Closest to the Pain

by Love & Struggle Team

“Negroes in this country – and Negroes do not, strictly or legally speaking, exist in any other… The American Negro is a unique creation; he has no counterpart anywhere and no predecessors.”

The Fire Next Time
James Baldwin

While recently re-reading The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin – one of my go-to books for racial framing and critique – the above words from Baldwin elucidated something that has been nagging at me in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. I have been troubled by the dynamics of what has transpired in this push for the Third Reconstruction of our American Experiment. I have been dogged by the visuals and narratives that have circulated and permeated our communities in the aftershocks of the brother’s murder in Minneapolis. I couldn’t precisely pinpoint the what or why of my consternation but the words above brought it into supreme clarity – 2020 vision as it is said now, in this specific year, to relay the fuller understanding gained regarding one’s plan and purpose.

THE American Negro…



Baldwin’s words clearly delineated that the American Negro (those with lineage of chattel slavery) was uncommon and un-duplicated anywhere. This unique creation, descending from enslaved Africans snatched from their ancestral homelands and shipped to the United States of America to be made beast of burden in barbaric conditions for the prosperity of white folks, has no roots in their primordial soil (other than the ones they have resiliently willed, ideologically, into being there) as well as the deliberate rejection of possible roots here in a society built to refute any and all efforts at self-actualization. I am not saying that the American Negro has not fostered roots here in America to the contrary has done so only through the unwavering might of their collective spirit. It is this “deliberate rejection of possible roots” that was made clear by Baldwin’s words.

Robin DiAngelo in her book White Fragility echo’s Baldwin’s words in today’s racial parlance…

“I believe that in the white mind, black people are the ultimate racial ‘other’, and we must grapple with this relationship, for it is a foundational aspect of the racial socialization underlying white fragility… anti-blackness is foundational to our very identities as white people. Whiteness has always been predicated on blackness… there was no concept of race or a white race before the need to justify the enslavement of Africans.”

Robin DiAngelo
White Fragility

Anti-Blackness. Yes?! That’s it!

Uh… But not quite… The optics of the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder definitely displayed anti-blackness but there was something even more laser-like in its precision that was still unanswered in my mind. What was it?

“And certainly the history of the black-white relations in this country from the Civil War to the present unmistakably show that as a people, America has never intended for blacks to be free.”

James H. Cone
Black Theology and Black Power

In the 1930s, the federal government institutionalized a national appraisal system for land and property. This appraisal system was created to assess property and land values of American homeowners, businesses and other entities for financial risk. Part of the criteria for the financial viability of these properties and locations was the rate of “the infiltration of negroes”. Those with higher rates were deemed high financial risk (shaded with red) and those with lower rates or no rates were deemed low/no financial risk (shaded with green). Infiltration of American Negroes rendered physical property and location invalid and without merit according to this national appraisal system. The deliberate rejection of possible roots of the American Negro created a financial incentive system (Housing, Real Estate) that is still alive and well to this day! This rejection of the American Negro created our entire American housing apparatus, the suburban boom and the urban bust. (note: gentrification has simply flipped the locations but not the rationale for which areas are incentivized and de-incentivized.)

(Pictures courtesy of RACE: The Power of an Illusion)

Anti-Blackness! Yes… But… not… quite…

On May 31, 1921, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, hundreds of recently freed and descendants of those recently freed enslaved Africans now fully transitioned to American Negroes were slaughtered and thousands of properties were burned to the ground. Black Wall Street, the most affluent African American – read American Negro – community of the 20th century was no more.

Anti-Blackness! Yes… But… not… quite…

J. Marion Sims, commonly known as the “Father of Gynecology” performed hideous experiments on enslaved African women. Sims founded an entire discipline of medicine by performing procedures such as repairing “fistulas, which are holes between the vagina and the bladder or rectum and can lead to incontinence, by repeatedly conducting painful experimental surgeries on enslaved black women without using anesthesia” according an NPR article on April 17, 2018.

Anti-Blackness! Yes… But… I still was not fully resolved in my questioning of the optics of the post-George Floyd moment.

Four-thousand-eighty-four (4084) “racial terror lynchings” occurred in the United States between 1877-1950 according to Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror (Third Edition) by the Equal Justice Initiative. The majority of these racial terror lynchings took place in the South as a repressive countermeasure against freed slaves and their progeny, the American Negro’s want and desire for freedom and equality. To this day, we still don’t fully know the number of racial terror lynchings that took place in this country.

Ava DuVernay, in her powerful documentary, 13th, clearly shows the link between the freedom of the American Negro from slavery to the explosion in American mass incarceration. The institution of criminal justice and mass incarceration are due to the perpetual aggression against this unique creation of the American Negro. The exploitation of the 13th Amendment loophole to the Constitution of the United States of America led to the over-criminalization of the Black (American Negro) male specifically and the Black (American Negro) population as whole as stated by Malkia Cyril of the Center for Media Justice in 13th.

“The Invention of the Police”, a July 13, 2020 article in the New Yorker Magazine outlines the clear connection and direct correlation between the growth of the police state to the institution of chattel slavery and its “slave” iterations post emancipation. It is well documented that slave patrols were the predecessor to our current day police. It is also well documented that the vast majority of police-involved murder is of the descendants of enslaved Africans and it’s offspring, the American Negro. (As of this writing, Jacob Blake, a 29yr old African American male, was shot 7 times by Kenosha (Wisconsin) Police after breaking up a fight and trying to return to his car. Jacob Blake is alive as of this writing.)

