Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Don't Drink The Koolaid

by MANSA LUTALO IYAPO -aka- Mr. Rufus West

The phrase, "Don't drink the kool-aid" derived out of a horrible incident that involved a preacher named Jim Jones and his congregation. To make a long story short, Mr. Jones had moved his congregation of dozens of people to a different country from America and convinced them to drink a poison-laced kool-aid under the guise that God had ordered it. The people knew that it was poison, yet they still drank it after they gave their children the poison to drink. The small handful who refused to drink it either escaped or were executed. The end result was a sea of people laying around dead.
This essay is muse-inspired with the focus on the context of the N word, "Nigger."
In 1995 I was imprisoned in the Waupun Correctional Institution's Adjustment Center, better known as "the hole." While in the hole this sergeant asked me, "Why is it okay for you guys to call each other 'niggers' but when a White person calls you a nigger you guys get upset?" I didn't respond but for some reason his question haunted me for the rest of the day. Despite his reputation as being a racist, I was intrigued by the substance of his inquiry no matter how much I tried to avoid it. I tried to avoid it mainly because it was a self-reflection question, i.e., I had to look at myself first and foremost.

My initial response was to be pertinacious in coming up with as many excuses as I could to justify my usage of the word "nigger" as a self-identifying term of endearment, some of which include: I'm calling myself a "nig" or a "nigga", not a "nigger"; my definition of it is a cool person; everybody around me uses it so it must be okay to use. My intransigent attitude was doing everything in its power to kill my rational way of thinking. After a couple of weeks I finally had to acknowledge the reality that that word was insolent all around the board. Having acknowledged this reality, my next question to myself was, "What are you going to do about it?" Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. One day I observed a couple of guards' reaction to a Black prisoner's usage of the word as they were escorting him somewhere within the segregation unit while he was clad in handcuffs and shackles. Almost every other sentence contained the word "nigga" as he used it interchangeably in disrespectful and endearing terms, e.g., "I hate that nigga!" and "I love you, my nigga!" The two White guards' faces turned beet red with embarrassment. I was later escorted somewhere by those same two guards. Their conversation consisted of how Black people use the word "nigger".

Later that night I reflected on all of the above. The most prominent thing that stood out to me was what I would years later learn what author Michelle Alexander would call "preservation through transformation." What I saw was more than a prisoner in a segregation building being escorted somewhere in handcuffs and shackles using the word "nigger". My old soul allowed me to view that as an equivalent to the reality that existed during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, i.e.
a Black man in chains being escorted somewhere by White men. The difference was that the Black man was calling himself a "nigger" instead of the White man calling him one. That scene moved me to take the first step in the direction of unequivocally accepting that word as a disrespectful word. I had to first stop calling myself a "nigger" before I could ask others to refrain from calling me that. It took me a while to undo my 20-something years of Willie Lynch-type programming,especially when all around me the air was saturated with conversations and music using that word as a term of respect.

My new outlook caused me to reflect on my past debates with Brothers from different countries wherein I defended the usage of the word "nigger" as a term of endearment. They probably thought that I was crazy! I wasn't crazy ... just ignorant and stupid. Hence, the truth we see too late hides its evil in our stupidity.
In retrospect, I am a firm believer in that it's not important to say everything we know, but it is important to know everything we say. At some point we are going to have to stop drinking the kool-aid,look in the mirror and say, "I AM NOT A NIGGER”