What Does It Mean When You Leave Your People Behind

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from Inter-American Dialogue 

 

I never really understood when Black folks said that other Black folks who left communities…never came back to where they came from to help. Now, I am understanding the gravity of this critique as it is fact backed up by narratives of what happens when folks do not return to their communities with the knowledge that they have learned to help make their communities better.

I am guilty of this crime. I grew up in Cochran, Georgia, which is in located in middle South Georgia. I disliked Cochran with a fierce determination. I was discriminated against by White people because I was not White in the community. I was ostracized by Black people because I was not Black enough in the community. Because my family was like the Breedloves in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, we were not looked upon favorably from many White and Black people. There were some Black people and White people in the community who liked us, and they helped us out when they could. Yet, my mom was very insular and did not want anyone in the town to know her business even though they saw us around town. Basically, from my younger perspective, we were treated like circus celebrities. We were the freaks of the town because we were poor and Black. Black people shunned us because they believe that we were stuck up and did not want anything to do with them.

So, once I got my ticket out of Cochran, at the age of twenty, I left the town and thought that I was free. Yet, little did I know, I wasn’t free. When you are young, you don’t see the entire picture. You only see pieces of the puzzle…and you see some of the areas of the puzzle completed. I saw one area completed where people did not like us because they thought that we acted White (my peers did). The other area that I saw was that folks were jealous of us because we were good looking people. Another area I saw was that people took advantage of us whenever they could.

What I didn’t see is the large picture. The large picture was…Cochran was like The Bottom in Sula where Black people dwell in this place that White folks look down on them on. My family was also like the Peaces. We did our own thing, but we were punished for it in some ways. Yet, in other ways, the Black community also didn’t completely disown us, either. Really looking at it, mostly, my mothers’ peers and my peers shunned us…and because of that, my mothers’ peers taught their kids to shun us as well. Again, not all of them were like this.

So, I went away, thinking that I could escape the pain Black folks caused me in Cochran. From my disdain, I thought that they hated me so bad that they left me behind because I was too different from them. Later on, when I took a Whiteness and White Privilege in America’s Education, I found out that Black folks had disdain and dislike for me because I showed White characteristics. These white characteristics, especially from my Black peers’ eyes, were to be despised because it “threw in their faces” that I didn’t want to be Black. I was shunning our Blackness because I showed White characteristics. For me to emulate White characteristics possibly made my peers felt like they were not good enough to be Black. And/Or it could have been that I was throwing Whiteness in their faces…and their thoughts were…how dare one of us take the side of those White folks who cause us oppression? Who limit our education opportunities? Who don’t see us as being competitiv? How dare that family act like they are better than us when they are poor as dirt—on welfare, nonetheless?

There is a huge miscommunication in the Black community because of this. The huge miscommunication is that we don’t get to know each other in intimate ways to understand why we act the way we do. How can Black folks do that when we still operate under a legacy of dividing and conquering our group under the system of White supremacist capitalist heteronormative patriarchy? Even reflecting on my life in Cochran, Black folks were divided because of our own branded standard of how all Black folks should act. Instead of being united in deconstructing the system of White supremacist capitalist heteronormative patriarchy…we are taught to create our own system of oppression to survey and police our own selves. We shut out Black members from our Black community because they don’t meet the qualifications of class, sexuality, and gender. In two pieces I read, “America’s Hidden H.I.V. Epidemic,” and “Dr. David Malebranche’s Open Letter to Oprah Winfrey,” these writings show how Black folks continue the divide and conquer within Black communities concerning sexuality. I believe the Black community uses standardized sexuality and gender to maintain the little power that the race group has. Yet, what this continues to do is to destroy our race and help White supremacist capitalist heteronormative patriarchy continue to be the supreme system that dominates all Americans. When we Black people play into Black people not following a standardized sexuality, we ultimately play into the system of Whiteness. We perpetuate White dominance by believing that the system of Whiteness will award us if we pledge allegiance to it. Yet, by becoming a member, we don’t benefit from the system because we are not allowed access to the full membership package.

What I am saying is that a lot of young Black males and females are contracting H.I.V., and they are contracting it in outstanding rates in poor rural areas. Yes, Linda Villarosa and Dr. Malebranche are showing us that young Black gay males, bisexuals, and transsexuals are the ones who are affected by it. Villarosa is showing us that many young Black males in the rural South are affected by lack of health care and education concerning H.I.V. and AIDS to where they are contracting and dying from the illness at fast rates. Malebranche is telling Oprah…the dialogue needs to be more balance in showing more of a diverse range of narration concerning Black male sexuality—to show a more complete narrative.

As for Black folks like me who leave home, I had to face what I did. Yes, I needed to get out of Cochran and see different spaces and places that are unlike Cochran…and to see more experiences to align with the stories that I read as a kid. However, I have come to realize that Cochran is my home, and the very Black people in Cochran…who ostracize me are still my people. They still need for me to love them. A huge part of love is forgiveness. Forgiveness is a part of unconditional love for myself and for you, too. Black folks can’t do better if we don’t know better. Once we know better, I pray that we find the strength to continue the process of becoming better people under a system that don’t want us to. Every day I am challenge to not judge. It’s hard, and I get it right on some days. I get it wrong on others days. Some days it is neutral…but all that matters is having the drive to do right by folks the best I know how and can. I hope that for you, too.
S