In the midst of all the murder, hatred, and crime going on in the African-American community, my mind began to wonder what has led our people to such a dark place? Of course, I immediately began to think about slavery, but that wasn’t enough. There is something that is so imbedded in our culture, that we are having a hard time seeing what it is, and since we are struggling to see it, it is even more difficult to fix it.
What could it be that has us lacking concern for our fellow men and women? Why are we killing each other at a rate of extinction? Historians will say that we were taught to hate ourselves through slavery. I agree, but is that it? Some would say that the Willie Lynch letter played a role then, and is still significantly important now.
That could very well be true, but what causes me to not care enough about what is going on with the person who lives right next to me?
What causes us not to care about the less fortunate African-Americans in our communities? Mamie Till said it best when she said, “Two months ago I had a nice apartment in Chicago. I had a good job. I had a son. When something happened to the Negroes in the South I said, `That’s their business, not mine.’ Now I know how wrong I was. The murder of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world, had better be the business of us all.” Even though many of us remember the story of Emmett Till, it has not been impactful enough to make us change. But why?
We have seen numerous murders of our people by the hands of white supremacists, and law enforcement alike. We now have white supremacy rearing its ugly head again, and yet we cannot seem to come together. Where did this stronghold come from?
I began to think deeper, and now I can say that I may have the answer. It was the rows. Yes, the rows of cotton picked by our ancestors during slavery. We were living together. We were in bondage together. Other than being separated by way of being sold, the rows became the way of developing village people into individuals.
When our people were working the cotton fields of the South, we did not realize the lasting impact that slavery would have on us. We did not know the fear that was bestowed upon our people. We did not understand what cultural behaviors would be lost, nor did we understand the new culture that was being birthed.
Imagine yourself at the start of a row of cotton. What is the goal?
The goal is to pick as much cotton as possible to make rate. You, and every other slave has a responsibility to your own row. You are also individually responsible for the punishment of not making rate. So by the end of the day, the master is now taking tally of your daily picks. One by one he is counting the weight of your bags. Whomever had the lowest amount, and whomever did not make rate, were then punished by way of the master’s whip. When this was all taking place, I am sure their minds were transforming as well. For every lash across the back, that person was becoming more and more of an individually focused person. Competing against their own people as a means of survival was birthed, and still lives today. Some may ask, “Why didn’t they work together to cover whatever the overall final weight needed to be?”
This was all a part of the plan. Could they have worked together to get the necessary end result? Yes, they could have, but this would have been building people who worked together, as opposed to working as individuals. Learning to work together for the common good of all would have been dangerous to the powers that be. If we could work together, then freedom would become inevitable.
Fast forward to 2017, and you will see where the rows of the cotton fields have taken African-Americans. We have become self-serving people. We are people who focus on what it is that we want, need, and desire as individuals. Even when it comes down to matters that challenge our moral responsibilities, we fail. When someone kills our children, we go down our row, and say, “That has nothing to do with me.” Some of our rows look like higher education, better neighborhoods, higher salaries, better social groups, etc. Yet while we are going down our rows as fast as we can, we don’t dare to look up, and see who is struggling. We won’t take a little bit out of our “bags” to help someone make “rate,” even if we are well above the standard. We stopped being family. We stopped being tribal. We stopped being village people who cared for one another. We are no longer inseparable. We have accepted the role, and our row, while hoping to never feel the lash of the master’s whip on our backs. We have become immune to our own collective demise. We don’t mind watching our brothers and sisters fall, or fail. When we do, we somehow look at our own people and do not see ourselves. We must change this behavior if we ever plan on being impactful as a race.
Is your row important? Yes, but not more important than your brother or sister. We can make rate by working together. One thing is certain, they could not have whipped all of us. That would have made for bad business then, and it makes for bad business now. So why not come together, and collectively win? There will be individuals who disagree with this, but we can’t worry about them. As you go down your row, raise your head, look around, and see who is not making rate, then help them. This can look like advice, a phone call, a connection to a job, constructive criticism, or even just telling them the truth. If you want to see something great take place in the African-American community, learn to work together for the good of the whole, and not just for the good of yourself.
Gregory Meriweather is the CEO of Black on Black Network, talk show host, writer, and public speaker. email: firstname.lastname@example.org booking: email@example.com