We is Sick: Is Materialism Our New Master?
Due to the beauty of modern-day multitasking, I spent my morning train ride to work looking through my finances on my Mint app while listening to Malcolm X speeches. As I writhed over the money I continuously waste, Malcolm’s House Negro and Field Negro speech began playing. Although the speech was about the social effects of “the slave mentality” on Black communities in America at that time, it can be applied to the financial struggles that many of the middle class and working poor suffer through today.
“There were two kinds of slaves, the house Negro and the field Negro. The house Negroes lived in the house with (or owned by) his master, they dressed pretty good (fashion labels), they ate good because they ate the food he left (salty overpriced deliciousness). They would give their life to save the master’s house — quicker than the master would. If the master got sick, the house Negro would say, “What’s the matter, boss, we sick?” We sick! He identified himself with his master, more than his master identified with himself.”
Throughout my life, I’ve met people of varying income and education levels whose entire sense of identity was through their acquired possessions. Today’s music and television glorifies and amplifies this identification with our things, creating an unspoken truth in our society – the more luxuries you have, the better you are and vice versa. After all, you can’t touch, see or drive a compassion for others, but you can get a lot of looks from some very attractive people in a shiny new Benz – even if a civic can get you to the same place with a lower cost of ownership.
“This modern house Negro loves his master (materialism). He wants to live near him (be surrounded by it). He’ll pay three times as much as the house is worth just to live near his master, and then brag about “I’m the only Negro out here. You’re nothing but a house Negro.”
Most people will immediately reject this ideal. For them, the tangible and comfortable is real and all else is nonsense. The resistance that they feel is as primal as someone trying to rip their child from their arms or take food from their starving mouths. To them, luxuries are no different than scarce resources and separating them from their luxuries is tantamount to symbolic suicide.
“And if someone comes to you and says, “Let’s separate,” you say the same thing that the house Negro said on the plantation, “Man, you crazy. What you mean, separate? Where is there a better house than this? Where can I wear better clothes than this? Where can I eat better food than this?”
Malcolm referred to individuals actively seeking their (financial) freedom as field Negroes. These people saw the house Negroes’ lust for temporary comfort as a veiled shackle used to pacify the masses. They were willing to risk instant gratification for the long-term goal of absolute freedom. Their hatred for their current situation helped them overcome their fear of the unknown.
“The Negro in the field caught hell. He ate leftovers. In the house they ate high up on the hog. He lived in a shack, in a hut; he wore old, castoff clothes. He hated his master. He was intelligent. If someone came to the field Negro and said, “Let’s separate, let’s run,” he didn’t say, “Where we going?”
He’d say, “Any place is better than here.”