Tag Archives: History

I Still Don’t Like History

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Me, at an overlook of the Blue Ridge Mountains, 2016

I pass by the house

The childhood of my dreams

All the love I could ever want or need

Was in it

Y’all did it

The Black American Dream

Y’all did it

And I like to look back but

That doesn’t change the fact that

I don’t like history

I hated that class with a passion

The past

Because it’s almost worse than math

Because the numbers say the odds are against me

What’s worse than that?

House on the lake south of the river

Apartment building downtown

Still reppin for the hood

Y’all did like the white folk

I guess to some people that’s supposed to mean you done good

The perfect home torn asunder

By the perfect storm

It was warm

But I knew something wasn’t right

My tears burned when I would cry

When y’all would fight

But it was still warm

Forehead kisses in the middle of the night when y’all used to check on me and

tuck me in tight

Under my skylight

Under the stars

The tension was so thick between y’all I could cut it with a knife

But what does an 8 year old know about knives and

What does an 8 year old know about life?

You went your separate ways and it had to be done

It was for the best

Y’all had a good run

Somebody dropped the ball

The last inning, the end of the game

I was in the crowd, I was your biggest fan and

I still am

But I still don’t like history

Now I’m grown and

Whenever I’m alone

I am haunted

As yesterday whispers in my ear today is in tears because the what ifs of tomorrow burn

Like the tears from when I was 8

I am worried and afraid of

The childhood of my dreams and

All the love I could ever want or need

Worried and afraid of history repeating itself

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Free At Last

mlk-club-flyer

A club flyer for a MLK weekend party

On this day, Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 88 years old. I wrote this piece a few years back, but decided to re-post it, as its relevance still stands. 

On this day (January 15th) in 1929, one of our country’s  (and the world’s) greatest leaders was born. In 1963 at the March on Washington, he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, one of the most (if not, THE most) powerful, most eloquent speeches known to man. King went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his peaceful efforts against US racism in 1964.

Among his most notable achievements — the things we (hopefully) learn about in schooling and in other outlets — are the turmoil, the setbacks and the degradation King and his contemporaries faced in a nation where their influence, their ideas, their livelihoods and their color were viewed with pure hate. All in the name of equality.

And here we are today — we as black folk can vote, we can use whatever restroom we want, drink from whichever water fountain we want, we can now attend the universities that were built by the blood, sweat and tears of our own enslaved ancestors — the same universities we were institutionally excluded from for much of the 20th century…you get the point. Things aren’t perfect, but we as a people have come a long way — all because of the sacrifices of King and others before us.

And how do we pay them back? Oh, by editing their pictures into club flyers, of course.

You may be thinking — “Lighten up, its not that bad,” or perhaps, “It’s just a joke, its not that serious.” But when we make these flyers, when we share them and use them to promote events — it becomes a little more damaging than a paper and a laugh. “FREE AT LAST,” reads the top of the flyer posted above. But what I’d like to ask everyone reading this is — Who is really free?

During slavery, blacks were degraded to the utmost degree — slaves that were talented were mocked and made to feel less than; slaves that were disadvantaged in some way or couldn’t perform as well as others were humiliated by slave owners as well, often given names of powerful Greek gods and goddesses, as a sarcastic gesture to poke fun at their powerlessness. Slave women were raped on a daily basis, sexually exploited and denied any sexual freedom at the hands of this very nation. Black bodies were deemed worthless and were put on display in slave auctions and other “events,” stripping slaves of their clothes…and their dignities.

I ask you again, WHO is really free?

In this flyer here (and in many, many others), King is “adorned” with a crown, gold chains and gold rings. Are we celebrating an African-American hero? Or are we making a mockery of this civil rights pioneer for our own “gains,” just as the slave owners did back in the day? It would be just like the actions of the slave owners, but in this instance, our own gains (promoting said party while promoting degradation of our men and women) are also our own losses (promoting said party while promoting degradation of our men and women). Damn, at least the slave owners even had enough sense about them to better themselves in the process.

Excuse my language and excuse my disgust. But this is an all time low for us, ya’ll.

I like to party. I like to joke. But I love my dignity 10 fold more than the former. Can we put a crown and some gold rings on that?

Free at last? More like last to be free.

They Can’t Even Die


Slave burial grounds and cemeteries continue to be vandalized and disrespected on a regular basis in the South. 


Ten years a slave

times 15 at least

a piece of history that never seems

to ever find its peace

severed under ground that’s leased

To the highest bidder
Can you tell that I am bitter because we’ve seen and done all of this before?

All that is left is the land over our ancestors’ heads

Like collateral for a loan we never even took out

Dejected and neglected

Like a bastard child

The world has the nerve to feel embarrassed about

A product of its own rape, pillage and evil
But here lies the sequel

Burial grounds hidden in small southern towns

Cemeteries on university grounds that

Can only be found underground

Hidden from civilization.

