I once had a debate in a group of Black Intellectuals. The question posed was: Has integration served to advance or cripple African Americans in this country? I defended the positive…that integration has indeed advanced African Americans. My opponent defended the negative, arguing that integration has in fact, crippled African Americans.
At the end of the argument, most group members considered it a draw. My primary contention with this evaluation was that my opponent made a great case for how assimilation had had deleterious effects, but not integration.
When debating, one usually references previous works or quotes from the opponent. And though I did not do that there, I do it here.
My opponent and many members in the group exhibited previous negative attitudes toward whites. These were all intelligent, cultured folks who made statements that suggested they preferred to not be around white people. What I found most interesting was that most of these people lived in predominately white areas and worked on jobs that were predominately white-employed and white-run. Their children learned in predominately white schools, while they frequented white establishments to eat or for entertainment. There always seemed to be a disconnect from their lives that were seemingly overrun with “white” influences of their choosing and their negative ideas about integration. And the conflict was conspicuous. We weren’t discussing a theoretical. We were debating the facts on the ground.
This led me to a theory that I wasn’t able to analogize as succinctly as I wanted to until I started studying real estate contract law, specifically encumbrances.
A house can be filled with beautiful fixtures, the finest finishes, and be on a good lot. But when time comes to transfer title or ownership, an encumbrance can prohibit it. When there is a lien against a house, the building, though intact, is encumbered from full possession. In much the same way, a mind (house) is a great asset filled with facts, figures, and knowledge. But what makes a ready mind is an unencumbered one. A mind that has no liens against it is one that is free to be bought, sold, or traded. The transfer of ideas (property) becomes a clean, rather simple process.
This is what happened in this debate and the commentary that surrounded it. The extreme distaste and aversion to white folks skewed the group’s ability to see how gaining access into previously all-white institutions has given Blacks access into politics, finance, education, media, technology, and all areas of commerce and industry. I’m not so naive to think that we are post-racial, but every time we share stories of a black first (Barack Obama, Dr. Ben Carson, Jesse Owens, Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Jordan, etc.), we celebrate integration. Even if unwittingly. That this isn’t obvious displays less of a lack of proof, and more of a lack of willingness and acquiescence. There is a cognitive dissonance that must take place when your faculties have a lien against them.
I don’t dismiss myself from bias, and so I challenge us to question:
What are our liens, our encumbrances, our biases? Custom, culture, religion, familial style, upbringing, trauma, disability, sexual orientation? The list goes on. How do we become reasonably free from it all?
My simple suggestion is, by knowing the self. The human condition is a groping for security and too often a simplistic alleviation from uncertainty about our place in the world. When you know the self, security eases its slick way in. Security is the anchor that encourages exploration, adventure, insight, reflection; because you feel safe and you know your way home. Help people find out who they are, and they become open — to newness, possibility, complexity, nuance, and change.
Tying this to what I have written about most – racial inequality…Justice isn’t much about good and bad. It may not be totally about subjective right and wrong. What it rests on, it seems, it what works and what doesn’t work. What has not worked is a distrust and hate for fellow humans. As an African-American, I should know that, and realize that when I cast aspersions on another man, I’m no different from the man who casts aspersions onto me.