The age-old question asks If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? As conservatives enact laws to shut down the teaching of topics such as critical race theory, an academic movement that seeks to critically examine social, cultural, and legal issues as they relate to race and racism. The question to ask today is if we ignore the inherent racism that has played a pivotal role in so many aspects of this country since its birth did racism ever exist?
Anyone who looks at the history of American with an objective eye would have to agree that several factors, including redlining, underfunding schools in communities of color, the lack of culturally diverse teaching in schools, disproportionate incarceration of people of color, disproportionate disciplining of students of color, negative media stereotypes, lack of employment opportunities and a host of other factors have contributed to today’s America being 100-meter dash with one group being afforded a 90-meter head start.
The argument that students—predominantly white students—will be exposed to supposedly damaging or self-demoralizing ideas is nonsense. Germany has not tried to sweep its Nazi past under the rug. For example, as the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz drew near. Angela Merkel delivered a speech at the Auschwitz Memorial, where she expressed a “deep sense of shame for the barbaric crimes that were here committed by Germans.” Major German cities boast monuments, museums, and centers dedicated to the study of antisemitism and the Holocaust. Its schools present a conscious and responsible approach to dealing with the past sins of Nazi-era Germany. The past has already taken place, it cannot be changed, and it cannot simply be ignored because it makes some feel uncomfortable. It must be taught so we learn from our past mistakes and understand how we can change and develop for the better as people. If we ignore it, we doom ourselves to repeating those same mistakes and never growing as a society.
When a segment of a society willfully marginalizes another segment is not surprising to see unrest. It is not surprising to see the very foundation that it was built begin to crumble. It is not surprising when it starts to crumble from within; For society’s good, the masses must rise and denounce those who spew racism and bigotry. Reject what makes them different, listen, and learn about each other and embrace their diversity. A diversity that has made them stronger. Only then will society be able to say with one voice this the true spirit of our humanity; these are the thoughts, insights, and musing of an everyday African American on the state of race relations in America today.
OUR LIVES HAVE ALWAYS MATTERED OUR VOICES WILL NEVER BE SILENCED
Available at Amazon.com in paperback or as an e-book.
The Derek Chauvin verdict was finally justice but let be clear we got Justice today, now we need change tomorrow. We need to come together as a people, people of all colors, and make those who preach racism uncomfortable. Uncomfortable so that they have no choice but to swallow their racism because it will no longer be accepted. Uncomfortable so that they are ashamed even to be seen because we will rebuke them at every turn. Uncomfortable because the America they knew, one of hate, racism, and division is gone and that all people will finally be treated equally. Today was just the first step. We must keep marching.
I know many of you reading this are not people of color but are parents, and I want you to ask yourself how you would feel if your child left the house and every time you had to worry if they were coming home. How you would feel if you were visited by the police, who informed you your unarmed child was shot and killed by a police officer. How you would feel if you turned on FOX News and all they were talking about was “Chaos in the Streets,” ignoring the reason for the “chaos” was the killing of your unarmed child. How would you feel if you saw video after video of unarmed white youths not complying with officers telling the officers they have rights, don’t have to get out of the car, and don’t have to give their names, and nothing happens to them.
Men of color, particularly black men of color, have been stereotyped since the minute we were brought here in chains as a threat, simply because of the color of our skin. It is well past time that we stop pretending that everyone who puts on a police uniform is above reproach. Like every aspect of society, there are bad apples among them, and those bad apples see communities of colors not as communities; they are charged with protecting and serving. But as enemy combatants, they must subdue, and if those bad apples make up only one percent of police forces around the nation, that is one percent too many. As Chris Rock once said, American Airlines can’t say most of our pilots like to land; we just got a few bad apples who like to crash into mountains; please bear with us.
We have to do better; We have to have better police training, we have to weed out ALL the bad apples, we have to tune out all the voices looking for excuses and trying to blame the killing of an unarmed black man on the black man who was killed and if you can’t see that. If you can’t get behind that 100%, then you are part of the problem.
