This happened in the early 2000s. I was chopping it up with friends, and lamenting (as usual) the sorry state of Africa – – francophone Africa in particular. I recall decrying that, “The former France and Belgium colonies are really in such a deplorable state!” I was preaching to the choir. But then I piled on: “If the Germans had stayed in Cameroon, we would be in a better situation.”
That last statement didn’t go over so well. My uncle in particular took umbrage and proceeded to dress me down. “Instead of aspiring to freedom, you’re seeking after a better master,” he said. With those few words, he had just unveiled the extent of my BS to me. If Malcolm X had heard what I had said, he probably would have called me a “house Negro”…and he wouldn’t have been wrong.
In a now-legendary speech from 1963, Malcolm X had taken time to describe the house Negro.
So you have two types of Negro. The old type and the new type. Most of you know the old type. When you read about him in history during slavery he was called “Uncle Tom.” He was the house Negro. And during slavery you had two Negroes. You had the house Negro and the field Negro.
The house Negro usually lived close to his master. He dressed like his master. He wore his master’s second-hand clothes. He ate food that his master left on the table. And he lived in his master’s house–probably in the basement or the attic–but he still lived in the master’s house.
So whenever that house Negro identified himself, he always identified himself in the same sense that his master identified himself. When his master said, “We have good food,” the house Negro would say, “Yes, we have plenty of good food.” “We” have plenty of good food. When the master said that “we have a fine home here,” the house Negro said, “Yes, we have a fine home here.” When the master would be sick, the house Negro identified himself so much with his master he’d say, “What’s the matter boss, we sick?” His master’s pain was his pain. And it hurt him more for his master to be sick than for him to be sick himself. When the house started burning down, that type of Negro would fight harder to put the master’s house out than the master himself would.
(I enjoin you to watch the full speech here.)
In retrospect, I was thinking like a house Negro. In 2021, I urge you not to put limits to your dreams. Don’t settle for crumbs when you deserve the whole cake! Don’t be content with the very least! Don’t be house Negroes. Shoot for the moon and the stars!
PS: If you are confined and bored at home, I strongly encourage you to watch the new Regina King movie, “One night in Miami” . Kingsley Ben-Adir, the actor who plays Malcolm X, is simply astounding.
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