“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”
What does this quote mean to you? Tamu founder ofThree Sixty Conversations asked me at the 1stanniversary of her live podcast recording last Wednesday.
I answered as best I could, but without the depth necessary to do justice to a question of such importance and a quote of such power from Mr. Baldwin.
Perhaps those entrenched fears of saying too much, offending, being rejected for my position leapt forward to usher me back into the false security of diluted truths. Or perhaps I simply wasn’t yet warmed up, nonetheless.
And so the question hung with me well after the event, climbing into my night-time thoughts until it pulled me from my bed and summoned me to my notepad, demanding it be properly addressed.
There is a great chunk of the internal experience of people who share a similar cultural, ethnic, socio economic background to me, that is almost entirely written out of social, political and more ironically the spiritual/self-help narrative. Much like the history books which made up our school curriculum and lodged single stories of enslavement, savagery and inferiority into the consciousness of my generation and that of our parents. The prevailing conversation apparently lacks the capacity to grasp the nuances and schisms that make up the reality of what it is to be born into un-belonging.
While many have the privilege of recognising their feelings of exile as self-imposed, if you were black 60 years ago in this country there was no self-imposition about it, you didn’t belong. You were rejected. You were abused. And that experience sat in the cells of our parents and has been born in us.
It has been BORN in us.
Look at it this way. If our families abuse us, as conscious adults we can choose to create boundaries, remove ourselves and change our environment. But if the prevailing rhetoric of the society in which you exist and the institutions which uphold it, devalue your very existence, your self-love mission though entirely possible, is less of an ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ journey, and more survival of the fittest. Tragically. Literally.
A decade ago while I was being celebrated as an ‘entrepreneur of the year’ and ‘Enterprising Young Brit’ amongst other 20 somethings who were doing their best to make a success of their business dreams. Behind the scenes of business plans and strategies, my reality wasn’t just funding for my business, it was trying to stay above the water lest the current drag me under into the pot holes that are a reality for many marginalised communities in this country.
Severe mental health diagnoses, single parenthood, crime, violence and incarceration. On one day during my outwardly glittering career, I visited Kensington Palace by invitation, Wandsworth Prison and a West London Psychiatric Hospital all in 24 hours. And I wasn’t there to cut a ribbon. I was there for family. My heart hurting, because I was living the contrasts in my own life that are as stark as the tale of two cities reality of life in the UK depending on where you come from, what you have and what you look like. Try unpicking that with an Amethyst and some tarot cards.
We all have work to do. No matter the level of privilege, none of us safeguarded from trauma or disconnection from the love that is our truth, but let’s keep it real.
We have generations of degradation and dehumanisation, the legacy of which is still very much alive and evident in our today. Why else are the psychiatric hospitals, jails, social services, disproportionately full of black, brown and poor people?
Why else do so many have to make school choices based on not just where they might prosper academically, but where we can hope that our babies will be safe from the threat of serious or even fatal harm at the hands of another child.
Self-love is medicine and oneness is our collective truth. But James Baldwin knew exactly what he was talking about in 1961 when he spoke those words.
For if you are anything but entirely fast asleep, thriving as a person of colour in the west as it stands, is in itself an act of activism which requires more than affirmations, marching and surface level unconscious bias workshops to realise.
What does that quote mean to me beautiful Tamu? Utter resonance and relief. Such is the power of truth to cut through the show. And Pride in the reminder of the depths I have been required to dig just to show up for the game. Just to take my place on the starting line. Me and so many others tasked with learning, as Baldwin so pointedly said “how to control that rage so that it won’t destroy you” while so many, blissful in their privileged ignorance, remain asleep.
I’ll end again with Baldwin. “If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you do not see.”