Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Like other Black professional males, I am asked to serve as a “role model” and speak to Black children and professionals about a host of issues.
I have seriously thought about incorporating a business dubbed “Rent a Male Black for Your Organization” (RAMBO for short), because of the high demand for “professional” African-American males to talk before various groups about their “endangerment” and to serve as “role models” for Black children. I rarely decline these invitations, and when I do it has been primarily because of the stupidity of persons -both Black and white - who believe that they should “screen” what I say before it is presented to the designated group. Fear of my presentation “offending” someone about race is uppermost in their minds. I always refuse to do this...
I have heard other brothers give similar stories of how persons have persuaded them to avoid mentioning “controversial” topics such as Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, the Million Man March or even the continent of Africa! I am very forthright with these organizations and tell that perhaps Clarence Thomas would make a better keynote speaker than me. These organizations---public and private---while outwardly professing to want their children and employees to “see and hear a positive Black male role model” in reality wish to keep the jelly beans stuck at the bottom of the bag to quote the infamous “Rodney King” tape of corporate America.
Being a RAMBO is akin to being an advisor to guerrilla fighters in the midst of the enemy's camp with limited weaponry.
In the case of employees, their frustrations over the racism present in their particular company is expressed by furtive glances at their white colleagues when I say something that sends a message they dare not utter for fear of retaliation. There is a vicarious satisfaction derived through me in “telling it like it is” as a Black man to “the man” in their company. On one occasion a brother came to me after I had made my presentation, shook my hand vigorously and told me that I had “got them”--- “got” meaning that I had said some things that he wished he could say, and “them” being his white co-workers. I asked him what prevented him from telling his co-workers about daily job related ills involving racism in a company known for its hostile working environment toward African Americans. Without hesitation he said “fear”. He said that mortgages, children's tuition and other financial considerations forced him to keep his mouth shut and his opinions to himself.
I thought about the captured African men on plantations over the centuries who performed the drudgery of slavery on a daily basis, but were unable to express their frustrations and/or suggestions to a "master" who could punish quickly and with extreme severity. These captured men harbored anger, fear and rage as they saw relatives and friends sold, beaten, raped and mutilated.
I have been told that it is a bad analogy between them and Cinque's children who have “made it” in Fortune 500 corporations and are getting paid for the work they do. After all, aren't Cinque's children “getting paid”, commute to homes that hardly resemble slave quarters and eat the finest food that money can buy? Aren't Cinque's children, joining country clubs that historically excluded them? Aren't Cinque's children sending their children to the Ivy League for training to cope with white America? Hell, aren't Cinque's children making progress, if you please?
If the analogy stays at the level of material comparisons, perhaps the comparison is extreme. If it corresponds to the psychology of Cinque's children and his ancestors, then I would argue that it is entirely accurate. The slave on the plantation, intimidated by the "master's" whip is psychologically identical to the Black male executive who bites his tongue for fear of the whip of firing, demotion or isolation on the rungs of the corporate ladder. I have been asked repeatedly by white colleagues if Blacks are as “angry” as Elise Cose says they are in his book Rage of a Privileged Class. My reply is “angrier”. No African American professional doubts the genuine fear of retaliation at the end of Du Bois's century of the color line, and find themselves remarkably similar to their ancestors who feared rope and whip as they worked to harvest massa's crop.
This fear of the economic “whip” of slavery is not limited to the expanded Black professional class, but pervades all Black working males in America. I have heard Black men and Black women debate strategies concerning how they might wear their hair---facial and braided--- not only in corporate settings, but in gas stations, fast food restaurants and at hotels.
The whip extends to any African American who comes “too Black and too strong” in an educational, government, or corporate setting. White America prefers a timid approach to African Americans' “blackness” especially the Blackness of Cinque's children. Toni Morrison's brilliant essay on the smile of Clarence Thomas tells how Black smiles provide a degree of comfort for whites in dealing with Black males. The rapper Ice Cube in one of his rhymes asks the rhetorical question, “Why do Black folk always have to show their teeth?” It is because shiny white teeth assure white America that Black males are still happy with the treatment received by them at the hands of a society that daily disaffirms both their manhood and Blackness. The teeth of an Eddie Murphy assuages consciences wondering about their own complicity in the continued whipping that Cinque's children receive at the post of an America desperately looking for an internal enemy to blame for its ills.