A few months ago, I was leaving a store when I noticed a truck plastered with Confederate flag bumper stickers. One of the stickers stated, “DEPORT ILLEGALS.” I was immediately struck by the irony of the statement. Considering the fact that Confederates were traitors, they should be what we refer to as illegal.
I know that removing Confederate statues, flags and monuments won’t end structural racism. I know that removing Confederate flags won’t end police brutality. I know that the broken statues of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis won’t heal the wounds of oppression.
But I still want to watch them fall.
I want to see them crumble in bits. I want to see them flung into the water. I want the heads knocked off and graffiti to cover their names.
The point that many are missing, is that the existence of these statues and monuments is an act of terrorism itself.
I grew up in Milledgeville, GA, a small town that at one point was the capital of Georgia. I grew up surrounded by Confederate flags, it was normalized. White students would wear their Confederate flag shirts to school with no issue, while Black students were reprimanded for wearing FUBU. In the 6th grade, I attended Georgia Military College Preparatory School, located at the Old Capitol Building where Georgian politicians voted to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy. I attended school on those grounds.
After school, many of us would go to the Mary Vinson Memorial Library to study. The library is named after the wife of Congressman Carl Vinson, a segregationist that signed onto The Southern Manifesto. The manifesto was drafted and signed by southern politicians who were angry with the Supreme Court’s Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka ruling that racially segregating schools was unconstitutional. Across the street, from the library was a statue dedicated to Confederate soldiers. According to the Union Recorder, Milledgeville’s local newspaper, the monument was “constructed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s (UDC) Robert E. Lee Chapter and first unveiled in 1912.”
Surrounding the statue was a small plot of cotton that grew in the spring and summer. Yes, they had a plot of cotton growing around a Confederate monument when I was 12 years old.
The UDC chapter still exists. A few years ago the monument was hit by a car and instead of removing the memorial, the chapter was excited for the opportunity to rebuild it.
Inside the Mary Vinson Memorial Library was a glass encasement of Confederate memorabilia. I used to stand underneath the light where the uniform medals shone. Here I was, a little Black girl from Georgia, my surroundings at odds with my existence. For the sake of history, as some would say.
A few years earlier, my grandmother told me the story of how my family escaped from sharecropping when she was a small child. My great-grandparents Flossie and George Wilder fled with their children until they reached Augusta, GA where they lived the rest of their days. It seems like a long time ago, except that Flossie and George were still alive when I was born. In fact, I have fond memories of great-granddaddy teaching me about money and great-grandmama chewing her snuff, despite his disapproval.
George died when I was a little girl but Flossie lived until I was a sophomore in college. My mother remembers my great-grandfather still being paranoid, of white men potentially capturing him, when she was a child.
He lived with a reality that his grandchildren and great-grandchildren had often misunderstood. We weren’t just surrounded by flags and monuments. The world around George and Flossie served as a constant threat and reminder of the terror of slavery and sharecropping. The world around them celebrated terrorists. Years had passed, yet still, the world around me did the same.
I don’t want that for my daughters.
Protestors against police brutality and systemic racism have every right to knock these monuments down if local municipalities and the federal government refuse to do so.
It’s time for America to deport Confederates, send them back to the land of defeat. Remember them as they were, terrorists, enslavers, traitors, and losers. It’s long been time to watch them crumble.
Neo-slavery, neo-colonialism, wage slavery, systemic anti-Black racism, and oppression – I’m looking forward to all of those crumbling too.
There seems to be some confusion about Pan Africanism and how it relates to Black American identity. The purpose of grounding the Black identity in an understanding of ourselves as African people is not just for us to have an over-romanticized vision or perspective of ourselves.
The purpose is for us to center ourselves in who we are. Understanding our position in the world, on the global stage helps us to understand our condition better and strategize better to improve it. “Dr. John Henrik Clarke reminded us that Black tells you what you look like, but it doesn’t tell you who you are.”
This is why every serious Pan Africanist understands that locally, nationally, and globally speaking – African peoples gain better insight, perspectives, and strategies when confronting oppression through a collaborative effort. That is why Malcolm X told us, “You can’t understand what is going on in Mississippi if you don’t understand what is going on in the Congo. And you can’t really be interested in what’s going on in Mississippi if you’re not also interested in what’s going on in the Congo. They’re both the same. The same interests are at stake. The same sides are drawn up, the same schemes are at work in the Congo that are at work in Mississippi..”
The most recent example of this is the coronavirus COVID-19 global pandemic. The western medical industry has historically implemented forced medical testing on people of African descent. Recently, French doctors openly suggested that vaccines and medications be tested on African populations first.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., The Trump Administration is starting medical testing in Detroit, a city with a majority Black population. This is not a coincidence. It’s another example of how no matter where we live, Black bodies are considered as testing grounds for medical experimentation – often forced, painful, or deadly.
