America, with a Side Order of Slavery
TODAY IN HISTORY: This month is the anniversary of the four hundred years since the first enslaved Africans arrived in the New World, in Port Comfort, Virginia, in 1619.
An Open Letter to My People no matter where they may be:
To my brothers and sisters who struggle relentlessly but feel too little is changing: I have few words that will comfort you. I can only encourage you to grit your teeth, clench your fist, and push on. Some days you will be battered and take no ground that day.
If you are tired, it is because you are going where no one has gone before and Freedom is an elusive beast, found best in places no one has ever sought to look. You will have doubt, your every decision will reek of it, your thoughts will always sell you short, you will feel inadequate, even when you should feel your most powerful.
We have been imprisoned. Not just our bodies, but our minds. A prison we did not create. We were born into it. It is all around us. It permeates us. If you live in America, in particular, the very nature of this corruption has been your meat and drink, though it turn to ashes in your mouth, daily.
If you are tired, it is understandable. The weight you carry cannot be measured. Nor can it be laid aside. It is a weight which reflects in the morning as the melanin in your skin, for some, dark as night, for others, just a hint of lovely shadow.
But it’s weight is the same. Once seen, never denied. Never forgiven. It is understandable when you say: “Damn. I’m tired. And I haven’t done anything today. I’m just getting up.”
But before you rose from your bed, you had to lift history. You had to lift, not just your history, your personal struggles, your challenges, your weaknesses, your capacities and your failings. You had to lift your People. You had to lift the Struggle. You had to lift your family with all the good and bad that can entail.
You had to shoulder the challenge of being a good man in a bad world. A very bad world, whose only true goal is to ensure you have less today than you had yesterday. Before you take your first step from the arms of Morpheus, you are given your rock, your chains, and your daily reminder to: hold your rage, mind your manners, never lose your temper. Or you may die.
What you are feeling isn’t weakness or a flaw of character. This is the weathering of Life.
Life is the ultimate exercise; where you are weak, Life shall strengthen you. But not before she buckles you, bows you, and when you are at your weakest, drop you to a knee. If you are blessed, you have a Companion. Someone who in this moment can dab your brow, while they shoulder their own burdens, the two of you sharing this impossible struggle.
In that moment, you must rest.
Realize, you cannot set this burden down. It is as much a part of you as the scale is to the fish. It is both armor and impediment depending on where you stand. When you feel this pressure to succeed against impossible odds and you are driven to a knee.
Do not resist it. For that way lies being broken. Drop to your knee and rest. Rest in that moment. Breathe a sigh of relief because in this moment, you cannot be driven any further.
But you are not broken.
Stop. Pause. Feel the moment. Sit in it. We are always on the move, so we rarely stop to feel vulnerable. To acknowledge it. Then steel yourself and stand. Knock off that dust because that just won’t do.
Because you are not broken.
Fix your hat. Cause style matters. And with that first step, swagger like you own this motherfucker.
Because you are not broken.
Shout out to an impassive and impossible Universe, that you will stride across this world again, because we have been beaten, but not stopped. We have been enslaved, we have been disenfranchised, we have been abused.
But we have not and never will be broken.
We will never accept anything less than we deserve and will do whatever is required, by any means necessary. Know this.
You are a Black in America and your sweat, blood, tears, fears, and Family made this nation possible. You are lit. You are alive and you are CANNOT BE STOPPED. Slow down, my brother, my prince, lift your head as you lift your burden; survey your future in the distance, hidden by the mists of time, with an uncertain path before you.
History follows in your wake. Where you walk, few have ever trod. You make the path for the thousands who will follow. Your every step is legend. Don’t stop, now. Your efforts are seen. We need you. We believe in you. You inspire us. If we do not roar loud enough for you to hear, its because we are caught up in our own burdens and can scarcely lift our heads. But we see you.
Never doubt that. Shine your light and we will follow. Your inspiration is real. You cannot, you must not, you dare not STOP. If you have come this far, we look to you on the side of that mountain.
We look up and see you and say: If he can do this, so can I. If he can endure this, so can I. If he believes he can be great: so can I. There is no greater gift you can give than this. To no greater purpose can you aspire.
We are with you, always.
“Say ‘reverse racism’ one more motherfucking time. I dare you…”
♬ Listen to this Story or Read it
It’s Always About Race
Baldwin’s impassioned plea 50 years ago shows how little has changed.
Thaddeus works as a writer and editor for two magazines, the Good Men Project, a social men’s magazine as well as for Krypton Radio, a sci-fi enthusiast media station and website. He is also a freelance journalist for Polygon.com and Panel & Frame magazine. Thaddeus is the co-founder of Futura Science Fiction Magazine and one of the founding members of the Afrosurreal Writers Workshop in Oakland.