We go from decimation to dedication to desecration

back to decimation all over again

A murder of mind and memory each day we ignore and pretend with

Burial ground dedications and designations and celebrations

While glass shards and hate speech and skull bones and fire

Serve as party decorations…
Can you tell that I am tired?

Because my ancestors couldn’t live and

Now they can’t even die

A Note on History

 

“…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.

(photo: GMU History MA Program)

Mandingo

mandingoedit

Inspired by my frustration with the viral exploitation of black bodies online at the hands of black folk themselves

The fists go up
Two black boys to prove their manhood and give the crowd a show
The show of their lives, for its the only life they know

He think he hard, he think he hard
two’s too many when there’s only room for one
bloodshed paints the sky, the battle has begun

And the phones go up and the phones go record
The sights and sounds of the bones crushing, people cheering
His precious life and his precious death nearing

Back to the present, blast from the past
Yesterday’s battle, same old thing though
Same black people though, same fighters Mandingo

But do we know?
Slaves owners made us fight, brother on brother
our bloodshed, our deaths for the entertainment of another?

My brother, my brother
Put your fists down, sit down and listen
Stop killing each other with your fists and your Pistons

Living the slaveowner’s dream while he’s sleep 6 feet under
Wake yourself up, wake up your mind
From a slumber that should have ended well before 1865

My people, my people
Put the phones away
We can’t afford to entertain the masses with enslaved minds another day

Mandingo
Two black boys to prove their manhood and give the crowd a show
The show of their lives, for its the only life they know

Mandingo

Remembering to Forget

remembering to forget PIC

Those who were hurt remember – too often the world forgets. – African proverb

Mass media just got word of a 17 year old boy who was hanged in a small North Carolina town a few months ago. About 2 years ago, a large southern university stumbled upon an abandoned mass grave filled with the bones of slaves who helped build the university and serve its students and staff..

We can’t change history, we can’t undo injustice and damage, but we can certainly do one thing – we can stop remembering to forget.

Lynching was, besides a means of execution, also a way to evoke fear. The display of a dead, motionless body swinging in the wind was a symbol of power. The powerless (those subject to lynching) were meant to be indefinitely afraid of the powerful (the ones that tied and tightened the noose). In most high school social studies classes, the story goes a little something like this: lynching used to be a thing in the slavery and Jim Crow eras, but then came the civil rights movement and in effect, subsequent legislation and lo and behold, all lynching seized.

And what happens when the world gets a whiff of reality – that lynching still goes on, in small towns across the nation? What happens to that story?

Just ask Lennon Lacy’s parents. Their 17 year old son was found lynched on a swing set in a trailer park in August in a small North Carolina town where racial tensions are alive and well. But instead of assessing the area’s current racial tensions, run-ins of the recent past (like when Lacy’s neighbor put up a sign that read “Niggers Keep Out” in front of their home a few years ago) and Lacy’s relationship with a white female in relation to Lacy’s death, officials rather rule it a suicide.

“The family’s lawyer, Allen Rogers, believes that the police aren’t ready to deal with the realities of race, and what really could be going on in this case.” (Uwumarogie, Why You Need to Know about Lennon Lacy)

On another note, as a large university was planning to extend its cemetery, it ran across a big surprise. After clearing through mounds of dirt and trash, a burial ground was uncovered underneath. There were over 60 enslaved men, women and children abandoned and tossed to the side, much like the trash that covered their graves in the first place.

At some point somewhere along the line, someone or a group of someones made a conscious decision to desert the slave burial grounds.

When some universities attempt to sugar coat the institution of slavery on their campuses – highlighting the opportunities for freedom that were available to some slaves, or how they were so beloved in the community or how said official gave his slaves special privileges – what happens when too many skeletons build up in the closet? What happens when the skeletons are given a voice? What happens when history rears its big, fat ugly head?

America’s peculiar institution of slavery and the ways of Jim Crow have been replaced by a way of thought just as peculiar – remembering to forget.

The officials involved in the Lacy case rather deem his death a suicide than uncover its dirty truth.  And the dignitaries of the southern university’s past chose to let the legacy of slavery fade into the darkness. We tend to think of forgetting as a passive act – in other words, we don’t think of people forgetting on purpose. However, events of late prove otherwise.

We choose to forget what we don’t want to remember, what we consider undesirable or simply, what we feel doesn’t fit the image we desire to uphold. But when we forget to remember the oppression of the past for the sake of our present consciousness, it all results in a miscarriage of justice for the future. Today, the descendants of those in the lost mass grave have been abruptly disconnected from their own blood and the family and friends of Lennon Lacy know virtually nothing surrounding the death of their son, their brother, their cousin and their friend – who’s been deceased for months now.

Strange fruit hanging…still hanging…. from the tree (or in the Lacy case, the swing set) and the remnants of the peculiar institution of slavery awakening from the dead all have to be dealt with.  You can have all the selective memory you want, and you can choose to ignore history as much as the days are long – but even skeletons buried under 100s of years of dirt, trash, disrespect and disregard will one day awaken.