Several weeks ago, while searching for interesting authors of African descent at BookExpo of America at the Jacob Javitz Center in New York, I came across a kindly older Black gentleman wearing a uniform that appeared to be of the same type worn by Confederate officers during the War of Southern Insurrection, more commonly known as the Civil War.
Stunned by the seemingly ludicrous nature of the entire scenario, I had to get a closer look. Indeed, it was a Black man dressed as a Confederate officer to promote a book he had written discussing how a famous Confederate officer was instrumental in building schools for freed slaves.
The author was kind, informative and passionate about his work. However, I simply couldn’t get past the fact that a brother born in New York City would want to write a book about Confederate altruism. His presentation was accentuated with beautiful paintings and historical artifacts that caught the eye, but the very existence of such a person was as offensive as any neo-Nazi, quasi-Confederate I could fathom.
It was a Black man who was basically saying ‘Look, the Confederate wasn’t all bad’, to which my entire constitution screamed ‘The hell if it wasn’t.’
Despite that, I remained respectful as he explained his point of view. He handed me his card, shook my hand and bid me farewell, to which I simply nodded my head. Once outside I retrieved his business card from my pocket and gazed at it for a long second.
‘Man, (expletive) this house Negro’, I said before tearing his card to pieces and tossing it in the trash- an act that I regretted immediately.
I also regretted mentally disregarding the man’s message from the moment I laid eyes upon him; but all true stories deserve to be told, including stories that we don't want to hear.
The Modern House Negro
In the greater American lexicon the N-word is one that has caused much handwringing and debate lately. Well it’s better to say it is causing those adjectives to be performed at a rate far greater than in the past.
However, there is another word that many feel outweighs that word in its ability to scare the dignity of proud men and women of African descent- house Negro.
That term finds its origins in the plantation hierarchy of the antebellum south hundreds of years ago. The field Negro, generally of a darker complexion than the house Negro, worked in the fields with the animals and performed most of the dirty work.
The house Negroes worked as butlers and servants and assisted with child weening, house keep and kitchen work. His and her sleeping quarters were usually very close to the main house, while the field Negroes were often relegated to shacks and shanties away from main house. The field Negroes were considered dirty and unclean by the master, his overseers and the house Negro; the house Negro believed that he was blessed to be able to be so close to his master on a day-to-day basis. He was so favored as he was able to wear his master’s hand-me-down clothing opposed to the tattered rags the field Negro wore. He was vehement in his allegiance to his master, oftentimes spying on the field Negroes and reporting back to his masters.
The field Negroes were his family in many cases; his maternal brothers and sisters and first cousins. Though his numbers were few, the house Negro proved to be equally ravenous in his desire to subjugate, limit, curse and vilify the field Negro to curry favor from his master.
There was no greater explanation of how this phenomenon affected American-born slave descendants than Malcolm X’s famous speech at Michigan State University in 1963.
So whenever that house Negro identified himself, he always identified himself in the same sense that his master would of himself. When his master said, "We have good food," the house Negro would say, "Yes, we have plenty of good food." "We" have plenty of good food. When the master said that "we have a fine home here," the house Negro said, "Yes, we have a fine home here." When the master would be sick, the house Negro identified himself so much with his master he'd say, "What's the matter boss, we sick?" His master's pain was his pain and it hurt him more for his master to be sick than for him to be sick himself. When the house started burning down, that type of Negro would fight harder to put the master's house out than the master would himself.
Today the term is flung around so often that it has become synonymous with sycophant to many Black Americans and is also erroneously used to shame individuals who are educated, use proper diction, have many White friends, are fair-skinned, live in suburban neighborhoods or even participate in sports or activities that some deem to be the arena of Whites. Indeed, there have often been times where I have witnessed an individual be deemed a house Negro simply for reminding his co-workers of certain rules and regulations.
The term house Negro is often used unfairly and out of frustration, whether real or imagined, with the manner in which plantation politics still play themselves out in just about any place of employment where Blacks make up a significant portion of the workforce.
I have used the term in consternation many times in my life and it is almost a foregone conclusion that I will do so again.
But that doesn’t mean I have a right to do so.
Though the n-word is often the term of contention within the overarching American Black community, and in American popular culture as a whole as of late, the term house Negro carries connotations of self-hatred, betrayal, brainwashing and antebellum hierarchy. All attributes that far outweigh the negativity of the n-word in my opinion.
However, since the n-word was, and is, used to belittle, mentally emasculate and castrate victims of White supremacy even today, I completely understand why many are vehemently against its use.
As far as literal definitions go, being called a house Negro is equal to being called a human dog. No matter how much you abuse it, curse at it, belittle it or ignore it, the dog remains loyal. So too does the house Negro.
But there are also many times when house Negro is the only term that can be used to describe the actions and behaviors of certain sectors of Black folk. Whenever there is any kind of political, economic, corporate or legal conflict in which individuals Blacks become pundits for conservative, capitalist and religious measures that clearly run counter to the interests of minorities, women, immigrants and the poor.
Complicated is an understatement. One cannot be certain of anyone’s intentions based on words or beliefs, but how else is one to be labeled when his or her beliefs run lockstep with those of rich old White males?
