How does it feel to be a problem? — W.E.B. Du Bois
This was the opening question posed by Du Bois in his acclaimed work The Souls of Black Folks. I read the book in college 15 years ago. And even though it was first published over a hundred years ago, it resonated with me as if he knew the intimate details of the world around me. His book started my first conversations with my friends on black consciousness.
I wasn’t a great student in college. Partially because I was unprepared for the rigors of Williams and partially because of my overindulgence in herbs and spirits. But I learned about the experiences of my slave ancestors and the long standing efforts of leaders that sought to advance the liberation of a subjugated people.
The more I learned about our history in America, the deeper feelings of resentment began to churn within me. Here I was having gone from a childhood in public housing and living on food stamps to one of the most elite institutions in the world on a full ride scholarship. And I was pissed.
I was introduced to Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Fred Hampton and Marcus Garvey. These men were educated, militant and unapologetic in their love for our people. I saw the documentary Eyes on The Prize, which detailed the covert efforts the US government used to destroy black organizations and their leaders. During my time studying abroad in Paris, I read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and felt like the book’s title suggested.
Some of us find ourselves torn in this peculiar duality. We feel isolated as the token black employee within our professional circles and find we can no longer connect with the people in the barbershops, churches and playgrounds that were staples of our youth. We begin to enjoy the comforts of success and feel a strange pride in being one of the few represented in our workplace. We come to associate a lack of representation as evidence that we’re doing our part to uplift our race.
I have come to find this perspective flawed and my resentment has dissipated. Today, I can go anywhere with the assurance that I belong. I am more motivated by feelings of love than feelings of contempt. I found the solution, but the problem narrative remains pervasive in our health disparities, education achievement, criminal justice outcomes, employment rates and financial insecurity. I realize now that the problem narrative doesn’t lead to a solution, it perpetuates the problem.
The solution will not come as the result of an election outcome, achieving a six figure salary, reparations for past wrongs, taking out a mortgage, going into more debt for another degree or driving cars we can’t afford. The evidence of our greatness isn’t based on the athletic achievements from members of our race, nominations from award committees, endorsement deals or followers on Instagram.
We’ve been bamboozled beloved. We’re still looking for a revolution that will be televised. We’re still marching for recognition and asking to be accepted. We’ve been seduced by pursuits that have left us empty, powerless and often broke.
There is a solution in plain sight, but some of us will never see it. I have met some in my travels and conversations that have it. They encourage me as they continue the quiet execution of the work that will advance our liberation. I salute their diligence and pray for their continued success. They left the Matrix. I wish the same for anyone else that yearns to be free.