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  • Writer's pictureHarun Shabazz


March 12, 1964

Dear Sadie,

Sadie, I have given up all hope of ever seeing you again, of ever holding you in my arms, caressing you with my lips. And truthfully, I could not bear for you to see me this way.

I am nobody, nothing,

Just a Negro in a cage,

Cursed by the spell of despair.

It is like a deadly cancer

Tearing into the root, the essence

of all that I am and ever will be,

A feeling of dread that never ceases,

A void of darkness that never ends.

My spirit is scattered into the wind,

Blown into oblivion

Upon the concrete shores of this creation of steel and stone—

Imprisoning that multitude of possessed bodies,

Dreaded hair,

Weathered faces,

Distant stares.

We captors of each other

Chained together by notions of racial inferiority,

Beleaguered soul consumed in a furnace of self-hatred.

And all that is left among the ashes

Are the haunting voices of anger and regret

Hung up on the ifs, ands, or buts

Of what a life without bondage

Could have and should have been.

Darling, the other night I was awakened by the sound of voices echoing off the walls of my cell. "Son of Savannah, Son of Savannah, look in the mirror," ghostly voices demanded over and over again. Compelled, I took to my knees, managing to locate the handheld mirror placed under my bunk. With the assistance of the electric light streaming in from the tier, I began to stare at my face—my olive-colored skin, my green eyes that you found so strange, changing color in the sunlight. I wondered aloud, "What do the voices want me to see?" And then it occurred to me. Sadie, for the first time in my life, I was troubled, truly distressed by the fact that I was not pure African—a hundred percent black. I thought about the fact that I had foreign blood running through my veins, throughout the core of my existence, penetrating the essence of my soul. From the top of my head to the tips of my toes, there was "him" inside of me—possessing me like a restless spirit. And there was no way to exorcise him, for he was I and I was he—"the white man!"

Sadie, I was overcome by the fear of death—not the fear that this life was all that was and all that ever would be, that from here we are but eternal dust never to rise to life again. No, my dear, I was acutely aware of man's inseparable connection to the hereafter. But what possessed me was the sense that I was the incarnate of evil, a wicked soul destined for hell with no chance of redemption. Because of the historical cruelty surrounding my birth, dating back to the sixteenth century, I was to be cut off from the grace and mercy of God.

My love, the ghostly voices led me out of my cell, down a dark tunnel onto the campus grounds of your alma mater. I was beckoned to enter one of its buildings. It was a rather stately structure, solid oak double doors at its entrance, Italian marble floors, tall ceilings some sixteen feet high if I had to guess. Geographical maps of the ancient world rest in golden frames on its walls. I wandered into a large conference room where a group of Negroes were gathered. There was seating for as many as forty people facing the front of the room. Most of the plush chairs were occupied with about an equal number of older men and women. I took a seat as they sat talking with each other.

Moments later, a man known to me from previous encounters, stood up in front of the room. He had a fair complexion and was partially balding with curly gray hair.

"Hello, I'm Dr. Francis Galton," he said.

"Hello, Dr. Galton," the group responded.

"Some of you may know of me as a professor in the history department at this fine institution," Dr. Galton said. "But I'm not here in my capacity as a member of the faculty. I'm here to share my story, my personal conversion—the day I was struck down blind on the road to Damascus., sort of speak. Like many of you in this room, I was terrified when I first realized that the devil resided inside of me. I was lost, depressed. I went days without eating, with very little sleep. I questioned my very existence as a colored man. I asked myself, 'Why now, after sixty-five years of living, have I been cursed by the sin of my mixed blood?'"

Dr. Galton paused while adjusting his horn-rimmed glasses as the group sat fixated on his every word.

"In the midst of this affliction," Dr. Galton said, "it dawned upon me that the white man's history was my history, that his ancestors were my ancestors, that his family was my family, that his inheritance was my inheritance. As a student of history, I thought about all the great and ingenious things that the white race had accomplished throughout the ages to modernity—the white man's ingenuity, their advancement in medicine, technology, and engineering, the invention of the light bulb, moving pictures, the internal combustion engine, to name a few. I marveled at the know-how that it took to construct the Golden Gate Bridge, to build the skyscrapers of Chicago and New York City, and most recently, to launch a man into outer space. I thought I could lay claim to this legacy because after all, part of me is white, and my ancestry and estranged family is white."

There were nods of agreement among those who sat in the room.