Globally, African people and people of African descent experience this harm as a collective. Thus, it is within our best interest to counter them collectively.
These collaborative efforts don’t mean that everything will be easy, and there will be no issues. And I think that’s where most of the confusion comes in. Some people believe that by advocating for Pan Africanism, we’re saying that instantly everything is going to be all sunshine and roses. That’s not what we’re saying. We’re saying that globally, African people share common bonds, struggles, and cultural linkages. We also share common threats that are connected to global systems of oppression so much so that it is highly beneficial to combine our efforts and work with each other in some capacity.
This is a much better strategy than isolationism or xenophobia. In essence, all of these things have been tried before, and none of it has helped the masses of any African nation or community of African descendants throughout the Diaspora.
Anti-Black xenophobia or isolationism has only made things worse.
Additionally, a grounding in Black identity with an understanding of ourselves as African people helps us to better tap into cultural awareness that centers our worldview. It helps to uplift African self-determination and provides the wisdom that guides effective strategies and tools that come from within our communities and cultural understandings. And still a recognition of African identity as Black Americans or wherever you are as an African descendant on the planet – is not an attempt to erase our cultural differences. Yes, Pan Africanism emphasizes similarities, but it also celebrates our differences because we’re able to build from various viewpoints and perspectives to strategize to make our collective conditions better.
That’s not erasure, that’s just called being smart. That is why when we look at the forefathers and foremothers of Pan Africanism, we see Trinidadians, Haitians, Jamaicans, African Americans, continental Africans, Puerto Ricans, the list goes on – eagerly learning from each other, inspiring each other, building liberation movements, and engaging in mutual aid. They worked in support of Pan African freedom, respect, and unity across the world.
Pan African unity is why Martin Luther King Jr. went to Ghana, met with Kwame Nkrumah, attended the Ghanian Independence ceremonies, and returned to the United States with a refreshed perspective on civil rights and Black freedom that was directly inspired by African movements for independence.
Pan African unity is why Malcolm X met with African leaders, pushed for African Americans to reconnect with our African heritage, advocated for Pan Africanism, and actively organized to connect African Americans with African communities. (Please read his 1964 speech at the University of Ghana for additional context.)
Pan African unity is why the mother of the reparations movement – Audley “Queen Mother” Moore was a member of the UNIA (founded by Marcus Garvey and Amy Ashwood Garvey). She went on to found the Universal Association of Ethiopian Women, the Committee for Reparations for Descendants of U.S. Slaves, and the Republic of New Afrika.
And it’s saddening that there are currently some people claiming to advocate for reparations, using the work of Queen Mother Moore, while also seeking to disconnect us from our African heritage. This anti-African sentiment is a direct contradiction to Queen Mother Moore’s life’s work.
She advocated for reparations AND Pan Africanism. She viewed herself, a Black American woman, as an African in America.
Our ancestors, that have been doing the work to keep us alive and create a better future, knew who they were – Africans in America.
There are so many examples to pull from, but I’ll keep it short for now.
There is also a false narrative floating around that Pan Africanism is an old ideology that came, went, and withered away – when nothing could be further from the truth.
Pan Africanism is alive and well. It is my firm belief that as long as Black people are alive on this planet, Pan Africanism will endure because it has to.
The only people that believe this false narrative of the death of Pan Africanism are people that are not themselves involved in Pan Africanist movements. I’m reminded by an Ashanti proverb that states, “By the time the fool has learned the game, the players have dispersed.”
They don’t know what they are talking about because they are not involved in the process. In 2015, Africans and African descendants from across the continent and Diaspora gathered for the 8th Pan African Congress in Ghana. I was there along with my colleagues from the North American delegation. The Pan African Congress is part of the Global Pan African Movement that consists of activists, scholars, artists, and organizations locally and internationally across many different fields working in coalition with each other to improve the lives of African and African descendants across the world.
So, this false narrative of the death of Pan Africanism derives from not only ignorance, but also laziness, and anti-Blackness from a myopic worldview that would only put our communities further behind.
We can have and should encourage various perspectives on how to best uplift our communities.
But what we can’t do is allow ourselves to become so downtrodden and short-sighted that we succumb to anti-Black ideologies that continuously promote divisions instead of unity.
In the same speech I referenced earlier by Malcolm X, he emphasized our need for Pan African Unity. He stated,“When you see that the African nations at the international level comprise the largest representative body and the largest force of any continent, why, you and I would be out of our minds not to identify with that power bloc. We would be out of our minds, we would actually be traitors to ourselves, to be reluctant or fearful to identify with people with whom we have so much in common.”
Malcolm’s statements remind me of a Nigerian proverb, “In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges, and the foolish build dams.”
And right now, there are far too many of us advocating foolishness.