On June 19 the nation awoke to the horrific realization that there was a terrorist attack on American soil. Nine Black victims were gunned down by white supremacist Dylann Roof during Bible Study at Mother Emmanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof was captured a day later in North Carolina where was treated to a meal at Burger King before being taken to lockup.
Though I mourned that day, I knew that a plague of Black conservatives would soon materialize and divert the national discourse into a muddy ditch of politicization and demagoguery. After all, It is moments like these that house Negroes butter their bread.
It wasn’t long before frequent Fox News guest Jesse Lee Paterson, conservative Black preacher who is on record for doubting the existence of modern-day racism, was on to Newsmax TV to parrot white denial on the role White supremacy played in the mind of Roof. He blamed the terrorist’s actions on Blacks not allowing (Roof) to express himself. Yes, I sh*t you not!
“The man that killed these people said to them before killing them that Black people have been raping and killing our people or raping our women and killing them, and this is like a payback,” he explained. “I’ve been saying to White Americans for the last 25 years, warning them and warning them that you need to start speaking up instead of holding that anger in, because you could get so angry that you’ll come out fighting in the wrong manner.”
Then there’s the increasing fame associated with 13-year-old Black conservative CJ Pearson. Though he is educated and articulate, his beliefs are flawed, it is a shame that I must cast him in the same pot as the aforementioned Mr. Paterson. The young man said that Obama politicized the shooting in a widely popular Youtube video.
“Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. Stupid people kill people. And that’s how you be objective, President Obama,” Pearson said in his emotional video.
“Your presidency has been pathetic and this is one testament to it,” he concludes.
Young, old, rich or poor, whenever racism in America is the topic of the day the conservative right trots out these facsimile’s of American negritude to sooth the right and admonish the left in general, Black people in particular.
“President Obama, You don’t love America. If you really did love America, you would call ISIS what it really is: an assault on Christianity, an assault on America and downright hate for the American values that our country holds. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion and every single thing that our country stands for.”
Mind you, this is the same kid who defended former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani. So, take it however you want.
But if young Mr. Pearson believes that ISIS is an assault on Christianity then the question begs to be asked whether he feels the recent spate of Black churches being burned to a cinder in the south are also an attack on Christianity or whether he even feels they’re racist at all.
Since the terrorist attack on Mother Emmanuel AME the nation has been roiled in a debate over the antiquated and offensive Confederate battle flag that flies in South Carolina and Mississippi and is used in some fashion (license plates, historical monuments) in Alabama and Georgia.
Supporters of the flag claim it as their southern heritage, but many Blacks see it as being akin to a Nazi swastika- a grisly reminder of nationalism and racial bias run horribly amok.
Nearly 200,000 Black men served in the Union Army during the Civil War. As the flame of the rebellion grew dimmer, their armies routed on many fronts, Confederate president Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Congress passed a bill on March 13, 1865 allowing Black men to fight in their army. The desperate ploy only managed to scrape up around 2,500 soldiers, few of whom ever actually saw any combat at all. So imagine my surprise when I turn on the television, read an article or even scan social media, and see one Black face after another singing the praises of the Confederate battle flag.
As if pulled from a Dave Chappelle skit, there are people of African descent throughout the south who claim the Confederate battle flag as part of their “southern heritage” as well, as preposterous as that might seem. However, it is a heritage of pain and death. Why side with such an abomination to one’s very essence unless rejecting said essence was is what is intended, though no one would readily admit they don’t want to be Black anymore. Actions speak louder than words.
White people on the wrong side of history always have a pocket full of house Negroes on standby.
For about a week or so New York-born Virginian Karen Cooper has been making the rounds in media over her unpopular support of this object.
“I actually think that it represents freedom,” Cooper, a tea party supporter, says. “It represents a people who stood up to tyranny.”
Yes, it represents a people who stood up for the right to subjugate her ancestors. Yet she relates to the viewpoint of slavers more so than slaves? The very definition of a house Negro. She is a member of the Virginia Flaggers, a conservative activist group that rejects the notion that the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism and American terrorism despite many, many white Confederate battle flag supporters admitting it is just that.
I would like to reject the notion that I have to pay taxes and I would also like to reject the notion that certain neighborhoods are dangerous after dark. However, just because I want to reject a notion doesn’t make said notion less true. Cooper is also the same village idiot who said slavery was “a choice”. She’s not alone either. They’re all over the place.
One brother who attends the University of South Carolina wrote an article in the Washington Post defending his pride for the battle flag.
"For me and many Southerners, the flag celebrates my heritage and regional pride. One of my ancestors, Benjamin Thomas, was a black Confederate cook, and I do not want to turn my back on his service to the South. So I hang the flag in honor of his hard work and dedication to South Carolina during the Civil War.
My Confederate flag isn’t racist; after all, I am black."
What the gentleman omits is that his ancestor likely would have never cooked for the Confederate Army had he been given a choice to do so. Second, he states that HIS Confederate flag isn’t racist because he’s black. Uh, no Bo-Bo, it’s just as racist. Perhaps even more so considering the manner in which it has charmed him into believing the Confederates and her proxy agents were anything but detrimental to Black independence.
But apparently Black Confederate apologists represent a much larger issue within the American Black dialectic. One in which political allegiance to extremely conservative viewpoints is indicative of a mindset that would much rather be cosigned and approved by Whites than to be truly free in thought, spirit and bank account.