The House Negro in the Mirror.
I first heard this accusation directly towards the revered Dr Martin Luther King delivered in a the militant style that brother Malcolm X was famed for. Often when I replay his speeches. They make me feel a little uncomfortable. The get a little bit under my skin. I wonder though.. how the good doctor truly felt about this accusation. I wonder if he would truly resist it. And even if he did. If he would be able to speak to it without hesitation.
You see my friends. For those who are perhaps unfamiliar. Let me tell you my literary vehicles for today. Let me tell you about the “House Negro in the Mirror”. Now the negro in this context exists as the so called “natural slave”. A body that exists in order to be subservient to the will of it’s Masters. A body that exists to be controlled. Contained. Restrained. And if necessary. Chained.
There are two classes of “slaves” that today I will use, the so called field negro and the house negro. Now the field negro exists as a body that occupies the lowest station afforded graciously to the “natural slave”. Bound to manual labour. Not too different from the dogs that guard the home of the Master. Not too different from the livestock that the Master will consume. Not too different from the Oxes that plough the fields. Now the house negro is quite different. This “natural slave” is granted the wonderful dishonour of being invited into the home of the Master. She will tend to her Masters children. He will serve his Master his bread. His milk. And his honey. The house negro is allowed to voyeuristically approach whiteness. Allowed to hear violent thoughts against which she cannot protest. Allowed to see things but forced to stand idle. To witness things that he detests.
The house negro is afforded an insidious affirmation. One that has been said to poison the mind. Twist perceptions of reality. Attack their psycology. To constrain her self conceptions. To quietly and violently bind.
Now the house negro was often said to resist calls for freedom from the field negros. Hesitant to reject the hard earned partial freedoms granted to them by their Masters who reign with timeless impunity over their kingdoms.
The house negro who was afforded the chance to taste whiteness. Becomes – all too often – very, very thirsty. And insatiably hungry.
The house negro sees herself not as “black” but sadly as the White Man. But simply permanently dirty.
The house negro. As Malcolm X and countless others have contested. Exists very much in present day. And for us, who know full well. That we have yet to dispel the associations of “blackness”. We have yet to deconstruct the harmful social construct of “blackness” that was used to paint the “natural slave” in many spaces across the globe. Knowing full well that many black faces remain slaves.. somehow without the presence of Masters that even have faces. Without having ever worked fields. Or without ever having tended to the dirty boots of a white man. In fact many remain slaves without ever having engaged with a white man.
The demons invoked by these constructions travel swiftly and seamlessly from generation to generation. Moving fluidly fitting perfectly into whatever container they are release into. Causing great destruction.
Many souls gifted by the present day with the construct of “blackness” remain so deeply as the “natural slaves”. And often when I wake up and I face the mirror, I wonder if I myself am not simply.. A house negro. Some kind of awkward complex approximation of my internalisation of Whiteness. An idea that has taken root in my mind and countless others, one that was spread by deeds that irreparably affect our lives today. And radically altered the lives of our ancestors. And yet where it not for our former British Masters. My “Ugandan” blood and “Indian” blood may never have mixed on South African soil. Those constructions may not even have existed. I might not have existed.
So from the music I dance to. To the films and stories I devour. To the political systems I am subjected to. How much of these inscribed within them the insidious affirmation that was once afforded to the house negro and to their compatriots all over the world, who shared their station. We are still led by voices who speak a language of freedom, that provoke us to be “whatever we want to be” but remain shaded and jaded by those who remain painted by the shadows of the conceptions of a “Just” world build on the backs of bodies whose suffering is left forgotten. Trapped it seems we are. On the road to hell. Paved by the hands of Whites and Non-Whites alike with good intentions.
Am I a house negro after all?
Resisting the calls for the sort of freedom and self determination I yearn for because I have become comfortable?
Does my biracial skin, my accent that defies my origins, my Western education provide me with a voice and a face that is palatable enough to my faceless Masters to allow me into their homes?
Am I too just another house negro who subconsciously believes that he is somehow a White Man. But somehow permanently dirty?
Will I have the strength to turn my back and become a modern day abolitionist? Will I be able to receive the coded messages of the Abolitionists who seek myself and others like me on their path to freedom?
What of my children? Will they too become house negros?
What about you my friend. Tell me. Just where on Earth will you go? What on Earth are you going to do.
And by the way. Dear compatriot of mine. What about you? Who are you?
– Don Quixote