At this point in our journey, none of us can afford isolationism and unnecessary divisiveness. For Black Americans, we need to remember that we are still Africans connected to the global Pan African world. It is perfectly fine for us to advocate for ourselves, but we should never lose sight of working in coalition with the Pan African world. We should always remember the importance of Pan African unity.
Because Pan Africanism is how we have survived and will continue to survive.
Any ideology that says otherwise is to our detriment.
There’s an old African American proverb that says, “When America has a cold, Black America gets the flu.” So, what do we get during a global pandemic? The U.S. government had ample time to prepare and take preventative measures for the coronavirus. But instead, the Trump Administration chose to ignore the seriousness of COVID-19, allowing the virus to spread across America, sending the country into a tailspin.
Couple the Trump Administration’s indifference and incompetence with an inadequate or nearly non-existent social safety net and we’ve got a disaster on our hands. Most of Black America will feel the negative effects of the coronavirus. We often endure racism, healthcare discrimination, and disparities in treatment.
The biased belief that Black people are either faking illnesses or not experiencing the same level of pain as whites is unfortunately still common. There is also the issue of Black patients rejected for lack of insurance and in some cases, even insurance isn’t enough. With the predicted surge of coronavirus cases, in a healthcare system already not adequately equipped for a pandemic, lack of COVID-19 testing availability and long wait periods for patients are more of a certainty than a probability.
Healthcare leaders and officials must make sure that Black Americans seeking treatment for COVID-19 have their concerns taken seriously and that all the appropriate measures are taken to protect their health and wellbeing. Coronavirus tests and treatment must be completely free and remain free. It’s scary to see that California Rep. Katie Porter had to corner CDC Director Robert Redfield into committing to making testing free for all Americans. The U.S. government should have made free testing for coronavirus a default instead of having to be pressured into it.
Additionally, some Black immigrants and other immigrants of color may be too fearful of authorities to seek testing and treatment. Trump’s public charge rule has created an atmosphere of fear, making immigrants afraid to use healthcare assistance like Medicaid. Undocumented immigrants may avoid seeking treatment in order to steer clear of attention concerning their citizenship status. There are also other social and societal barriers connected to “cultural competence” among healthcare workers that prevent immigrants from accessing healthcare.
In terms of economics, the coronavirus could be a major issue of financial instability for Black America. Decreased hours with short-term employment, low-wage, or hourly jobs would result in a substantially reduced income, causing a financial crisis likely to hit Black Americans the most.With 60% of Americans lacking $500 in savings the abrupt shutdown of major events, buildings, and various places of employment will strike a major blow to Black American livelihoods. Due to structural barriers and historical discrimination, for much of Black America, it’s already a struggle to pay for bills, housing, healthcare, and student loans.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, promising options for additional paid leave, is a good start. However, it still leaves behind potentially 80% of America’s workers. If the goal is to save most Americans from financial ruin, this won’t be accomplished. The most effective legislation would include a paid sick leave plan for all workers. If the federal government does not take steps to ensure a universal economic safety net for the nation, the economic impact may be crushing for Black Americans. This Act is helpful but we need more.
As both federal and local governments scramble to address needs. Black communities can take our own protective measures during this crisis.
For example, churches, mosques, and other religious temples can limit the attendance of large crowds and focus on providing resources and assistance. Local communities can push for school districts to continue providing meals for school-aged children during school closings. We can put pressure on our governors and state lawmakers to pass emergency legislation covering food assistance for low-income families and paid sick leave for hourly employees. Local politicians, activists, non-profit advocates, and religious leaders can work with utility companies to prevent utility shutoffs during this pandemic. We can also advocate for a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures by the housing industry. Most of all, we must put pressure on all local municipalities, the federal government, and corporations to put people-over-profits.
This assessment is not meant to be bleak but to serve as a warning. Yes, Black America has survived the worst in our society. Yes, we will survive the coronavirus too. But we must emphasize the need to protect Black lives during this pandemic. This is not the time to be complacent or undermine the severity of COVID-19 and its health and financial effects on Black Americans. Steps must be taken towards a people-centered economic bailout for all of America along with universal health care to ensure that Black America does not bear the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic.
In follow up discussions I’ve realized that we need to revisit how problematic it is to refer to ourselves as “descendants of slavery.” To be clear, no we do not and can not descend from “slavery.” This line of thinking is problematic, dehumanizing, and anti-Black for a number of reasons.
“But JAM, we need the term ‘ADOS’ for our justice claim!” say people missing the point.
And my reply is, you’re in luck! Yes, we have a specific claim, and we also have specific terms that predate “ADOS.” The term to address this need is “Descendants of Africans enslaved in the United States” (DAEUS). This term has been used by African American activists, scholars, and reparations advocates for years. DAEUS is extremely useful because it brings both a historical and cultural context to African American lives, while also addressing the condition of slavery and its impact on our collective being.
