Too black to succeed: The black experienceThursday, February 25, 2021
Love him or hate him, our National Hero Marcus Mosiah Garvey and his organisation, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), are originals. In honour of February, Black History Month, it is important that we shed some light on the fact that the tag line 'Too black to succeed' includes most black people, whether they are in the 54 countries of Africa, the USA, the Caribbean, Central and South America, or any other place where black people can be found.
Contrary to popular belief, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was not founded by black people. In 1908, a deadly race riot rocked the city of Springfield, the capital of Illinois and resting place of US President Abraham Lincoln. Such eruptions of anti-black violence, particularly lynching, were commonplace. The Springfield race riot of that year was the tipping point that led to the creation of the NAACP. Appalled at the rampant violence, a group of white liberals, that included Mary White Ovington and Oswald Garrison Villard (both the descendants of famous abolitionists), William English Walling and Dr Henry Moscowitz, issued a call for a meeting to discuss racial justice.
Some 60 people, seven of whom were African American, including W E B Du Bois, Ida B Wells-Barnett, and Mary Church Terrell, signed the call, which was released on the centennial of Lincoln's birth. The founders, and the few early blacks who joined the NAACP, preferred to keep the word 'colored', instead of Negro or black, which in some people's minds denoted inferiority. Some mixed-race, educated in Ivy League American or Eurocentric scholarship, like Du Bois, were not comfortable with being identified with these terms used to describe those who were uneducated and poor.
It is not a secret that they used these words to disparage Marcus Garvey and his accomplishments. The black intelligentsia, and the mulattoes in particular, believed themselves to be better than those described as Negroes or blacks. As Garvey lamented, “I was a black man and therefore had absolutely no right to lead. In the opinion of the coloured element leadership should have been in the hands of a yellow or a very light man. On such flimsy prejudices our race has been retarded. There is more bitterness among us Negroes because of the caste system of colour than there is between any other people, not excluding the people of India.”
As a Jamaican, Garvey travelled extensively throughout the US, Central and South America, and everywhere he went he saw that most black people lived and worked in squalid and deplorable conditions. Violence and segregation were all that many black folks experienced. The black soldiers were hardest hit because they were of the opinion that, despite their colour, their service to their country would have counted for something.
Similarly, the 44,000 mainly black Jamaican entrepreneurs who thought that their contribution as employers, manufacturers, and producers of goods and services would have counted as being vital to Jamaica's development had their hopes and dreams dashed as they, too, came to realise that there would be no equality and justice that would give them the chance for upward mobility. They painfully realised that they were considered too black to succeed, and many were deliberately destroyed by the Government of the day.
In my book Too Black to Succeed: The Finsac Experience (page 222) I make the point that, “The tragic irony is that many of these employers, manufacturers, and producers, trusting that their Government was looking after their interest, had borrowed, sometimes pledging their homes, investing in state-of-the-art equipment to improve their efficiency, only to be crushed by the Government-imposed cost of servicing their debt. Many sought new export markets only to be overwhelmed by the advantages given to imported foreign competition by the Government's unwise liberalised trade policies.”
Prejudice, discrimination, cruelty, and injustice took other forms in the US, such as the lynching of usually innocent black men in particular, but their effects were similar wherever in Africa and the African Diaspora black people resided. In an article written by Alexis Clark (published July 30, 2020 and updated September 8, 2020), she wrote, “State employment agencies all across the country honoured employer requests for whites-only for many jobs… by even owning a house, you create equity, and that creates wealth for the next generation.” The article went on to say that many African Americans did not have the opportunity to create a future generation of economic security.
Civil rights groups, frustrated by the lack of progress, continued to press for legislation on racial equality. On July 26, 1948 US President Harry Truman signed two executive orders, 9980 and 9981, desegregating the federal workforce and armed services — practices that would take years to be fully carried out. It soon became clear that the wealth gap was created by these unconstitutional policies that insisted that black people must be 'kept in their place', unless given certain privileges through the benevolence of white people who then became benefactors, handlers, or managers, mainly through the concept of Equal Employment Opportunity or Affirmative Action.
“At the heart of it was a kind of nervousness and fear that many whites had that returning black veterans would upset the racial status quo,” said Charissa Threat, a history professor at Chapman University, who has written extensively on civilian-military relationships and race. This fear would eventually burst like over-ripe boils on the bodies of most insecure white people, especially those described as 'poor white people'.
