The African-American response to Better Together’s proposal to merge St. Louis city and county
falls into two general categories.
The opposition argues that the exclusion of the African-American community in formalizing the proposal and the complete absence of any structural African-American presence in the execution of the solution makes Better Together unsupportable.
African-American supporters don’t refute that premise, but they argue it doesn’t matter. Their premise is if the region does better, then African Americans will do better. They also claim that African-American political leadership has so underperformed that it has forfeited the right to be the author of its political destiny.
However, they don’t make the same indictment of white political leadership. In fact, they would assert that people primarily responsible for leading us to this moment are the only ones who can be trusted to deliver us from the moment.
Where does a belief like that come from? The answer can be found from Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology and arguably the most influential psychiatrist and psychoanalyst other than Sigmund Freud. Jung, borrowing heavily from Plato, created a psychological theory of archetypes that provides an insightful context to both individual and group behavior. For Jung, archetypes were inherited ideas or modes of thought that are derived from the experience of the race (think: large social group) and are present in the unconscious mind of the individual.
I would argue that the African-American responses to Better Together are a product of two very different archetypes within the African-American community, both of which are a function of our collective history in America.
We survived 250 years of slavery and another 100 years of Jim Crow violence and oppression because we developed two responses that became part of our racial memory: resistance and acceptance. Think of this as a variation of the fight or flight response.
The Quentin Tarantino movie “Django Unchained,” starring Jamie Foxx and Samuel L. Jackson, is a perfect representation of these two archetypes and the irreconcilable differences they represent. The movie is a morality play about the African-American response to white oppression as represented by Django (Foxx) and Steven (Jackson).
Django represents our resistance to our captivity and ultimate vindication by winning his own freedom and reunification with his wife. He is made whole, and so are we. But there is another reason we find Django so satisfying: revenge. Django delivers revenge of biblical proportions. It’s in his final climatic act of violence that the newly liberated is finally set free. It’s the same reason why the writer of Genesis drowned Pharaoh’s army.
Steven is the other African-American response to our enslavement and Jim Crow oppression: acceptance. Steven has accepted his condition and legitimized it as the correct natural order of the universe. His acceptance is so complete that he will defend his enslavement even when there is no requirement to do so. That’s what his betrayal of Django represents. History and circumstance should have made them allies, but Django was an existential enemy for Steven because he would upend Steven’s universe, where his slavery and white supremacy were the proper order of things.
There is no normative judgment involved in my discussion of these two archetypes. They both served the same purpose: to maximize the chance of physical survival. This creates a very interesting question. If both archetypes are a part of our unconscious selves, then why choose one and not the other?
This brings us back to 2019 and Better Together. Because of our historical experience and how our individual and collective identity have been formed, there will always be members of the African-American community who, when it’s time to choose, will never choose us. I say this, not to indict, but to create a context to understand why what seems to be inexplicable is really quite understandable.
Mike Jones is a former senior staffer in St. Louis city and county government and current member of the Missouri State Board of Education and The St. Louis American editorial board. In 2016 and 2017, he was awarded Best Serious Columnist for all of the state’s large weeklies by the Missouri Press Association, and in 2018 he was awarded Best Serious Columnist in the nation by the National Newspapers Association.