No matter how anyone tries to frame it, slavery and enslavement are not lineages. For African Americans, many of our ancestors were indeed enslaved. However, slavery is a condition. It’s not a bloodline. The idea of embracing enslavement as bloodline or lineage-based actually reinforces the racist lies told by proponents of eugenics that tried to use racial hierarchies, religion, and pseudoscience to justify the enslavement of our ancestors.
Additionally, ADOS terminology buys into the Hamitic myth, the racist religious ideology used by European enslavers, colonizers, scientists, and religious institutions to justify the enslavement of African people. The Hamitic myth stated that Black people were cursed by God for being descendants of Ham (the son of Noah). Proponents of the Hamitic mythic thereby sought to permanently align Black identity with slavery through religion.
ADOS is essentially uplifting the racist ideology of eugenics and the Hamitic myth by getting African Americans to adopt internalized anti-Blackness, through having us call ourselves “descendants of slavery” in the name of a “justice claim.” Thus, it’s not surprising that ADOS leadership seeks to distance themselves from African identity or question whether or not African Americans have a culture.
But for argument’s sake, let’s discuss another condition.
Let’s say, for example, you had a grandmother that, at one time in her life, went to prison. Would you then proclaim yourself to be a “descendant of prison?” Absolutely not, because you understand that prison is a place of confinement and imprisonment is the condition of being confined. Rightfully so, you’d tell people that your grandmother was imprisoned, but you would never say “prison is my lineage.“
You would never wear t-shirts calling yourself a “descendant of prison.” Perhaps the closest thing you could call yourself to that is “descendant of prison laborers,” and even that term would never be sufficient because it still doesn’t tell you anything about your history, culture, bloodline, or heritage.
Thus, you still wouldn’t proclaim the “prison” or “imprisonment” itself as your lineage. It would sound ridiculous. It would be confusing. And most of all, that statement would be incredibly dehumanizing.
Because prison is not an ethnicity, it’s not a culture, and it’s not a bloodline.
Neither is slavery.
“But JAM, why are you being so difficult? It’s not that serious!” says another person missing the point.
My response is: Our collective fight for human rights starts internally. It starts with who we are.
Attempts to reduce African American lineage and heritage to enslavement (justice claim or not) is an attack on African American humanity. The root word of “reparations” is “repair.” If we were to use ADOS terminology, not only would we NOT REPAIR, we would cause further self-destruction and harm. Because a people can not be repaired or healed without a full acknowledgment of their history, humanity, experiences, and existence.
Since the past often influences the future, an erasure of our identity as African people before enslavement would only lead to more slavery, be it mental, spiritual, or physical. This is because we would then have no true framework or starting point for an identity that would continually demand freedom and liberation.
As Dr. Carter G. Woodson stated, “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.” Dr. Woodson recognized how dangerous erasure was to our mentality concerning Black identity. This is precisely why he founded Negro History Week, which later evolved into Black History Month, and this is why he wrote “The Miseducation of the Negro.”
Erasure is not repairing. Erasure is death.
Using slavery as a lineage is also a blatant insult to our ancestors and their lives. My ancestors were more than the confines of “slavery” and the descriptor of “slave.” They were human beings. They were mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents. They were scientists, farmers, artisans, preachers, etc.
They were Africans, both enslaved and free, with their own religions, customs, languages, and beliefs.
It is for this reason that we must never disconnect ourselves from our ancestors’ origins. With most of our ancestors originating from various cultures in Africa, we have to look at them in the context of where they came from to understand who they were. Because who they were and the lineage they’ve passed down to us is who WE are.
We are not the descendants of a downtrodden condition – land-less, culture-less, language-less. We are the descendants of enslaved and free Africans in the Americas – survivors, cultivators, innovators, visionaries, and revolutionaries – with a rich cultural heritage. Our cultural heritage is grounded in the merger of multiple African cultures – to create a blended Pan African identity that we now refer to as Black American or African American.
Thus, reducing our ancestors’ total identity to enslavement is a horrific erasure of who we are, where we came from, and the potential of our future generations.
We should never lose sight of this fact, or we will lose sight of ourselves. We have been born the descendants of a Pan-African collective in America that battled in the belly of the beast and survived to tell the story.
Slavery is one condition, among many that our ancestors born on the continent of Africa and in the Americas fought and defeated. They are our lineage, freedom is our birthright, and the struggle continues.
For additional context, listen to my recent interview on Class, Culture, and Consciousness with JenMarie Pollard.
There are many misunderstandings constantly spread about African Americans and our relationship with Africans and or the African continent. Additionally, there are many misconceptions about Pan Africanism and its relevance in our lives.
In an effort to bring clarity to these conversations, I’ve started the #PanAfricanFacts series. This is the first post of the series.
