I, along with my three brothers, was raised by a single mother who worked multiple jobs and sacrificed a tremendous amount for us. Despite all of her love and hard work, in my youth, I did not escape the pitfalls that commonly plague young boys growing up in low-income and single parent households. I was arrested multiple times until a Michigan judge gave me an ultimatum to either turn my life around and get my education or serve a long term prison sentence. The goodwill sentencing of that judge allowed me to change for the better and overcome seemingly insurmountable odds that my friends and I faced growing up.
It isn’t enough to say that “Black Girls Rock.” It isn’t enough to proclaim that “Black is beautiful.” These proclamations bear a certain level of importance but what good is it to say these things if too often our collective actions show otherwise? Show Black girls how beautiful they are, how worthy they are, how valuable they are by fighting for them.
As the world becomes enthralled with the talent and beauty of Lupita Nyong’o, she continues to spread her message about the power of self love in the face of colorism. Images of her versatile beauty have taken over the internet in a display of glorious artistic prowess. Consequently, there are a myriad of discussions about the effects of Lupita’s spotlight on the millions of women and girls that look like her.
Yes, her beauty is sure to inspire, much like she was inspired by Alek Wek. But let this moment of adoration, along with Lupita’s openness to reveal her own struggles, lead to something beyond admiring beauty. If we truly want young Black girls to get the message that they are both valuable and beautiful, we have to show them by fighting for them.
Lupita Nyong’o accepted her Oscar while honoring the spirit of Patsey, the enslaved and brutally abused woman she embodied in her award winning performance. Many viewers of 12 Years of Slave wanted desperately for Patsey to be freed from her abusers. We saw the beauty in Patsey. We knew that she was worth fighting for…worth protecting. We can’t go back in time, but we can work to make sure that Patsey’s daughters don’t live a life of congratulated pain.
Abuse happens to girls of all races, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. But when it comes to Black girls, the mechanism of race allegiance and the need to project race respectability often supersedes their need for protection. This leads to families keeping “secrets,” parents refusing to press charges, and neglect reigning supreme under the guise of keeping the peace. The ever present victim blaming then commences by calling the girl “fast” or asking, “Why was she over there if she didn’t want it?” And let us not forget the, “She knew what she was doing,” declaration. In an instant, a 14 year old girl becomes the sacrificial lamb of the Black community in addition to facing marginalization in mainstream society.
And you wonder why a girl could have color issues, wish for blue eyes or blonde hair. It’s not necessarily because she hates herself. It’s because she wants to be what she believes the world is more likely to adore and protect.
Pecola Breedlove is a character in Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye. Pecola endured rape, neglect and various forms of abuse. She was a little Black girl, undervalued and unprotected, that wished for blue eyes.
Fighting for “her” involves building a fortress around her being. Not allowing abusers and neglecters to have their way with “her” life. On a personal level, I know many Black woman that were sexually assaulted and abused as young girls. Their stories never made it to the news. Their abusers have gone free and the scars reflecting the pain are permanently etched in memory. They’ve all heard “Black is beautiful,” but nobody fight for them. Instead, they were blamed for their own abuse, shunned and rejected.
When you see a potential Pecola Breedlove, it’s not enough to show her pictures of Lupita to prove the existence of her beauty. We first have to protect her…show her how much she means us. We can let her know that she is not an “ugly ducking” but in fact a beautiful swan by showing her Lupita’s talent and beauty. But it is only after we protect her, that she will be able to believe and absorb this truth.
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Perhaps Walmart executives should hold a private viewing of the Lion King to learn about the Circle Of Life. After fighting tooth and nail against living wages for employees and working with ALEC, Walmart’s own selfishness is catching up with them. As one of the largest corporations on the planet, Walmart execs work tirelessly to prevent its underpaid employees from getting higher wages and health insurance benefits. Walmart now faces a 21% loss in its fourth quarter and it’s blaming the expiration of food stamp benefits.
On Thursday Wal-Mart reported a 21 percent decline in its fourth-quarter profit. The company said that the Nov. 1 expiration of a temporary boost in food stamps is hurting its shoppers’ ability to spend. It’s also caught up in the debate about minimum wages and dealing with increasing competition from dollar stores and grocers. – MSN Money
Walmart has plans underway to open up 6 stores in Washington, DC and threatened to pull out if the DC Council approved a new living wage bill. The council approved it anyway but not surprisingly the bill was vetoed by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray in an attempt to keep peace with Walmart.
Mike Debonis of the Washington Post states,”The city’s minimum wage is $8.25 an hour. The bill would raise the annual earnings of a full-time employee making the lowest legal wage from about $17,000 to $26,000.” It should be noted that $26,000 is just above the Federal Poverty Line for a family of four. At a pay rate much lower than this with limited hours, it’s easy to understand why one Walmart store hosted food donation drives for it’s own employees.
