A space for Africana creative expressions and explorations.
A Four-Part Series of Short Stories by Serie McDougal III
“Serie, have you ever heard of the simulation hypothesis, bruh?”
I responded, “No, what’s that?”
My colleague Daniel was way into the existence of aliens and the multiple universes. He always made a compelling argument, so I always enjoyed our conversations. He continued, “Okay, how do you know that all this exists?”
“Oh shit, here we go,” I thought to myself. I pursed my lips and shook my head in doubt. We were on the phone, so nothing to worry about. Then I responded, “What do you mean?”
He replied, “Ok, you’ve been telling me about these dreams you’ve been having. How do you know it isn’t the dream that’s reality and that this, THIS, isn’t real at all? We could just be living in a simulation made by aliens. We could be simulated beings created with free will, and how would we know? They could have gotten us to accept it by just immersing us in this artificial reality, completely saturating us with it over a long period of time. Look, I’m going to send you a video. WATCH it and call me back!”
“No, no, just summarize it, please! I don’t want to watch the video,” I said.
He replied, “No, you be asking me to read drafts of all them papers, you can watch this video! Watch the video, and call me right back! Bye!” I received his text a moment later, with a link to a Youtube video about the simulation hypothesis—the strong likelihood that we could be living in a simulation. I turned it on reluctantly but found Neil Degrasse Tyson speaking about it, and I started to wonder if it were true.
As my eyelids grew heavier, I saw another familiar face on the screen: Steve Cokely! He looked just as I had when I knew him, before he died—a wool cap pulled over his six-inch locks, and chewing gum as always. I attended a small college in Iowa that had about fifty Black students. We used to look for African American student conferences to attend together. It really helped us bond. On one of those trips, I saw Steve Cokely give a speech on White supremacy, and ever since then I’ve been conscious of White supremacy as a system Black people must fight against in pursuit of Black liberation. I kept in communication with him until he passed on.
But Steve Cokley was now in the Youtube video, and he started speaking to me. He said, “Brother Serie! Are you serious? The simulation hypothesis? Can’t you see this is a distraction? They got you sittin’ up, worried about a fight with some overlord in outer space, while the honkey is kickin’ your ass right here in LA. You know why? ‘Cause it’s easier to worry about some aliens than to deal with this reality that is breathing down your neck. Are you trying to run away from facing White supremacy?”
“No, Brother Steve,” I replied. “I just don’t even understand why this is happening. I know we have to fight it, but . . . For God’s sake why? That’s what I’ve recently found myself asking, I understand, but why must Black people even be in a situation where they have to struggle against some impossible matrix-like system. I know we can’t be all carefree. That would be playing make believe. But it’s enough to make you just get up and start walking like Caine from the old TV show Kung Fu.
“Get in here,” Steve said, waving me on.
When I blinked I found myself in the video with him, but we were on a rooftop now, surrounded by a wooded fence and looking out over downtown Los Angeles. The view made the city seem strangely like a simulation. Then I heard the voice of Frantz Fanon, say, “No, it’s as real as it gets. It’s not a game. The real trick is to make you play it like a game. If you were looking for a carefully constructed environment designed for your exploitation, you’re in one. You’re in one.”
Seated in lawn chairs under the night sky were Kwame Ture, Kobi Kambon, and two people I hadn’t seen before. Brother Steve introduced them. “This is Elder Ogotemmêli. The brother is a Dogon elder and astronomer from Mali, in West Africa. Next to him is the roaming spirit of the Black psychologist Dr. Camara Jules Harrell. This brother isn’t an ancestor. He’s still living, but his spirit has joined us while he sleeps. Kaqece brought him here because of his knowledge of the Manichean world you live in. So tell me, Brother Serie, why are we here?”
“I think it’s because I’ve been questioning White supremacy. Why, just why? I get economic competition, competition for power. But why does . . . I don’t know . . . God, or the universe, even allow a 500-year holocaust for Black people? It’s like a cruel trick or something.”