Some would have you to believe that African Americans and Africans don’t have familial bonds or cultural ties. However, this belief couldn’t be farther from the truth. The truth is, the Pan African world remains connected and maintains relationships that uplifts the global Black collective.
One such example of this is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s trip to Ghana. In 1957, Dr. King and Coretta Scott King went to Ghana to celebrate its independence from Britain. Dr. King met with then Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah, who would later go on to be Ghana’s first president (Elnaiem, 2018).
Dr. King was so inspired by Ghana breaking from its colonial master that he shed tears during the independence ceremony.
In his speech titled, “The Birth of a New Nation”, Dr. King described his emotions in detail:
The old Union Jack flag came down and the new flag of Ghana went up. This was a new nation now, a new nation being born. And when Prime Minister Nkrumah stood up before his people out in the polo ground and said, “We are no longer a British colony, we are a free, sovereign people,” all over that vast throng of people we could see tears. And I stood there thinking about so many things. Before I knew it, I started weeping. I was crying for joy. And I knew about all of the struggles, and all of the pain, and all of the agony that these people had gone through for this moment.
After Nkrumah had made that final speech, it was about twelve-thirty now. And we walked away. And we could hear little children six years old and old people eighty and ninety years old walking the streets of Accra crying: “Freedom! Freedom!” They couldn’t say it in the sense that we’d say it, many of them don’t speak English too well, but they had their accents and it could ring out “free-doom!” They were crying it in a sense that they had never heard it before. And I could hear that old Negro spiritual once more crying out: “Free at last, free at last, Great God Almighty, I’m free at last.” They were experiencing that in their very souls. And everywhere we turned, we could hear it ringing out from the housetops. We could hear it from every corner, every nook and crook of the community. “Freedom! Freedom!” This was the birth of a new nation.
He then returned to the U.S.A, using Ghana’s independence as a source of inspiration, recognizing that if Ghana was free, African Americans would one day be free. He saw that African American and African freedom was intertwined as he pushed the Nixon Administration towards change.
Later in his speech, Dr. King linked the struggles of colonialism to the struggles of Jim Crow and segregation.
The road to freedom is difficult, but finally, Ghana tells us that the forces of the universe are on the side of justice. That’s what it tells us, now. You can interpret Ghana any kind of way you want to, but Ghana tells me that the forces of the universe are on the side of justice. That night when I saw that old flag coming down and the new flag coming up, I saw something else. That wasn’t just an ephemeral, evanescent event appearing on the stage of history. But it was an event with eternal meaning, for it symbolizes something. That thing symbolized to me that an old order is passing away and a new order is coming into being. An old order of colonialism, of segregation, of discrimination is passing away now. And a new order of justice and freedom and good will is being born. That’s what it said. Somehow the forces of justice stand on the side of the universe, so that you can’t ultimately trample over God’s children and profit by it.
In 2019, thousands of African Americans travelled to Ghana for the Year of the Return. Some seek to dismiss the occasion as simply a tourism ploy. However, they are wrong. The Year of the Return signifies the continuing cultural ties and recognition of our shared fight for freedom in the Pan African world.
The Year of the Return pays homage to our ancestors and uplifts our humanity by recognizing that our heritage did not start with enslavement. Our heritage and cultural lineage began on the continent of Africa. Our collective freedom and struggles for liberation will forever be linked to our motherland – and despite everything the world throws at us those bonds will never be broken.
This MLK Day, let us remember that Martin Luther King Jr. fought for the civil rights of African Americans, while being galvanized by the liberation of African nations. Remember that in his work, he recognized the connectedness of the Pan African world and it helped him to continue visualizing and working towards freedom for his people.
On Saturday, October 27, 2018, I was set to attend an event at Bowie State University. There, I would mingle with other authors and hopefully sale copies of my children’s books. This event had been scheduled for months, but when the day finally came, I couldn’t overcome my sluggish mood. I had an eerie feeling all morning, plus I was running late. THEN, OUT OF NOWHERE, the sky cracked open.
It was literally raining sideways.
Now, drenched, I finally reached the building and unloaded. It was a slow day with a good gathering of Black authors. But the weirdness never left.
Later, after I stepped around pools of water under the remerging bright sky, I learned that Ntozake Shange had passed away that morning in Bowie, Maryland.
There were no words.
This was the woman that gave us the lines that told our lives.
“i found god in myself and i loved her i loved her fiercely”
“my spirit is too ancient to understand the separation of soul & gender”
“somebody/ anybody sing a black girl’s song bring her out to know herself to know you but sing her rhythms carin/ struggle/ hard times sing her song of life”
“And this is for Colored girls who have considered suicide, but are moving to the ends of their own rainbows.”
These were the words that we knew before we heard them, so when we did, we never forgot them. She wrote our soul. Our blues, our joys, our grief, our hopes, our humanity, our love.
