Ancient Origins of My Present Struggle

Rashad Townsend, Contributing Writer

I am a 20-year-old Black man and I am scared.

I know those of my same gender and hue may be perceived as tough, abrasive, and senseless, but I assure you that these outward projections are merely a coping mechanism to respond to the society in which we live. To be a young Black man in America is to suppress the fear of your reality every time you leave your home. “Be safe” from a friend or relative is more than just a courtesy when you are reminded of the killings of Philando Castile, Oscar Grant and a 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

The recent killing of George Floyd has caused outrage in protesters and, more outwardly, in rioters across the nation. What many opposers of these demonstrations, more specifically the riots, fail to remember is that anger is typically a secondary emotion. This anger is a result of the fear, sadness, humiliation, and frustration that has bubbled to the surface after centuries of maltreating the Black body. What has continuously occurred in this country has left us desperate to make change in this country to which the overwhelming majority of us are not native.

The death of George Floyd struck a blow to my heart. As a student of Morehouse College, the world’s only all-male historically Black college, my heart aches for the safety of my brothers. As a 6-foot-1 Black male with a dark complexion, seeing George Floyd is like looking in the mirror to the future. I now wonder, is everything I strive for in vain because one day I will be killed by the police?

This view may seem pessimistic, but it is an accurate representation of the heaviness in my heart. As children, we grow up assuming that only “bad” people are roughed up or even challenged by the police force. I was disheartened as I matured and discovered that my stature and phenotypic features looked very similar to a “bad” person. I walked, talked, and grew up in the same neighborhoods as a “bad” person. For Black Americans, there’s no escaping being a “bad” person.

How did I get this marking? Why are those who look like me constantly subject to ill treatment? These markings originated centuries ago by the enlightened men who we praise for their contributions to academia and noble instances in history.

At my high school, a traditional affluent Southern private school, the names of revered men in ancient and modern history are positioned on the walls. It was assumed that these men were worthy of praise and citation. I did not learn until after graduation that these men are some of the originators of philosophies that have plagued my world.

Early notions of my “otherness” are present in the readings of Herodotus where he describes Africans and Indians in animalistic ways regarding their sexual culture. In his book “The History of Herodotus,” he even stated that their bodily fluids were abnormal. This theme of my otherness continued with the revered German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who once claimed that the fundamental difference between the Black and white races was mental capacity and color. That was revealed in the “The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity” by Benjamin Isaac.

These two men are noted for their great minds, but at whose expense? We regard men of similar stature as the architects of the systems and ideologies that are in place today. During these times, I am reminded that all things begin with mere thoughts. Thoughts that aimed to demean and degrade. Thoughts to subjugate and subtract. Notions of Black inferiority, generated as mere thoughts centuries before, permeated the minds of the European men so much so that to create this country, they overlooked the humanity of Africans. These same thoughts are ancient and have been absorbed into the hearts and minds of educators, politicians, business owners, diplomats, medical professionals and police officers who have implanted and continue to uphold the system of white supremacy in America today.

It is imperative that members of the privileged races in America check the positions of the thoughts and beliefs that guide their actions. Every racist joke, microaggression, impersonation and epithet has to be called out and abolished; these “harmless” displays caused and maintain our system of oppression. The turmoil in our country is evidence of this work not being done. This practice is, in truth, the difference between life and death.