The first to speak was the Dogon astronomer, Ogotemmêli. He was a bald African man of dark complexion with a grey beard, and he wore a traditional loose-fitting Dogon shirt. He sat up on his lawn chair, set his feet on the ground, and rested his elbows on his knees, and he said to me, “According to my people, the world is Amma’s creation, and all that is within it is sacred.”
In my mind, I screamed, “Even White supremacy?!” And to my surprise, he heard my thoughts as if I had spoken aloud.
He continued, “Yes, even White supremacy. Listen, all forces in this world are complementary, deliberately established, and necessary to the functioning of the whole. You see, in the beginning Amma transformed the divine egg into a double placenta and then placed two sets of twins in each. But one of the twins, Yurugu, emerged from his placenta early and tried to seize his sister because he felt lonely and incomplete. This was the beginning of disharmony and disorder in the universe. So when you speak of White supremacy, what I hear is that you are battling against the principle of disorder in the universe, which goes by many names. My people know it as Yurugu, whom God transformed into a pale fox. But Brother Steve calls him the Honkey, and Dr. Fanon calls him the Colonizer.”
Nope! I wasn’t buying it. I wasn’t hearing what I wanted to hear. It was time to raise my own voice. “But still, Ogotemmêli, why?” I felt like my niece when she was little and asked me “Why?” until I reached the limits of my knowledge and couldn’t answer any more.
Ogotemeli replied, “You may not understand this at first, Brother Serie, but the universe is ordered, and in that order even disorder has its place.”
They all laughed. But I was serious, and I let my face say that I still didn’t get it. And seeing my confusion, Ogotemmêli continued. “Look, the pale fox, Yurugu, is fundamentally incomplete, but he knows disorder. It is your job, and what you should focus on, to maintain order. I would rather be you than Yurugu. It is a blessing.”
Dr. Harrell added, “Dr. McDougal, Ogotemmêli isn’t telling you anything very different from what you learned from Cheik Anta Diop. He said that many thousands of years ago, when Europeans first had to deal with Godawful cold winters and thin soil, it is no wonder they came up with a culture of conquest and a drive to seize power over others. Is that so different from Yurugu?”
“This Yurugu we are talking about,” Dr. Kambon said, “is a small population that is trying to establish itself as the standard for everyone.”
“Yes,” Dr. Harrell added. “And it is this Yurugu’s drive to acquire wealth without regard for the cost to other humans.”
I was starting to understand. For a moment, we all stood looking at the bright city lights, the moving cars, and the buildings. At that distance, it was like a tiny model city. The cars looked like toys, and the whole was a distant machine at work. Finally, I told them of a challenge I faced as a teacher of Africana Studies.
“Obaba, as a teacher I often struggle over when to talk about Black people and what we must do, and when to talk about White supremacy and oppression. I don’t want to talk about Black people’s lives without discussing the forces of oppression we contend with, but I don’t want to give so much attention to White supremacy that I neglect to describe Black people themselves and their own role. When people ask, ‘Why talk about White supremacy,’ what should I say?”
The question appeared to cause Dr. Harrell some consternation. He stood quietly a moment at the edge of the rooftop, his two hands laid atop the wooden fence. Then he turned and looked at me through his rimless glasses. He said, “You were impressed with simulation theory and talk of multiple universes, but we have yet to truly appreciate the complexity of the situation Black people face in this world. Studying it is the only way we can discuss it more accurately and the only way to better understand the conditions that lead our folks to self-destruction. And it is, I assure you, more complex than any of your friend’s simulated world ideas.”
“But when I talk about White supremacy, some people say, ‘We already know that.’ And when they say that, I think to myself, yes, but there are levels of complexity to it, and most people know that it’s more than just someone calling you a racial epithet, or people’s dating preferences. It’s institutional. But still, I don’t think most people are aware of White supremacy at the levels that Steve discusses it.”
