14 March 2013

From Victims to Perpetrators: Black Boys on the Bus

The other night I was Skyping my sister who lives in San Francisco; she told me about an experience she had recently that really actually pissed me off. She was on her way home on the bus when a group of 16-17 year old black boys were harassing a white girl about the way she looked. They were making fun of her and being horrible when one of the boys looked at my sister and said, “This is why white people and black people should have separate buses.” She told him, very kindly, as she would, that what he said wasn’t cool; society is far beyond that. Apparently it snapped something in all of the boys. They all ganged up on my sister and started pulling “the victim card”. They brought up slavery and how awful white people are; one boy even had the decency to spit in my sister’s face while saying, “You’re lucky we’re on the bus right now, because I slap dumb bitches like you.” Now keep in mind, this is San Francisco. These were little black hipsters- as Americanized as it comes. There were so many things wrong with this picture: not only did a group of boys gang up on my sister for something she had nothing to do with, but no one on the bus said anything in her favor either (a perfect example of bystanders). I started thinking about where these feelings toward white people come from. If every white and black American knew the truth about slavery, would there be such a division amongst us today? I know I’ve spoken briefly about slavery in a blog post before, but after what my sister went through….I think it’s time to really lay it out there.

Chapter 6: From Victims to Perpetrators

As we grow up we learn the horrible truths of slavery. We learn that white people bought and sold black people carelessly and suppressed them into horrible social conditions; they were beaten, starved, kept from education, and were even reduced to thinking less of themselves because of their skin color. It’s an ugly, monstrous history; it is, unfortunately, unchangeable. The truth is, however, it took two to tango.

Being in Ghana has given me an African perspective and insight to the real horrors of history. West Africa, specifically Ghana, is where the greatest number of “slaves” was exported from forts like Elmina and Cape Coast. Europeans came in wanting gold originally, but then as they needed more hands for their progress, they made a deal that would change the identity of everyone, including white people, all the way to America. Tribesmen and chiefs were actually trading their own rebels for European goods. I understand that there was intense pressure from the Europeans, especially after the demand in slaves began to rise…but none-the-less, privileged Africans traded their own people to gain goods, guns, and power to maintain control. Africans even began kidnapping their own people to sell them in hopes of gaining status in their own society. We are never taught these truths in school. Why is that? Why would the education system teach us the history of slavery in a way that only supports our sensitivity and segregation? The bits before America’s interactions are crucial to the identity of EVERY American. The way we are taught creates an even stronger division amongst us; white people assume the perpetrator role while black Americans step into the victim role. This creates very unstable, psychologically damaged individuals; especially in the black community.

The way that African Americans occasionally act out, like they did on my sister, only puts them into this role that every racist, white American would want them to take on. Americans are the most privileged individuals in this world; we are educated and have all the means in the world for greater progress…no matter your skin color. I can guarantee that those boys who were attacking my sister wouldn’t last a day in this world that they so greatly identify themselves with. They would come here and be treated just like every other foreigner and white person that passes through. They are Americanized individuals that, rather than taking advantage of their privileges and availability to the education system, act like victims and thenceforth step into the roles of perpetrators. It’s a sick cycle, and I can’t help but blame the education system.

If we were all taught the history of slavery from the beginning, I strongly believe it would recreate the identity of every black American, even of every white American. The history is horrible, but it is not the present; there is no chance in hell of it ever happening again either. Maybe that’s why it is taught the way that it is; maybe the education system and the government want the victim and perpetrator roles to be filled as to prevent history from repeating. However, we are seeing too many psychologically damaged individuals. No one should walk around carrying the weight of being a victim, nor should they succumb to the victim role either. By becoming a victim to a time those boys weren’t even alive for, they are actually becoming the problem; they are acting out on innocent people without an ounce of racism in their hearts. Who really holds racism in these situations?

The damage slavery has done to Africa and its progress, now that’s a problem. They are conditioned to be dependent and corrupt and therefore their progress is proving to move much slower than it really should. Black Americans, for the most part, especially at 16 years old, know nothing of these struggles. There may be areas in the states that job opportunity is lacking for them somehow, but you would think this would inspire pursuit of education and intelligence rather than becoming the exact individual they are stereotyped as. I’m really annoyed that I was taught by society to tip-toe around skin color and avoid “racial communication”. Maybe if we all were not so sensitive to these issues, they would not be issues at all. The only way to ban this sensitivity, however, is to educate everyone about the very start of slavery, not just where America comes into it.

Victims look like the Native Americans who have no touch with their culture anymore after experiencing intensive genocide. They are living in the country they originate from and, even now, are hardly able to identify and find their place. We are taught bits of their history and bits of the African history, but never enough to make a difference or inspire change. So if the American education system will not teach us, it is high time to reach out and find places and people that will.

 “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” 
― Augustine of Hippo

Nante Yie.
Emily Chamberlain

1 comment:

  1. My lovely sisters, how I miss you both. And how proud I am to know such wonderful women who actually care about people in our society and who don't stand by while injustice is right in front of us.

    The truth is, human beings can be terrible to eachother and have been throughout history regardless of race. Isn't about time that we can remember the past as a learning lesson but also forgive the past so we can all move forward and try to be kind to one another. While there will always be humans around us that choose to hurt other people, we should always strive to show everyone love because you never know what someone has been through and how a kind word or friend will affect them.