It was originally thought that the United States would unify the oppressed peoples of the world and give them a place where they could be treated as human beings. It was expected that the people who fled to the United States would adopt the national identity in place of their own ethnic heritage.

The power of American Nationalism, for its defenders, is that it has enabled the “widening of we.” — This process allowed for the incorporation of not-quite-white, but not-quite-not-white Irish, Jewish, and Southern and eastern European immigrants into the canons of whiteness through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries making them Americans first in a legal and then in a cultural sense.
– Nikhil Pal Singh, Black is a Country
It was expected that there would be a universal American identity that all citizens would  want to ascribe to. Much like their British predecessors, the American forefathers never once considered that any ideology other than their own could be right. They believed that everyone would want to ascribe to their philosophies. When they didn’t; America forced them. The problem is that American nationalism is about domination: dominating the inhabitants, dominating the economic market, dominating women, dominating non-White races, and dominating foreign countries. America may have begun as a crusader of oppressed people but somewhere along the line America became the very thing that the original colonists had sought to oppose.
The Point
Any American seeking to explore the truth about who and where they are in this country must begin with an understanding of who this country is. This brief account of the development of American Nationalism is by no mans all encompassing; however it provides a rudimentary understanding of who America is and how we came to be who we are.
When we explore where we began and the intentions that we began with, we can then explore where we are and the huge disparity between the two. This contradiction in the American identity is crucial to understanding, on an individual level, why various individuals are where they are and why it seems that they can never escape the circumstances surrounding their situation. It is because despite what the American philosophy espouses about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness the truth is that the systems that are holding this country together are in complete opposition to those ideals. Those systems are about limitations, control, and reproduction of the system.
We have to constantly critique imperialist white-supremacist patriarchal culture because it is normalized by mass media and rendered unproblematic.
– Bell Hooks, Homegrown: Engaged Cultural Criticism
Americans in general are fairly ignorant in regards to international relations and, therefore, usually have no idea what America looks like in the eyes of the world. We assume — because we are socialized to — that America is a great world leader with global power that is undeniable. Perhaps at one time. What we have become is a global bully with delusions of grandeur. And much of what the individual feels on a personal level is a backlash of the pushing of an international and national agenda that America has to tell the world — including its own citizens — one thing and to behave as another. And every act of activism in this country is about holding America accountable for the promises that it has made; about reminding America of how far she has fallen from her admirable beginnings, in the hopes that she will see the error of her ways and return to those ambitious hopes upon which she was built.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man
References
Hooks, Bell. Homegrown: Engaged Cultural Criticism. South End Press. February 2006.
Johnson, Allan G. Patriarchy, the System.
Paine, Thomas. Common Sense.
Lazarus, Emma. New Colossus.
Singh, Nikhil Pal. Black is a Country: race and the unfinished struggle for democracy. First Harvard University Press. 2004.