February 3, 2022
Whites, for the most part, confessed confusion about black power. Perhaps they understood too well what it meant for it was a declaration of independence: an affirmation of new manhood and the burden was on whites to deal with it.
When any oppressed group stands up and begins to assert themselves the oppressor class must react in one of four ways.
1. Attempt to run away; move to another community or city or country or leave the room or group. How often have we seen that?
2. Ignore. Pretend that it is not really there or isn’t happening. This reaction of course is close to the first. Instead of quitting the scene as in the first, the person stays but just ignores everything, and ignoring blacks is a skill whites have honed to the finest edge. How else can whites talk about discovering a land when millions of people are present; except that they ignore them or treat them as though they didn’t exist? How else can whites boast about holding a homerun record in baseball – or any record in anything – when 1/10 of the population is denied participation? How else can whites talk about “All men are created equal…” while holding 4 million blacks in slavery except that the slaves were not considered men?
3. Fight back. While this reaction might be more desirable than the first two, it at least is a response. It recognizes the “other”. But it still manifests an inability to accept the “other”. But it still manifests an inability to accept the “other” on the “other’s” terms.
All three of the above reactions demonstrate a need to have the oppressed kept in a non-person status. Sambo must remain Sambo. To me, this speaks of a kind of sickness. For one to insist upon another human being maintaining an inferior state can only mean that there is an acute disorder within the personality so desirous of that state. James Baldwin once said, “Whites need to ask themselves why they needed a nigger in the first place.”
I remember watching Jim Nabors, the funny man of the Gomer Pyle show, doing a straight appearance. He was called on to sing a song but first, there was an interview. I was startled and uneasy when I saw him in this new role. I kept waiting for him to crack a joke or droop his shoulders over and get a funny look on his face. But he didn’t. The interview continued and I kept waiting for Jim to assume his real self. What had gotten into him anyway? How dare he keep composed this long!
Now he was singing. Surely it would come. I knew he was going to do something funny in the song. I waited but nothing. He had the audacity to sing the song through with no so much as a silly expression or goofed word. He was serious all the way through. When he was finished, he was thanked profusely and walked away.
I sat in my chair stunned. I remembered how I enjoyed and loved him when he played in Andy of Mayberry and in Gomer Pyle. My what a change!
I found myself becoming angry. Angry at Jim because he wasn’t what I wanted him to be. Angry because he denied me a few laughs. Angry because he confused me with his change. I wanted the old Jim. I understood him better and as a result, understood my role better. When I saw him it was time to laugh. Now I wouldn’t know what to do when I saw him again. Maybe I would just steer clear of him. Not only that, I would tell my friends about what happened.
That I assure you is a true story.
Now I believe whites who react in the aforementioned ways are going through the changes I experienced – far more dramatically, of course. Former docile Negroes and Africans and Asians, now asserting themselves forced whites into all kinds of psychological and physiological changes.
Whites are compelled to ask, “If you are not what I think you are, then I am not what I think I am” or “ If you were really never what I thought you were then it means that my father and I before were never what we thought we were which means that we have lived a lie” or “If you have changed it means I must change.” That is a hard saying. No wonder whites react in the above ways or as in the case of Jesus, many walk no more with us.
4. The fourth reaction is to rejoice in the new day. That is to understand and accept the assertion of the oppressed as the dawning of a new day in which the truth of the old identities and relationships are seen for what they were (as painful as that may be) and the possibility of new identities and relationships ensuing far more meaningful and exciting than could ever possibly be under the old arrangements.
To understand the rage as the expulsion of long-held resentments and the ambivalence of love and hate, created and sustained by years of subjugation and that health and growth require that ventilation occurs and that the cry for separation is but the natural desire for momentary distance while the new man looks at himself and his world in the light of his new discovery.
That is the fourth reaction. So minimal, so trite! Yet, alas, how many whites can be found in the number even at this late date? It is the reason for the continued hostility and polarization between blacks and whites. Whites, by and large, have never been able or willing to accept “the otherness” of blacks and blacks are not about to look backward. So here we are.
Those whites who met in Bangkok to discuss salvation today for the most part can still be located somewhere stumbling around in the first three, clinging to Sambo.
Now what would have happened had the process continued? Who knows? Perhaps it would have torn up the Council beyond repair. Perhaps men claiming allegiance to the same God would have parted company forever. Who knows?
Maybe after all the hatred, resentment, love, and fear of both blacks and whites were out in the open, real reconciliation would have followed and from that, an old-fashioned revival might have started.
Perhaps that is the greatest fear of all.