Ntozake Shange – “she who walks with lions”
On Tuesday, August 6, 2019, Toni Morrison passed away.
This time, I was on a train and cried out an old school church shout. Had I been in the pews, they would have fanned me and covered my legs with white cloth. It was one of those yells. The grief was too much. Our country is in the throws of mass shootings and an illegitimate racist president is running us to the ground, and now Toni Morrison dies?
Help lawd! Who told her she could die?
This is the woman that brought us Pecola Breedlove and Milkman.
She brought us:
“If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.”
“Here, this here, is what a man can do if he puts his mind to it and his back in it. Stop sniveling,’ [the land] said. ‘Stop picking around the edges of the world. Take advantage, and if you can’t take advantage, take disadvantage. We live here. On this planet, in this nation, in this county right here. Nowhere else!”
“All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us. All of us–all who knew her–felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her.”
These words mattered. There were incredible for their depth but perhaps mattered even more so, just because they existed. Because before reading their words, many of us didn’t know such a work could exist – that so righteously and unapologetically spoke US. Not spoke to us – SPOKE US!
We hadn’t known it was possible, until someone that loved us handed us a Toni Morrison book or had us read, watch or perform For Colored Girls.
We can do that? We can speak us?
For many, the concept is foreign in a world that tells us everyday that everything about us is wrong.
But there they were. Their presence and words changed our world and shifted the narrative around Black women’s lives. And they were so damn proud about it.
On my way home from work, after another fit of sobbing, the words came to me.
“Our prophets are dying…but they leave gifts.”
I immediately thought of all the sister friends that had called and texted throughout the day. How we all felt the absence of another giant as space and time paused.
Then I thought again of all our words. That we had taken this thing and ran with it. Their words mattered so much because we would never forget to speak us and from now on – we’d be so damned unapologetic about it.
Those are a few of the gifts.
They didn’t give us voice. They showed us our voices and how to use it.
They didn’t give us stories. They told our stories, centered us, and showed us their intrinsic value.
They didn’t give us vision. They showed us how to embrace our visions. How to carve out a space in this world and make it recognize that we exist damn it and we ain’t leaving!
They gave us these gifts…insights, paths, skills, confidence, self-awareness, and self-love. Speaking truth to power, speaking power to the truth within ourselves, and lighting the way forward – so that the new generation would rise.
Some media outlets are in a frenzy after receiving a tip that Malia Obama, daughter of former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, has a secret Facebook account. Her posts included criticism of the Trump Administration, which apparently, is shocking to some.
To me, this “revelation,” (if you want to call it that) is like telling me that water is wet. She’s the daughter of THE Michelle Obama! Which means that not only does she have a brain – she’s probably also pretty good at critical thinking. And anyone good at critical thinking – hell even simple thinking – would have criticisms for the Trump Administration.
I don’t know where this belief system comes from that Malia and Sasha Obama should be void of thoughts. Meanwhile, Meghan McCain (the daughter of John McCain) is a co-host on The View and Ivanka Trump (failed fashion line connoisseur) is in charge of God knows what in the White House.
So for anyone that’s shocked. Yes, Malia Obama (a student at Harvard University) has a brain.
After years of being blackballed in Hollywood, Oscar Award-winning comedian Mo’Nique sat down with Steve Harvey to settle their differences. Mo’Nique’s relationship with Harvey became strained after he publically criticized and distanced himself from her after she became outspoken about inequality and discrimination in Hollywood.
Mo’Nique also called out Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, and Lee Daniels for not publically defending her. According to Mo’Nique, they knew she had “done nothing wrong.” Instead, according to Mo’Nique, they allowed her name to be dragged through the mud, rather than telling the truth about what was happening.
Mo’Nique won an Oscar for her outstanding performance in Lee Daniel’s film Precious. However, she was only paid $50,000 for the role and was expected to travel across the country and around the world to promote the film out of her own pocket. When she refused, she was labeled difficult. Mo’Nique then spoke openly about Hollywood’s refusal to pay Black actresses fairly.
At this point, she was blackballed.
In her sit down with Steve Harvey, Mo’Nique stood strong in her conviction that she did the right thing. Stating, “When you allow people, to start taking your freedom and your gift and making it become what makes them comfortable, we then lose.”
Steve Harvey then responded, “When you tell the truth, you have to deal with the repercussions of the truth. WE BLACK OUT HERE…”
He continued, “This the money game. This ain’t the Black man’s game. This ain’t the white man’s game. This the money game. And you can not sacrifice yourself. The best thing you can do for poor people is not be one of them.”
In this statement, Steve implies that truthtelling is the road to poverty and that to thrive, one must play “the game.”
However, Mo’Nique bravely countered, “Before the money game is the integrity game. And we’ve lost the integrity worrying about the money.”