"Then I thought about the centuries of African under-achievement and under-development, the backwardness and ignorance among black people. I thought about a photograph I once saw on the cover of the National Geographic of half-naked Africans living a primitive existence in the twentieth century—Stone Age natives staring into the magic camera without a clue that the world has passed them by. I thought about the fact that in this day and age we still have buck dancing Negroes putting on coon shows in white only venues—bowing and grinning buffoons left chasing their dreams at the bottom of a liquor bottle. Look around this nation and witness the pitiful state of colored leadership—a cast of clowns, misfits, carnival barkers, race traitors, shameless baggers, and idiots passed out drunk on the backstage of history. And even if you subscribe to that romantic notion that Africa is the origin of civilization, pardon my French, niggers haven't done anything of note in over two thousand years."

Sadie, no one protested, no one uttered a word in defiance of the insults that Dr. Galton heralded upon the black race. As for my part, my lips were sealed as I sat there among the other amalgamated Negroes.

"Yes, I am the white man and the white man is I!” Dr. Galton proclaimed, his voice was now booming off the copper paneled ceiling. “We rule the world and all have to bow down to our feet. We have conquered every civilization known to man. Sure, we drop the atomic bomb on Japan, sure we led the Jews to the slaughter, sure we caused the genocide of indigenous people throughout the world, sure we are responsible for the kidnapping and enslavement of millions of Africans, sure we are going to burn in hell. But this is a white man's world and a white man's paradise."

Dr. Galton, breathing heavily, removed a handkerchief from his suit jacket, and wiped the sweat from his forehead.

"Come and join me my fellow Negroes, come and claim your European heritage—the white blood running through your veins even if it’s just one drop. Come and claim the supremacy of your existence, the supremacy of your spiritual legacy. We all know that Jesus and the prophets of old were white men. Come and claim your separation, the separation of the spirit and flesh. We are now free, free to do what we want to do, free to rape, and plunder the Earth. Feel the homicidal rage from within, feel the love of the deadly sins. Feel like a little sex? Try a little pedophilia-variety. You think we just raped the little girls on the slave ship. We raped the little boys too."

A few grunts and moans could be heard coming from the room. A woman sitting next to me began shedding tears as the professor continued his exhortation.

"Come on brothers, save yourself. No longer do you have the burden of blackness, the blackness of your skin, the blackness of your existence, the blackness of inferiority. Even the proudest black man desires the whitest black woman he can find, if not in reality, then in his heart and mind. Are not the wigs that colored women wear but an excuse to have their hair fall to their shoulders and blow in the wind like the blue-eyed beauties that adorn the pages of white magazines? Is not the slick process hair seen on black men but an attempt to destroy the woolliness of their locks—making the dark silhouette of the Negro difficult to distinguish from white men? No longer feel ashamed of your love and desire of all things white. Bleach your skin, straighten your hair, turn your backs on your brothers and sisters. You owe nothing and no one anything. It's about you. It's about freedom. Come and join me so-called Negroes. Join me in the flames, the fire and brimstone . . .."

Sadie, Dr. Galton’s voice faded into the late night as I reentered the dark tunnel from which I came. The fear of death had subsided, and I was restored to my true black self. I was left with the realization that very few, and perhaps no one, including a man of the professor's academic pedigree, can escape the devastating effects of the lie we are living.

You see, my love, all my life I have been living a lie, and I dare say that all the world has been living a lie—a lie that completely surrounds us, a lie that invades both our conscious and subconscious worlds. In our dreams, our goals, our aspirations for the future, the lie is always there. When we open our eyes, when we turn on the radio, the television, when we read a book, a newspaper, a magazine, when we talk and interact with family, friends, and even strangers, the lie is ever-present—completely dominating our world. From the day we are born, we are socialized and indoctrinated into this lie, where the lie becomes a proxy for the truth. It becomes the reference point in which we use to make sense of the world, to give order to things. It is an ancient lie deeply woven into the fabric of civilization, giving us a false sense of who and what we are. It is the root cause of hatred and conflict between man—a mythology of tribal, ethnic, and racial supremacy, and for the subjugated, the birthmark of inferiority.

My love, things are more than ever and I fear that I may not survive my present situation. There are those who are determined to see me dead. I am surrounded by uncertainty and know not around which dark corner death might lie in wait of me—a knife to the back by a fellow inmate, a subversive attack by renegade guards. The disturbing nature of my case has made me a pariah within the confines of this institution, leaving me with nowhere to turn.

Sadie, in the event of my untimely death, I am entrusting you with the enclosed unfinished manuscript. I will be sending further additions on a weekly basis, for time is not on my side. Rested within its pages and the pages yet to be written is a chronicle of my life since that fateful November night, a memoir of sorts that attempts to unveil the tragic lie we are living.

Darling, it is my hope that one day my story will see daylight so that others may know the truth—the truth of the lie. And if I should perish before its publication, I can only have faith that humanity will heed the warning I am attempting to convey, that they will hear my voice beyond the grave.



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