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Lately, I’ve written on the subjects of religion in the black community, respectability politics, and the futility of forgiveness and prayer. It wasn’t until my open letter to Toya Graham, though, that a pattern began to emerge. The common thread in these particular subjects is the fact that they are all used to keep black Americans docile, to make better slaves.

I’m sure I’m not the first to make this connection, but it has become so clear to me personally in the last nine months. Black people are continually told what to do, how to act, how to react to pain and what to aspire to in an effort to keep us so focused on the illusion of success, we don’t realize the damage that’s being done to us individually and collectively. Some of us engage in a competition to be “one of the good ones” who can say we “made” it. We go to the best schools, get the most lucrative jobs, wear the finest clothes and drive the fanciest cars to differentiate ourselves, but to what avail? Do we honestly believe we are incapable of experiencing racism after we’ve accomplished so much? A short search will yield many stories of successful and famous black people being treated unfairly when they aren’t immediately recognized as one of the “special” ones.

When those deemed special realize the problem; however, they are so enmeshed in the system of white supremacy they risk losing everything by speaking out. Now they have to think about the cost of exposing racism, the cost of being labeled “radical,” the cost of truth. Should I hold on to my illusion of success or fight for my very life and the life of my people? What a horrible position to be in, yet many of us find ourselves in that very position every time another tragedy occurs.

How did we get here? Let’s examine a few of the most effective ways to make better slaves, shall we?

Religion

This one is obvious, yet overlooked by so many. Black people have been taught to love white Jesus and emulate his loving persona ever since being forcibly brought to the Americas. While some apologists will argue there was some form of Christianity in Africa that predates the slave trade, one cannot argue the role Christianity played in the life of the American slave. The white landowners felt at ease holding slaves in the first place because their bible told them it was not an evil practice. Passages in many books, including Leviticus (Old Testament) and Ephesians (New Testament) not only permit slavery, but instruct slave owners in how to get slaves, beat slaves and rape slaves.

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.” (Ephesians 6:5) This passage was no doubt invoked repeatedly to make the slaves believe they were doing the right thing by resisting the urge to revolt. They were not serving these men who owned them, but Christ himself, which was honorable indeed.

Other passages telling of the riches of heaven and how beautiful it would be gave hope to the hopeless. The tradition of “storing up your blessings in heaven” started here, with slaves believing that as bad as this life was, they would be rewarded as “good and faithful servants” if they just did their best and kept believing.

Sound familiar? To this day, many black people realize this nation is not built for us, yet they shrug it off with a sigh and a will to just get through it. Many new age Christian and prosperity gospel evangelists speak about not being from this world. Some go as far as to say we have to toil on this planet in all its tragic glory as we wait for The Lord to take us back home to heaven. The poor are reminded of this every Sunday while getting a temporary shot of false euphoria, then sent back to the realities of their lives.

Better slaves don’t expect more, demand more, or think they deserve more. They just wait, following the carrot on the stick until they can follow it no more.

Respectability Politics

“Pull up your pants! Stop acting like a thug. He wouldn’t have been shot if he didn’t act like that.”

Respectability politics is an illusion. It says we will be treated better if we act better (read: more like white folks.) Our youth is in trouble not because the police are out of control, but because they didn’t acquiesce well enough. They didn’t say “yes sir” or “no sir” in the proper tone. They didn’t respond quickly enough to a question that was never asked. They are fatherless, they need mentors, they need to take education more seriously.

When a black person is killed, there is always a character assassination attempt shortly thereafter. What was he or she wearing? Where were they? Did the unfortunate person have a troubled past? Surely if they would’ve just…

This is the height of victim blaming. As I’ve said before, instead of telling racists to stop killing black men and women, we keep asking what they did to deserve to die. This is the same logic rape apologists use. Instead of telling men to stop raping women, these people immediately ask how short was her skirt. Both instances are wrong. Simply being black is not reason enough to evoke deadly suspicion just as simply being a woman is not reason enough to constantly fear being raped.

What’s worse is when your own people are the loudest to condemn you based on stereotypes and fear. Better slaves think they’ve made it, and look down on others who they feel didn’t try hard enough.

Futility of Forgiveness and Prayer (The Cycle of Abuse)

Invariably, after one of these tragedies occurs, people get angry. There are protests and uprisings called “riots” by those who don’t understand the frustration of feeling as though you and yours are targets who can be killed with impunity. White people see this frustration and begin to wax poetic about the “proper” kind of protest. Adherents to respectability politics say things like “why are they tearing up their own community?” Nevermind the majority of protests are peaceful, we are shown the most exciting behavior in an effort to self pacify. Black leaders are called on to calm the people down so justice can be served. Church leaders preach forgiveness and prayer for the families.

National leaders begin to call for a swift inquiry that’s usually as slow as a speeding turtle. Very few charges are ever filed against murderous cops, rarer still are any convictions. We wait. Some of us forget with the next news cycle. Some of us watch with baited breath as lawyers promise things will be different this time. We hope it’s true, but we are eventually disappointed. The preachers tell us their god will have vengeance on the perpetrators and many families speak of forgiving them.

These false salves are then wiped away as soon as the next man or woman is gunned down. This, my friends, is the American cycle of abuse.

Better slaves hold on to hope when action should be taken. They listen to their masters and black overseers when told to simmer down, believing everything will be all right when it obviously will not.

I, for one, am tired of this deadly cycle. As I’ve said previously, ENOUGH! Now is the time to come together to not only demand change, but to enact it ourselves. Don’t let anyone take our voices away. Don’t let anyone tell us to calm down. Don’t listen to those who would coddle us and assassinate our characters as soon as their masters demand it. Teach the young people to think critically, to fight, and to never let anyone stifle their revolutionary fire.

Don’t be a slave, much less a good one.

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