Walmart’s new 21% loss means that in addition to the government subsidizing Walmart’s low wages by providing its employees with food stamps, the government is also a prime provider of funds to Walmart through its customers. Meaning that Walmart depends on food stamp recipients as a key consumer base. Now that those benefits are ending Walmart is in a crunch. Perhaps if they spent more time making sure that their employees could survive without needing food-banks, they would understand that pushing for legislation against the working class is not only unethical but harmful for business. People go to work, get paid and buy things. If they don’t have even money for basic needs like food, potential consumers are not going shopping. Walmart is a prime example of how “job creator” initiatives are hurting the economy. Suddenly Walmart is considering a new found support of Federal minimum wage increase.
Bloomberg.com reports, “David Tovar, a company spokesman, said today in a telephone interview. Increasing the minimum wage means that some of the 140 million people who shop at the chain weekly would “now have additional income.”
I guess they’re finally learning how this works. The next time a conservative drones on about “entitlements” and poor people bashing, remind them that Walmart survives on food stamps, tax write offs and subsidies. They’re one of the biggest Welfare Queens in the land.
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The state that let Casey Anthony roam free and put guns back in George Zimmerman’s hands has now become infamous for some of the most outrageous cases with even more outrageous verdicts. Some view Florida as some sort of Twilight Zone in which open and shut/common sense situations are rarely handled as such. But the truth is Florida is a blatant representation of the violent tug-of-war centered on the citizenship rights and humanity of African descended peoples (Black people). The clarion call from “Birth Of A Nation” sounded in 1915 and its echoes still bellow across America. The belief that “Blacks” should be feared and the pathos allowing for someone to legally execute even the smallest among us is the driving force behind stand your ground laws and much of the “justifiable” deadly force logic in thinly laced “self defense” accounts.
Even as we learned that Michael Dunn gunned down an unarmed teenager and afterwards ordered pizza and jurors were still confused about whether or not this was 1st degree murder.
Where is the confusion? The confusion lies in the inability of some to divide their own internalized/learned fears from the reality that a child has died. Often in these cases people think, “What would I have done? What if it were me?” In the sad case of Trayvon Martin the jurors more than likely aligned their own fears of Black teenagers along with George Zimmerman’s; giving him the benefit of the doubt and allowing Trayvon, to be labeled an aggressor even though Trayvon was the one being followed. The same can be said for some of the jurors in the Michael Dunn trial. Though he blasted bullets and punctured the flesh of an unarmed human being, his “fears” of mythical gangsters upheld by “thug” music, some how legitimized Dunn’s spray of bullets enough for their to be a mistrial.
Some are stating that these verdicts highlight a license to kill but this is wrong. It’s more than about one or two people. This is a license to exterminate. Trayvon and Jordan represent a population in America that has been abhorred, hated and subjugated for centuries. Even still we’ve managed to live, even thrive in some cases. This has infuriated those that wish to see Black and Brown people members of a permanent underclass.
When it comes to justice for us, verdicts in trials like these signal that the mainstream population views us as “not quite” human beings. Those that kill a Black person are given lighter sentences and fewer years in prison. This upholds the ever present three fifths of a human being compromise of 1787 (almost, but not quite human so the penalty is less). Though initially the compromise was about state representation, the premise is the still the same.
In all honesty, Florida is not far off from the rest of the US. It’s a peculiar state, which is bursting with multicultural communities that are surrounded by gatekeepers of the olden days, the good ole’ boys and gals. It’s a state with one foot in and one foot out of Jim Crow. This is why voter suppression tactics are suddenly vital for Florida. If law makers could construct new versions of the Grandfather’s clause they would…and they’re trying to.
Like other people, I’m done with Florida in its current condition. Cases like this remind us of the thousands of other dead children with forgotten names and unmarked graves. Strange fruit. Yet, the Blacks are still here. The Native Americans are still here. The Latinos are still here. The freedom seeking, anti-oppression people of all colors are still here.
We’re not going to be silenced or forced out. The fear and aggression are enough to cause fatigue but these are examples of a declining era fighting desperately to hang on, yet is bound to fail. These battles are hard fought but history has shown us that it’s possible. A new Florida, a new America is possible.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”- MLK Jr.
Jessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com.
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It’s really disturbing when injustices that are linked to racism are brushed aside and we’re called race baiters for bringing it up. As if I’m imagining things. As if I created race. As if being silent is going to make everything okay. And the coup de grâce is that some unfortunate souls actually believe that by pointing out racism, that makes someone a racist. I find this to be a signifier of the failure of the education system. So many people know how to throw around the term, but so few know what it really means.
