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house Negro

amy-holmes-7158703From Malcolm X’s speech, “Message to the Grassroots” (1963):

There was two kinds of slaves. There was the house Negro and the field Negro. The house Negroes – they lived in the house with master, they dressed pretty good, they ate good ’cause they ate his food – what he left. They lived in the attic or the basement, but still they lived near the master; and they loved their master more than the master loved himself. They would give their life to save the master’s house quicker than the master would. The house Negro, if the master said, “We got a good house here,” the house Negro would say, “Yeah, we got a good house here.” Whenever the master said “we,” he said “we.” That’s how you can tell a house Negro.

If the master’s house caught on fire, the house Negro would fight harder to put the blaze out than the master would. If the master got sick, the house Negro would say, “What’s the matter, boss, we sick?” We sick! He identified himself with his master more than his master identified with himself. And if you came to the house Negro and said, “Let’s run away, let’s escape, let’s separate,” the house Negro would look at you and say, “Man, you crazy. What you mean, separate? Where is there a better house than this? Where can I wear better clothes than this? Where can I eat better food than this?” That was that house Negro. In those days he was called a “house nigger.” And that’s what we call him today, because we’ve still got some house niggers running around here.

This modern house Negro loves his master. He wants to live near him. He’ll pay three times as much as the house is worth just to live near his master, and then brag about “I’m the only Negro out here.” “I’m the only one on my job.” “I’m the only one in this school.” You’re nothing but a house Negro. And if someone comes to you right now and says, “Let’s separate,” you say the same thing that the house Negro said on the plantation. “What you mean, separate? From America? This good white man? Where you going to get a better job than you get here?”…

Just as the slavemaster of that day used Tom, the house Negro, to keep the field Negroes in check, the same old slavemaster today has Negroes who are nothing but modern Uncle Toms, 20th century Uncle Toms, to keep you and me in check, keep us under control, keep us passive and peaceful and nonviolent. That’s Tom making you nonviolent. It’s like when you go to the dentist, and the man’s going to take your tooth. You’re going to fight him when he starts pulling. So he squirts some stuff in your jaw called novocaine, to make you think they’re not doing anything to you. … Blood running all down your jaw, and you don’t know what’s happening. ‘Cause someone has taught you to suffer – peacefully.

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All black Americans are racist. Well, at least 99%.

When your life is shaped by the colour of your skin it is very hard not to see the world in terms of race. In fact, to be race-blind under such circumstances would be unwise.

Some say blacks cannot possibly be racist because they lack power like whites to use their prejudice, their feelings about race, to hurt others. They do not control the police, banks, courts or newspapers. Racism is prejudice backed by power.

But blacks do have power. Not the power to affect complete strangers in large numbers like whites do, but they still have the power to hurt others.

You see that in hate crimes against whites and Asians, for example.

But most of their prejudice and hatred is turned inward. Whatever hatred blacks direct against whites and Asians it is nothing compared to the hatred they direct against themselves.

They live in a white world which tells them over and over and over again that they are no good. In a thousand little ways. As advertisers know, if you hear something enough times you begin to believe it. It is how the mind works.

So at one level most blacks are proud of being black and know they are just as good as whites. And yet at another level, deep down, there is that shame and hatred and doubt about anything black, laid there since childhood by American society.

This comes out in a hundred ways, directly and indirectly. In the self-destruction of drugs and drink. In broken marriages and broken homes. In young men full of promise who suddenly throw it all away. In feelings about light skin and dark skin – colourism. In the way many black women feel about their hair and their beauty. And, yes, in the use of the n-word: I do not care who says it, that word is still poison.

Because this sort of racism works from the inside it can be worse than the racism that comes from the outside directly from whites.

If you ever saw Kenneth Clark’s Doll Test it is heartbreaking: little black girls picking the white doll over the black doll as the nice one. Not all the black girls picked the white doll, but most did.

They did that experiment back in the 1940s and it was one of the things that persuaded the Supreme Court to tear down the Jim Crow laws. Not the lynchings, not the dead black men hanging from trees, but the little black girls picking up white dolls.

But it gets worse: they repeated that experiment in 1985 and again in 2006, long after the fall of Jim Crow, and it was still the same!

Things are way better for blacks than they were 60 years ago – the growth of the black middle-class is proof of that. But there is still quite a ways to go. Even if white racism ended tomorrow, it would take at least another 30 years for racism to die out among blacks.

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