Politically, I have this love/hate relationship with black people and women (in general) in America. I often use the “elephant tied to a pole” analogy to describe what it’s like talking to them about moving closer to our freedom. Granted, the analogy isn’t exclusive to these two groups…but I’m most invested in the liberation of black people and women because—lo and behold!—I am both.
For those who don’t know, the analogy’s about a baby elephant who gets tied to a pole. It tries to escape, but it isn’t strong enough; and over time, it reasons that it will always be too weak and stops trying. When it grows to be a massive elephant—ten times bigger and stronger than the pole it’s tied to—it still doesn’t bother to free itself. The elephant keeps itself hostage no matter how strong it gets physically, because mentally, it is disempowered.
I’ve observed the same mentality amongst American women and black people, in various forms. It’s worth noting that throughout U.S. history, we’ve put up enough fuss as baby elephants that this country was forced to at least lengthen the rope: you know, give us rights, representation, etc. And today, when you point out that they are not yet free, many will agree: most can see that they are still tied to the rope. (Black Americans are arguably the more outraged of the two, at least vocally). But when you encourage them to finally break free, they come up with every excuse as to a) why it’s not possible or b) why they’re not ready yet.
Some aren’t ready to understand freedom as a personal responsibility. They grow defensive, claim that you’re “shaming” them for being tied up, and retort that it’s their oppressors, the government, and the system that continues to keep them chained. Others relish in being perpetually victimized for the “benefits” (like, again, not having to take responsibility)…but not openly, of course. Instead, they wrestle in this weird love/hate relationship with their persecutors: like hating white people but demanding media representation before white audiences, or bemoaning men but continuing to protect and coddle them.
Some will go even further and convince themselves that being tied to the rope is empowering, and that simply “reclaiming” their circumstances and inviting others to join means they have just as much power over the rope as it has over them. This response is perhaps the most heart-wrenching to me, because it shows that we recognize our power in the midst of oppression but not necessarily without it.
Even those of us who claim we are ready to revolt have limited ourselves with one or all versions of this mindset at some point…if not towards our persecutors, then in realization that we are outnumbered amongst our own.
Damn, even writing that sentence makes me feel like a mentally enslaved elephant. I love us, but I hate that so many of us aren’t willing to radicalize and break free.