Dr. Harrell responded, “No. Many of our people have swallowed the White, racist frame of mind hook, line, and sinker. You witness White supremacy’s penetration of our minds when you see Black people blame themselves and fail to see the roots of their problems.”
Brother Cokely began to speak then, in his calm, raspy voice. I knew it well, and his tone told me that he was fired up with passion but holding his cool. I felt the intensity palpably beneath the level pitch of his words. He said, “You know, Brother Serie, when I lived in this world I was more infamous than famous, and that was because I gave an analysis of the enemy that put me at odds with a lot of our people, especially Black leaders. Why? Because some Black people are invested in not exposing White supremacy. They don’t really want to defeat it, they want to negotiate with it. So they consistently skew one key fact: who we are fighting against. And this creates confusion on the battlefield. I spent my life challenging the Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Foundation, and I got in trouble for my analysis of White supremacy. I named names. I pointed out the leaders of national and multinational organizations whose decisions hurt large numbers of Black people. I didn’t just talk about White supremacy, I named names. People always say ‘We already know that.’ When they say that to you, Brother Serie, you are witnessing the very thing we are against.”
Even Ogotemmêli, spoke. “Brother Steve is right. To defeat Yurugu, you must understand his nature.”
“Sho-ya right, Brother Ogotemmêli,” Steve said, unleashing his passion. “To defeat White supremacy, you have to study and understand it. If you don’t know the enemy’s narrative, you will lose. If you don’t know who the enemy is, you don’t know who to fight. So you have to name the names. Because we’re not fighting an abstraction, Brother Ogotemmêli. We’re fighting people, and we’re fighting organizations and the people who lead them.”
I remembered the life that Brother Steve led. He was one of the most intelligent people I ever knew. He examined global racism consistently and named names. But I wanted to know more about what Obaba was suggesting. “Wait, how is it like a simulation? How does White supremacy work, that you’d say that?”
Steve replied, “It’s a con. It’s protected by your confidence in it, the same as a simulation, only it’s not a game, it’s real. Like any bully, the system works on intimidation.”
Frantz Fanon finally weighed in. He said, “Yes, that’s the reason this country engages in such elaborate displays of military might. And people accept this idea of a simulation because they’re saturated in it and can’t tell what’s real from what’s fake. Well, Black people are up against a superstructure that saturates them. White supremacy doesn’t just use its institutional arms to invade the atmosphere of the oppressed. It tries to become that atmosphere. Think about it. We breathe in the appeal and greatness of White culture like pure air every day. This society then uses its institutional arms on us. They use education to distort our history and assimilate us.”
“Yes,” Dr. Harrell added, “and they use it to reproduce White memories and perspectives and worldviews in the minds of Black people even when they do teach about Black contributions to history.”
“They use religion to pacify us.”
“And Christian institutions are so often, as we know, filled with Caucasian images.”
Fanon continued, “They use economics to leave us without resources.”
“And you know what else?” Kwame Ture interrupted, “Blacks who do have access to resources learn quickly that they actually benefit from the subordination of the majority of Blacks.”
“Dr. Fanon,” Dr. Harrell, interrupted, “they use these institutions instead of physical terror now, to order Black people’s thinking in more subtle ways, but the impact is long-lasting.”
Fanon answered, “Yes, Dr. Harrell, and they do it to dehumanize us, to make us accept their values and stumble over one another in a race to achieve a White existence.”
Dr. Kambon interrupted. “Even if we don’t try to, we adopt Eurocentric values through habit and repetition.”
Dr. Fanon continued, “They want us to adopt that ‘Look out for yourself’ motto and turn us into opportunists. They want us to constantly measure ourselves against them and seek their validation.”
“Yes,” Kwame Ture added, “and when societies dehumanize, they usually do it to justify the exploitation of a group.”