For everyone that’s confused, racism is a historically rooted systematic structure based on the creation of racial hierarchies. It’s racially based prejudices reinforced by systematic power structures that design global economic disparities, social guidelines for imprisonment, medical apartheid, and the socially determined value of life.
Just being born a Black woman in this current state of affairs, I simply do not have the power or capacity to be racist. And if it’s hard for you to grasp this information from me, please do Ask The White Guy and this really cool Bangladeshi Australian guy who gets it:
Still, I don’t deny that as an African American woman in 2014 I am born with a certain level of privileges that my ancestors didn’t have. For one, I wouldn’t be writing on this blog because it would have been unlawful for me to read or write. I wouldn’t have gotten two master’s degrees (that I’ve been told Affirmative Action paid for) because that too is a punishable offense. For being an uppity negro wench, I would have been hanged and buried in some unknown location and it would have been deemed justified because I didn’t know my place. That fact is the disturbing root of this discussion. These seemingly innocent demands of my silencing are born out of that same legacy. These are “be quiet or we’ll reprimand you” statements.
Instead of trying to silence discourse, just admit that you’re a coward. Just admit that comfort and dare I say privilege is more important to you than justice. No we can’t talk about the prison system, the fall of the middle class or the military industrial complex without race. No, no, no! To exclude race from these topics is to participate in the erasure of reality and to disregard the validity of millions of lived experiences. These “reverse racism” and “race-baiter” accusations are built on nothing more than modern day fairy tales.
The racial divide is real:
Pointing out all of these issues is not divisive, but ignoring them is. It prevents us from fully exploring and understanding the crux of the problem. You’re not really for social justice if work ends when you feel uncomfortable. Perhaps you should ask yourself why your comfort is so dependent on avoiding the deconstruction of racism. If you’re not ready to have this discussion just admit that and move on. Remove your activist, social justice title and just “get to steppin.” But don’t try to silence people because you feel uncomfortable. Those times are long gone. Mammy retired, leaving us very details instructions…being quiet is not on the list.
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As a single parent, there is nothing I hate more than someone saying,
“Is his father around? Did you know he was an asshole before you got pregnant?”
As if I am responsible for him being a ‘deadbeat dad.’ Yes, I am partially responsible for him being a dad. He is solely responsible for him being a deadbeat.
Now, let me say that I completely understand why someone would ask that but know this: Our relationship, good or bad, before having our son does not absolve him from being a good father. Nor does that make me responsible for him being a bad father.
I raise my son alone. I have a great support system in my family and my son’s paternal family. I clothe him, feed him, care for him, protect him and love him AS I SHOULD. I am taking responsibility for my actions and choices. I’m doing what I am supposed to be doing as a mother. Being irresponsible led to my being a mother. It also led to me making the responsible choice of taking care of my son.
That there is where the responsibility rope ends for me. I AM NOT responsible for his father not being present. I am not responsible for his father choosing to not be a parent. When a person tells a woman, “well, you should have known….” you are taking the responsibility away from the man and placing it on the woman. You are telling her, “it is your fault that your child’s father is not around.” I now know that not to be true.
For a long time I beat myself up thinking that it was my fault that my son is growing up without his father. It took me a while to realize that I was blaming myself for something of which I have absolutely no control. Once my son was born all of the shoulda, coulda, woulda’s became irrelevant. I couldn’t go back and change anything. All I could do was be the best mother possible. And that’s what I’m doing.
We both chose to engage in irresponsible sex and our son is the outcome. However, I am taking responsibility for my actions. I refuse to take responsibility for his inactions, also.
Destyne is a single mother and educator. Through personal experiences and life lessons she hopes to bring a different perspective to everyday issues in a simple, straightforward, yet positive way. With her free spirit and ever evolving thought process she takes on the challenge of bringing people together. Not to make them think the same but to be able to exist as different and unique individuals. Visit her blog Destynefulfilled.wordpress.com.
Today at work I sat discussing heritage with three of my coworkers: a Haitian African, a Jamaican and a Dominican. They all conversed about revolutions, events and people from their homelands who are stapled into their histories. They spoke with such pride because various people and situations have helped to shape their people’s identity and culture. Whatever happened on their land happened in their history. I sat a bit envious, for though they are like African Americans in which most of them were brought to their respected lands; they and their lands are one. They are tied to their old-new homes. They love it, and it claims them. These thoughts led me to ponder what land do African Americans associate themselves with? And what land claims the African American? From my experience, it is clear that African Americans are not deeply connected to any land.