Then Steve Harvey took a route that many people had an issue with. He acted as if standing up for Mo’Nique somehow would have made him lose his $100 million empire overnight.
Steve stated, “If I crumble, my children crumble, my grandchildren crumble. I can not for the sake of my integrity, stand up here and let everybody that’s counting on me crumble – so I can make a statement. There are ways to win the war in a different way.”
This is where we have a problem. I agree that in any situation, especially dealing with employment, we must be strategic and tactful. However, when battling a larger social issue, like the unequal payment of Black women – which is a huge issue – being quiet is the exact opposite of what we need.
This is especially true if you’re in a position of power.
Zora Neale Hurston said it best, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
Mo’Nique is calling out a larger social issue. She’s calling out anti-Blackness implemented by expecting Black people to allow themselves to be overworked and undervalued. We may not all be in Hollywood, but working class Black women see it every day. According to the National Women’s Law Center and Equal Pay Today, Black women face steep wage inequality.
“Black women working full time, year round typically make only 61 cents for every dollar paid to their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts.” (National Women’s Law Center)“
Just because Mo’Nique is speaking out about Hollywood instead of an office job or fast food restaurant, doesn’t mean her words are any less true. Mo’Nique is a comedy pioneer and legend. Her decades of work speaks for its self. Yet, there are some still expecting her to be quiet and “grateful” as if she’s just some novice off the street.
The larger issue that she is addressing is about Black self-worth. Are we willing to set higher standards and enforce them? Are we ready to stop accepting crumbs? Are we ready to call out injustice, even if it means a temporary set back?
Though this can be scary, history has shown us the benefits of taking a stand. Muhammad Ali showed us with his refusal to fight in Vietnam, which led to him being stripped of his heavyweight title. Rosa Parks showed us in her refusal to give up her seat, leading her to be jailed. Recently Colin Kaepernick showed us, by taking a knee during the National Anthem to bring awareness to police brutality against Blacks, leading him to lose his job.
Some may not see the connection but it is there. Mo’Nique is fighting for pay equality. Without it, Black women specifically will continue to face economic instability. This is race-based financial oppression with real-life repercussions for everyday people.
That’s where integrity comes in because the issue is deeper than Mo’Nique personally. The Steve Harveys of the world may think they’re flourishing by staying quiet. Yes, Steve Harvey may be building wealth for himself but what good is it if the people he claims to support are still dealing with everyday struggles of wage gaps and underemployment? What good is his wealth if he refuses to speak out against the mass economic oppression of his people? These are issues that he could speak out about, starting with his industry.
And standing up to Hollywood is not a far-fetched idea.
Remember when everyone thought that Dave Chapelle was crazy for walking away from his widely acclaimed Comedy Central show? Remember how the network tried to bury him, even spread rumors about drug use?
He left for his integrity. It cost him financially at first but eventually, he became even more celebrated for standing his ground and not allowing himself to be exploited for profits. Years later, he was able to fully recoup his losses and is highly respected.
This is more than about Mo’Nique. And yes, integrity may have no immediate monetary benefit. However, history has shown us that if it were not for bravery and integrity – we would still be sitting in the back of the bus being told we should be grateful just for a seat.
In December 2018, the Brookings Institute released a report that examined and documented the devaluation of homes in majority Black neighborhoods. The report found that, “Across all majority black neighborhoods, owner-occupied homes are undervalued by $48,000 per home on average, amounting to $156 billion in cumulative losses.”
As was pointed out, by Andre Perry (lead author of the report) at the Brookings Institute’s “Homeownership while Black” forum, the $156 billion in losses could have gone towards funding for:
4.4 million Black-owned businesses 8.1 million 4-year college degrees at public colleges and universities It would replace the pipes in Flint, MI 3,000 times It would fund 97% of Hurricane Katrina costs
That’s a lot of money!
Consequently, the unfair and discriminatory devaluation of Black homes harms Black residents substantially. It increases the racial wealth gap, thereby preventing access to upward mobility.
In case you were wondering why it’s hard for many Black communities to build wealth, start with reading this report.
Here are some highlights from the report:
There is strong evidence that bias has tangible effects on real estate markets, both historically and today. During the 20th century, both explicit government institutions and decentralized political actions created and sustained racially segregated housing conditions in the United States. (page 5)
This has created what has been dubbed a “segregation tax,” resulting in lower property valuations for blacks compared to whites per dollar of income. (page 5)
Contemporary work from social scientists has aimed to sort out whether these lower valuations are caused by differences in socio-economic status, neighborhood qualities, or discrimination. The results tend to show compelling evidence for discrimination. In one study, Valerie Lewis, Michael Emerson, and Stephen Klineberg collected detailed survey data on neighborhood racial preferences in Houston, Texas. They asked people to imagine that they were looking for a new house, found one within their price range and close to their job; they then say to respondents, “checking the neighborhood . . .” and then present different scenarios based on racial composition, school quality, crime, and property value changes for the hypothetical neighborhood.” (page 5)
Black Americans are highly urbanized. 90 percent live in metropolitan areas, compared to 86 percent of all U.S. residents. And decades after the Civil Rights movement, blacks remain highly segregated. Though blacks comprise just 12 percent of the U.S. population, 70 percent live in neighborhoods that are over 20 percent black, and 41 percent live in majority black neighborhoods.
