“I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I’m changing the things I cannot accept.”
~ Angela Davis, author, academic, political activist and professor emerita, University of California, Santa Cruz
In composing this article, various aspects of my identity tremendously inform it. I am educated, having graduated from the best-ranked institutions of higher learning in the world. For greater than twenty-five years, I have been a professional educator in diverse environs, from secondary school classroom settings and university lecture halls to centers of culture and one of the worst prisons in America. I am an artist whose work has been exhibited internationally. A cultural commentator, I have also been a mentor for almost three decades. However, what perhaps defines me most is my being an African-American woman.
Presently, people in the United States and, at last count, nineteen other countries throughout the world have been protesting the racism towards, discrimination against, and violence imposed upon Black people in the United States. As the sister of the late Kevin Brame, I am a survivor of a victim of homicide whose murder remains unsolved, despite a $100,000 reward and his status as an officer of the Dayton Police Department (www.justiceforkevinbrame.com). I completely understand and can relate to the intense emotions behind these demonstrations. Hundreds of thousands of people are taking actions, demanding justice and equity for Blacks. These actions range from marching, questioning politicians and initiating economic boycotts to engaging citizens for voter registration, requiring reform of law enforcement and reporting racist posts in social media to the offenders’ employers.
When discussing these recent events, including the brutal murders of Breonna Taylor, Kalief Browder, Tanisha Anderson, John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Renisha McBride, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, honesty is integral. History must be corrected if our nation is to heal and progress and much of this restoration and development centers upon race.
Race is often associated with biology and includes physical characteristics, such as hue of skin, physical build and texture of hair. According to Dr. Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University in the City of New York and a past president of the American Historical Association, race is a modern concept that came about with Manifest Destiny, a term first coined in 1845. “Manifest Destiny”, as defined by history.com, is the concept “that the United States is destined—by God, its advocates believed—to expand its dominion and spread democracy and capitalism across the entire North American continent.” Historically, race has been oversimplified and divided into five categories: Black, Brown, Red, Yellow and White. While it is derogatory to refer to someone as “Yellow” and “Red”, rarely referenced is “Brown” and still popular in use are “Black” and “White”.
For certain, a great deal regarding race as taught in modern classrooms is misinformation and flat-out lies; additionally, truths are omitted or barely referenced. For instance, anthropologists, archaeologists, geneticists, linguists and historians have long proven that the birthplace of all humans is Africa. All persons alive may trace their DNA several thousand generations back to one woman, who was Black.
Another example of the need for truth regards the arrival, via European imperialism, of Africans to America. While Africans, as crew members, accompanied Spanish conquistador Pedro Menendez in his founding of St. Augustine in 1565, many history textbooks falsely teach the origin of Africans in America beginning in 1619 in Jamestown, Virginia, as slaves. It should be noted that not only did Menendez’s records note that his arrival had been preceded by the settlement of Fort Caroline, several miles north, by the French but that free Africans lived there. Additionally, the oldest written records in St. Augustine, the Cathedral Parish Archives, list the first birth of a free Black baby in 1606. This birth occurred thirteen years before the arrival of Africans to Jamestown.
It is facts like these that can drastically restore the truth of history and humanity of persons of African descent. By introducing them as “slaves” and, post-emancipation, referring to them as “third class” citizens, always fighting for their rights, is derelict, at best, and dangerous, even deadly, at worst. Casting persons of African descent in just primarily these two spaces, slavery and the civil rights movement, in American history completely disregards their countless contributions and sacrifices made for their collective advancement and to the betterment of society.
Instead, Blacks have been projected to be everything from lazy, corrupt and hypersexual, to irresponsible, ignorant and destructive. Deemed “inferior”, it has been taught to many, that Blacks have been and are burdens of society. Negative stereotypes, from the colonial era to the present, permeate throughout educational systems and the media. This type of profiling stems from the days of characters such as Sambo, Uncle Tom, Sapphire, Mammy, the Tragic Mulatto, Mandingo and Jezebel to the contemporary images of crack addicts, school dropouts, gangbangers and absent parent(s). Worse still, African-American women are often further victimized by the hegemonic system of patriarchy and have been constantly portrayed as the “Angry Black Woman”, “Independent Black Woman” and “Welfare Queen”, a term most people heard from Ronald Reagan, who popularized it first during his campaign for president of the United States in 1976.
