By: Terrence A. Merkerson
“I’m Black first.. my sympathies are Black, my allegiance is Black, my whole objectives are Black… I am not interested in being American because America has never been interested in me.”
Being Black and being American is a conundrum. First, because only in American can you be Black. Race is an American concept, unlike nationalism. Second, because being American subscribes you to a certain set of ideals… freedom.. justice.. equality. But being Black limits your access to the realization of those ideals. This paradox in our existence is a source of both pride and trepidation. To acknowledge a history of resiliency, is also to acknowledge a history of oppression. To appreciate our culture is also to recognize the need for its creation, and now, for its protection. To be patriotic is to love, pledge allegiance and take pride in a nation whose rights and liberties were not originally intended to be extended to you. So when a politician, a soldier, an Olympian or even a football player decides that on that day, he or she is not feeling very American, understand that is not because they hate America. It is because they are holding America accountable.
So, who came up with this whole post-racial society propaganda? I can assure you that it was not the folks that the concept of race affects most significantly. America, at its quintessence, is a paradox, if not fundamentally, then in its execution. Regardless of whether is appears in its most overt or systemic forms, racism has tremendous influence in the shaping of the American experience, most deliberately for Black people. We grow up learning to be cautiously aware of when to, where to and how to be Black. Negotiating White sensitivity and fragility is a skill learned very early. Before we are of the age and experience to shape our on viewpoints, opinions and approaches to racial issues, we carefully tread along the beaten path of fear, paranoia, anxiety and resentment. We do this to stay safe. At some point in the life of E V E R Y Black person, we are faced with a choice. That choice is made either consciously or unconsciously. Will you accept your oppression? Will you purposefully celebrate your oppressor? Will you offer your oppressor amnesty, absent of culpability? Will you remain passive and silent? The answers to these questions will shape your reality every second of every moment in your life from that point forward. To answer yes is to submit, which is oppression in its worst form… voluntary. To answer no is to make your life significantly more challenging, choosing to face discrimination, bigotry, and social inequality directly.
Do y’all remember being a teenager and pissing your mom off? She says something to attack your entire existence along the lines of, “I brought you into this world and I’ll take your ass out!” and you reply (aloud, if you’re brave… or just stupid), “Well, I didn’t ask to be here!” Yeah… essentially, that’s being Black in America. Resistance is as American as it is human, yet when it is those that have been historical marginalized that are doing the resisting, ALL OF A SUDDEN, it becomes un-American. But sadly, it’s true… it is un-American because America was never intended for us. We have managed to carve a rat hole into the side of Plymouth Rock that has afforded us limited access to the “American Dream”, but the trade-off for assimilation is appropriation, an exchange that is vastly disproportionate in its totality.
To be a little more American means to be a lot less Black. The more “Black” that you decide to be, the less American you become. We see this most visibly in sports and entertainment. America loves you when you entertain it because it allows you to become devoid of race (i.e. “I don’t see color”). It is the convenience of experience without responsibility. Being colorless disarms people of color of their experience and of their reality. Choosing not to acknowledge race or color neutralizes historical narratives and makes issues of race more comfortable and palatable for White folks (and I am not here for White Comfort). So as soon as some Black shit comes up, the response is “why do Black people have to make everything about race?” We do because White people made everything about race first. We are only responding in-kind. That confrontation is an affront to White fragility and this is when you begin to see White folks collectively lose their whole shit in the comment sections. The same people who pay to see you perform, buy a jersey or a shirt with your name or face on it and cheer religiously for you are now calling you a nigger because today, you reminded them that you are Black and you care about Black shit.
This is a complicated thing here. Most Black folks love America, deeply. But as with all dysfunctional and abusive relationships, shits still pretty fucked up, love aside. Yes, some of us are fortunate enough to catch a few breaks and gain access to the many opportunities that America SHOULD be able to offer to everyone. Yes, some of us are able to live comfortably in system that was designed for that not to be so, but under no circumstance should exceptionalism be accepted as a standard. No, I am not going back to Africa. Yes, my president is black and my Lambo may be blue, nigga… but it is and always has been clear that if I stand in resistance to my oppression and marginalization, I am still just an uppity, unappreciative nigger. THESE are the truths that we hold to be self-evident. Being Black and trying to be American is a bad romance. It is a living contradiction. But in our attempts for reconciliation, we have come to understand how to appropriate our affection for this nation. We love America, but that does not mean that we will not hold America accountable. If the day ever comes when “Real Americans” also decide to hold America accountable, maybe then we will be able to Make America Great… for the first time.
Terrence A. Merkerson is the Founder & Creator of Avenue Fifteen. Terrence earned Bachelor’s Degrees in both Political Science and Gender/Race Studies from the University of Alabama. Terrence also completed Graduate School at the University of Alabama earning a Master’s Degree in Communication.
He currently resides in Baton Rouge, LA.