goto Appendx main menu A Black Manifesto :
Darell W. Fields
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I remember the day I dropped the African-American label forever. It was the day after the L.A. riots began, and South Central was still burning. I took my usual walk through the streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and although I believed myself to be the same person I had been the day before, it began to become obvious to me that somehow, on this day, I was quite different. I was different because it seemed that every resident, student, and worker on that morning in Cambridge went out of his way to speak, to smile, to say "good morning," and, for what seemed like the first time, to look into my eyes. These things were quite out of character for this place, but I returned their greetings in the way that my minister and mother had taught me—cheerfully and with a smile. I was still trying to figure out what was going on when I got a little help from a stranger—a brother. A man, a black man, came running from around the corner I was approaching. He was shabbily dressed, not well shaven, and he had the face of many men I have been forced to turn away from. His sudden presence shattered my own blindness. The moment he appeared, the entire street, full of the morning's activity, gave way to a vast and motionless silence. Only he and I allowed our bodies to move. The couple that had just been so friendly to me became petrified by this other black presence. As he tried to negotiate the corner, he slammed into an unsuspecting pedestrian and proceeded past me. His presence transformed me, or at least the "me" I was perceived to be on that street at that moment. I was as black as he was, and the nonblack people on the street let me know it loud and clear. On television the night before, no one was described as African-American; there were only "black hoodlums." Tall, raging fires revealed South Central to the world. And the long shadows cast by those columns of smoke and heat blanketed the people below in a predetermined darkness. 

It was on that morning that I was able to look at myself through the eyes of the people who gingerly approached, smiled, and passed me. What I saw was a contented African-American, carrying his satchel, newspaper (the New York Times of course), and morning cup of coffee. Through these other eyes I appeared quite harmless, and I detested what I saw and how it made me feel. I noticed that when the other black intruder was present, the faces that held these other eyes were drained of their smiles. People stopped in the street and couples clung to one another because they recognized, quite vividly, the fear that raced toward and passed them. I also began to realize that their mocking smiles and greetings were small acknowledgments of this very same fear. There was nothing I could do to explain to these others how meek, tolerant, and restrained I had been taught to be, and how there was absolutely no reaAppendx 1 page break 23 | 24son to fear me; but I could have shouted these things from the hollow part of my soul and no one would have listened. My color, the pigmentation of my skin, the part of me that has been named and renamed, the part of me that belongs to a long and tortured history, the part that precedes me into any situation—my color—shrouds me in silence. And suddenly, the minister sprang before my eyes; he is shrieking, shouting to be heard, waving menacingly his companion enclosed in a black cover. He appeared as a man, rather than as a representative of his position—a man that I had never seen because of the place from which he spoke. And at that moment I opened my own eyes and began to wonder, after "knowing" him all my life, who he was. 

In the same way that I would revisit the pulpit, the place I despised because of its power and the silence that came with it, I began to oscillate between my expectations and what others expected me to be. I dropped the African-American view of myself and reembraced and rediscovered the power of my blackness, as acknowledged by  others' hatred, fear, ignorance, and hypocrisy. On that very same walk in Cambridge, I discovered that I too could make the smiles of others looking at "me" drain from their faces. And with all my loving and forgiving heart I prayed to God that South Central's fires would spread and burn the "city of angels" to the ground. next page 

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