Racism in the US is as old as the nation. In looking for solutions one approach almost always stands out. We need to address the entrenched racialized narrative we have internalized and keep telling ourselves. I will admit though that I am still struggling with how to make this fact easy to digest for everyone. When I point to the stories we tell as the root of racism, many ask what this really means. In my opinion though everything is about stories. I know the evidence seeking data requiring Individuals among us will always challenge that assertion. As humans our stories wins most of our battles because that is what nurtures and holds us together. Thus, those who want to turn back the tide of racism ignore these stories at their own peril. To understand this we need to ask if there is an upstream solution for structural racism in the US.
Generational Curses, Are they Real and Do They Explain The Oppression of People of African Descent?
I have been in many debates with other people of African descent on the supposed innate inferiority of African people. My experience has taught me something different, yet I am still at a loss on how to effectively articulate this. As Africans and people of African descent we are great and capable in our own right. In our current environment though, to achieve sustained success we have to contend with reversing the impact of several centuries of negative stories which empowers others at our expense. The strength of centuries old stories makes it a challenging for us to maintain power and wealth over multiple generations.
I cannot talk about these stories without bringing up a common belief of my people. The belief in generational or ancestral curses; a concept that is even expressed by the Jews in the Bible in Exodus 34: 7: “The Lord visits the iniquity of the fathers to the children and the children’s children up to the third and fourth generation” Many Christian theologians still debate this verse. Most cannot understand how a merciful God could punish people for sins they did not commit. To my Christian readers just be assured that another verse does say something totally different so there is hope. Make sure to read Deuteronomy 24:16, and hopefully you can sleep without worrying about your whore mongering father or grandfather.
I am not trying to preach to anyone but one question that I have always asked myself is; “are these ancestral curses real?” For me seeing the concept expressed in different religious philosophies is a strong indication of the power of these ‘curses’. To put things in perspective though I will like to say that every black person should forget about the curse of Ham the son of Noah. Just remember that curse is part of the stories that have been told. It’s association with people of African descent is however totally false. At this time nobody has shown that Africans are the sons of Ham or Canaan, So let us leave the false theology of the Dutch Reformed Church which they used to support the Apartheid System in South Africa for those who came up with it.
How Can One Escape Punishment For Having The “Wrong Ancestry”?
Many people of African descent have scoured the history books looking for evidence to counteract the negative narrative. More often than not the evidence is glaring. In reality though, how does one win against centuries of stories handed down from parents to children mostly unconsciously. Yes, most of the negative false stories are handed down effectively without intention. The most effective of such stories are handed down like Pavlov’s conditioned reflex without any active participation of the story teller. How does one reverse that? Also, unlike the Biblical curse which supposedly stopped at the 4th generation we are still carrying these ‘curses’ after several centuries. So to all Christians, please tell me which kind of sin deserves such unending punishment? I am still trying to figure out what our African ancestors did to deserve this punishment.
Remember the curse of Ham and Canaan is not our curse we are not his descendants. If your pastor tells you something else just tell them I said they are liars. The only reason the story has been so strong and persistent in my opinion is the fact that we are so easy to associate with the story. To make this clear assuming there is a negative stereotype associated with having Irish ancestry. A person could easily change their last name from O’ Connor to Conan and by the third and fourth generation almost nobody will remember they were Irish. It is possible that community memory is where we get the third and fourth generation timeline in the verse in the book of Exodus. Thus most can escape these supposed ‘curses’ if the humans who have made it their duty to play God could just forget.
Unfortunately the 3rd and 4th generation does not hold for being black. Some sought to escape that curse for their descendants by continuously marrying outside of the race. Their progeny just eventually denied their ancestry to escape the curse by passing off as white. Though American racism has used many mechanisms to make this very difficult many have used that escape route. For those of us though who just love how we look as a people this route is just not feasible. We therefore need a better mechanism, this is why we need to start deconstructing the stories supporting the false racial narrative. These entrenched stories will be difficult to dismantle but we will need to start taking them down brick by brick.
What Must African People do to Reverse the Negative Racialized Narrative
So my brothers and sisters there are different kinds of stories. There are the stories that hold us together and maintain our community norms. There are others that were used to keep us down and have held us down for centuries. Sometimes others tell those stories about us and in some situations we have accepted and internalized these stories. The first step to tearing down these ancestral curses is to recognize the stories that have maintained and perpetuated these curses. Once identified, we need to disown these stories. The third and final step is to start constructing new stories, our own stories about our unique gifts and abilities. It is our duty to tell these stories to ourselves and our children. These are the steps we as a people need to take to deconstruct racism within our own communities. Such efforts will eventually reverberate out into the larger community.
To really deconstruct racism we need to go upstream to the source. We need to address the ones who created and fed these stories to themselves for centuries; mostly white business interests. These groups have benefited immensely from these stories and are still reaping the benefits of their spurious stories. Unfortunately, we do not hold the keys that can unlock this problem. Eventually those holding the keys will need to take down those bricks. Those stories and the structures they create are not going to come down as easily. In 1987 Reagan told Gorbachev to take down the Berlin wall.
The struggle will continue until we get the ally within willing to take down the bricks of structural racism within white strongholds. They have fed and maintained these rules and codes over several centuries. The wall will eventually come down, we know we will have our own Gorbachev who will help bring down the wall. Until then we will continue to deconstruct the false stories and work to create new ones.
Feature photo – Courtesy of Vanity Studios flickr with modifications under creative commons license
By Dr. Leonard Sowah an internal medicine physician in Baltimore, Maryland