The putrid eruption of the violence became so pervasive and brutal that civil rights activists formed the National Emergency Committee Against Mob Violence in 1946. A delegation representing the group met with President Truman, arguing for a federal anti-lynching law, but Southern Democrats shut down Truman's attempt.
Discrimination towards African Americans found its way through loopholes in the legislation, just as it did in everyday life, and soon became systemic or institutionalised forms of racism. Just like the black people in all the British and European colonies and former colonies, the experience is always the same – that black people are judged by the colour of their skin, and not by their character, or by their innate creative abilities, or on their own merits. Institutions would insist that black people remain forever at the bottom of the pile.
As in the US, there were many successful black businesses in Jamaica. In the book Too Black to Succeed: The FInsac Experience, page 219 states, “After more than a century of successful Jamaican businesses, the 1990s ushered in a period in which the positive relationship between productive entrepreneurs and their financial partners came to a crashing halt. It is estimated that 44,000 mainly black entrepreneurs who owned healthy Jamaican businesses, some of which had grown to become regional and world-beaters, were disdainfully discarded by our national economic stewards, as 'bad debtors'. In the midst of the most fertile and dynamic world economy in a century, a devastating plague of debt struck Jamaica and no other place on Earth. The deadly virus spread through the economy like an epidemic. Factories collapsed like bodies before the Black plague.”
Too black to succeed was also the experience of many in the US, and was just as devastating for the once-prosperous black towns and businesses. “Black Wall Street”, the former name of the Greenwood neighbourhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where, in the early 20th century, African Americans had created a self-sufficient, prosperous business district. This business district was bombed from the air, and razed to the ground by angry mobs of white people. The term Black Wall Street was used until the Tulsa race riot of 1921. The name has also been applied more generally to districts of African American high economic activity.
The massacre lasted for two days, leaving between 30 and 300 mostly African Americans dead. More than 1,400 homes and businesses were burnt, and nearly 10,000 people left homeless. Despite its severity and destructiveness, the Tulsa race massacre was barely mentioned in history books until the late 1990s.
A popular quote by Marcus Garvey says, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” Such a tree is bound to wither and die. A lot of history is included in the book Too Black to Succeed: The Finsac Experience to help readers who wish to understand how black people in Africa, the USA, the Caribbean, Central and South America and throughout the rest of the Diaspora, wherever black people are found are caught up in this massive problem known as 'racism' that seems to have grown into an uncontrollable monster.
Based on the experiences of all black peoples, no matter how wealthy and well educated some became, they were still viewed as being black, and no matter how much they tried (even to current date) to bleach away their blackness, while ladies wear wigs made from other races' hair, they are still viewed as being black, and no matter how some black people think they have 'overcome' racism, they are still dependent on the benevolence of white legislature or white society to give them a stamp of approval so that they can be 'accepted' into white society.
The hypocrisy of racism is so palpable that it can almost be touched by every black person. It was Marcus Garvey who said, “Somebody said (but if it were not said, then I say it now) that the laws of our civilisation have but one interpretation for the poor and ignorant and for those with white skin, especially those of wealth and power, there are many interpretations, hence the poor are generally (killed or) convicted on the one interpretation, while most white people, especially the rich, are freed on the many interpretations.”
As black people, we have sacrificed our indigenous cultures in the hope that it will erase racism from our world. Although we have, for the most part, passed all the tests that are given in the space between 'here and there', we are still so divided along racial admixtures and hybridisation, that our mainly Eurocentric educated black leaders and the average white person cannot solve the problems associated with social injustice, racism and immorality.
Our mostly miseducated black leaders and the average Christian white person, especially those who claim to be avowed white supremacists, must first show a willingness to understand how their misinterpretations of history, religious teachings, philosophy, misinformed perceptions and the impacts of their actions, like those shown on January 6, 2021, may unknowingly subscribe to white privilege pedagogy, thereby maintaining the racial status quo, which places disproportional value on white people, and in the case of Jamaica, white and mulattoes or very fair-skinned people of the gentry class, at the expense of all black people.
Change has to come from within. W E B DuBois, towards the final years of his life, came to the realisation that Marcus Garvey was right. Ironically, it is he, DuBois, who renounced his US citizenship and is buried in Ghana, Africa, while Marcus Garvey's feet never touched the African soil.
Valerie C Dixon is an author.
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