9.14.12 By Malcolm King
Throughout this summer I have had many courses that have challenged my thinking about social justice. Amid the turmoil of trying to understand my life, my personal history, and my relationship to oppression, I have been inundated with what this all means for my life as a black man in America. There’s no easy answer for it, no single solution to the turbulence of what W.E.B. Du Bois calls the double consciousness.
I’ve been processing this feeling for about 25 years (that is, my whole life): Seems as though no matter what I do, I’ve always had difficulty being black in America. Though it happens often, those not-so-pleasant reminders that I don’t belong never fail to leave a bitter taste in my mouth – whether it’s arguing with a security guard about an item I’ve purchased to the point of having to show my receipt, or having a Caucasian use the n-word to refer to one of my brethren, or getting accused in an academic setting that I can’t speak or write anything except Ebonics because of the color of my skin.
Beware of the talking monkey.
For many black people, this becomes a complex procedure of keeping your composure while quietly falling apart. Swallow your pride. Keep your head down. Try to find a place for so many days of your life when you’ve been forced to maintain a smile and a calm demeanor while being so angry you could spontaneously combust just saying hello. Take your lumps. Live to fight another day. To quote Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man:
Or again, you often doubt if you really exist. You wonder whether you aren’t simply a phantom in other people’s minds. Say, a figure in a nightmare which the sleeper tries with all his strength to destroy. It’s when you feel like this that, out of resentment, you begin to bump people back. And, let me confess, you feel that way most of the time.
I see it every day in my experience. People within my race try to quantify my “blackness” and people outside my classification box try to essentialize it. Every day becomes a complicated process of trying to offset racial stereotypes that would be so easy to fall into. I have had it up to here with being anybody but myself. I’m trying to deal with it all, and still find a way to make meaning out of this tumultuous cloud of hurt, which blinds me from the enlightenment of Truth. I struggle daily with the burden of my experience. And I pause with the immutable dissonance of my private struggle to tackle a public challenge.
How do I allow what I have gone through to become a lightning rod that is a catalyst for change? In what ways are my students going to harbor the same dormant aggression I have toward oppressive forces? What do I do with a hurt that runs more than seven generations back? How am I going to help others cope with a trauma for which I am still in recovery?
more from Malcolm King on the blog
more about Young Achievers Science and Mathematics Pilot School on the blog