James Baldwin: One of the dangers of being a Black American is being schizophrenic, and I mean ‘schizophrenic’ in the most literal sense. To be a Black American is in some ways to be born with the desire to be white. It’s a part of the price you pay for being born here, and it affects every Black person. We can go back to Vietnam, we can go back to Korea. We can go back for that matter to the First World War. We can go back to W.E.B. Du Bois — an honorable and beautiful man — who campaigned to persuade Black people to fight in the First World War, saying that if we fight in this war to save this country, our right to citizenship can never, never again be questioned — and who can blame him? He really meant it, and if I’d been there at that moment I would have said so too perhaps. Du Bois believed in the American dream. So did Martin. So did Malcolm. So do I. So do you. That’s why we’re sitting here.
Audre Lorde: I don’t, honey. I’m sorry, I just can’t let that go past. Deep, deep, deep down I know that dream was never mine. And I wept and I cried and I fought and I stormed, but I just knew it. I was Black. I was female. And I was out — out — by any construct wherever the power lay. So if I had to claw myself insane, if I lived I was going to have to do it alone. Nobody was dreaming about me. Nobody was even studying me except as something to wipe out.
JB: You are saying you do not exist in the American dream except as a nightmare.
AL: That’s right. And I knew it every time I opened Jet, too. I knew that every time I opened a Kotex box. I knew that every time I went to school. I knew that every time I opened a prayer book. I knew it, I just knew it.
This quote reminds me of a false (or uncomplicated, erasing, colonialist) binary I’ve come upon a handful of times as I read books by indigenous authors-this idea that indigenous peoples differ in their struggle from Black people in that the latter merely wants assimilation and access to the rotting spoils of white supremacy and the former wants decolonized liberation from it, having never truly been its citizen or ideal, insinuating that Black people, somehow, must have been.
And certainly, many Black people-and Indigenous people, Asian people, Latinxs of color, etc-want full access to the “American dream” and have found ways to castrate themselves to fit. They think the solution to our suffering is equality and participation in white supremacy, in capitalism. Though never truly convinced I almost did too, a handful of times, like in 2001 when the cloying patriotism of a post 9–11 America that would soon fuel the slaughter of millions had me at the throat.
But many of us know that in truth, Black people were colonized (what else is kidnapping and cultural destruction and forced Christianity, etc?) to build that fever dream for white people and that by truth of that design, we cannot truly have access to it. We are ghosts, specters, monsters haunting its fantasy, reminding it of the blood fed to its crops, our blood spilled.
The Black woman-an ugly parody of a woman not deserving her same protections, an easier vessel to exploit than a Black man- in particular truly was never the citizen or ideal or the heir to the American Dream, as it was a nightmare ripped from her ribs to feed white wolves of violence and excess. I refuse to assimilate into a house of madness that hungers for my flesh, and frankly, I can’t. Our suffering is designed, our happiness and freedom can only come at the utter destruction of all the dark things they imagined they’d always rip from us while slumbering.