Theory in a Digital Age: A Project of English 483 Students, Coastal Carolina University

Paradox of Race

Jessica Meenaghan

Dr. Jen Boyle

English 483

11 Nov 2016

Paradox of Race

In America, you are either seen as black Color binary race, it bears a heavy and important theme in America, as racial issues continue to impact our past present and future in a wide phenomenon. It brings an uneasy cold sweat confuses white identity, and  The complexity of asserting race and acceptance of race to give an example is seen through poems written by Natasha Trethewey, all revolve around silence that the in which hides the Truth W.E.B. Du Bois and more currently Dr. Cornel West addresses within the paradox of race.

“Race Matters,” written by Dr. Cornel West, defines the paradox of race, “The astonishing disappearance of the event from public dialogue is testimony to just how painful and distressing a serious engagement race is.” (p. 262) Silence falls into the paradox of race as it manifests into a painful hidden part of cultural formation. Silence is considered a hidden circular lie that Dr. Cornel West and Natasha Trethewey view as a negative consequence that hides issues among a generational society.

To analyze this definition of paradox of race, it begins with the flaws of American society deeply rooted with historic inequalities and long established cultural stereotypes. Still, today, the paradox of race is America seems to not see “color.” Color is ignored, looked down upon, and marginalized in a seemingly all too comfortable color blind America.

America’s history recovering from slavery after the Reconstruction Era show the greediness to stay in power especially during the Jim Crow Laws enactment period as it enforced racial segregation of public facilities in the Confederate States. America has always lacked the ability to resist influence from white supremacy. In a heavily dominated culture of “whiteness” African Americans are repressed, tyrannized, and are considered the problem to America. Society has placed them as sexual deviants to put a high fear of miscegenation of culture.

America in the 21st century continues deepening divisions in viewing racial problems associated with minority groups. Minority groups are defined as an unjust racial inequality in opposition to the heterosexual American white male. This paralyzing economic political and justice system deems minority groups have a moral issue rather than dealing with the public responsibility for the immoral situations those people have been through. White men outnumber black men about six to one. In prison, this ratio is flipped to black men outnumbering white men six to one. Those that use drugs are not all Black. It’s just that Black people are disproportionately targeted as suppliers and users of drugs. They are arrested and imprisoned, in which makes a fear to the Black community of the White majority.

America cannot let go of the minority into the majority still several hundred years later. Groups that identify differently from the “superior white male” are viewed as “problem people” rather than the common American citizens with real problems. Stereotypes from race force permanent assumptions of race categories passed down from generation to generation. Those that keep their silence are lacking contextualization of how America’s history influences their current standings within society. The real issue is it was assumed once slavery ended, so did the hatred that White America had for African Americans.

This hate is preached today, and deeply rooted as the infamous Ku Klux Klan still has active group members. The fact that the KKK can still meet, and pass out “come join our club” fliers on a college campus located within the South, only means slavery is still alive in our minds today. Slavery exists our minds because certain Americans are allowed to define what it means to be an “American” and the rest are simply expected to “fit in.”

After the reconstruction era, society seemed to have gotten complacent where America is self-satisfied where white man is still considered the main authority of power.  All others are seen as minority groups that are not in a position to be helped because they won’t help themselves. It’s assumed that all of the racial problems This is translated through Cornel West with explaining the unjust differences that black people are viewed as.

We place euphemisms on words that don’t make us feel comfortable in our skin because we just cannot accept the blunt truth. We say things like, “the birds and the bees” rather than just saying sex, or passed away rather than died. Spoken thought is moderated by those that claim that society cannot handle the capital T in Truth. Subconsciously, white people claim they are not racist but still have inner thoughts of racist implications based on an “in-group preference.” As the mixing of color, where white and black as seen in a relationship, it is viewed as an awkward sight that does not “look right” to society. White people might not fear all black people as criminals, but they still harbor racist thoughts that still negatively affects their attitude towards black people. Most whites, are not even aware that they have these subconscious negative attitudes.

America does not have the courage to talk about these issues publicly. Movements like “#Black Lives Matter” are seen as violent actions that only allow the spread of violence from Black to White. The movement is about breaking the silence in order to build up a Black Liberation. This movement is a call to break the silence of racial inequality, in hope to bring an equal share of America.

