It’s tough being black.
No, and I mean that without a shred of irony or cheek.
I grew up in a predominantly ‘black’ country where I never had to worry about being disadvantaged, and where I had the privilege of being able to say I “don’t see colour”.
But the reality of the world does not match the view through those rose-tinted glasses.
Black Lives Matter is just the latest in a long string of pro-black human rights movements pioneered in the United States of America. If you ask anyone where it all started, you’re most likely to hear one answer: slavery.
Depending on who you ask, colonial-era Europeans were either “evil” or “great”…but – actually – I think what they probably were is just, traumatized.
The ‘Black Death’ is the name given to a plague that spread through Europe in the 1300s, then periodically recurred until the 19th century. It has been referred to as the “Greatest Catastrophe Ever” and is believed to have killed 30-60% of Europe’s population.
Imagine the horror of seeing people around you seemingly sprout boils and abscesses “out of nowhere”, start to vomit blood, and die. Imagine not seeing this as an anomaly, something strange and confined to the darkest infirmaries, but everywhere you went. Imagine waking up every morning to carry dead bodies out into a field, knowing that the next morning you’d have to do it all over again.
“…in many places in Siena great pits were dug and piled deep with the multitude of dead […] And there were also those who were so sparsely covered with earth that the dogs dragged them forth and devoured many bodies throughout the city.”
-Agnolo di Tura ‘the Fat’
What would this do to your psyche?
We remember Aristotle and Napoleon and Beethoven, but let’s not forget that the majority of Europeans prior to the Industrial Revolution were, actually, peasants.
The reason some Europeans were probably so excited about the ‘New World’ is because, well, their world…sucked.
“Education was poor, only the rich being catered for by nannies and private tutors. There were of course schools and several universities. These were not for the ordinary man or woman though. Politics was based upon land ownership and military honours won, with women and ordinary men given few rights. Life as a result was a constant battle against famine, a wicked landlord, overwork and sheer bad luck. Industrialisation would change only some of these worries.”
-Before the Industrial Revolution, www.schoolshistory.org.uk
People were starving. People were suffering. People were dying.
It’s tough being white
If you think about it, it’s actually lack that produces greed. And, looking at European history, there was lots of it.
If you already have what you need, you won’t have to look elsewhere.
I’m not saying this to try and make any political point, except to say this: our memories are extremely short.
One lifespan is barely enough to find out all there is to know about oneself, much less each other, and the world at large. Even with all the information we have at our fingertips: the combined knowledge of decades of research, thousands of brilliant minds, and millions of hours of study…I’d like to remind you that we – still – know nothing.
The glorification of European and European-derived culture, art and even features is still very much alive and well in our present reality. But this idea – which I’ll call
‘white supremacy’ Eurocentrism, as I was dutifully informed is a more appropriate term – hasn’t been good for any of us. That it even exists is clearly an overcompensation.
But it’s given us a skewed view of history; one in which European pain, and even trauma, is not seen for what it really is.
Famine, wars, plague, bloody campaigns and widespread death…these things are treated as scientific puzzle pieces to be studied and dissected; remembered as tragic, but ultimately celebrated, since they came together to produce the winning combination of the historical lottery.
But, who has won?
Human beings are beautiful, empathetic, compassionate creatures. It takes a lot to go against that nature and treat each other in the ways we have in the past, and continue to do in the present.
The same trauma that flows through my veins as a descendant of slaves, flows through the veins of the descendants of those who would seek to own another human being.
The same pain experienced from being denied one’s humanity must also exist in the one seeking to do the denying.
There has been no victory. Just different sides of the same coin of pain.
We love to quote Dr. Martin Luther King, that champion of the US civil rights movement. One of his most famous quotes is “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
But what does it mean?
In action, it means having compassion for everyone, even – or especially – those who have hurt you. (Compassion isn’t the same as complacency, but that’s another blog post for another time.)
In action, it means being understanding to the pain that not only black communities are feeling, but that white communities are feeling as well. Not using it as a power tool to feel superior, but acknowledging that we have all been hurt.
Everyone hurts, and if we keep trying to go back and find who did the first wrong or the worst wrong, we’d be searching into infinity.
It’s allowing us all to heal…together. Because we are all one.
Our pain is because we have been broken apart. But when we are able – once and for all – to let it all go and to acknowledge that oneness, maybe then will we have a chance to put ourselves back together again.