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You Are Not a Problem

The profile of a person whose hair texture reveals that they are Black

People say that white people did not think Black people were fully human during slavery. And sometimes they still say that today. I have never believed that was true. Having studied the law of slavery, it is very clear to me that in the antebellum period white people knew Black people were absolutely human. They were not chattel, but they were to be treated as chattel, social chimeras, fashioned by the Frankensteins of European law. To be treated as other than human when you are human is not a mistake or a flaw; it is a sin without excuse. I know that something had to be rotten in the heart of anyone who stripped and beat and raped and stole children and broke hearts with impunity and entitlement. I can see it when I encounter such evil today.

I suppose this is why I don’t like the appropriation of animal language for Black living, regardless of who it’s coming from. There are people who like to use the term "endangered species" to describe Black men. More often than not it comes from people who are criticizing the way the society mistreats Black people and specifically Black men. Even though I try not to pick at people‘s colloquialisms, I can’t stomach this one. It’s a bad metaphor. Black men are not a species. They, you, belong to humanity. But I suppose the symbolism is about how American selfishness sucks the life out of them, leaving them for dead in dungeons, littering their carcasses on the roads of our cities, while the newspeople say, "We have no idea what is wrong." The groups of people who are victims of this world's bloodsucking are many. Black men are not singular in that regard. But we can settle here for a moment because you belong to this category that is contemplated so infamously and has been for so long, as either predator or predated, and therefore a problem. I’ll say it again: You are not a problem.

from Breathe: A Letter to My Sons (pp. 89-91)
 

About the Author

Imani Perry

Imani Perry is the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, where she also teaches in the Programs in Law and Public Affairs, and in Gender and Sexuality Studies....

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