OPPRESSING OURSELVES? As the cold winds and snows of January continue to swirl about the nation, coupled with the annual MLK and Black History Month looming in the distance, I wanted to put a real question on the table to get us to thinking. Why DO WE oppress one another? Why are those young brothers who are securing an education oppressed in word, action and deed by those brothers who are content to hang on the corner? Why are my married brothers oppressed by brothers who have not got the manhood in them to marry ‘their baby’s mama’? Why are those among us who went to the polls and voted oppressed by those who can’t tell a voting booth from a telephone booth? Why are sisters who are modest in their dress, upright in their living, and content with their womanhood oppressed by other sisters who are content to ‘take it off’ and ‘get their roll on’? Here’s my personal favorite: Why are Black folk who go to church, read their Bibles, pray and live their lives on the right side of the street, oppressed by those who are into this--or that ‘ism’ or spell their names with every letter of the alphabet? OPPRESSION, INC. Brothers, it wasn’t that long ago that we could legitimately say that Black folk were oppressed. Our employment prospects were limited. Our education possibilities were restricted. Our movements were monitored. Our progress was hindered. Nearly 40 years later, thanks to the Civil Rights movement--which we WON, by the way--a generation of African Americans were ushered into the economic mainstream. Many of us have the creature comforts, the economic earning capacity, and the freedom to live and worship where we want that make us the envy of the free world, and bring tears to the eyes of our fore parents. Yet there are those among us who try to keep the machinery of Oppression, Inc. going at full blast. Ridiculing the institution of marriage. Mocking those who desire to maintain a good family name. Disrespecting the brother who has a dream of his own business. Silencing the sister who would trade her briefcase for a family. Slamming pastors and churches. Shouting down those who would rather work rather than receive a government grant. Pumping out song after song, movie after movie to ‘chide and push’ some young men and young women into the roles of Playa and Hood Rat. It wasn’t that long ago when the above was done exclusively by other races. Now, we’re doing it to ourselves. Oh, how quickly we forget. OPPRESSION AS AN ART FORM: The true beauty of oppression is how it can be used to bend folk to an agenda all in the name of fairness, or progress. Let’s go back to the 1970s and the rise of the ‘Blacksploitation’ movie. Many of them have been re-released on home video or DVD. However, back in the day, few of them had Black directors, Black writers, or Black producers. The ones ‘large and in charge’ presented Black life as ‘only’ existing, or being ‘noble’ in the ghetto. Now, let’s come forward some 20 to 30 years. We have the same type of movies and mini-movies (Rap Videos) portraying Black life much the same way as their 1970s fore runners. The only difference NOW is, we HAVE Black directors, Black producers, and Black writers. Unfortunately, for the sake of the ‘Benjamins’ some are willing to portray Black life as only being ‘noble’ when we shed our morals and clothes, and treat life as one endless ‘par-tay’, void of spiritual, moral, and ethical responsibility. In case you haven’t noticed…many of us don’t live in the ghetto anymore. Neither do many of our oppressors. And, if the truth be told, some of them share the same race as you and I. One could say that the media product of the 1970s was a manner of clearing the way for further oppression. Here we are, some thirty years later, dancing to the same tune--rap track included--not even bothering to take the time to think and observe the historic parallels. What goes around DOES come around. OPPRESSION BY LANGUAGE: Oh yes, and let me not forget today’s language towards each other. Once upon a time, Black folk used to have respect for one another by our conversation. Even if someone of the local tribe was ‘not all that’, we still shared a common bond of respect for one another. The tragedy of today is that we have lost our ability to respect one another even by simple greeting. We use the ‘Hip Hop’ excuse of calling anyone of color out of their name, and are shocked when those of other races (and cultures) adopt our mannerisms and ‘language’. One example ought to be enough. A Caucasian calling to a brother: “What’s up, G?” Or, the same person using the B word towards a Black woman he does not know. This would get anyone up, and ready for a fight! But, how would YOU feel to be addressed in this manner by your OWN children, or having them address another Black adult the same way. Dog--or Doggette. Playas. Pimp. Hoe. Lil G. Time was when we had a firm grip on ourselves, and our respect for one another. However, with dollar signs dancing in their eyes, a new generation of ‘wannabees’ put their stamp on a brand of rebellion that is best described as ‘blasphemy’. If it was wrong for others to disrespect us, back in the day, why is it ‘right’ to disrespect one another? Let me throw this one in here. I recently sat down with two brothers who are in education and politics, respectively. Their hearts were heavy. They personally witnessed, or were the targets of 'own' on their jobs. When they tried to discipline the young offenders, either they did not get backing from their parents, or were the targets of complaints to their bosses. The hardest thing to be right now is a Black teacher, in a predominatly Black school, being disrespected by young brothers and sisters, while their parent(s) take the side of their young hellion. If young folk are not taught respect at home, they are going to go out and have to deal with Black folk in positions of authority. If they disrespect them, the only alternative is jail or prison time. I might remind everyone that black-on-black crime is the ultimate form of oppression. There are a lot of BLACK crime victims who would agree with me on this point. PROTECTION OF THE STATUS QUO: Of course, there WILL be a few who think that I protest too much. After all, this is just one column--and one opinion. However, I invite those who think I might be making too much gravy in my skillet to take a good look around at our communities, especially during this time of year when we are supposed to take the time to honor our Black fore runners. During the last election cycle a few months ago, I found it interesting that more than a few of us did not take the time to head to the polls and make our voices heard. It’s one thing to complain about who is getting into office; it’s another thing entirely not to show up and vote at the polls. It wasn’t that long ago where many of us would be met by cops and shotguns to keep us away. What’s the excuse now? Do we think that those who marched, bled, and died for us to get the right to vote are impressed with our excuses? Do we think that those who were on the ‘front lines’ back in the day would be happy with some of our excuses about why some of us did not vote? Yet another validation of us oppressing ourselves. Brothers, the plain, simple reason why there are not more Black men in college, in corporate America, or opening our own businesses is that we have let the spirit of oppression cloud our vision. We have been intimidated by those who will still ‘get paid’ in the form of money above, or under the table for keeping many of our dreams in ‘check’. Every person who puts derogatory images of us on the silver screen--is an oppressor. Every person who thinks that it is their right to pursue a life of crime rather than a life of service--is an oppressor. Every person who desires to shortcut his or her way through life instead of doing things on the up and up--is an oppressor. And some of them carry the same Black skin that you and I are blessed to have. That spirit of oppression has to go over the side, like much of the other baggage that has dogged our progress as a people. The excuses don’t matter. The progress does. That’s what we should be remembering during this time of year…and beyond. Let’s police ourselves and end the oppression. If we can’t, don’t, or won’t, then how can we, in good conscience, hold others accountable when we have chained ourselves with the same dirty bonds? Having pride in our race, and oppressing our race at the same time, in thought, action, or deed cannot exist in the same breath. Bitter waters can’t flow from a sweet source. Black progress can’t flow from a well of Black oppression. Plus, being pro-Black is not being anti-White, Brown, Yellow, or Red! Don’t tell me that Black folk can’t oppress one another. It’s happening--everyday! MIKE RAMEY is the author of THE MANHOOD LINE. A monthly, syndicated column, written for men from a biblical, business, and common-sense perspective. Emails welcome to [email protected]. ©2003 Mike Ramey/Barnstorm Communications International (2).