Privilege (syn.): “honor, freedom, favor, pleasure, right, benefit, advantage, opportunity, license, joy, treat”
Disadvantage (syn.): hindrance, inconvenience, drawback, difficulty, demerit, weakness, shortcoming, trouble, burden, hardship, nuisance, minus, handicap”
Though shared at family gatherings along with secrets for surviving it, detailed in personal narratives and recorded in historical renderings of the hardships of believing in the social coloring of skin and consequently, being bound to its social covenant and conditions, I have not come across a list detailing the particular difficulties, the weight, the obvious baggage of assuming the socially constructed identity of black, comparable to what Peggy McIntosh does for white privilege in her essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”. This is one such attempt.
1. I am America’s (only) victim.
As children, African Americans are often taught a history that situates the beginning of African people in America as opposed to the continent of Africa or its many countries. Consequently, their narrative begins with words like stolen and sold. Hearing of one’s ancestors being described as the property of other human beings makes the discovery of purpose and the development of interests, gifts and talents seem foolish and useless even. The narrative is limited to a past that suggests that the purpose of African people is confined to or defined by their use by others, particularly socially colored white people. And it suggests that persons of African descent are the only victims of America’s capitalism or love of money, which is not true.
2. My mind must remain in a perpetual state of servitude: once a slave, always a slave.
This is most evident in conversations wherein African Americans or those who identify as socially colored black imitate the speech and behavior of persons from America’s slave or legally segregated history as segregation remains though the laws have changed: “Yes suh, massa. We’se sho’ got us a nice house.” These persons also use the language of the plantation, still believing that they need to “shuck and jive” (i.e. feign contentment) in order to maintain employment or move up the economic ladder.
Persons cannot see themselves outside of this paradigm and will not break this social contract despite the fact that he and she have never been to Africa, traveled the Middle Passage, stood or been sold on the auction block, visited or served on a plantation or worked in the Big House, attempted escape or been emancipated from American slavery, served as a butler, maid, chauffeur, nanny, cook, personal playmate/ human doll or the like. They do not think of themselves as anything more than slaves, unable to lead because of this history of forced servitude.
3. The socially colored white man is my enemy, seeking always to oppress: once a master, always a master.
Every interaction is believed to have the potential to be combative as every handshake is viewed as an attempt to trap, every smile an attempt to trick. Consequently, we do not address one another without the self-/ mental/ unconscious acknowledgment of this struggle for freedom and power. This belief is often evident in the expression “the white man’s foot is on my neck.” It suggests that those socially colored black are restricted until the so- called white man decides to change their position. There is no social movement, no life change unless he lifts his foot.
The socially constructed white man is always an oppressor, never a friend or an ally. Persons become suspicious of the motivations of those who would seek to become either. Consequently, these relationships are without authenticity, dependability and trust.
4. The socially colored white woman is my mirror.
For many African American women, the socially colored white woman is the image to be created in, the vision of purity, the standard of beauty, the definition of femininity. I am only beautiful and feminine when I re- create myself to look like her. I am because I am her. I must live in the shadow of whiteness, always comparing myself to her while pretending that I hate her beauty and that I love my own.
Still, there are others who contest these social truths and embrace their God- given locks by wearing their hair naturally, for example. They pride themselves on their physicality and often say that the socially colored white woman is lacking in this way. For these women, the socially colored white woman is acknowledged as a mirror but they are not ashamed of and find value in their own reflection.
5. The sole purpose of my life is to prove socially colored white people wrong about socially colored black people.
I must be the example of a good ‘black’ person because all ‘black’ people will be judged based on my speech, behavior, decisions, job performance, clothing, educational aspirations, accomplishments and life outcomes. I am the principal planner of experiences with socially colored black people, ensuring that communication is pleasant and that those in their company are comfortable and at ease.
6. My life and its work is never good enough when compared to that of socially colored white people. And it is this comparison that determines worth and makes the valuation purposeful.
I must not be the best but the only, not the smartest but the expert, not an overachiever but the crowning achievement, not number one but zero.
7. I must ‘act white’ while remaining ‘black and proud.’
There is a way of being and a set of behaviors that are correct. The socially constructed white way is the right way. To talk properly or correctly is to talk ‘white.’ There is a sound that is acceptable and it is the voice of the socially colored white person. I am not heard and cannot speak if I am unable to reproduce it. Instead, I must silence my self, her ideas and thoughts. So, instead of being proud of who I am, I become angry because of who I cannot be.
The actions of socially colored/ constructed black people has been so well- crafted and documented on television, in magazines, on post cards and the like as a stereotypical identity/ existence/ relationship with socially colored white people that to be black is to be loud/ ugly/ vulgar/ child- like or simple- minded/ angry/ domineering/ lustful or hypersexual/ crafty or sneaky/ a mammy or a temptress/ a thief, a murderer, a trouble maker, a liar and/ or rapist. These self- serving images, depictions and descriptions make it very difficult to be proud.
8. I must adapt my physical features to ‘look white’ while proclaiming that ‘black is beautiful.’
I believe that God made me wrong and did not give me the best in hair texture or eye color, that the Potter marred my nose, misshaped my lips and other physical features. So I must do what God should have done: make me ‘white.’ All the while, I must speak to the contrary of the reality that I represent in my body.
9. I must serve as the mediator, reconciler, teacher, principal researcher and historian of race for all other racialized people groups, providing lessons on race, racism, prejudice, white privilege and stereotypes whenever it is deemed appropriate and acceptable.
10. I must be angry at all times at socially colored white people, never ready to reconcile but always prepared to render judgment.
I secretly believe that race justifies and excuses my bitterness, anger, pride, jealousy and ungodly speech. And to forgive is to forget; to forgive is to no longer hold ‘them’ responsible and accountable. The withholding of forgiveness is my means of punishment.
11. I must serve as the judge and jury for all crimes committed on the basis of race and in the name of racism because I consciously or unconsciously believe that God is a socially colored White Man and consequently, does not punish socially colored white people. I believe that God is not just but is subjected to the laws of race.
12. I believe and accept that my skin color is physically black and have concluded that my life is associated with all of the natural and/or secular meanings for and examples of black: black cat, black magic, black market, black list, black mark, black deed, black eye, etc.
13. I am destined to search for meaning in a word/ a color that was never meant to be a means by which to identify myself or any other human being.
14. Despite the lack of experience in the reality that perpetuated these false identities, my only identity and means of existence is within a racial caricature: Uncle Tom, Aunt Jemima, Stepin Fetchit, Venus Hottentot, mammy, picaninny, coon, etc.
15. There is no truth concerning my identity apart from race. I am always black/ negro/ Negro/ Nigger/ Colored/ Black.
16. I am trapped by blackness.
There is no getting around it or out of it or away from it. There is no exit. My life is because race says so; to deny my blackness is to cease to exist, to be absent of meaning, to be without a name. There is no other way of being, no higher form of existing though my place is on the lowest rung of society.
17. I am mistreated/ prejudged/ bullied/ harassed/ followed around in stores/ pulled over by police officers/ deemed ‘suspicious’ looking because of how I appear and not because of the false perceptions/ prejudices/ poor judgment of others. I am my own problem, my own enemy. It is always and in every case, because of me, because I am ‘black.’
18. I am predestined for failure, my chances for success ruined because of the social coloring of skin.
19. All socially colored black people look/ think/ behave/ live alike and in turn, produce the same results. I am not unique or special but an unnecessary duplication.
20. Still, I need the baggage of blackness. I cannot travel without it.