By Tania Bradkin and Kathryn Needham
When Black History month came around this year, I decided to spend the entire month finding and sharing Black history you didn’t learn in school (#BlackHistoryYouDidntLearnInSchool created by Justin Giuliano, @JayJewels93). I found Justin on twitter in my search to join others that wanted to celebrate African American heroes and history and contacted him and told him I would be joining his effort. I was also really curious. Why was Morgan Freeman, a man I idolize (and want every story ever written on earth to be read by him please), stating that the concept of a Black history month is “ridiculous” and that racism would end if we would stop talking about it?”
I understand what he is saying and I, too, am a fan of ‘what you talk about you bring about meaning’; I don’t want to give my good energy to negative topics that feel bad because I do think doing so perpetuates the existence of certain ideas. Ideas can’t grow if we don’t’ fuel them, right? But at the same time, has this country ever really paused to address the wrongs of the past? Or at the very least to discuss them thoughtfully so that we can begin healing? Just once would be nice. One would think that the history we learn in school would be enough. In an ideal world, devoid of racism or prejudice, yes. But the fact is, it seems like there’s a lot of Black history that is not taught in school. So I set out to see what I could possibly uncover that I didn’t already know.
First I discovered the amazing courage of six-year old Ruby Bridges, the first African American child to integrate a white Southern elementary school. I cried reading about her parents and how they struggled with letting her walk to school surrounded by armed guards for her safety. Ruby was just SIX. YEARS. OLD. My heart would have come out of my chest risking the lives of my twins at age 6.
Three days in to Black History month and I had to unfriend a Facebook acquaintance. Apparently my post about the life of Angela Davis spurned this father of two girls who works in education to spew hatred and bigotry. In the words of Ms. Maya Angelou, “When people show you who they are, believe them.”
On Day 4, I learned that Dr. Martin Luther King’s mother, Ms. Alberta Williams King, was also assassinated. On Day 5, I shared that Albert Einstein taught a class at Lincoln University. You know what he said to them? “Segregation is a disease of White people.” #rightonAlbert. Am I allowed to hashtag here?
Sculptors, inventors, musicians, civil rights activists, Nobel Prize winners, astronauts, teachers, judges, writers… most of whom I had never heard of before. People that paved the way, most of them firsts. On Day 23, after reading about Lieutenant General Frank E. Petersen, one of four African American Marines with this three star ranking, I realized that no African American has ever been made the rank of General in the Marines. I find this disturbing and wrong.
I learned how Dr. James West helped invent all the microphones we use today. That name was familiar to me and I realized why: Kanye West. Listen to his lyrics. Yeah, yeah, I know. Kanye sparks some controversy. This recent Grammy awards had people saying, “He’s done it again?!” But then I wonder, why is it OK for Steve Jobs to “act up” and be hailed genius? Why is it OK for Rush Limbaugh to spew hatred and get offered a radio show? Haters gonna hate, I guess. And yes, please listen to his music. Kanye is absolutely a genius AND he’s literally an artist. His presentations on SNL and his music videos blow me away. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then you have not experienced the genius of Kanye West. So cut him a break. And try walking in someone else’s shoes too, please, before speaking.
One of the most inspirational stories I read was about Ms. Bridget “Biddy” Mason. She was enslaved by a Texas plantation owner who refused to give her freedom – in California, a free state! – and was labeled “illiterate.” Despite that, Ms. Mason made it a priority to work hard, save money, and help people. She saved over $300,000 working as a nurse and became one of the few female landowners of her time.
These stories amaze and inspire. So why don’t we hear about these people? They should be names we know, not names we have to google for information. Imagine how communities might change with this knowledge and inspiration.
After 28 days, I’m both inspired and saddened. So many incredible stories, yet it seems so little has changed in the way of social justice and equal rights. I look around and I think, are there any similar situations today? ABSOLUTELY. Why do I know this? Because I also visit the timelines of the founders of @BlkLivesMatter: Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors along with DeRay McKesson, Broderick Greer, Dante Boykin, Erica Garner, Justin Giuliano, Hal Dockens, Keegan Stephan, Dr. Jody David Amour of USC, Ryan Dalton, Sandy Dover, Shaun King, Shordee Doo Whop. As I retweet their posts, it feels like just about every day, somewhere in America, we add a new name to the history list.
Names like Trayvon Martin. Tamir E. Rice. Eric Garner. Mike Brown. Tanesha Anderson. Ezell Ford. Rumain Brisbon. John Crawford. Darrien Hunt. Omar Abrego. Keith Vidal. Kajieme Powell. Akai Gurley. Michelle Cusseaux. Jack Jacquez. Jason Harrison. Yvette Smith. Louis Rodriguez. Matthew Pollow. Dontre D. Hamilton. David Latham. Maria Godinez. Devon Davis. That’s not even the whole list.
