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The Lives of African Heritage People

A range of issues affects the lives of African Heritage people in the United States, in Africa, and in the African Diaspora. In this space we can catalogue some of those issues and briefly describe a few. In alphabetical order, not order of importance, here are some of them: addictions; Black lives being treated like they don’t matter; capitalism; devaluing of self; dismantling of Black families; environmental degradation, climate change, environmental racism, and climate injustice; homelessness; housing discrimination; income inequality; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, and Transgender (LGBQT) oppression; “mental health” oppression; Native oppression; poor physical health; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); prison industrial complex; rage and terror; systemic racism in society and in the workforce; violence and the threat of violence; war; and women’s oppression.

Racism and internalized racism interact with and overlay all of the issues affecting African Heritage people. They combine to produce, maintain, and perpetuate negative consequences in our lives. A few of these consequences are briefly described below.

BLACK LIVES MATTER

A range of events and circumstances make it difficult for Black people and others to hold the view that Black lives matter. One glaring indicator of United States society’s failure to value Black lives is the state-sponsored and state-sanctioned violence toward Black people. According to one report two hundred and fifty Black people were killed by police in 2016. Yet few police officers were charged or indicted for these killings. According to the Wall Street Journal zero police officers were convicted of murder or manslaughter. This failure to value Black lives is also evident in many Western European countries.

In the United States, twenty-four states have passed “stand your ground” laws, which affirm the right of citizens to defend themselves, using deadly force if deemed necessary, and remove the duty to retreat. As a result of racism, many white people experience an encounter with a Black person as a trigger to fear for their lives. This defense has been successful in removing accountability for violence toward Black people and any expectation for police or others to value Black lives. Few Black people have been able to successfully use “stand your ground” as a defense, even when their lives are actively threatened during cases of domestic violence. The State of Arkansas, USA, went on a killing spree in early 2017, and three of the four people it executed were Black.

In addition to state sanctioned, enacted, and tolerated violence against African Heritage people, Black people experience high infant mortality rates, worsening health care and health conditions, and higher incidences of stress-related diseases. In the United States the threat of loss of health care options makes it difficult to determine if there is any societal will that Black lives matter.

In many Black communities continued high rates of violence, high rates of domestic abuse, and child-rearing practices that embody corporal punishment and verbal and emotional violence confirm the inability of many Black people to value Black lives.

CAPITALISM

Black people remain on the forward edges of the most negative consequences of the continued demise of capitalism. Lack of access to jobs and job training, reduced educational opportunities, and the continued assault on public schooling reduce opportunities for African Heritage people. Gentrification pushes Black people out of established neighborhood communities, reducing affordable housing options, putting housing in the city out of reach, and destroying voting blocs and political capital for African Heritage people. Discrimination in lending practices, limited availability of low-cost insurance, and lack of support for building infrastructure combine to keep African Heritage people intergenerationally poor and economically oppressed.

Lack of wealth across generations and ongoing cycles of poverty produced by individual and institutional racism continue to restrict the participation of African Heritage people in the economic mainstream, and limits them to the economic backwaters of society.

RESURGENT RACISM AND PTSD

Racist, ethno-phobic, divisive, and hate-filled rhetoric at the national level combines with policies and practices at the local level to produce toxic living conditions for African Heritage people in the United States and elsewhere. This means that there is no “post” in the traumatic stress disorder that African Heritage people experience. The circumstances that produce these living conditions are ongoing and their effects are cumulative. For instance, the infant mortality rate among Black infants in the USA is 2.4 times higher than that of white infants. This high infant mortality rate, as well as a high incidence of premature births, prevails in Black families across income, educational and occupational levels, geographical areas, and all other indicators. African women coming to the United States share infant mortality rates with white women for the first generation. By the third generation they have the same infant mortality rates as African Heritage women in the United States. The cumulative effect of the daily manifestations of racism takes its toll on health, and is reproduced across generations.

FEELING BAD ABOUT OURSELVES

African Heritage people face a peculiar mixture of messages from society and internalized recordings that result in perpetually feeling bad about ourselves. Black people still face and fight the effects of colonization, enslavement, and genocide. The tools of colonization and enslavement are still used to keep Black people feeling bad about ourselves.

Resurgent religious fundamentalism throughout the United States, Western Europe, the Caribbean, Africa, and the African Diaspora has ongoing negative consequences in the lives of Black people. Europeans used religion as a tool to subjugate and colonize Africa, establish and maintain the chattel trade in and enslavement of Africans, and justify the genocide of millions of Africans. Religion plays a key role in the contemporary subordination of African Heritage people. Being grounded in an ideology that confirms “worthlessness,” “sinfulness,” and “baseness” does little to help Black people feel good about ourselves. African Heritage people are taught to believe they have no capacity to think for themselves, and there is little to help them feel empowered to organize and live good lives.

The ideology of white superiority tells African Heritage people that white and whiteness is better, purer, smarter, more beautiful, and superior to Black and Blackness. When eight out of every ten Black women reject African-type hair and adorn themselves with European-type hair, the scar of self-hatred is made more visible. This colonization of the mind is an ongoing issue in the lives of African Heritage people.

Barbara J. Love

International Liberation Reference Person
for African Heritage People

Amherst, Massachusetts, USA

 


Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00