Sunday, February 1, 2015

BLACK HISTORY MONTH: STILL AFRAID IN OUR OWN SPACES . . .


Another Black History Month. . .not that there's anything wrong with that.

But after all these years -- 45, to be exact, and if we are also counting the years of Black History Week, we are looking at a grand total of 89 years of segregating the achievements of Africans and their descendants -- isn't it time that white privilege relinquishes its stronghold on the other 11 months of the year and invites us in?

As I'm sure you know, Black History Week was established by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926. He chose the 2nd week of February, so the story goes, because the birthdays of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln were in this month.  Now the end-game was not to have a Black History Week into perpetuity, but to incorporate teaching of the accomplishments of enslaved and formerly enslaved Africans and their descendants, African Americans, in America's public school curriculum.  And -- sadly -- as this did NOT happen during the 44 years of its existence, in 1970, leaders of the Black United Students at Kent State University proposed the expansion of the week to a Black History MONTH. Six years later, the U.S. government officially recognized this expansion and in the ensuing 39 years, apparently our country is STILL more comfortable with allotting one month of half-baked treatment of African American accomplishments and history rather than another 11 months of fully-realized curriculum expanded from the same old white-washed -- and I do mean that literally -- de-contextualized stories parroted ad nauseam from year to year.

This year, the movie "Selma" is probably the closest thing this country will have to a more nuanced, contextualized, pivotal slice of history told from an African American point of view -- for what its worth (and hey, I loved the film!).

But -- as a friend of mine said -- the fact that the words "white supremacy" and "COINTELPRO" were never uttered during the film -- not once -- says so much about where we are as A People in America: that we, African Americans, STILL feel so buffeted by white supremacy, so afraid even in our own spaces, that we STILL would rather soft-sell and provide a light sugar-coating to Truth so as not to offend or turn-off others in the marketplace . . . even in the midst of what we consider truth-telling.

Sadly, it says so much about where we STILL are as a country: that Truth about the history and ongoing impact of racism in America, in its ugly, unvarnished form, STILL needs to be spoon-fed, in small doses, to people who would STILL rather believe that "race" has little to nothing to do with Black People being gunned down by police; or racialized economic inequities; or the daily micro-aggressions that African Descendants are continually told to "get over."

And maybe it also says -- more than anything else could -- why we are STILL "celebrating," 89 years after its inception, ONE month for "Black History" as opposed to honestly and unflinchingly incorporating it into the other 11.

Moving Forward,

Adar

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

REFLECTIONS ON THE 4TH OF JULY


Once again America is taking its annual day of self-congratulatory celebration and I must admit, I am feeling disappointed, disrespected, and a tad bit bitter on behalf of my Ancestors and the way in which their American stories are ignored.

Listening to the media programs of the day, you would think that the experiences of Africans and their descendants in this country -- federal and state sponsored and supported kidnappings, enslavement, torture, rape, Black Codes, Jim Crow, and the modern day James Crow Esq. (still!!), etc. -- never happened.

The fact is that on this day, African Americans are left out of the popular American Narrative. We do not fit into America's description of itself as ". . . land of the free" where ". . . all men are created equal".

We do not fit.

Our very presence is a "gotcha!" to America's sense of itself as a fair country; a meritocracy; a land of opportunity where ANYONE can get ahead if they only work hard enough.

Our history here -- despite President Obama and the myth of a "post-racial" society -- proves the lie of that.

And this is not to say that there haven't been opportunities for success at all points in American history for African Americans. However, what success has been achieved -- and there is more than plenty on which to brag --has been more as a result of the drive, perseverance, resilience, and heart of African American individuals, families, and communities than as a result of any inherent fairness and equity of America. We have had to shed massive amounts of blood and have had to swallow generations of American race-based injustice to advance this far.

In other words, African Americans have succeeded DESPITE American obstacles of structural racism and white supremacy, and policies that -- for the majority of its history -- advantaged whites.

For example, white Americans have always received that extra support and bounce from federal and state public policies that -- despite being seen as "race neutral" (even when, in reading the policy, you can see that it is not) -- have served to advance the hopes, aspirations, and economic interests of whites.

From the Homestead Act of 1862 to the Federal Home Loan Bank Act of 1932 to the Serviceman's Re-adjustment Act of 1944 (otherwise known as the GI Bill), this has been the case. When you look at the disparity in wealth between whites and African Americans, these public policies -- special gifts to generations of white Americans -- must be factored in.

The same can be said for "the new Jim Crow": the system of race-based drug prosecutions and incarcerations that has targeted and decimated African American families and communities. The Controlled Substances Act of the 1970s/80s -- the public policy responsible for the racialization of drug prosecution and sentencing, mandating that it takes 100 times the amount of cocaine (a drug used more often by whites) to generate the mandatory minimum sentencing time that users of crack cocaine (for which African Americans are more often convicted) receive. This year -- after millions of African American lives have been destroyed through incarcerations because of that policy -- the quantity disparity was reduced to 18:1 -- again, in favor of white usage.

Looking at the often dismal statistics of African Americans in all social indicators, including college completion, unemployment, and health, to name but a few, it is tempting -- as so many of our political candidates and others in society do -- to believe that there is something defective about African American culture, values, or intelligence. This lack of understanding about the continuing realities of African American experiences in a country where structural racism and implicit bias still reigns promotes this type of thinking.

On this "Independence Day" which celebrates American freedom, values, and culture, what
is so often left unspoken and ignored in the celebration is that only since 1965 has the government mandated that African Americans and (since 1967) women be afforded opportunities and access in employment, education, and contracting "equal" to those received by whites.

And for all the debates about whether President Lyndon Johnson's 1965 Executive Order 11246 -- popularly known as "Affirmative Action" -- violates America's mythology of a meritocracy while advancing swarms of supposedly "unqualified" African Americans, one never hears complaints about white women being primary beneficiaries of this policy. (The argument about supposed "preferential treatment" only seems to surface when people of color, specifically African Americans, are the subjects.)

Sooooooooo . . .

On this day, I will continue to look past the propaganda of "American history" that is being promoted on radio and television programs. I realize that what is really being discussed is how America WANTS to see itself, not the reality of how America was and -- too often -- still is. I realize that the story of my Ancestors is whitewashed and relegated to the sidelines on this day, especially. The American narrative cannot fit certain American truths in the story and still keep its popular mythological framing.

But I will look forward to the time -- in this country that is becoming increasingly Black and Brown -- when the 4th of July incorporates, at its core, the lenses of African Americans and others whose journeys and experiences here were different, and who have always formed much more of the backbone of America than for which we are ever given credit.

Until then, "Independence Day" -- in this America which is still held firmly in the grip of "whiteness" as a central concept and central framing of its story -- is as much a fiction as the myths it celebrates. And it enslaves white America in ignorance through its incomplete framing just as much as it continues to ignore the stories and realities of all Americans who are not white.

Happy . . . if you are satisfied with that . . . 4th of July. . .

Moving Forward,

Adar