This exercise made me realize how much African Americans have been a large part of my life and have influenced who I am today, but it also opened my eyes to racial inequalities that still exist.
I recently read a Facebook rant posted by a Caucasian woman following John Legend’s very political Oscars acceptance speech. She said, “Maybe black men are in prisons because they broke the law. I’m sick of this “we’re black and be sad for us” crap.” I mean, I just. I can’t. WHAT???!!! This person is obviously ignorant to the fact that African Americans are not only disproportionately incarcerated compared toCaucasians for the same crime but also remain incarcerated for longer spans of time.
Nothing sickens me more than seeing social media posts like this, of the ignorant haters that think this movement is a myth. We indeed need to pause and take a look at the lives of Black people in America. It’s going to be uncomfortable. We may realize things about ourselves we never wanted to admit. But let’s free our minds and try to have the conversation. And let’s arm ourselves with information. Here are some interesting FACTS I welcome you to peruse and ask yourself why other myths about African Americans exist when these are THE FACTS backed by empirical, non-partisan data:
Incarceration rips apart families.
Caucasians get their children taken away and put into foster care more frequently than African Americans or Hispanics. Non-Hispanic white children, who made up about 52 percent of American children under age 18, accounted for 42 percent of foster children in 2013
Education and wealth are interrelated. Generally, if you are wealthy, you are also educated. That’s not to say that our impoverished, when provided with the right tools cannot achieve education goals; there’s a difference and there are case studies that show it can absolutely be done. Just give this piece by Chris Stewart some thought.We all lose when children are denied access to a good education. Due to the creation of slavery, African Americans were actively denied the right to an education. And that law didn’t really have any effect until 1964’s Civil Rights Act.
Even when laws were passed like the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, slavery continued with plantation owners flat out refusing to grant freedom even they were located in states like California that had entered the Union rejecting slavery. That’s exactly what happened to Ms. Bridget “Biddy” Mason. Even when laws like the 24th Amendment aka the 1965 Voters Rights Act which was a not a first, but actually a second effort to grant African Americans the right to vote which actually was granted one hundred years earlier, in 1870 via the Fifteenth Amendment-even then African Americans were denied not only the right to vote but the right to a fair trial because the right to vote gives one access to being a juror. See how that works?
I am in awe of the accomplishments that African Americans have overcome, So when people ask, “Why do we need Black History Month?” the answer seems obvious. African Americans have been intentionally denied access to the freedoms we are suppose to enjoy as citizens of the United States. Yet even when laws are written, it does not guarantee tangible change. Until #thisstopstoday must also continue. And have we collectively decided what date “today” is? Because I think we should set a deadline and have a goal that’s reasonable if possible too. I don’t know if that will stop the past from occurring again but I have to believe if we, together, work towards these changes, we will get there.
So when Charles Blow, who is one of the most poignant and talented writers in this country, if not world, recently asked what happens after Black Lives Matter? My answer is this. Let’s keep this conversation and action going. I hope the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter does not end until the above disparities show meaningful, measurable change. While laws are not going to be the most effective way in which to make these changes, we still need to fight the good fight and get laws passed that make every effort to identify systemic racism and correct it. But if the past speaks of our future, we cannot count on laws alone. We all know that slavery continued every after laws were passed with slavery supporters refusing to free African Americans. Notice I refer to slave “owners” as supporters. Slavery is an invention. It’s an idea that was created and carried out just as the idea that someone’s skin color would correlate to some sort of hierarchy that would determine worth in this country. Let this be clear – all of us came into this country equally. Along the way, racism and slavery were invented and a lot of people bought into these repugnant ideologies. And today it feels like those people are angry that we want talk about it. Well too bad. I’m sorry that your ancestors were barbaric but guess what? You can change your entire history today by joining the conversation. And as for me personally?
Like every African American person I have ever met, I care about all of our lives, all of our well being(s), and all of our future(s). Everyone that isn’t a racist matters to me. And even when that person is a racist, I am able to send light to he/she. Because racists must live one dark, ugly existence that only they can know of deep down inside. So if it’s okay, I would like to continue our discussions and reach out to each other beyond February 28th until all the changes that need to happen become the norm.
Then we’ll know we really are on our way to the Dream, the reality of a life filled with liberty and justice for all.
Please remember to follow @BlkLivesMatter. It matters. #BlackLivesMatter