Huh!? Maybe this is where I was getting stuck in my processing of the visuals and narratives of this moment?

Anti-Blackness! Yes… But…

It is not simply anti-blackness that I was having issues with reconciling in this moment… it was something much more specific and insidious…

THE American Negro…



James Baldwin’s prophetic utterances were reverberating in my head. “(The American) Negroes do not, strictly or legally speaking, exist in any other.” “The American Negro is a unique creation.” As I scanned the movements and protests occurring across the country I saw the absence of the American Negro voice and agency. I saw white allies speaking, acting and leading without the American Negro presence or guidance. Disturbingly, I saw non-white allies of different races and ethnicities doing the same. This was not a surprise though. I will say it is annoying when Black folks – the American Negro – are referred to as voiceless… when the problem is more about folks choosing not to listen. The American Negro has no problem speaking out and is clear about what we need. Allyship isn’t you speaking for me as much as you speaking for yourself in support of me. Right?! Is it that our allies, white and non-white, don’t believe we have the wherewithal to lead for change? Is it that our allies, white and non-white, don’t believe we know what is needed in this moment? Is it that our allies, white and non-white, are conditioned to use the pain of our uniqueness but ignore the centuries of ascendant agency we have employed to be present?

Anti-Blackness, YES! AND most specifically, ANTI-AMERICAN NEGRO-NESS!

America quickly imprints upon all who reside within that being Black is not a wanted identity. But as I have been reiterating, it is not just being Black that is the scarlet letter but it is being identified as the offspring of the American Negro that is truly the undesirable classification. We see this anti-American Negro-ness in many ways such as with some recent refugees and immigrants from the African continent, and other black and brown countries, silo-ing their personhood away from the American Negro understanding that this presents them greater opportunity and access to white America. Even if increased access to white America isn’t fully granted, clear demarcation vis-a-vis the American Negro is bestowed thus an opportunity is created to craft an existence without the burden of white shame, guilt and pity. We also see this anti-American Negro-ness in the inability of others to follow the lead or allow the fully realized American Negro ascendant agency to be present.

“takes a whole lot of empathic effort to step into those of black people and see the world through the eyes of African Americans.”

James H. Cone
The Cross and the Lynching Tree

Side Note: I want to be clear that I am not saying others should not be in solidarity and support of the American Negro. I am saying the exact opposite. I am saying that others should be in solidarity and support of the American Negro while clearly allowing American Negro ascendant agency to drive and inform the change. WE want allyship that is cognizant of the history of anti-American Negro-ness thus paving the way for those matters most impacting the bodies of the American Negro to be out front.

Let me also be clear that I am not subscribing to a dogmatic ADOS (American Descendants of Slaves) framework here suggesting that the experience and accomplishments of Black folks who are not ADOS are unworthy of inclusion and praise. This rigid framing has been used to imply that Black leaders like Barack Obama and others aren’t to be celebrated as Obama was not a descendant of a American slave. I believe in the immense diversity of the Black diaspora and believe in honoring that diversity by highlighting the ways in which nuances and differences strengthen the Black Family Universal.

Lastly, I also believe that in specific situations that specific people should be leading. When it was reckoning with sexual assault and violence of the #MeToo movement, women sexual assault survivors were to lead. When it was the issue of the Muslim Ban, our Muslim brothers and sisters were to be out front directing the resistance. In the case of DACA, our undocumented Latino brothers and sisters were to lead the work for change. So too then in this moment regarding police reform and social transformation, the American Negro must also lead wherever this work is being done.

“As I have always said, those closest to the pain should be closest to the power.”

Ayanna Pressley
Massachusetts Congresswoman

“Closest to the Pain”… I can not think of one people… one diverse collective yet experiencing an extraordinarily singular existence… one group of human beings… one unique creation… that has been closest to the pain of America and specifically it’s police state beast and brutality at every moment than that of the American Negro. So it makes only logical sense that the American Negro be closest to the POWER of reconstructing this experiment for it’s third and hopefully final time. Research in the growing field of epigenetics – transmission of certain genetic marks to offspring, parent to child – suggests that trauma can be passed genetically through generations. The American Negro as Baldwin coined us have endured certain and specific traumas (slavery, perpetual white aggression, police brutality, etc) that have been passed through generations. These devastating markers of trauma further connect the American Negro to, and as, the epicenter of American pain.

There is no greater authority via brutal experience on the ills of policing and the need for police reform as well as social reform than the American Negro. Yet as consistently has been the presence of the perpetual police state weaponized against the American Negro so has been the consistent hi-jacking and co-opting of the American Negro’s pain without the American Negro’s permission and participation. My hope was that this time would be different. So far it hasn’t. Local, statewide and national protests and processes have been too willing to move the American Negro farther from the power and thus keeping us closest to the 400+ years of trauma and pain of this American Experiment.

“…who suffers the effects of oppression more than the oppressed. Who can better understand the necessity for liberation.”

author unknown

Love & Struggle

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