"Understanding Bitterness"


"Understanding Bitterness"


The Nubian Message, North Carolina State University's African American student newspaper, was first published on November 30, 1992. In this November 14, 1996 article, staff writer Conitsha Barnes vented her frustration, anger, and bitterness at the current state of American society. She argued that mainstream society continued to "dehumanize" African Americans, and African Americans continued to let themselves be "brainwashed" at the "hands of the oppressor." Barnes was most frustrated at fellow African Americans who said that "things are as good as can be expected" and thus accepted a lesser status in society. Barnes, however, appealed to these individuals to remember the sacrifices of their ancestors in struggling for freedom and for equal rights as citizens. Countless African American men and women did not let slavery's oppression crush their spirit; individuals such as Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X in the twentieth century did not let white supremacists and civil rights nay-sayers silence them either. Barnes argued that the same struggle that past men and women faced in combating racism was not over in the 1990s. Nevertheless, Barnes stated, growing bitter about ongoing racism was not the answer for African Americans. On the contrary, African Americans should "become aware, and thus, knowledgeable. We must learn about ourselves" and the collective African American past in order to shape the collective African American future.

Barnes' article reflects a common theme in The Nubian Message: that African Americans cannot forget the past injustices done to their community, or grow complacent about continued racism in society. Instead, African Americans in the 1990s should follow the example of their ancestors in the nineteenth century who opposed slavery, and their ancestors in the twentieth century who pushed for civil rights. Barnes cited multiple inspirational figures for the African American community to emulate, most of whom were proponents of the more radical, sometimes less accommodating ideologies of Black Nationalism and Black Power. Marcus Garvey, for instance, was an early twentieth-century political writer and leader who promoted early forms of Pan-Africanism, a movement to encourage the solidarity of African peoples worldwide, and Black Nationalism, an ideology of racial separatism that promotes pride in Black culture and unity among Black people. Malcolm X, a political activist in the 1950s and 1960s, expressed similar Black Nationalist views, taking them a step further in arguing that African Americans should reject white culture, hegemony, and values. Although he moderated his views about racial separatism after converting to Islam, Malcolm X originally argued that African Americans should not integrate with whites as leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., advocated.

The fact that Barnes cited these leaders and others who at times espoused so-called radical views does not necessarily mean that she sought and hoped for racial separatism. On the contrary, her article, like many others in The Nubian Message, revealed a frustration with African Americans' inaction against and even compliance with racism in the present. By citing individuals like Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X, both of whom spoke out against unfair and unequal treatment that African Americans received, Barnes and others at The Nubian Message expressed a desire for action and resistance to the erosion of rights that their ancestors gained.


Conitsha Barnes, Staff Writer


Conitsha Barnes, "Understanding Bitterness," The Nubian Message 5, no. 13 (November 14, 1996): 7. Digitized by the Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC.




Rose Buchanan




Understanding Bitterness

By Conitsha Barnes

The unwelcome taste of bitterness is often washed away or simply covered up with various forms of mouthwash, candy or any other sweet forms of illusion. However there can be bitterness other than in one's mouth.

One such bitterness is the bitterness embedded in one's soul. This form of bitterness can prove detrimental if the issue is not addressed as soon as possible. Unlike the bitterness that is in one's mouth, the bitterness that inhabits one's soul cannot be handled in such a simplistic manner.

Bitterness of the soul or mind must be addressed head on. It must first be addressed with the realization of what it is that is so unappealing to you. Once this occurs, a plan of action must be implemented to eradicate or at least come to an understanding of those feelings which cause such bitterness inside of you.

Ironically though, some forms of bitterness can cause one to become wiser. Due to the bitterness I often feel, I felt it was appropriate for me to write this article.

Today, I am bitter. As an Afrikan American female living in the "land of the free and the home of the brave" I constantly find myself engrossed with feelings of bitterness. I have been forced to live in a society whose main purpose is to dehumanize my people. This angers me.

Bitterness has not arisen because of the hatred directed by the oppressor toward me but because of the way we as Afrikan Americans have been brainwashed to believe that our destiny is in the hands of the oppressor. We are sadly mistaken. Yet, because we feel so, we and not the oppressor are lessening our success. This saddens me.

As I become more aware and take the "everything is okay" shades from my eyes I begin to grow bitter yet wiser. I am bitter because although society appears to be in a state of normality, it is not. It deeply bothers me when people say "things are as good as can be expected." If this is so, what is to be expected?

Are Afrikan Americans going to continuously come in last in a race where there is only one competitor - the human race? I hope not, for the sake of those who gave their life [sic] and spirit so that we may be where we are today, for those who currently are faced with this paradoxical society, and for those who will come to be faced with these troubling occurrences in the future.

I am bitter that we Afrikan Americans often fail to realize the power within us. All too often we imitate other non-Afrikan Americans we see as successful. We choose not to support our own when they open businesses. Is this jealousy? We often say: "You can't give a Black man power because he doesn't know how to act when he gets it." If this is so, how do you explain the numerous Afrikan Americans who have positively contributed to society on local, state and national levels?

I have to make myself remember that bitterness is not the answer. The answer has been around since the beginning of our civilization. We must simply become aware, and thus, knowledgeable. We must learn about ourselves.

Our ancestors, the queens and kings of this world, did not grow bitter and stop fighting. They persevered. They continued to fight because they knew we are from a great people: Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Mary McLeod Bethune, Paul Robinson, Carter G. Woodson, and Booker T. Washington.

We must also remember W.E.B. DuBois who in 1903 wrote Souls of the Black Folks. In this book DuBois spoke of the discrimination, racism and prejudices that we as Afrikan Americans faced in 1903 and still continue to face today.

I continue to question my place in this "great" microcosm. Am I to remain idle and simply let what happens happen? Should I accept whatever the world dishes out? Should I make a stand on an issue that I know I will be supporting alone. No. I am a unique and wondrously blessed Afrikan American women [sic] with a unique and definite purpose in this universe. I will not stop until I have self-actualized... I just hope that my people can do the same.

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Conitsha Barnes, Staff Writer, “"Understanding Bitterness",” The State of History, accessed June 25, 2024, https://soh.omeka.chass.ncsu.edu/items/show/691.