These majority black neighborhoods may be overlooked as sites for economic development, but they contain important assets, in terms of people, public infrastructure, and wealth. (page 10)
The devaluation of black neighborhoods is widespread across the country. There are 119 metropolitan areas with at least one majority black census tract and one census tract that is less than 1 percent black. In 117 of these 119 metro areas, homes in majority black neighborhoods are valued lower than homes in neighborhoods where blacks are less than 1 percent of the population. Gainesville, Fla. and Sebring, Fla. are the only exceptions.
As a Black woman that has experienced sexual assault, the last few days in Virginia politics has left me reeling in a vortex of anger and distrust. Unfortunately, I’m not alone. Governor Ralph Northam effectively lost the Black community’s trust with his admission/non-admission of having posed in a yearbook photo with blackface and Ku Klux Klan robes at the ripe age of 25 years old.
Consequently, he was asked by Virginia Democrats to resign. He promptly refused, causing more mayhem. However, the glimmer of hope was the possibility of Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, taking Northam’s place.
Then, suddenly that glimmer of hope came crashing down as sexual abuse allegations spread about Fairfax. With two allegations, one from Professor Vanessa Tyson (2004) and one from Meredith Watson (2000) – it was clear that Fairfax was no longer on the road to becoming governor. It was also clear that the political circus in Virginia was going to become more complicated, more disappointing, and more enraging.
As scholar Melissa Harris-Perry pointed out on Twitter, “Now observers are wringing hands over the “racist v rapist” dilemma facing Virginia. Welcome to the intersection where black women live.”
Democrats were at first unsure how to process the Fairfax allegations. But as Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson told more of their very detailed and compelling stories, a uniformed call for Fairfax’s resignation began. There was even a delegate preparing to impeach him.
At the same time, Governor Ralph Northam was all but planning a quiet victory party, hoping to rebuild his appeal among Black voters with a new race-based agenda. The conversation about his photos with blackface and KKK robes mostly died down. Many people, including some self-proclaimed progressives, rested on the “blackface is bad but not criminal,” excuse.
These statements dangerously minimize the fact that the Ku Klux Klan is a domestic terrorist group. Black communities were not angry at Northam for having bad manners. We were angry because those photographs depict an alignment with people that have terrorized, murdered, and raped Black and Brown people across the United States of America. A 25-year-old man in medical school (FROM VIRGINIA) knows very well what the Klan is and what they represent.
If Tamir Rice was a man, if Mike Brown was a man, if Trayvon Martin was a man, then surely Ralph Northam was a man at 25 years old – fully capable of the repercussions of his actions (both then and now).
As a Black woman that has experienced sexual assault, I am in no way excusing or minimizing allegations against Justin Fairfax. Nevertheless, accountability shouldn’t be selectively reserved when it comes to issues surrounding racism and sexual assault. Though the two issues should never be conflated – we can and should hold people accountable for both.
I feared that Democrats would allow Northam and his allies to weaponize the Fairfax allegations in order to remain governor and never be held fully accountable for his actions. And that is exactly what happened. Basically, Fairfax’s sexual assault allegations became the shield for Northam’s racist transgressions. In that case, Black women, whom everyone suddenly pretends to care about, are no safer, no more protected than we were before.
It’s all a horrible mess that no one could have predicted. But we’re here now, and we have to make sense of it.
In both cases, there must be justice. Fairfax has been accused of a crime. Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson should be heard. Their testimonies should be taken seriously. There should be a full investigation, and there should be full accountability. On the other hand, Northam publically aligned himself with terrorists in his yearbook photos. To me, this is enough for removal as well. And he should also be thoroughly investigated.
But now that’s not going to happen.
Between Fairfax and Northam, the only thing I’m rooting for is truth and justice.
However, we can not allow the hope for justice to be weaponized against us. Untangling this web of chaos isn’t easy. Even as I write this, I feel juxtaposed against myself. Perhaps, I am.
However, if Democrats were willing to impeach Fairfax with no specific plan for addressing Northam, they were not truly working towards ensuring justice. They’ve only allowed justice to be weaponized to protect another person in power.
Lastly, as we move closer to 2020, there are only going to be more revelations, accusations, and scandals. I strongly advise Democrats to develop a well thought out process that brings more order and equality to moves towards investigating issues and enforcing accountability.