Dr. Harrell said, “They absolutely want to make themselves the standard by which we judge ourselves and others. That way they don’t mind our holding elected office or acquiring wealth.”
Ogotemmêli nodded. “For Yurugu, difference is weakness. So they equate themselves with normal, or modern, and then everyone else isn’t just different; they’re inferior.”
Dr. Kambon said, “Dr. McDougal, this enemy is trying to present itself as the only legitimate model of human behavior. They want you not just to accept them as the norm, but to interpret Black people’s behavior in terms of how it differs from that norm. And our people treat Blacks who get White validation like gods. It’s about definitions, Dr. McDougal. They want you to accept their system of definitions: of what it means to be educated, of what it means to be intelligent, healthy, ethical, or religious. If you accept their definitions, you’re already at a disadvantage.”
Fanon continued, “And most of all, they want us to think that without them, we would fall into chaos.”
Then Dr. Harrell shifted the focus. “It’s not just education, either. You have to take into account media and popular culture. Not only does most White people’s knowledge about Black people come from popular culture; popular culture reinforces racist thinking and shapes people’s understanding of Black history. The news media present negative stories about Black people well outside the context of actively supporting anti-Blackness.”
Dr. Kambon interrupted him. “Then we become living contradictions, when we watch the news and expect truth about people of African descent, when we continue to expect fair treatment from employers and authorities.”
“The simulation we are living in is simply colonialism under other names, such as White supremacy or institutional racism,” Kwame Ture said.
“Yes, Brother Kwame,” Dr. Harrell added, “and power is the key ingredient.”
“And economics,” Dr. Fanon added.
Dr. Harrell replied, “Yes, because our folks are lured to conform by the prospect of higher profits. And they have the institutional power to punish or reinforce behavior that threatens or supports White supremacy.”
“And the system rewards Blacks who betray collective Black advancement,” Kwame Ture added.
“Exactly,” Dr. Kambon said. “They have the power to reward compliance and punish deviation from their standard.”
“But there are experiences with overt acts of racism too, right?” I asked. “I remember being handcuffed and searched on the street in Chicago. Literally slammed against the car for no reasons, then lying face-down on the concrete for a long time, and then being let go and told we were suspects. Not only have I never forgotten it, whenever I experience overt racism I recall it and it angers me again.”
Dr. Harrell said, “You have to understand what is happening in the brain. Your experiences with racism aren’t isolated events; new experiences trigger old ones, and it all slowly chips away at a healthy Black consciousness. Look down at this city and think of the carwash of White supremacy the mind of a Black person will experience walking from one end of it to the other. Even if you aren’t consciously aware of it, your brain will notice the disproportionate number of homeless people who are Black like you. It will notice those who look wealthy are also more likely to look White. It will pick up on the idea that class and wealth differs along racial lines.
“But don’t stop there, because the brain doesn’t just this observation alone. It also recalls seeing the same differences between Black and White communities on your way home from school as a child. Your brain is constantly relating new racist stimuli to old ones, building piece by piece a view that associates Blackness with poverty.
“And don’t stop there, either. Recall your teachers, your parents, and the time President Obama said you can succeed by working hard. Thanks to them, your brain is open to tying the difference between Black and White wealth to the idea that Black people just don’t work hard enough. Let’s say you look up at a billboard and see an ad for a movie about a skilled and talented White police officer with a light-hearted but dim-witted Black partner. Do you think that’s innocent? Your brain relates this film with that Marvel movie you saw where the Black superhero had inferior, less cerebral talents than his White counterpart. Then it relates that to the college class you took that had no Black students, and where the professor didn’t talk about Black contributions. All these memories and observations disassociate Blackness from intelligence and skill, and you remember a poor grade you got in math class, and you start asking yourself, is this because I don’t work as hard as the other students, like Obama said? Am I less intelligent than them? Do I really deserve to be here?
