Does the passenger of the plane perceive the ground is shifting? It’s likely they don’t because they are insouciantly, unabashedly high in the sky. The seat they are on is set to recline and the earth below in hues of green and brown is in a homogenous stasis.
The one on the ground sees the earth breathes and is crawling. Ants and earthworms. Spiders and woodlice. Throbbing vegetation fighting for space and intricate root systems. The one on the ground witnesses the forces at play that keep a nation shackled to a shifting earth made acquiescent.
The individual born soaring through the sky however will never fathom the reality of the ground. Perhaps one day they could if they are willing to see. But most don’t. Most eyes look but choose to glaze over and do not see beyond a reductive horizon.
White men and women have their eye on the viewfinder and are not willing to recoil long enough to witness reality- the same reality that has kept and still keeps them in the sky. The day they collectively choose to see is the day we will no longer be “disallowed our spaces of mourning” (Hartman: 2002). The day the vastness of that grotesque event will be illuminated, acknowledged and repatriated under the harsh light of a livid sun. That day, Toni Morrison’s statement that white supremacy is very much a white problem will be actualised. Black people witness the ground is alive with structures and systems that keep them shackled to it and unable to fly. Black people are in fetters, chained to this sinking, loosening soil and the inhabitants of the sky are willingly ignorant, oblivious and illiterate on the sciences of a slackening earth.
White supremacy is more prolific than we realise and affects Black people historically and in contemporary society most intensely. Melissa McLetchie (2019) a PhD candidate in Canada has researched a phenomenon called macro-streaming. She describes macro-streaming as the ways through which Black Canadians are funnelled by the mechanisms of the state to incarceration, unemployment and undereducation. In the UK we have a similar iteration which is the school to prison pipeline, namely the ways through which especially Black school students via exclusionary practices are streamed into British prisons. Educator and politician Bernard Coard has correspondingly explored a form of macro-streaming in a famous 20th C pamphlet- expressly the ways Black children are made educationally subnormal in British state schools and streamed to special education classes, sabotaged through punitive measures, and discriminated against before they have had the liberty of opening their mouths (Coard:1971).
Macro-streaming is a legacy of the slave trade, Jim Crow, segregation, and imperialism and is a global reality for the diaspora and the subaltern. The documentary 13th on Netflix as well as the book Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi creatively demonstrates how legacies of slavery in the United States led to the mass incarceration of Black men via the chain gangs that began to appear post abolition. They also evidence how societal dysfunction in the Black community is born. Collectively we have become desensitised to statistics which simply shouldn’t exist. One such reified study is that of the US Bureau of Justice in 2018 which reports Black men accounting for 34% of the total male prison population despite being a minority in a majority white population. This disproportionality is reflected by white males only accounting for 29% of the prison population in the US in the same year.
I bring all this up to bring home the fact that Black people who are impoverished, living in social housing, homeless, in broken families, on the bottle, in prison, excluded from school, in gangs, on drugs, unemployed, under and miseducated are not inherently delinquent in nature and do not come from backwards cultures. The issues the Black community faces are largely structural and come from a place of generational trauma as well as structural state policies that blocked the avenues through which Black people could thrive and made easier the avenues through which they could be destroyed. This is not a conspiracy but the reality. It is the same reality that has caused native Americans and aboriginal Australians to go from once having a proud culture to developing drug and alcohol dependency, developing community-wide inherited behavioural pathologies, and being decimated in number.
Saidiya Hartman in her book Lose Your Mother (2006) brings home the extent to which Black people have been and continue to be systematically devastated by the continuing legacy of pernicious outside actors. It is important to know, whether or not you are Black, that the validity of racist tropes such as ‘Black on Black crime’ are null and void and gestures to the dark side of Black exceptionalism created by the forces of white essentialism. Black offenders and Black societal pariahs are not intrinsically wired to be ‘backward’. They are largely a generationally, structurally, and psychologically devastated people. And as Hartman (2002) explores, the common ancestor is that colossal break- the transatlantic slave trade and its scions. As McLetchie’s research underscores, we are being macro-streamed into the bowels of the earth, the abodes of the broken. The prison cells, the refugee camps, the trap houses, the concrete of the destitute, the bottle, the ICUs, the cyclical violence, the poverty, the social housing, the corruption, the unemployment, the under / mis- education. These have become for many who fall through the cracks- our resting places. Not due to our inherent ethnic ineptitude but rather because of the destruction of that ‘break’ (ibid). No amount of “pulling ourselves up by the bootstrap” can shift the structural patterns of a crawling earth or render it still enough for us to be emancipated from its clutches. More than this- the onus of our emancipation shouldn’t lie with us. Admittedly though, that it lie with the white man and woman, that they acknowledge and renounce their privilege is at present a utopian ideal.
The thought that my people have lost their names is heart-breaking. The notion that as Tupac said the family crest of a nation is cotton is enraging (Tupac: 1992). The realisation that a generation who were alive to witness the ravages of segregationist policies have had in many cases their minds and self-esteem stolen and buried beyond reach is unfathomable. The fact that in my lifetime, the last compensation paid by the UK taxpayer to slave owners for the loss of their ‘cargo’ post abolition occurred, therefore clearing the ‘debt’ of the UK government is grotesque. The success that white supremacy has wielded in many parts of Africa and the Caribbean, to blind a race to their own beauty is barbaric. For white men and women: silence is quite literally violence.
Racism isn’t ‘over’ and Black people do not need to get ‘over it’ or ‘pull themselves together’. If you think this way realise you are an inhabitant of the sky who has time and time again chosen to look away- to refrain from sincerely studying the ground.
A question for you:
How do we possibly stand up when the very earth is shifting beneath our feet?
A. Duvernay & J. Moran. (2016) 13TH . USA.
B Coard. (1971) How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Sub-normal in the British School System, New Beacon Books, London
S. Hartman (2006) Lose Your Mother
S. Hartman (2002) The Time of Slavery. South Atlantic Quarterly 101 (4): 757–777. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-101-4-757
T. Shakur (1992) MTV Interview
McLetchie, M. (2019) Unemployed, Under-Educated, and Over-Incarcerated: The Macro-Streaming of Black Canadians, Black Muslim Forum. London
Y. Gyasi (2016). Homegoing. New York, NY: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
On the Black condition: How do we possibly stand up when the very earth is shifting beneath our feet?Tweet
Soukeyna is the founder of Black Muslim Forum. She is a student based in London and works on the facilitation of Black Muslim Forum’s projects and services. Soukeyna is of West and North African origin and has a degree in Social Anthropology and International Relations (BA, SOAS). Soukeyna advocates for black rights especially in Maghrebi society, the Islamic teachings of racial equality, pan-African unity as well as the teachings of Malcolm X. Soukeyna started BMF to address a social need that wasn’t being met in the UK and to help advocate for and educate black Muslims across the globe.