You feared us from the minute you saw us. So you stripped us of our culture, religion, and name. You shackled us in chains, raped our women, and killed our men. You separated our families. You donned white hoods and rode through the night to terrorize us. You denied our children access to the type of education your children enjoyed. You silenced our voices by denying and then intimidating our access to the vote. You redlined us out of neighbors and unfairly denied us loans to secure the American dream of homeownership. You disproportionately incarcerated us. You used the media to stereotype us as killers, thieves, drug dealers, prostitutes, and pimps.
Yet today, you look, and to your disbelief, we are still standing, and your fear is growing. You use words like “Our America” and wish for a bygone time when segregation and racism were the norms with slogans like “Make America Great Again” Even more worrisome to you is the coalition of all races, religions, and genders standing with us now. You know the truth is out there. You are losing your America. “Your” America was flawed. It is being replaced by a more enlightened America, one for everyone. An America with equality, liberty, and justice for all.
The first time I held you and looked into your eyes, I saw myself looking back at me only with innocence and optimism that has long ago been stripped from my soul. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for you, no lengths I wouldn’t go to protect you. Tears filled my eyes the first time I held you. Those around me took them as tears of joy, and make no mistake, the joy I felt at that moment was overwhelming, but sadly the tears also represented guilt, sadness, and fear. Guilt that I had brought you such a bright light into such a dark world. Was my desire to have a child selfish? Was I only thinking about my wants and desires and putting aside how this world will treat you because of the color of your skin. Sadness because I knew all too well how it would, that no matter how brilliant you may be, how much hard work you put in, how good a person you are, the challenges ahead of you will be daunting, challenges others will not have to face but will be there every day because of the color of your skin. Fear that one day my phone will ring or there will be a knock at my door, and someone will say to me the words that no parent should ever hear you have been found shot and killed—killed because of the color of your skin. How many more parents must, on what should be unquestionably one of the happiest days of their lives, look into the eyes of their baby and be consumed with worry that no matter how much they try, they will not be able to shield that baby from the ugliness that they will confront? How many more times must we mourn the loss of another bright light extinguished by hate. How many more times must our communities echo with the sound of grieving parents as they stand over the lifeless body of the child they once held in their arms before we say enough! I look back at your smiling face and the innocence in your eyes and see a bright future with unlimited potential ahead of you that they will try and deny you of. At the moment, I make you a promise that as long as there is my breath in my body, I will protect you and do everything in my power to ensure no one takes that away from you. My blood flows through you, I am responsible for bringing you into this world, and it is my responsibility to protect you from its hatred. Our bond is forever. You are my child, and I will always love you and be there for you.
Brother and Sisters hear me when I say As a people, we must never allow ourselves to be defined by others. As a people, we must never allow ourselves to be dependent on the resolve of others who fight on our behalf, sometimes because they believe we can simply not achieve greatness on our own. As a people, we must stand up and demand that the time is now for society to remove any and all roadblocks that still exist in our paths and denounce those who inherently want us to fail. As a people, we must grow and nurture our communities. We must transform them from wastelands devoid of opportunities, where those of us who succeed run from, into an oasis filled with promise where not only would we not run, we would move toward. As a people, we must return to the days when we built upon the family, helping one another, being positive role models to our children, and creating foundations that will make each successive generation stronger. As a people, we must challenge our young to achieve. We must not coddle them, we must not provide them with excuses, we must not be satisfied with mediocrity, and we must not fear greatness. From the moment they take their first breath, we must instill within them that excellence is to be strived for, excellence is expected, excellence is the norm. As a people, we must insist that we honor our past and remember the sacrifices of those that came before us so that we can march forward toward excellence. As a people, we must realize that only when we look inward, only when we summon the courage to be great, will we ever indeed be free as a people.
