Saturday, April 19, 2008

Lord have mercy on this land of mine, We all gonna get it in due time

We watched "A Conversation About Race" this morning on MSNBC (transcript here). This show followed the documentary "Meeting David Wilson".

In the Conversation, The Doll Test came up:
The Clarks' doll experiments grew out of Mamie's master's degree thesis and yielded three papers between 1939 and 1940. They found that Black children often preferred to play with white dolls over black; that, asked to fill in a human figure with the color of their own skin they frequently chose a lighter shade than was accurate, and that they viewed white as good and pretty, but black as bad and ugly. They viewed this as evidence of internalized racism caused by stigmatization.

How awful is this? Watch this and find out:

This is just horribly, cripplingly sad. One of the people on the "Conversation" panel was the wonderful Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, who had this to say about the Doll Test:
Legacy. When we talk about legacy, we're talking about an accumulation of time and history that works either for or against a particular consciousness of the people. And when we see America, when we see that, the internalized self hatred that you don't even think a doll that looks like you, that reflects your images are beautiful but beyond that, there is a moral assessment there, too.

What is the bad doll? What is the evil doll? And it's also associated with the darkness, the Dark Continent, the dark child, the dark person that I see in the mirror and so we begin to perform the pathology and act the self hatred.

There's a term called "soul murder" and one of the things slavery did, Orlando Patterson, a sociologist talks about social death, the walking dead, people who are physically alive but internally their spirits have murdered. And I think what we have to do here is to revive them. We have to bring them back to life and what you have to do is to educate at home. It's very critical that parents begin to transmit the virus of self-confidence. That's number one.

Barack Obama's speech on Race after the Clinton tried to ratchet up the Rev. Wright controversy was a good step toward discussing the topic in a rational and modern way. As good as it was, however, he had to be cautious, as too many white people would still be upset today that a Black person just won't 'get over it' or 'move on'.

Thankfully, Dr. Dyson has no such constraints:
I think that Martin Luther King Jr., 34 years old, invoked a vision of America that he said was deeply rooted in the American dream and what he did is narrate that dream against the backdrop of the nightmare and I think film interrogates some very serious issues that are resonant in not only African American life as Tom has indicated, but should be taken seriously as Brother Barnicle said in the mainstream.

And I think that it's incumbent upon us to deal seriously and honestly and openly with the issue with race. But let's be honest. Most of us can't. When we saw the rift, for instance, with the Jeremiah Wright comments, a Howard University graduate and a brilliant preacher, when he made those comments, it ripped the veil from many white Americans who had no idea that they had kicked out in politics the black church so that they subordinated their theology to their politics, began a black church which then became preoccupied with the conditions under which black people could be free, using their religion as a prism through which to view the landscape.

And finally, what's interesting, I find that Brother Wilson's film and the question the ended with especially provocative, because I want to flip the script a little bit. Dubois said this, "People come to me all the time and ask what does it feel like to be a problem?" He said, "We have two warring ideals, two unreconciled strivings locked in one dark body whose dogged strength alone kept it from being torn asunder."

So I don't want to just simply ask the question, "What's wrong with black people?" We can look at the history of white supremacy, social injustice economic inequality and see that the hostility of American culture in one sense in terms of race has worked against the flourishing and proliferation of good social, stable societies for African American people.

The question we have to ask, what's wrong with the pathology of a people that would demonize human beings who otherwise have no other interest but living in existence and I think that's right.

And Tim Wise, also on the"Conversation" panel, followed with this:
When the producers did the pre-interview with me, probably like many of us up here, they asked me the question, what's wrong with black folks? And I thought what in the world are you asking me that question for. The question for me as a white man is exactly the one that Mike just brought up, which is what is wrong with the dominant culture?

My answer, sort of tongue and cheek to what's wrong with black folks to the producers was nothing that the end of white supremacy won't stop. And what I meant by that is that the system of white supremacy is at the root of both the internalized oppression and internalized inferiority complexes that some black and brown folks manifest.

But it is also, and this is important, at the heart of the internalized superiority that many of - I've been white a long time, you and Mike, a little bit longer, and in that period of time, what we all know is that we, those of us in the white community, exceptions duly noted, have been the ones who haven't wanted to have this conversation.

It's like having a book club with people, some of whom have read 400 pages and the rest of us have read the preface and now we're supposed to get together and have a conversation. And that conversation ends up sounding like this. Why can't we have white history month? Right? Which is absurd because we have several. They go by the tricky names of May, June, July, August, September and any other month that we haven't designated and so this is the problem.

Now, we as white folks have if we are willing to go back to it. A tradition of allied ship (ph) with black and brown peoples. We have a tradition of resistance in the abolitionist struggle, in the civil rights struggle. It is time for those of who are white to decide we're going to be in this skin, and we have no control over that, or whether we're going to be of this skin. We are in it, we are not of it, we are made of more than that and better than that and the question is can we stand shoulder to shoulder with black and brown folks, have this conversation, take ownership of our piece of it as they take ownership of theirs.

Back to the Doll Test, that this happens today in this country is a shame equal to any other in American infamy. Does anysensible person even have to ask why Rev. Wright said "God damn America!"?

Here's Nina Simone singing Mississippi Goddam: