It Hurts Just to Think: Notes from a Native Tongue
excerpts from a student paper
by Jerold White
The discussion went well about Malcolm X today. The whole class participated, but I have never heard so much bullshit in my life. Someone had the nerve to compare Malcolm X to the Ku Klux Klan. I think it is better that I did not comment. If I did, I would have said some terrible things. I just cannot understand how some people can feel that Malcolm X was wrong to hate white people. "Two wrongs don't make a right," explained Ms. Caucasian-skin. It's not worth my time to even answer this. (1)
Why not hate the white man? What the hell has he done for my people? All that devil -- the white man -- did was come to my home with the gun powder they stole from the Chinese and their cannons and ships and took my people against their will. My people were forced to work for free for this devil. Then, years later, you tell me that I am hated because I am African American. I never asked to be here. I cannot believe the ignorance of the Caucasian devil and his children. This backwardness first showed up when the devil captured my people. He called us "niggers." We know that the first captives came from the Niger River area, so wouldn't you think he'd call us Nigers? The devil doesn't. His children today display the same ignorance. One individual, during our discussion, said "[Malcolm X] is no better than the Ku Klux Klan." It is funny that the student felt that way, because I do not remember Malcolm X ever hanging a white man or burning down a white man's house or burning a cross in a white man's front yard. No, there is no southern town where Caucasians are not allowed. The national news never did a story on that town and their signs that said, "don't let the sun set on your white butt" all around town. Therefore, there can be no comparison between Malcolm X and the Ku Klux Klan.
Why shouldn't I hate every blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Aryan, Anglo-Saxon white man, woman, and child of European descent that I see? I did not ask to be here among the Caucasian race! I would prefer to be in non-industrialized Africa with my people, rather than with white people who hate me because of my skin color. Then, the devil has the nerve to fix his face to tell my people, "Go back to Africa!" I would, but now I cannot. The white man has taken over Africa, too, and enslaved my people again. The black leaders asked the government that is for the people and by the people -- the white people -- to help free black South Africans. Despite the imposed sanctions, they did nothing to help. But think: the first time that the white government was asked to help Saudi Arabia protect their oil, they sent the bulk of their military over there. Consider this next: I find groups of young people in the U.S. hate me also. There are skinheads waiting to beat me to death when I walk the streets alone. If the skinheads do not get me, the police officers will. The police are even worse than the skinheads, because you cannot fight back and, if you do, you get killed on the spot, and that's legal. Why shouldn't I hate the white man? Why should I live side by side with the devil who will stab me in the back, when I turn around?
Now, let's go back in history. A few patriotic men wrote the United States Constitution, and it was sworn as the highest law of the land. "All men are created equal..." is one of the strongest statements written into the Constitution. Why did these patriotic men lie? When and where are all men finally going to be equal, including those men counted as three-fifths?
I know for sure that I am not considered equal to the young white men who live down the hall from me. If we can count the number of African American naval attack fighter pilots on two hands, we are not equal. If we can count the number of black mayors, congressmen, and presidents on four hands, we are not equal!
Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream of equality, so he embarked on his nonviolent quest to educate the people of this country, and he was killed before he accomplished his dream. My parents were not considered equal; neither were their parents. My mother was informed that she was not smart enough to take the business classes that the white girls took at an all-girl high school. My father, straight out of masonry school, could not get a job, because he was not in a union, and the unions didn't take colored people.
When are the African Americans going to be heard? We deserve to reap the benefits of this nation, too. There were African Americans fighting in the Civil War; the First and Second World Wars; Viet Nam; and every other major or minor conflict. Along with the Chinese workers, we helped to build the railroads. An African American developed the traffic lamp. And let us not forget that an African American developed the syrup for cola, and was swindled for ten cents.
You will not find this in a traditional school history book because no one wants us to know about it. "Keep us ignorant" is the goal of the white man; keep us thinking we are worthless and will never amount to anything. "If you give a nigger an inch, he will take a mile. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master -- to do as he is told. Learning would spoil the nigger in the world." These words were spoken by Mr. Auld to his wife, when he forbade her to teach Frederick Douglass to read.
The educational system plays its part in this attempt at keeping the African American ignorant. The school administration applies the "banking" concept of education that Paulo Friere brought to the attention of many educators. Administrators use us as banks and deposit what they need. Remember when Emerson said a man is "...a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man," without education?
In the February 9th edition of the Rocky Mountain News, Robert Jackson quoted retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Winston D. Powers as noting, "Black history has been repressed and what has been written about black contribution is inaccurate." Powers also noted, "Anglos fail to document black contributions to America, and if it hadn't been for black colleges, the study of black history might never have evolved" (12).
Not only is there a high rate of unemployment, but there's also an absence of capital investment in the central cities...So jobs aren't growing, and the new jobs which are replacing the manufacturing jobs are really jobs working for MacDonald's and Burger King -- service industries where the wages are sharply lowered.
-- Manning Marable
It is said that things have gotten better for African Americans. That is not true: the only things that have changed are that there are no more "colored" and "white" restrooms or water fountains, and we do not have to ride on the back of the bus anymore.
Education has not gotten better, either. More and more African Americans are getting into college, but fewer and fewer are making it out of the cities. And more are making it into the U.S. correctional system and the military. For those who make it into college, a great number are on minority scholarships, but in 1990, the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) said that some of these scholarships are illegal. OCR's assistant secretary for Civil Rights, Michael L. Williams, warned the Universities of Louisville and Alabama that their scholarships in the name of Martin Luther King are illegal and should be "race neutral." I guess Mr. Williams forgot that Marvin G. Carmichael, financial aid director at Clemson University, said, "Terms such as 'race neutral' ignore the fact that the minority scholarships were designed to redress past wrongs..."
Why should I not hate the white man? What else will he do to me? What have I done to him to cause him to hate me so much? It just hurts to even think about these questions, because I know I will never get an answer.
"It Hurts Just to Think: Notes from a Native Tongue" © 1997 by Jerold White
This piece was originally published in Belonging, a cross-cultural undergraduate literary journal at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Reprinted by permission of the author.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Original Photographs © 1997 by J. Martin Natvig
Editor's Note: We at STANDARDS are proud to present this piece, as part of our Education Feature. White's work exemplifies, in visceral terms, the first-hand experience of what scholar Mary Louise Pratt calls the contact zone: "social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out in many parts of the world today." For a critical introduction of White's piece, including a round-table discussion of the work, see Bonnie Richards' "The Rhetoric of Difference: The Student Literary Magazine as Critical Pedagogy," in which the emergence and first publication of White's work are examined.