Natasha Trethewey’s most recent work Thrall, is more aimed at discussing her experience with race in instances with her father, as opposed to, Native Guard with a remembrance to her mother. Trethewey explores racial rhetoric, history, and the difficult emotional effect it has. From her book, Thrall, the poem titled “Enlightenment” states, “the improvement of the blacks in body / and mind, in the first instance of their mixture / with the whites — or that my father could believe / he'd made me better. When I think of this now, / I see how the past holds us captive,” This quote directly relates to the circular motion and continuation of going back and forth of never being good enough based on that race determines your worth to society then and now. It brings up an issue that slavery had of breeding out the intensity of blackness.

Commenting on Natasha's poem, Katherine Henninger said, “It’s thought of mixing white with black makes one better because “blackness” is lessened into the mulatto figure that can pass for a “whiteness.” Like the “antique” rifle the father keeps as his daughter’s inheritance in “Artifact,” the founding racisms of the Americas are still loaded and in a position to harm in the present.” It’s a flaw of society because the thought process is stuck in a binary thought. Natasha Trethewey fights with this inequality as it is viewed that the mixing of white and black is limited to a white subculture. This is the major theme through her poetry as she writes to show the world’s thoughts through her personal experience. She encourages society to recognize the historical links that we all have together.  

Dr. Cornel West is an intellectual public figure that stimulates thought seen from identifying racial issues. He expands and explores former Civil Rights activist W.E.B Du Bois themes and ideas when dealing with social rage and repercussions in racial divisions. Du Bois wanted to see America interpreted through the acknowledgment of the two different ways of race perception through a merger of African and White Americanism. W.E.B Du Bois stated in his work, “The Souls of Black Folk”, “The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, —this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self.” Racial barriers should be acknowledged, and both of the sides should learn in order merge between the two. Past should not be forgotten. It should teach the valuable lesson of learning how to live as one to contribute to a common good for equal survival.

Once we are no longer blinded by the continuous racial inequality, Du Bois and West encourage a merge to happen in order for the future to thrive. Skin color should not influence how race is perceived and portrayed in negative lights from mainstream media culture. African Americans should not feel nor be hindered by their color, and White Americans should not feel entitled for more power or stay silent when it comes to a deeper thought of discussing race in current culture. Opportunity for black man should be just as equal for those doors open as the white male. Black image should not be damaged by the perception of race through the mainstream news culture. Cornel West correctly states what will happen if we do not start working together in society, “If we go down then we all go down together.” A loaded gun not fired, is more threatening than a gun firing constantly. If America continues down this path to deepen divisions then, society will soon blow up in a fight for power with violence. Dr. Cornel West echoes W.E.B. Du Bois fight for unity. Both urge the nation to unite as one before the divides become too far to mend.

Double consciousness was originally coined by the scholar activist called W. E. B. Du Bois in his essay called The Souls of Black Folk. A general definition of double consciousness can mean that the person is mentally aware that they are performing or acting in two different versions of the self. Du Bois stated from his essay, “He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world.” To recognize American culture and history one must learn from both sides of African and white culture.

Du Bois also stated in his work, “The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, —this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self.” Du Bois had a goal for America to be interpreted through the acknowledgment of the two different ways of life known as a merger through African and White Americanism. Or so to speak, the racial barriers should be acknowledged and both of the sides should learn to form a merge between the two. Past should not be forgotten, but to learn how to come together in acceptance. He wants this to happen in order for the future where the color line does not influence the stereotypes on race where African Americans are hindered by their color. This is still a concept that America has grown from but still has lines that need to be erased. Equal opportunity for the black man should expect to have the same doors open as the white male. The black image should not be damaged by the perception of race through the mainstream culture.

In the YouTube video, “Examined Life” West states,“In order to learn about the truth we have to learn how to die.” In order to become educated, we have to open our eyes. Still, today, the paradox of race is America seems to not see “color.” Color is ignored, looked down upon, and marginalized in a seemingly all too comfortable color blind America.W.E.B Du Bois, Dr. Cornel West, and Natasha Trethewey all recognize the paradox of race with being “double conscious” in seeing the issues with identifying race. One cannot talk about capital T (t)ruth without learning how to die. Truth (universally accepted) must be broken where one’s truth must die by surrendering one's arrogance, and found a new Truth with a deeper meaning of life.

Works Cited

Henninger, Katherine R. "What Remains: Race, Nation, And The Adult Child In The Poetry Of Natasha Trethewey." Southern Quarterly: A Journal Of The Arts In The South 50.4 (2013): 55-74. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Trethewey, Natasha D. Thrall: Poems. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. Print.

B., Du Bois W. E. The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches. Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications, 1961. Print. 29 Nov. 2016

West, Cornel. Race Matters. n.p.: Boston : Beacon Press, c2001., 2001. Coastal Carolina University's Catalog. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.