Throughout the history of white suppremacy, the notion of the color line and its complexity has been a key issue and defining force in U.S society particularly. This intentionally placed barrierserves to seperate white privelege and values from whites and non-whites. The existence of the color line depends on essentialist ideals that have also been produced to make a solid distinction between non-white and an inferior "Other." This static essentialism is upheld by cultural and structural ideologies that serve to rationalize and justify social and political agendas. The ideologies were formed long ago, but have been passed from one generation to the next and still exist but in different incarnations. This essay will look at the way African Americans have either negotiated, broken-through or redefined this line and by doing so, have trampled fixed and absolute notions of blackness and black identity.
Black nationalism/seperation came about as a belief that blacks would never be accepted as anything other than second class citizens and destined to remain under the exploitation of white power structure. In order for blacks to attain complete freedom in a society where they were unwanted, they had to stop pleading for acceptance into white institutions and either move back to Africa or form their own methods of economic sustenance, independence and cultural identity. Marcus Garvey was a militant black nationalist leader who began a movement that would spark the black nationalism/seperatist movement. Garvey was born in Jamaica. He moved to London in 1912 and became interested in African history and culture. He returned to Jamaica two years later and founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and the African Communities League. In 1916 Garvey moved to the United States. He went to New York City and set up a branch of the UNIA.
Garvey’s most extreme program was the “Back to Africa” movement. He called all blacks to return to their true homeland, Africa. To help make this possible Garvey created the Black Star Line in 1919 to provide transportation. He also started the Negro Factories Corporation to encourage black economic independence. Garvey attracted thousands of supporters and had two million members for the UNIA. Garvey’s rise to fame was amazing; speaking to an audience in Colon, Panama in 1921 Garvey said “two years ago in New York nobody paid any attention to us. When I use to speak, even the policeman on the beat never noticed me.” Just as Garvey was at the climax of his following he encountered economic disaster. In 1922 he was arrested for mail fraud and served prison time. His sentence was dropped and he was deported back to Jamaica, Yet the UNIA remained. Garvey moved and finally died in London in relative obscurity. His movement and ideals would not be soon forgotten.
The UNIA helped found the Black Muslim movement, led by Elijah Muhammad. Muhammad was believed to had known Allah and been "missoned" to lead his people out of white bondage and back to their lost Zion "in the East". Malcolm X joined his ministry in 1952. While in prison doing an eight year sentence for burgalary, Malcolm was met by an inmate who was a follower of Muhammad's. "His exposure began in prison with his exposure to Muhammad's ghetto theology and its Damascene revelation: that white people were a race of devils created for the torment of the black sons and daughters of Allah." (Goldman pg., 308)
But as James Baldwin wrote, Muhammad's theology was "no more indegestible than the more familiar brand asserting that there is a curse on the sons of Ham." It was a direct reversal of the idea of "Indistinguishable blackness" where an ideology was created to justify the subhumanization of blacks based on their skin color. " This idea not only affirmed the color line, but moved both sides further away from it. For Blacks it meant embracing their African heritage, not associating with whites, but with dark peoples all over...
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