According to Webster’s dictionary, to transcend something is to rise above or go beyond the limits of. When I hear anyone say that a Black person has transcended race, I cringe. With the aforementioned definition of transcend in mind, I wonder to myself what does one mean when they use the phrase transcend race? I am sure that one who uses the phrase may say that to transcend race is to rise above the consciousness of White Supremacy’s creation – social construct, because there is no need to guilt trip whiteness. My retort to that is, why should a Black person have to be above what they had no hand in creating? Black folks certainly do not benefit from the construct of race in America. Race was put on Blacks as a tool for subjugation, so why then must they rise above it? Wouldn’t it be incumbent on the creators and gatekeepers of race, and their benefactors, to rise above race? Or better yet, dispel the notion of race altogether? A marginalized group rising above their lower caste beyond the conditions that are systemically imposed upon them to finally be “accepted and celebrate” by the power structure is the convenient and justifiable narrative… one where it can be explained that the barbarian is worthy of citizenship.
Yet I come back to an original thought; when I think of the definition of transcend, I wonder if when one argues that a Black person has transcended race, do they believe that there are limits to one’s blackness? Do people believe that being Black is limiting? Does such a thought have merit? My observations tell me that such a thought is a valid one. In the United States, if you are Black, you can be rich… but you’re still Black. You can ask Oprah about that. In the United States, if you are Black, you can be President… but you’re still Black. You can ask Obama about that. In the United States, if you are Black, you could be a child under the legal age… but you’re still Black and that means you are a threat to Whites with biases and could be killed because of it. I would say you can ask Tamir Rice or Trayvon Martin, but they’re dead. So must one go beyond their blackness, or a perception of blackness, in order to be beloved by the White consumer and rewarded by the white power structure? Does embracing one’s blackness limit one from the fruits of American capitalism? Are the fruits of American capitalism the desire of Black people in America?
I ask that final question because that is what we got when we integrated; we got American capitalism. We got the chance to make money and purchase a few luxuries when we integrated. Some Black activists became politicians and pawns. Some Black intellectuals became tenured professors and wrote some books. Some in the Black church stopped preaching about power and prayer to preach prosperity. We got nice houses and nice cars, but the rules changed so that things could stay the same before we integrated. We were excluded from some neighborhoods (redlining). We were redistricted so we could never see a majority in our representation (gerrymandering). Our schools remained segregated but without educators who knew us. Some got rich, others got famous and many were miseducated, but we’re still Black. Thankfully, some never forgot it. Some understood that there is no transcending race.
Muhammad Ali never transcended race. He never tried. He was a Black man and that is who he wanted you to see. He could never go beyond being Black because being Black is who he was. He was a member of the Nation of Islam. He walked around wearing a FOI (Fruit of Islam) hat; the hat of the security force of the Nation of Islam. He may not have agreed with all Nation doctrine, however he did agree with the projection of power and self-esteem offered by the Nation to Black people, including himself. He was a Black man. His experiences as a Black man in the United States shaped him to his core. They shaped his sensibilities and coping mechanisms. Yet the students of racial transcendentalism argue that Ali graduated from his Blackness to become an ambassador of the American way. No longer was he quoting Elijah Muhammad, el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz or Louis Farrakhan. He was now honored by George W. Bush with the Medal of Freedom. Those race transcending apologists have figuratively molded Ali after his career in the likeness of Joe Louis during his career – an American hero; safe for our admiration.
But I lump those folks with the colorblinders; people who refuse to acknowledge and respect one’s skin color and the heritage that encapsulates it. These people are dangerous. They whitewash the legacies of people who can and do inspire those who come after them. They slow down future activism and revolutions by dictating the narrative of people who are incapable of defending it. Although we (Black folk) try to keep the truth stored within our hearts and maintained through oral tradition, our children are falling prey to the new mechanisms of distraction and desensitization. These mechanisms are to convince people that there is a higher consciousness of humanity; that all lives matter. The truth is that all lives don’t matter because you cannot transcend being Black in the United States. The dangers of transcending race is that if you subscribe to that thought, then you dehumanize and delegitimize experiences and humanity of people of color; in this case, Black people. If you don’t see race because you believe one can transcend it, you are unable to transcend your own ignorance… and that is very dangerous to the rest of us.