Marion Barry, O.J. Simpson and me

October 14, 1994|By John H. Morris Jr.

LAST NIGHT I dreamed of a world without white folks. This was no science-fiction fantasy. There was no mysterious plague that affected only those without the immunity of excess melanin. There was no UFO that gathered and carried off all humans tracing their lineage to Europe. White folks simply vanished.

This was no unconscious wish of violence to anyone. Rather, it was a dream of my own liberation, a metaphor for my independence. To think for myself and choose what I think TTC without reference to the sensibilities of white folks is simply to create a world without white folks.

It is not just my dream. Apparently, many African Americans have shared this vision. It has brought us to reach some conclusions for ourselves that have just baffled, irritated, or just plain scared the pants off a lot of white folks. Recently, we voted for Marion Barry because his redemption is our hope -- for ourselves. We hear Louis Farrakahn and are not repulsed. He speaks to us in ways that he does not speak to you. We question the evidence against O. J. Simpson, despite its mounting volume.

It is not just a question of who is right or wrong. It is simply a question of choice.

The issue is independence, not education. Perhaps to manifest the independence of our choice, we gain a certain satisfaction in choosing to think that which baffles, irritates and scares those very people who may still expect to validate our thoughts.

Such choosing so widespread is new. It lies at the root of a freedom that has eluded us in the 130 years since the war that resulted in our freedom. The First Emancipation ended slavery and removed the chains it forged. Yet, we still did not have freedom. The Second Emancipation a generation ago dissolved the bonds law had imposed on our opportunity to participate in all of life's activities. Still, we had no freedom -- except for the good graces of white folks.

Despite a war and a movement a century later, we remain bound. The chains that once restrained our bodies are gone. The laws that once strangled our dreams are repealed. Yet, the same disparities in life's good things persist without chains or laws. The same hopelessness continues without the terror of an overseer or the burning of a cross. The bonds that remain are perhaps the most insidious and the most resistant to change: The bonds that constrain how we think about ourselves.

These bonds make the enslaved accomplices in their own enslavement. To convince me that what I may choose to think has no value -- unless affirmed by the people in charge -- devalues me. It spawns doubt. It makes me perpetually question whether I can ever be good enough -- without you. You prey upon that doubt. It too affirms who you are. As it prompts me to doubt my worth, it gives you no pause to question yours at all. It makes me the involuntary servant to your well-being. That is a slavery that has continued in America despite the 13th Amendment.

The life of a slave to self-doubt is known by many, regardless of means, regardless of education and regardless of achievement. It is America's legacy to the outsider who forever questions whether he or she really belongs. For African Americans, it means, as we often characterize this slavery, "the white man's ice is colder." The corollary for us both is that a black man's ice is never quite cold enough -- unless you say it's so.

The emancipation from this slavery requires no proclamation. It demands a simple declaration of independence from the approval of anyone who would presume to validate someone else's thoughts. This declaration is one you can do nothing to bring about. It requires you to do nothing, but demands everything of me.

Therein lies true freedom. We forget that gifts like freedom and equality cannot be given from one people to another. Such giving undoes the gift. If you have the power to confer such gifts, then you also have the power to take it back. Your holding that power makes it impossible for me ever to be free from your power to rescind the gift. Freedom, equality, dignity and independence are all gifts that only I can give to myself.

The Third Emancipation is freedom of the mind: to think as I choose and choose what I think. Such freedom is difficult in a world of compelled belonging. We all learn at an early age you go along to get ahead. However, you go along and, in the quest for belonging, lose ownership of yourself. To regain title to their own being, African Americans have to learn that their world need not depend upon what white folks think.

This freedom does not liberate me to become a part of your group. It liberates me to be different. More pointedly, it frees me to be myself -- not your conception of me.

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