“In this world, your brain is constantly receiving mutually reinforcing waves of racist input, and it associates every new racist idea with old ones, stimulating old racist memories and experiences. What happens if you watch all the movies that show police violence against Black people, all the cell phone videos of Black people being shot by the police, and combine that with your own experiences with the police? You become conditioned to feel fear in the presence of the police. This society forces you to walk your brain through a carwash of White supremacy, rehearsing and processing racist messages every day, slowly pushing them from your short-term to your long-term memory until that memory is filled with racist input.”
Dr. Kambon interjected. “This is psychological violence. Just like rising waters encroach on land and powerful countries encroach on the territories of smaller ones, Black people are experiencing encroachment on our psychological space.”
Then Dr. Harrell continued. “At its worst, the result is an anti-Black worldview: Even when we encounter Black people we don’t know, we make negative guesses about who they are and their intentions before we get to know them.”
Dr. Kambon said, “I call the result cultural misorientation. It’s a silent killer. Some Black people assume that they’re not affected by it, but no one escapes the impact of prolonged exposure to White supremacy. It’s hard to be truly surprised to find that we’ve internalized anti-Black thinking. Black people live in a Eurocentric environment; it’s like a plant being taken out of its natural habitat and then not developing to it’s full potential. Forget about Centers for Disease Control; cultural misorientation is a virus spreading across the African world. And good luck convincing a misoriented Black person that there’s a problem. You see, they don’t experience stress from encounters with disempowering behavior because they think of themselves as normal, or even progressive, when they do things like avoiding Black-owned businesses and Black culture. The White world defines our sickest people as normal, so why would culturally misoriented people think there’s a problem?”
I replied, “The more I learn about White supremacy, the more I realize just how much there is to learn. It feels overwhelming at times. Wow. I guess my question is . . . If this has been happening to our people for more than 500 years, even though we’ve always had critical thinkers, why has White supremacy been so persistent? Racism isn’t a new thing for Black people. Why haven’t we made more progress?”
“Well,” said Ogotemmêli, “Yurugu succeeds by using culture to limits people’s ability to act in their own interest.”
“It’s like we’ve been explaining,” Dr. Kambon added, “It succeeds because of our collective psychosis. We are basically pulling against our own weight, not realizing that we’re standing on top of what we’re trying to lift because we’ve internalized the thing we’re fighting against. What do you think, Steve?”
Brother Steve said, “It persists because its power is to stand right in front of you while you don’t recognize it for what it is. It’s like the way basketball players, or catchers and pitchers, can call plays right in front of millions of people, but the plays still works because the people watching haven’t been trained to recognize them. Because we don’t know, we victim blame. We blame each other for our own problems. The White supremist strategy is to control even the response to White supremacy. Dr. McDougal, what organizations stand out in your mind as traditionally fighting for the interests of Black people?”
I offered, “The Congressional Black Caucus.”
He replied, “Some congresspeople do so, brother, but go to the CBO website and look at their financiers. You’ll see the biggest and most institutionally racist companies in the world. How could they truly fight White supremacy when White supremacy pays them? At the end of the day, it’s simple math. In this country, the problem receives more funding than the solution.”
“I don’t know what you mean, Brother Steve,” I said.
He continued, “The Honkey victimizes and then finances the response to his victimization. You’ve heard the political slogan ‘A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.’ Well, it’s true for Black people too. Africans all over the world have been victimized by global White supremacy, but Whites have always offered some of them the opportunity to take advantage of that victimization.”
Dr. Fanon sat up on his chair, his elbows on his knees and his suit jacket open, and chimed in. “Yes. They have the resources to put down rebellions and social movements by offering Black leaders a few concessions, and it works because they have already nurtured in Black people the desire to hold a stake in the racist society.”
“There can be no doubt of it,” Kwame Ture said. “Their objective is, in part, to get Black people to abandon the notion of solving Black social problems and to take an individual approach of ‘playing the game.’”
