By PATRICK HUNTER
“Why I hate being a black man” is the title of an article written by a gentleman by the name of Orville Lloyd Douglas which was published in the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom on November 9.
It is a provocative title and an even more provocative article. Some of his premises are right on, but I do have some trouble in appreciating his preferred conclusion on Black self-hatred.
I don’t know Douglas. He apparently lives in Toronto and his overall commentary reflects some of the realities of Toronto and Canada. He notes that he woke up to the fact that the reason people won’t sit beside him on the subway is that he is a big Black man and they are afraid of him. He then refers to Frantz Fanon’s “Black Skin White Masks”, saying: “The black man internalizes the perspectives of white society and its negative thoughts about blackness affect his psyche.”
In this I agree.
However, in the next paragraph, Douglas seems to refute the self-appreciating mantra among Black people that Black is beautiful.
“But the truth is,” Douglas writes, “the image of blackness is ugly – at least it’s perceived that way. There is nothing special about being a black male – it is a life of misery and shame.”
To that all I can say is “Wow!”
At times it is difficult to express one’s true emotions in the written word, hence there is poetry and its use of metaphors, similes and other tricks of the trade. I re-read those sentences a number of times, with different intonations, to see if I was interpreting his message correctly. I am also aware that editors, from time to time, will change what is said for economy of space or what they deem “clarity”, which has an element of risk in that meanings can be altered. But, reading further seems to suggest that Douglas believes what he wrote.
Douglas writes: “I can honestly say I hate being a black male. Although black people like to wax poetic about loving their label I hate ‘being black’.” He goes on, falling very much into the stereotypical image created by centuries of enslavement, dehumanization, hatred and disrespect: “I just don’t fit into a neat category of the stereotypical views people have of black men…I hate rap music, I hate most sports, and I like listening to rock music…”
Douglas acknowledges that his image of himself was created by “the outside world”. So, why then, having realized this, does he allow himself to be defined by it?
As I noted at the outset, I do have a great deal of empathy for Douglas’ position. And, frankly, there are lots of examples of things he cites, and many others which are as obvious, that demonstrate this self-hatred among our people. I grew up in a colony of Great Britain – Jamaica – in which the Columbus-causing genocides and the subsequent conflicts for control between the English and the Spaniards were glorified, while the struggles for freedom from enslavement were interpreted as cruel, disobedient and anti-Christian (to put it in mild terms).
To aspire to being more than a clerk, servant or cane-cutter still had an element of over-reaching beyond our place.
The images created for us of our ancestral continent was one of the most deplorable, imbued with savagery – images that made us ashamed of our connection with the Continent and recoil at the suggestion that we were African.
It has been an ongoing challenge of Herculean proportions, over many generations, for many of us to begin to celebrate being Black and proud. And, I fully realize that there are a lot of our people who feel the same way that Douglas does to the point of attempting to lighten their skin and other physical aspects of their persona to show their dissatisfaction. For others, the struggle manifests itself with very serious mental health issues that plague our communities. The feeling of inferiority is self-destructive.
In this, I agree with Douglas that “a dialogue about self-hatred should be brought to the fore…”
One aspect of the reparations movement that often gets crowded out by the debate about the payment aspect is the urgency of what should be an accompanying measure – self-reparation, the spiritual reconstruction of our psyche. That will be a formidable task.
So, Mr. Douglas, while I appreciate the sentiments that you have expressed, what it probably boils down to is the way you expressed it. You are, it seems to me, accepting and acquiescing to White supremacy which is the objective of that dominant group.
Fight back. Yes, it is a frustrating and demoralizing venture but we can ill-afford to yield. This is a society that constantly eats away at our dignity – imagine the White vice-principal of a school feels comfortable to go to his school in “black face” for Halloween and his colleagues are pleased to be photographed with him.
Admittedly, this is also a rebuke of myself, not because of who I am, but because of the frustrating repetitiveness of demanding respect for – as you put it in echoing Dr. King – the content of my character.