There’s a haunting quote from Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing that’s stuck with me since I read the book a couple of years ago. It shared the experience of Esi, a young Ghanaian woman, unknowingly being sold into America’s race-based, life-long, unimaginably cruel system of slavery.
“They took them out into the light. The scent of ocean water hit her nose. The taste of salt clung to her throat. The soldiers marched them down to an open door that led to sand and water, and they all began to walk out onto it.
Before Esi left, the one called Governor looked at her and smiled. It was a kind smile, pitying, but true. But for the rest of her life Esi would see a smile on a white face and remember the one the soldier gave her before taking her to his quarters, how white men smiling just meant more evil was coming with the next wave.”
It speaks to the righteous and rightful distrust we have of White people and White men in particular.
Their track record hasn’t been great. And throughout the course of our history on this land and around the world, even well-intentioned actions from White folk have ultimately resulted in unspeakable pain and heartache for Black women.
For that reason, the conscious among us approach the actions of White people with some level of caution.
I was reminded of this phenomena when my friend sent me a post that’s currently being circulated around social media. She didn’t provide any of her own commentary initially, she just asked me, “What do you think about this?”
I could see why she had an issue with this man’s explanation. Here we are centuries after slavery and White men are still using the labor of Black women to their benefit. He described Black women as being “less selfish” and “having his best interest” at heart. And then there’s the pain evoked by “y’all raised us even when we refused to let you read.”
This White man didn’t tell any lies. But his truths are still hurtful. Perhaps he perceives Black women as being less selfish because historically we’ve had to take care of White masters, White children, Black men and Black children at the expense of ourselves. Instead of continuing to perpetuate that cycle, as a real ally or advocate for these women he should be looking for ways that these women can invest in themselves. The same can be said for them having his best interest at heart. At the expense of what? To their personal lives have to suffer so his business can grow? Since he understands the role Black women played during slavery, does he also understand that the we were conditioned to put the needs of White men, financial, emotional and sexual, ahead of our own for survival and not through our own free will?
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For as much as this White man seems to understand the dynamics of slavery, he doesn’t seem to be doing enough to change them.
And this is the reason why I told my friend I didn’t have a problem with this idea. While I wouldn’t argue that it’s progressive in any way, I think that this White man is doing what White men in this country and every other capitalist in this country has done for centuries, making money.
I say this all the time and I continue to repeat it mostly because so many of life’s occurrences remind us of the fact that while legalized slavery has ended, we’ve taken the model into our businesses.
Think about, in most businesses, the CEO or the person at the top does the least work but makes the most money. This person may have very little knowledge or ability to run the day-to-day operations of the business; yet they make decisions that directly impact the lives of their workers. And as the White man suggested employees, while offered very little or nothing at all in terms of equity, are expected to be invested in the business’ success while they are expendable.
People have literally died overworking themselves for companies that will replace them within a week of their funeral—if not before.
So while the White man’s sentiments aren’t progressive or kind-hearted, his business is no different than the companies many of us work for.
And as we fight for representation and employment in various industries, I can’t help but believe that this White man is doing this.
In the short term, these Black women are employed and hopefully being appropriately compensated. I pray that the work environment is fair and that they’re able to take the skills they’ve learned and developed there to companies, perhaps in the future, that have work models that are more favorable than what we have today.
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This story was originally published on MadameNoire.com.
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