THE ENEMY WITHIN
Summer of 2020.
Coronavirus was just starting its takeover, shortly before the mask mandates. As a bread vendor, I was working at a store filling the bread on the lower shelves. This anonymous woman (who happened to be White) stopped as she was walking past me. Coming back, she leans down to speak to me and says, “You matter to me.” Quizzically, I replied, “um…thank-you… you matter to me too.”
Perhaps I was just so engrossed in what I was doing that it took me a few moments to realize… she was referring to the Black Lives Matter narrative.
I immediately felt deeply sorry for her. Now, I am aware that there are those I personally know of (who are Black) that would relish with a sense of pride in such a moment like that-but not me. I only thought of how sad of a state that we had arrived at in this country that we were apologizing over the “privilege” of one skin color, while promoting the preeminent importance of another. What happened to our understanding of the line that we could all recite by heart in Dr. Martin Luther King’s iconic speech that says, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character?”
Despite what many claim today, most of us know that the current state of our nation was not always this way. No one was kneeling during the “Star-Spangled Banner.” No statues were being torn from their bases. Schools bearing the names of past leaders that owned slaves were not being renamed. Oh, and Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben and Mrs. Butterworth were only guilty of sitting on the kitchen table-not for being examples of racism. It was during those years that many in Black America not only bore witness, but were living examples of success. Like any other race in America, they faced daily challenges such as unemployment, marital woes, and health issues- as well as familial concerns. Yet, on television in the 70’s, we experienced shows like “Good Times,” “Sanford and Son,” and What’s Happening,” giving us weekly reminders that despite their struggles and trials, they remained close. By the way, the “N” word was commonplace in most of these programs and not considered offensive-even to those that were White!
In the 80’s however, everything seemed to change-for the better. Suddenly, we were seeing upwardly mobile Black families, and Blacks seeking and gaining success in shows like “Living Single”, “Family Matters,” and of course, the flagship of the genre, “The Cosby Show.” Even with its spin-off, “A Different World” that came later, these programs reminded Blacks that our success was only limited by our desire and hard work. In addition, shows like “The Cosby Show” and “Family Matters” presented historical television anomalies: strong, solid Black two-parent functioning families experiencing the American dream, just like their White counterparts. What was most notable about these depictions was that they were more than possible- in many cases we were living them! Black America had realized that we could not only do more-we could be more. We did not stop there. It was also during this time that Oprah Winfrey launched her Emmy award winning syndicated namesake, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and Robert L. Johnson famously founded the phenomenally successful Black Entertainment Television, or BET, and Vanessa Williams became the first Black Miss America. When it came to music, Black artists were hugely successful as well, including Whitney Houston, Prince, Luther Vandross, many singing groups and of course, Michael Jackson-to name a few. Whatever genre you picked, Blacks were making and leaving their mark. From Rap to Hip Hop, from R&B to Jazz, Blacks were not only making and breaking records, but executing style and class. Films boasted names like Denzel Washington, Alfre Woodard, Angela Basset, Samuel L. Jackson, Halle Berry, Wesley Snipes, Whoopie Goldberg, and again-Whitney Houston. With such powerful and legendary strides, it seemed that Black America would continue to take full advantage of an opportunity to go against the grain of its own narrative.
So, what happened?
As we look at the genres of what we consider the arena of Black entertainment today, our present state pales in comparison to what was the standard only a few short years before (those over 40 know this). Most of our television shows echo either the dysfunctional or the victimized Black family, with only mothers in (albeit questionable) leadership roles. In the cases where men are either the subject or merely present, most of their familial leadership roles are devalued, and they are poor examples of fathers, husbands, or men in general. We are bombarded as well with “star” reality shows, where every 3rd word is bleeped (and the “church” reality shows bear little difference). In the area of music, we have fared nearly the same. Most of our music is either vile, hypersexual, crass, or so devoid of morals it is seemingly on purpose.
What happened? We did; or more to the point-victimology .
After many years of echoing, promoting, and exemplifying positive roles and successes, we abdicated our well-earned societal status in lieu of victimology. Somewhere along the way, it seemed the Black populace collectively decided that almost nothing that happened in my life is my fault(insert societal challenge here). Misery loves company, and no one is as miserable as a victim. Someone that feels that no matter what you do, you will never have what you are seeking, because “they” will stop you. Victimology and those that propagate it attempt to erase any hope or promise for the future by convincing individuals that any success they achieve does not say how intelligent they are or how hard they worked, but rather that they beat the system. It does not tell them when they fail that they need to try harder, but rather that their failure is because they are victims of that same system. It also focuses on the false narrative that the only way to be successful is to subvert White authority; in other words, “beat the White man at his game.” It also convinces those that have achieved success to either continue to regale your public on how “oppressed” you are, and/or selfishly hoard the secrets, rather than share your pathway to success. This unfortunately perpetuates the well-known “crab in a bucket,” thought process that says, “If I can’t succeed, neither will you.” Victimology promotes that no matter how far you go, you are forever limited by Systemic racism, the theory that everything is “systematically” orchestrated to limit any Black success. Despite the rhetoric and that narrative, Black America has endured and enjoyed great success in every area of society, at nearly every point in history. Even during the days of Jim Crow and Black codes, there has yet been much success on record in the Black community, both professional and personal. Like any other ethnicity or group, Black America has thrived despite the odds it has faced. However, for many Black Americans, there resides inside of them an entity that will perish when there is a strong mind, and flourish when there is a weak one. At the slightest opportunity, it springs into action, taking full advantage of the chance it has been given. It is for these reasons that certain individuals hold onto their trump card (no pun intended)-regardless of personally acheived status. Without this card, there is nothing left. The card? Racial identity. Sadly enough, for far too many, Racial identity is their only identity. It is the one component they feel that makes them unique. No matter what, if you take that away, nothing else sets them apart. The racial identity card is a living, breathing being with a mind and an appetite all its own. It consumes all reason and common sense. It lives deep within those that have not the strength to think for themselves. It ostracizes those that dare to refuse to be victims to social, even familial outcast status. Like zombies in a movie, they move in trance-like fashion toward any opportunity to use it. It is controlling. It is mind-numbing. It is singularly focused. Its thirst; unquenchable. Its hunger; insatiable. Its only power is that which we give it. It is “The Enemy Within.”
-Lawrence Johnson, Sr.