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If insanity is doing the same things repeatedly expecting a different outcome, are Black people working inside the system insane at this point?

I remember a book discussion I moderated when TaNehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me was released to critical acclaim. A self-proclaimed fearless Black man asked an engineer in the room, “What do you do when something is broken and it can’t be fixed?”

The engineer, a proud Black man, repeatedly exclaimed, “I’m an engineer! We fix things! We don’t stop until we find a solution!”

The fearless Black man, unimpressed, repeated the question at least three times. “But what if it CAN’T be fixed?”

After going in circles, I piped up, laughing incredulously and answered the original question logically. “Destroy it! If you can’t fix it, you must destroy it and start over!”

The United States cannot be fixed.

The United States of America cannot be fixed.

This country was built on indigenous genocide and slavery. Its founders instilled a sense of manifest destiny and American exceptionalism that is still felt by many today. The problem is America is not exceptional and it never has been. Americans have done interesting things, sure, but we are hardly the only inhabitants of Earth to innovate. The white supremacist system of government has caused hundreds of years of pain and death, most often visited upon Black and Brown bodies. What exactly are we trying to save here?

Furthermore, why on earth would Black and Brown people willingly participate in a system designed to kill them? The election of the current president should be a wake up call to many of us who thought we could change things if we get a seat at the table. If we could just rise to enough power, maybe they will listen to us and stop killing us unjustly, right?

I do not believe that at all. Perhaps I’m just tired of fighting day in and day out with no real change occurring, but I’ve understood for a long time that no matter what we do, how many offices we hold, how many white people laud our efforts, this country is behaving in exactly the way it was designed. It cannot be fixed because it is either broken beyond repair, or working as intended. Interestingly enough, both of those options can be true at the same time.

Great efforts were made during the Civil War, Reconstruction, The Civil Rights Movement and today, so why are Black people still disproportionately affected by poverty, harsh disciplinary policies in schools, harsh sentencing policies in court, lack of educational resources in our communities, gentrification driving us out of our communities and more? What exactly is a new generation of Black leaders going to do that the previous generation couldn’t accomplish? Will they be more unapologetic? Will they speak louder and refuse to be “respectable?” Will they demand more?

Contrary to those who proclaim they are not their grandparents; previous generations of civil rights activists were not all docile and respectable. Plenty of firebrands lived in every era of struggle since we were brought to this country and it would be wise to honor them. The problem didn’t lie with their tactics, it lay with the fact that this country was built to subdue them. From inception, this country has been rotten in its treatment of non-white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant males and quite beneficial to the WASPs that fit the desired mold.

So the question has to be asked. Is it insane for Black people to willingly participate in a system designed to destroy them? Is there really another way other than destroying that system before it destroys us?


Note: An edited version of this essay with supporting data links has been published on Racebaitr and is viewable here.