“…we shouldn’t have forces like racism and neo-colonialism direct our empathy for us” — Feminist Wire
But we still do. Because we are taught to. And it’s unfortunate that you don’t learn otherwise unless your family is conscious or you go onto higher education. I didn’t learn about the Black Panthers and all the good work they did until I took an elective history class called 20th Century US History in 11th grade. I didn’t learn about colonialism and imperialism in Africa — the institutional rape and degradation of a people and a continent– until graduate school. Up until then, school practically taught that Africa was to blame for all of her misfortunes. And not until this semester, as a doctoral student in an upper-level history course, did I learn that K-12 history classes are often the main culprits behind it all.
We learn that virtually no news coverage of a college massacre in Kenya that killed over 100 students is okay. It is taught to place more value on deaths in developed countries like France and the U.S. than deaths in smaller, less developed countries like Beirut. We aren’t born to naturally accept rights for animals over rights for black men and women unjustly brutalized by the police or children of color in U.S. cities being slaughtered by racialized gang violence and other insidious crime on a regular basis. We are born and then we are taught it all.
It’s a shame we live in a world where color, money and status are synonymous with humanity. It shouldn’t be.
But it is.
I was raised to value one person, one death, one travesty just as much as the next. I wish the world also felt this way.
But it doesn’t.
Racism and neo-colonialism still direct our empathy because our education still does.
It’s all taught.
You learn that it’s all taught as a grown up and you are now presented with a daunting task: to unlearn the entire world as you know it.
Neither a class nor teacher nor book can prepare one for such an assignment.
In reference to African-American life and struggle, we hear people say things like “we’ve come a long way” and “times have changed.” Both statements are true – enormous strides have been made and great progress has resulted; however, we are still nowhere near where we need to be.
Racial profiling is virulent – in stores, in schools, on the streets and virtually everywhere else. Wealth and education disparities between African-Americans and other racial groups continue to widen, with African-Americans often lagging behind. Within the black community itself, a fair amount of negativity and distraction still chips away at the unity and collectiveness the ones before us fought so hard to create and promote in the first place.
To put it simply, the fight for our betterment is not over.
But this isn’t one of those ‘we’re not doing enough, so I’m going to complain about what we’re missing in the black community’ posts. I want to take this time to acknowledge the work that IS being done.
I live in Richmond, Virginia – statistics label it one of the worst cities in the nation for high crime and poverty rates, among other things. At the same time, Richmond, Virginia is where activists, artists, entrepreneurs, community organizers and other trailblazers who work to better the black community call home.
Yesterday, I had the first meet-up for my newest project called the RVA Black Image Collective. My mission for the Collective is to provide a forum for people to come together and talk about issues concerning Richmond’s black community in hopes that it will inspire and motivate us all in the work we do (or want to do) in the community. This month’s topic was the state of black youth in RVA. The meet-up couldn’t have gone any better. Some people at the meet-up organize yearly school supply and coat drives and others collect clothes for children in need all year around. Others are working in Richmond City schools and are fighting to serve the needs of each and every child in their classes, despite the constraints of the system and its curriculum. And yet, there were others who are working to make a difference using a political approach. And then there were those who choose to make a difference on a smaller, individual scale – from taking a child under their wing with an incarcerated parent to stopping a child in the street walking around in 20 degree weather just to zip his coat up.
The work is being done. We’ve got the ball rolling.
No matter how big or how small it may be, the work we do to improve our conditions is NEVER in vain. Any and everything matters. And it matters to acknowledge this right now, during the month of February, to further highlight the NEED for our work all year around, not just during 28 days in the winter.
In all honestly, this work commemorates the ones before us more than anything else could. They always did the work. They led. They toiled. They screamed. They whispered. They taught. They organized. They fought. They resisted. They stayed up late. They woke up early. They stayed in their hometown. They traveled the world. They raised their voices. They gave others a voice.
They kept their word. And in the work we do, we’re keeping their word, too.
It’s Black History Month, and I’ve decided to share some ways our history and our heritage have been instilled in my life — not only in February, but all year long.
Hair is hair, like I always say. But by simply saying “hair is hair” doesn’t stop us from being judged, objectified and pit against each other for what sprouts from our heads. In a society where hair means much more than just hair, it’s important to remind ourselves of the culture, the valor and the heritage that comes along with our hair.
Braid styles originated from all over Africa. Certain cornrow styles have Ethiopian roots. Particular haircuts can be tied to certain regions as well – for example, cuts similar to Lupita Nyongo’s have been said to be traced to the Kalenjin of Kenya. Our Egyptian ancestors have been weaving hair for some odd centuries. Some styles denoted royalty and prestige, while others were simply forms of creative expression.
Those before us have been rockin’ our styles long before us. Essentially, our hairstyles are extensions of our ancestors and our lineage. We get caught up in the politics of hair and forget all about the heritage and the pride behind it. No matter how you wear your hair, know this – you are wearing a crown fit for a queen or a king.
If that’s not black history, I don’t know what is.
These are all sayings and phrases I’ve heard throughout my life. I didn’t learn them in English class. I didn’t learn them from reading classic literature, either. I learned this vernacular from my family, in the comfort of my own home.
To many, these phrases sound foreign or don’t make sense. They aren’t in Webster’s Dictionary, probably can’t be found in any public school textbook and weren’t written by Shakespeare, Mark Twain or Edgar Allen Poe. But, despite a lack of formal acknowledgement of this black vernacular by the status quo, I know what these sayings mean, can use them in a sentence and everything else. And I do so – proudly.
My parents were raised knowing this vernacular, and so were their parents, and so were my great grandparents – and so on and so forth. It’s part of my blood and therefore, it’s part of my history. My grandparents, great grandparents and other ancestors may not be honored in black history month specials on TV. Their lives may not be portrayed in schoolhouse plays, either. But regardless of any of that, it’s still part of my history. It still has value and valor.
In our daily lives, when we speak the words of the ones before us, we are remembering them. We are acknowledging the lives they led and the circumstances surrounding their language. Ultimately, we’re carrying on their legacy — not just in February, but each & every day.