Even now, the current president has consistently and constantly worked to ignite the fires of racism among his supporters. His actions support repealing measures for educational equity for those historically disadvantaged and threatening peaceful protesters with military personnel. On June 10, 2020, Donald Trump stated that he would begin his election campaign in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the city where the massacre of as many as 300 African-Americans in the Greenwood community, also known as “Black Wall Street”, occurred. Hundreds more were injured in what is considered to be one of the most devastating massacres, based upon race, in American history.
This kickoff is to take place on June 19th, known to African-Americans as “Juneteenth”. This holiday, also called “Freedom Day” and “Jubilee Day”, celebrates the final emancipation of Blacks in Texas on June 19, 1865. They were still enslaved more than two years AFTER the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued on January 1, 1863. Because of the enormous backlash, the event was rescheduled.
With such a complex and conflicted history, the brutal system of racism has been allowed to entrench every aspect of American life. Researching and sharing of truths will change many perceptions of Blacks.
In 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and later others, began “taking a knee” in peaceful protest of racial discrimination against Blacks, significantly by the police. They were met with great opposition. The National Football League (NFL) barred him from playing, a number of owners in the League’s teams refused him to try out and Trump even derogatorily cursed him! In 2017, Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL and its owners for their collusion. In 2019, Kaepernick withdrew the grievance after reaching a confidential settlement with the NFL.
As of last week, spokespersons for the NFL have admitted their wrongdoing in their treatment of Colin Kaepernick.
Ways that can assist in this accurate telling of truths include the following:
- Become enlightened about principles and incorporate actions that support the Black community. These principles include collective value (all Black lives matter, regardless of citizenship, economic standing, education status, physicality, religious or spiritual beliefs or lack therein); diversity (acknowledgement and celebration of differences and commonalities); empathy (building positive relationships based on mutual trust and understanding); and restorative justice (commitment to build a loving community that is sustainable and progressive).
- Assess your thoughts and impressions of Blacks, their sources and possibilities of their truths. This is especially critical if Blacks did not directly have any impact in creating these thoughts and impressions.
- Do not diminish the plight of Blacks by affirming that “All Lives Matter” or any other variation. As the now famous image of the young Black girl holding the poster affirms, “We Said ‘Black Lives Matter’; Never Said ‘Only Black Lives Matter’; We Know All Lives Matter; We Just Need Your Help with #BlackLivesMatter for Black Lives are in Danger.”
- Create a safe space where those who are most affected by an issue can express themselves. This is critical concerning Blacks, especially females.
- Engage in activities that challenge and allow for growth, even in failure. We know that much is learned from not being successful because we are figuring out what does and does not meet an objective or goal.
- Seek wisdom from experts, whether they are activists, artists and authors to educators, historians and sociologists, about the various aspects of Black life. Organizations, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Black Life Matters (BLM), the National Education Organization (NEA) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as well as numerous museums and cultural institutions have designed learning materials that adults can use to teach understanding, acceptance and appreciation of Black life.
- Become proactive in learning about the diverse aspects of Black life, as both object and subject. While you may ask friends and/or colleagues about their culture, it is truly that person’s own responsibility to discover and understand more beyond what has initially been shown or taught.
Thankfully, as I write this, symbolic and real shackles of racism are being dismantled. This dismantling includes the U.S. Marine Corp and the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) banning Confederate flags. It involves statues of public figures who supported racism against Blacks being removed. One such example is of the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, in Richmond, Virginia; it was pulled down by protesters. Several blocks away stands a statue of Robert E. Lee, the general of the Confederate Army. Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring has served notice to the circuit judge to have the statue of Lee removed. On June 11, the City Council of Louisville, Kentucky unanimously passed “Breonna’s Law”, which bans no-knock warrants.
Numerous corporations and businesses, from Amazon and Nike to BabyNames.com and Brahmin, have pledged their support and resources, educationally and economically, to help eradicate the pervasive disparity, lack of equity and dearth of opportunity to improve both Black life and the Black community. These are pivotal steps, especially for the young and future generations, as we move further into the 21st century.
It is perhaps the powerful determination of the late Fannie Lou Hamer, an African-American voting and women’s rights activist and community organizer, that resonates within me most at this time. An active leader in the Civil Rights Movement, Hamer is best known for her work as the co-founder and vice-chair of the Freedom Democratic Party, which she represented at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. This nation’s survival, its progress, is contingent upon correcting its transgressions and violations against Blacks and as Hamer declared, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”