In November of 2019, I decided for my birthday to take a trip to Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa. I heard many great things about those two cities, and I knew that I had to get there one day. When I arrived there, I was so happy I finally made the trip out there. Let me just say, Cape Town is a beautiful city, and it’s a place that I highly recommend for people to visit.
Anyhow, I went there with a good friend of mine. We’re both still relatively young, so of course, we went to several nightclubs and lounges to experience the nightlife in Cape Town. While we were out there, we engaged in several conversations with many people out there, but of course, two single men were the most interested in talking to women who lived in South Africa.
Oddly enough, to my amazement, many of the conversations both of us had with young ladies related to racism. I know…I know…many of you who know me personally aren’t surprised. I promise you it wasn’t planned. It just so happens that when young ladies found out we were from America, they automatically had this utopia form in their head. It seems that many South Africans have this image or idea that Black people in America have it really good. Now to a certain extent, they are correct. Overall, I think America is a better place to live for a Black person than South Africa. If we’re looking at the quality of life, education, job opportunities, and many other factors that come into play when comparing places to live, America would probably come out on top. However, what they didn’t know was that many Black people in America deal with the same type of racism they’ve experienced in South Africa. Apartheid was similar to Jim Crow and sharecropping. Learning about Indigenous Black South Africans being forced off their land in certain cities to rural areas or shantytowns reminded me of gentrification. White South Africans (Afrikaners) going to the best schools in South Africa during apartheid was similar to segregated schools all over America (not just the south). Black South Africans being required to have passports when they are in certain parts of South Africa reminded of Sundown Towns. Many Black South Africans who fought against apartheid ended up in prison or were killed by the police, similar to what happened in America in the 1960s and 1970s. I actually read somewhere that many of the racist laws passed in South Africa last century were modeled after laws in America.
So back to my story. One night, I met a young lady with who I had a deep conversation about race and racism. She began telling me how she grew up poor, and she still isn’t doing that great financially as an adult. She explained that she was raised by her aunt, who told her to find a rich German White man to marry when she was younger.
***Note: For those of you who are not familiar with Cape Town, South Africa, because of apartheid, most Black South Africans are poor, and almost all the White people in South Africa are doing well or exceptionally well.
Nevertheless, I asked her, is this a goal you’re actually pursuing in life? She told me it’s something she wants because, unfortunately, she doesn’t believe there are too many Black men in South Africa who are financially stable. She continued to tell me she didn’t want to continue struggling for the rest of her life.
As the conversation went on, I eventually told her that she wasn’t giving Black men in South Africa a fair opportunity. I understood her perspective because who wants to be poor their entire life because of the lack of opportunities in their country? But I just couldn’t completely agree with it. I asked her who’s to blame for the conditions the Black men and Black women all over Africa live in? Hell, all over the world? I told her you have been trained to believe the only way to escape your misery is by hoping a man affiliated with the same group of people who caused and is still causing you to live in these miserable conditions chooses to marry you. This young lady went on to tell me she is mindful of that, but she doesn’t want to keep struggling. Can’t knock her hustle!
Now her conversation led me to think about something interesting. Many Black people in America have the same ideologies as this young lady in South Africa, but most Black Americans are not as blatant or aware of their subconscious thoughts. It led me to think that one theory many Black people worldwide believe is the only way they can do better is by affiliating with White people and being in White spaces as much as possible. There is a saying if you can’t beat them, join them. But is that what’s really best for us?
This ideology of Black people believing their primary way to a better life is White proximity always bothered me. Since Black Americans have been in America, they have struggled with one thing or another. Even though many Black American families may have been poor, they stayed together for the most part. Black Americans in the early and mid-1900s may have had very little education, but they owned land, they knew how to take care of the land, they owned homes, they owned businesses, they educated each other, they knew during those times they had no choice but to support each other. The previous generations of Black Americans did what they had to do to make sure their offspring had more opportunities than them.
It seems that over time, integration (I was taught in college to call it assimilation) became the favorable way to go for many Black Americans. Black people worldwide seem to believe that they will do better in life if you to affiliate yourself with White people, live in White neighborhoods, have White friends, White spouses, all-white everything. At what point do Black people stop intentionally running to the same group of people who colonized us and caused so much destruction to our communities and/or countries? At what point do we stop looking at each other like we are inferior? The truth is when all we had was each other to rely on, we didn’t do too bad. Can you name any other group of people who solely rely on White people as their saviors?
Listen, I know trying to find the correct answer to this complicated solution is complicated. It took me a while to write this blog because I couldn’t even get the thoughts straight in my head on how complicated this is. But what is really the answer?
People always ask me what the answer is to solve all our issues. I always say the blueprint was created way before us. The blueprint for solving most of our problems was created by Black people who had less than us, had more challenges than us, but did more than us. Forced integration never worked for us, and it will never work for us.
“I’m afraid that America may be losing what moral vision she may have had. And I’m afraid that even as we integrate, we are walking into a place that does not understand that this nation needs to be deeply concerned with the plight of the poor and disenfranchised. Until we commit ourselves to ensuring that the underclass is given justice and opportunity, we will continue to perpetuate the anger and violence that tears at the soul of this nation.”
“I fear, I am integrating my people into a burning house.”-Martin Luther King Jr.
“But then you had another Negro out in the field. The house Negro was in the minority. The masses–the field Negroes were the masses. They were in the majority. When the master got sick, they prayed that he’d die. [Laughter] If his house caught on fire, they’d pray for a wind to come along and fan the breeze.
If someone came to the house Negro and said, “Let’s go, let’s separate,” naturally that Uncle Tom would say, “Go where? What could I do without boss? Where would I live? How would I dress? Who would look out for me?” That’s the house Negro. But if you went to the field Negro and said, “Let’s go, let’s separate,” he wouldn’t even ask you where or how. He’d say, “Yes, let’s go.” And that one ended right there.”-Malcolm X
Jonathan T. (September 2021)