The social and political conditions that fostered our differences have long existed in the United States. American history is replete with periods (e.g., slavery, Jim Crow, separate but equal) that contributed to thwart the progress of its black citizens. This fact is undeniable and not remotely debatable. What is debatable, however, is how particular black citizens and particular black families responded to these periods. The responses made (then and now) characterize and demarcate the line between black advancers/progressives and black delayers.
It would be simple mindlessness to assert that all of us were similarly or equally affected by these periods and their threats. Character attributes such as resiliency (to repeated deterrents) and hardiness (in the face of future obstacles) contribute greatly to our individual approaches to difficult periods and threats. These attributes manifest themselves differently between each of us and may even be different within each of us in varied situations.
How We Respond to Adversity Defines Us (Then and Now)
How each of us responds to pressure, stress, trauma, and attrition is idiosyncratic. True enough, most black Americans were under similar circumstances. But how we, as humans, individually react is affected by many factors. In essence, while our threats may have been common, our responses were not. For example, some persons may exhibit depression, feelings of isolation, and decreased self-esteem in reaction to what they perceive as uncontrollable life circumstances. They may adopt and model for their children a sense of helplessness and an inactive stance in the face of such adversity. Others, under the very same conditions, may exhibit resiliency, fortitude, and increased drive. They may redouble their efforts and likely adopt and model for their children a hopeful and active stance in the face of adversity.
We black persons are variant. We are not the same. For anyone to suggest common goals, outlooks, and heart for black Americans based simply on our common beginnings or common threats is wrong-minded. Such a suggestion is reductionistic. That is, I and millions of other unique and self-defined individuals are maliciously reduced to black males and black females—primarily, fatefully, and conclusively. However, neither in thoughts nor in deeds are we all alike. We are NOT the same.
Moving from Race Matters to Character Matters
Consider, for a moment, that I might be a self-defined and unique individual. I know it’s difficult to conceive (me being black and all), but humor me for a few mad, impetuous moments. I am me: not a representative of my race; not a leader, harbinger, trailblazer, or role model; not even one of the brothers or a keeper of the Dream, but only an individual. As an individual, I have range and variability. Those attributes have helped me evolve beyond my genesis. I grow and develop and move forward as a result.
Those other black persons (you know-the ones we talked about earlier) squash individuality, range, and variability. They strive—and enjoin the rest of us to strive—to be or remain black, whatever that means. They look askance at activities that would move them beyond their genesis and their black selves. Ultimately, they are delayers in the succession from race matters to character matters. I and those of my ilk are advancers/progressives. We couldn’t be any more different from black delayers. Even our watchwords attest to our lack of familial connection. They “keep it real”, while we “keep on keeping on.”
Moving Beyond Black Tribalism
Without a doubt, we are not family. To insist we are is pathology, embedded deep in the American psyche and resistant to cure. It is our history as black collective—our clannishness—that causes us (and damned near everyone else on the planet) to discount our multifariousness, that is, to discount ourselves beyond race. For those of us who swallow the black American family-at-large concept, it is codependence tying all of us to those supposed “family” members who rush to embrace dysfunctional behaviors. Insistence upon the black family-at-large concept has become, through racism and through our own misguidance, a cultural truism for United States society specifically and for the world in general.
Well, that’s all the time we have for today. We’ll pick up again next week.
BE WELL, AND KEEP STRETCHING!
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Dr. James Davison, Jr. is a licensed psychologist and university professor. He conducts a private practice in Seattle, Washington, and has appeared on several nationally-aired programs including The Phil Donahue Show, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and C-SPAN. Dr. Davison hails from Philadelphia, and is the author of several books – Prisoners Of Our Past and Sweet Release, and the upcoming Paid In Full – related to individuality and personal freedom for African-Americans.