I wake every morning, look in the mirror, and marvel at my beautiful black skin. My skin tells the world who I am. It announces that I am part of a unique group of people. Oppressed for centuries, our souls were never shackled, our spirits were never broke. The fire that burns within each of us was never extinguished. The sun shines upon this earth, giving all of us life, but it is my black skin that absorbs its energy and radiates with beauty. My skin is but one shade of a grand mosaic that is black; be it pecan, caramel, milk chocolate, or cacao, one thing is certain, they are all beautiful. Each day I look to the heavens and thank the Lord for my black skin because it declares openly to the world that I am special, I am strong, I am unique; I am black and I am beautiful.
Some say there should be no Black History Month, and to be honest, I wholeheartedly agree with them. Not because of the reasons they cite for its elimination but rather because you cannot neatly package the black American experience, the acomplishments, and the past and present injustices into 7.67% of the calendar year. One of the characteristics that make America great is that it is the product of the numerous and vastly different cultures that have come together in one place to make a better life for themselves and, in the process, make this country a better place. Like so many other groups, black Americans have and continue to leave an indelible imprint on this country’s greatness. From Crispus Attucks, widely considered to be the first American casualty in the American Revolutionary War, to former President Barack Obama, to Vice President Kamala Harris, this country and what it is today would not be what it is if not for the accomplishments of the black American. Yet for all its greatness, America also bears an unpleasant stain on its resume, and we would be remiss to ignore or pretend it does not exist. This stain is not merely Black history. It is American history, and it must be taught to future generations and discussed in an honest and open dialogue. As Frederick Douglass said, “The life of a nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.” That unpleasant stain is, of course, America’s treatment of the Black American. From the stripping of our culture to the chains of bondage forced upon us; From the lash of the whip to the rape of our women: From the separation of families to the denial of even the most basic education for our young; From the countless number of non-prosecuted cases of murder to the reign of terror carried out by such terrorist organizations like the KKK; From the institutional and legalized discrimination practiced under Jim Crow to today’s use of discriminatory lending, hiring and housing practices. The black American experience has been met with countless hurdles throughout American history. Those hurdles cannot nor should they be expected to be neatly packaged into 7.67% of the calendar year. The past is not a comfortable one to remember but remember it; we must know that the suffering of millions of black Americans wasn’t in vain. So that as a country, we can learn and grow from the mistakes of our past so that it can never happen again. And so that young black Americans can grow up with the understanding that despite all we have been through as a people, not only are we are still here, but we have, and we continue to accomplish great things every day. As a nation, the only way we can continue to grow and maintain our excellence is if we move forward together as one. Black Americans still face many obstacles in this country, but it is our country. We have fought for it and died for it; we have contributed to its excellence and flaws. We are as much a part of the fabric of this country as any other group. So no, the Black experience is not just something that should be acknowledged for only 7.67% of the year because Black history is American history, and that is the history we all make every day.
Drug dealers, gang bangers, fatherless, welfare-dependent prisoners are some of the images that the media bombard us with. When faced with these images daily, many of us begin to accept them and have lower life expectations of ourselves. In essence, we are letting the stereotypes of others define who we are rather than defining ourselves. The positive images of African Americans is often that of athletes and hip hop stars, implying that there are limited roads to success within the African-American community. Protest against social injustice by African Americans stars is spun as unpatriotic and done by individuals who are fortunate that society has given them so much. Notice I said given, not earned, because, for many, the thought of the African American working hard and earning their position in society is a foreign concept. As Carter G. Woodson said, “to handicap a student by teaching him that his black face is a curse and that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless is the worst sort of lynching.”
1984 brought us the Cosby Show centered on the lives of the fictional Huxtables obstetrician Cliff his lawyer wife Claire, and their children Sondra, Denise, Vanessa and Rudy, and son Theo. The show was unique in that not only did it depict an upper-middle-class African American family, we had seen that before on shows such as The Jeffersons, but one that not one but two professionals headed the family. They were portrayed as merely a family residing in Brooklyn, not an African American family, merely a family. They were not the exception to the rule; instead, they were just another successful family. The Huxtables showed us that African Americans could be successful and be mothers and fathers who have children who attend college because it isn’t that what all kids do when they graduate high school. They were the embodiment of what all American families, white and black, strive to be.
