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June 17, 2009

Losing comforting myths of the past

Ta-Nehisi Coates looks at some of the lost myths of his childhood:

I think, when you're in your intellectual infancy, myth keeps your sane. When I was young I believed, like a lot of us at that time, that my people had been kidnapped out of Africa by malicious racist whites. Said whites then turned and subjugated and colonized the cradle of all men. It was a comforting thought which placed me and mine at the center of a grand heroic odyssey. We were deposed kings and queens robbed of our rightful throne by acquisitive merchants of human flesh. By that measures we were not victims, but deposed nobles — in fact and in spirit.

I don't propose that blacks are alone in our myth-making, or in our desire to ennoble ourselves. But given the power dynamics of this society, we're the ones who can afford the comforts of myth the least. This is doubly true for those of us who are curious about the broader world. By the time I came to Howard University, I was beginning the painful process of breaking away from the "oppression as nobility" formula. But the clincher was sitting in my Black Diaspora I class and learning that the theory of white kidnappers was not merely myth — but, on the whole, impossible because disease (Tse-Tse fly maybe?) kept most whites from penetrating beyond the coasts until the 19th century.

In no way does this excuse the whites who were the sea-going transporters and final auctioneers/owners of the enslaved blacks, but it does help to put a bit of perspective on an issue that for too many people is starkly black=good/white=bad. There's lots of historical blame to be shared, and it doesn't break down conveniently on racial lines.

Posted by Nicholas at June 17, 2009 12:12 PM
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