When I consider each of my coworkers land heritage, I am troubled with my lack thereof. In African American history we have many heroes who have, on American soil, fought for us, descendants of slaves, to attain many freedoms. In a land where we were brought to as slaves, we now have rights, liberties and representation in the highest office in the free world. But does America really claim the African American as his brother, or are we simply overstayed visitors? From slavery to lynching and the countless murders of minorities throughout the years among other things, I presume that the land of the free hasn’t truly accepted the free slave. When so many injustices are allowed against us, it’s hard to feel like America is really our home. Well, I know that’s how I feel. So, if America seems unsure of our kinship, where do we call home? Where are we connected to?
At times, it seems like nowhere.
Both my parents are from the south and came north to escape the tumultuous south of the 50’s. My mother was born in Savannah Georgia, and my dad was born in Lee South Carolina. Neither of them, nor I, have ever traveled outside of the country. We don’t go visit cousin so and so in Nigeria. When we go visit family, we go down south. When West Indians or Africans ask me where my family is from, I often say the south because I have no other point of reference. I was born and raised in the New York; I have no connection to the south or Africa. I tried reconnecting with my family from the south, and as pleasant it was it left more questions. Who are we really as a family? Where are we from? I learned that one of my great grandfathers was a musician and that excited me. I felt a sense of rootedness.
I realized that I wasn’t an island, but that men who came before me excelled in similar ways and shared similar pains. Still, questions like where certain relatives got specific strengths haunt me. Not having a home land that is filled with my people, my heritage and my culture leaves me a bit misguided about who I am. It also concerns me of who we are as black men and women. Does our legacy end with jazz and the civil rights and a certain black vernacular? Or is there more? Though my parents are from the south, we are so much more than southerners. My parents themselves do not claim to be from anywhere else but the south. They have, like many of our parents and people, no connection with who they really are and where they really from: Africans from Africa.
Many attempts have been and are being made to mend the lack of identity and culture that resulted from slavery. Kwanzaa, created by an activist and scholar named Maulana Karenga, was conceived to give Afro-Americans their own holiday: a sense spiritually individuality. The Pan-American Flag was crafted with a similar intent: to give us culture and identity. With all these attempts, the thirst for a home hasn’t been quenched within blacks. Recently, many celebrities have begun to participate in DNA analysis that traces back ones genealogy. African American Lives, hosted and narrated by Henry Louis Gates Jr that premiered on PBS in February of 2006, is an example of this. It is a documentary that explores the history of men like T D Jakes, Chris Tucker, and Dr. Ben Carson as well as women like Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, and Dr. Mae Jemison through genealogical research. It married these Africa Americans to various countries and tribes in Africa which us remarkable.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the norm. Most blacks, if not in financial constraints, are at least misinformed about their access to such options. Many black men like me live either in the state of creation or in a state of assimilation. We either try to create an identity and culture for ourselves or we simply put on the American self. We align ourselves with American values, belief systems and ambitions ignoring any connection or reflection to our damaged past. We are a people whose culture continuously changes, for we have no foundation. Land-heritage brings foundation.
Going back to live in Africa can prove to be problematic, for we have no trusted relatives there. However, finding out where our families originate from, give each of us a better context than what many of us have as African Americans. We are able to associate with outstanding music, attire, and spiritual practices that outdate our Kwanzaa, jazz, hip-hop, pan African flag creations. It is not a matter of better or worse but context. I believe saying to be extremely true: “you don’t know where you’re going, unless you know where you come from.”
On February 6, 2008, African Ancestry posted a video on YouTube of Judge Hatchett discovering her roots and she told this story while speaking to a young man:
I went to Africa with my sons last summer. And there was a Massai warrior who’s a little bit older than you are. And he said ‘where are you from?” And I said, naively, I said I’m from the United States. He said ‘nah nah nah nah nah no! Where are you from my sister?” And I didn’t know. And so when you got tested I got tested, so you have my results which I have not said I have been dying for this to come back today so I can have my result because never ever do I want to say again I don’t know.
Ask African Americans where they are from, and they will tell you some state or county, but the truth is most of our answers are like Judge Hatchett’s: we don’t know.
For black history month, I want my African descendant brothers and sisters to consider going home. Consider investing in these DNA genealogical tests because with land-heritage comes a stable culture and identity and most importantly wholeness which our people so desperately lack. Imagine finding out that your people are from Morocco, Egypt, Kenya, Namibia, Cameroon or Liberia, not from Savannah Georgia or Boston or Mississippi but Africa. Wouldn’t that be something? One real way that we can begin to rid ourselves from the evils of slavery is by reconnecting. It is by going back home. With the new advancements in science we can at least know where to start. It’s better to be a man a long way from home than a man with no land.