2008 brought us Barack Obama, who, against all odds, became America’s first African American President. Something many of us believed we would never live to see. He was a highly educated man of color and a dedicated husband and father. While in office, some media outlets looked to marginalize his accomplishments, question his citizenship and disintegrate his character. Still, thanks to his magnetic personality and superior oratory skills, President Obama overcame media attempts to downplay or mischaracterize him. He represented himself with a class and dignity rarely seen by a politician and won respect and admiration not only from Americans but worldwide. His wife Michelle, a strong, educated, beautiful woman of color, so much so that the thought of her running for President today does not seem out of the realm of possibility, was also at times a victim of certain media outlets attempt to paint the Obama’s in a poor light. But like her husband, she too possessed a magnetic personality and superior oratory skills, which easily allowed her to deflect any negativity aimed at her. The Obama’s represented what is possible for all African Americans. No longer was it a fantasy to tell your child they could grow up to be President because it has been accomplished and accomplished with dignity and class.
2018 brought us the hugely success Marvel movie Black Panther. Movie theaters were packed with people of color, young and old, men and women, some who hadn’t been to a movie in years. They left the theater not only entertained by the film itself but with a pride of their culture. Wakanda, after all, was undeniably African. Its citizens are highly educated, and its women are depicted as strong and beautiful, its men strong and dedicated to family. Wakanda forever became a calling card of many because the imaged world of Wakanda represented a look at what African Americans could be. That we could fly above the clouds and achieve greatness.
One cannot quantify the impact the positive images of these fictional and non-fictional African Americans have had on the African American community. Still, it has no doubt allowed some of us to dream of possibilities to consider what we can accomplish regardless of our skin color. This begs the question of the responsibility of successful African Americans in giving back to their community. For many successful African Americans, success is often measured by moving out of their community into a predominantly white neighborhood. Leaving behind many of those they used to associate with in exchange for new friends who are predominantly white, rejecting much of the culture they were raised in to fit their new surroundings better. They reject African American businesses citing their supposed inferiority to that of businesses run by others. It as Carter G Woodson said, “Negro banks, as a rule, have failed because the people, taught that their own pioneers in business cannot function in this sphere,
Ironically, Harlem, one of the bastions of African American culture, has in recent years seen a renaissance not as the result of successful African Americans returning but to an influx of white people. Unfortunately, as this great community strengthens, African Americans are pushed out.
So is it truly the responsibility of the thriving African American too, as Lebron James said in his 2017 ESPY awards speech, “go back to our communities, invest our time, our resources, help rebuild them, help strengthen them, help change them.” In this writer’s opinion, the answer is an unequivocal yes. As each successive generation serves as positive role models and mentors, invests in the building of a prosperous and robust infrastructure that employs those in the community and affords the children of those adults the opportunity to attain a quality education, the foundation is put in place where success is not seen as the exception but the norm. The perception of the African American image within ourselves changes from one that is not worthy to one who is exceptional and has unlimited opportunities before them. As Fredrick Douglas said, “The soul that is within me no man can degrade.”
The building of this thought process will not come easy as Carole Mosley-Braun so pointedly put it “Defining myself, as opposed to being defined by others, is one of the most difficult challenges I face” and as Malcolm X once said, “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” The African American can not wait for others to “save” us, build up our communities, employ our men and women, educate our children, and, most importantly, pass down the history of our many accomplishments. The African American must act from within to achieve these goals. We must set the groundwork so that. Each succeeding generation grows up with the belief as the 1970’s slogan said Black is Beautiful. That they shout from the mountain tops what James Brown once sang, I’m black, and I’m proud. That they define themselves and not let others define them.