Dr. Harrell added, “Remember the Blacks who achieve White validation? Whites use them as exceptions to the rules of racism. It’s like that book you introduced us to, Brother Steve: The Hidden Hand. Dr. McDougal, the hand of institutions that produce racial disparities is cleverly hidden, and that is we don’t respond to racism with defensiveness or alarm as you think we should.”
I answered, “One thing I’ve discovered upon reflection is that in all my studies and my experiences as a student, I learned a great deal about White supremacy and about approaches to Black liberation and the history of Black revolutionary movements. but I have rarely heard an analysis of the weaknesses or vulnerabilities of White supremacy.”
Ogotemmêli spoke first. He said, “Keep in mind, Yurugu’s weakness is that he always feels incomplete; in his race to acquire, he drains his spirit.”
Brother Steve added, “They are vulnerable when exposed. There’s a saying that goes, ‘When you put fruit in the sun, it dries.’ When you reveal a problem, it loses some of its power; it becomes easier to solve. Brother Serie, I’m surprised at your question. Of course they’re vulnerable. They’re vulnerable when they can’t control you, and they can’t control you when you detach from them.”
Kwame Ture interjected. “Brother Steve, they can’t control us if we don’t accept their methods. They need us to accept their form of politics, of education, of everything else. They’re vulnerable to our refusing their terms of engagement.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” I replied.
Dr. Kambon said, “Their strength requires us to accept them as the norm, or as our point of reference, and they are vulnerable to anything that leads us to operate outside the conceptual boundaries they set for us.”
Brother Steve continued, “That’s right, Brother Kwame and Dr. Kambon, but look Brother Serie, watch the news. They’re vulnerable to the use of social media and machine learning to influence the electorate. They’re vulnerable to their enemies gaining possession of chemical weapons. They’re vulnerable to their enemies’ use of quantum computers to get past their encryption to steal state secrets. They’re vulnerable to cyber-attacks that can cripple emergency systems and critical infrastructure. They’re vulnerable to hypersonic missiles that can evade U.S. missile defense systems and strike the country. And they’re vulnerable to their enemies weaponizing space and using it to spy on the U.S. I’m not suggesting these methods, but is that enough vulnerability for you? They’re like the Wizard of Oz: When you pull back the curtain and expose the wizard, you can see that he’s weak, but until then he’s protected by con-fidence, brother! White supremacists have to constantly psych themselves out, so they’re blinded by their own hubris, and they can’t imagine anyone would try them.”
“And Brother Steve,” Dr. Harrell added, “the fact that they must lie to themselves about us makes them vulnerable to internal strife and division, because lies require constant maintenance.”
Brother Steve continued, “Another weakness is that their ideology of control and domination creates enemies faster than they can be defeated, so their military is vulnerable to being overstretched.”
“And their economy is vulnerable to being unbalanced by collective Black economic movements,” Fanon added.
Kwame Ture weighed in too. “Yes it is, Franz. Brother Steve, it’s true, they create their own enemies, but White racism also plants the dynamite of its own destruction. Their treatment of the oppressed will eventually ignite the tempers of the oppressed. They simply don’t account for the fact that the oppressed are more willing to risk their futures to rebel because they have less to lose and much more to gain. We also can’t forget what Dr. Harrell said: Whites are vulnerable to internal division because they experience class-based discrimination. But mark my words: Whites will unite in opposition to Blacks demands for justice. Ultimately, I think that Whites fear the spread of any ideology that can inspires a unity capable of shifting the global power base.”
Then I was awakened by a ringing phone. It was Daniel. I didn’t answer. I needed to process what had just happened. I sat up in bed, thinking. The experience with the Obaba had let me draw a connection I hadn’t seen before between two ideas. I knew well about the nature and functioning of White supremacy, and I was thoroughly versed in Black social and revolutionary movements and ideologies. But I now understood the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the system of oppression that our people were up against.
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