History, Keepin It Real

Are We Great Yet?

How do I love a person that hates me? How do I pledge my unwavering, unshaken devotion to someone who would rather see me dead than successful? Someone who uses the majority of their resources and energy to keep me from reaching every drop of my potential. How?

Answer: You don’t

“You have to come, you promised!” My best friend attempted to guilt trip me from the other end of the telephone. It was working. The guilt was starting to outweigh my depression. I quickly got dressed, hopped in the car and drove forty minutes to meet her at an elementary school near her house.

The school parking lot was crowded with people. There was people walking in the summer heat. People riding bikes and scooters. Mothers pushing baby strollers and dads carrying sleeping babies in covered car seats. The crowd was large and diverse in ethnicity, culture, and places of origin but one thing everyone had in common was that they all wanted to get a good spot on the grass to see the firework show. Adults hustled to claim territory on the vast lawn while passing out sandwiches and cracking open beers. They wrangled the playing children nearby and attempted to give their location to their family and friends over the phone. I could see millenials practicing their poses for the perfect instagram post. Couples of all ages snuggled next to each other on blankets. I could feel the joy in the summer air. It was almost tangible the way people were anticipating the firework show and intent on celebrating another anniversary of our fair country.

I sat on the blanket my friend provided surrounded by her family who was sharing all their favorite memories of past fourth of July holidays. They laughed and talked and it was obvious they’re a tight knit family. I participated in small talk with her mom who is both fiesty and sweet at the same time.

When the sky got dark, the entire crowd settled to wait for the start of the show. A small applause broke out as the first bits of streaming light struck the sky. The fireworks danced across the clear black canvas painting a loud and beautiful picture. ‘Oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ rang out sporadically through the crowd. But what was most surprising to me was the sound of song that provided background ambiance to the show.

“Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light. What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming..” My friend and her older sister sang out emotionally as the fireworks continued to crack around us. I watched them with curiosity as tears welled up in their eyes as they sang. They swayed back and forth leaning on each other and belting out each word with patriotic passion. Their children joined in providing an imperfect harmony to one of the oldest songs in our nations history. I couldn’t help but smile at them. They have so much joy in their family and pride in their country.

This is the REAL American dream. This is how it should be. I thought to myself.

The crowd erupted in a deafening applause as the sparks of the last firework cascaded to the ground. I walked back to my car ready to burst into tears because if that was the American dream…then I would never be able to have it.

As I drove home in a comfortable silence, I thought about how I will never be able to look at the American flag or sing the Star Spangled Banner with emotional pride. I will never be able to celebrate American Independence Day because July 4th, 1776 wasn’t made for me. In fact, as you read this, the United States Constitution still considers me 3/5 of a human being. Most of us at our core want to be loved by a country. To have a piece of land to call home. To root for a team in the Olympics and scream your head off even if they lose. To wave a flag proudly and dance in the streets to celebrate it’s birthday. As a black American…I can’t do any of those things wholeheartedly because even though this is the country I live in and the country I was born in, after 242 years, it STILL doesn’t even recognize me as a full human being. So, how do I love a country that hates me? How do I pledge my unwavering, unshaken devotion to a country who would rather see me dead than successful? A country that uses the majority of their resources and energy to keep me from reaching every drop of my potential. How?

Answer: I can’t

While Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s efforts helped influence a lot of change, racism didn’t leave, it only adapted. Like a cancer cell, racism changed its approach in our lives and blended into the new parts of our society. It’s like when Facebook was only for college-aged kids and you had to have a certified college email address to access the site. But, in order to stay current and competitive, Mark Zuckerburg decided to allow access to the masses and now Facebook (and social media) are one of the biggest influencing areas of our lives. Racism never left, it changed its outer shell to look less harmless and more friendly to the masses. Racism is so talented, it even changed its name…microaggressions.

Microaggresion- term for brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral indignities, both intentional and unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative prejudical insults toward a group.

In short, it’s when a coworker tugs on my hair and says, “wow I didn’t know your hair could get that long.” or when a woman in Target scoffs at a middle eastern woman for speaking her native tongue to her friend while in line. Microaggressions are when people assume that their life experiences are the norm or the goal. It is when their privilege is put before their humanity. It is a lack of knowledge combined with the inability to step outside of their own life experiences to see reality in a way that is not conducive to their ideals of American life…that is the ‘new’ racism. And because we have yet to address this new wave of uncomfortability, we allow it to seem into the pores of our culture and be passed on to our children with the hopes that one day it will just go away….but it wont. Racism will stay in our fabrics until we decided to change the core of our nation. If your house has termites, putting up new wallpaper will not scare the termites away. So why did we (and yes all of us) allow us to do that with racism?

Instead of having intelligent, open, and honest dialogue with each other about race that start in early education, we continue to perpetuate the stigma that one day we will all wake up and racism will be over. The only way to cure ignorance is intelligence. We are fed, from a young age, lies about ourselves and this country that are a proven detriment to our adult lives. Here are a few facts I find interesting that counter everything I was taught in school:

  • The US does NOT have an official language even though the most common language spoken here is English.
  • The last county to accept public school integration was in MS in 2013
  • June 19, 1865 is the ACTUAL day MOST slaves were released. (89 years after the constitution was signed & 3 years after the emacipation proclamation was signed)
  • Even though Tulsa,OK is home to the most infamous Black Wall Street, there were at least 4 others that existed
  • The US government was convicted of assasinating Dr. King in the 90s. They also murdered his mother.
  • Thomas Jefferson (a slave owner) had a mistress with whom he fathered six children with. When he died he freed none of them from slavery
  • If you google phrases like ‘beautiful men’ ‘beautiful women’ or ‘cute babies’ you will see an overwhelming majority of white passing people
  • Betty Boop, a popular cartoon character, was based on a real life Black woman named Esther Jones
  • Benjamin Banneker was a black man who memorized the schematics for Washington, DC by memory and was able to recreate it
  • The Black Panthers were created to protect black people from police brutality
  • Only ONE of the presidents depicted on Mt. Rushmore were openly opposed to slavery (Lincoln). However, Lincoln’s VP owned slaves during their time in office.

As this Black History Month and my mini-series on love comes to a close, I would love to say the solution to race relations are a just healthy happy dose of love because ‘love conquers all’. But in fact the one thing love doesn’t do is fix mistakes. Only forgiveness does that. We as Americans (black or white) have to forgive each other and rectify the past in the best way we can. Yes, it may be too far to hand out 40 acres and a mule but it is not too late to amend the Constitution. It is not too late to ban the KKK and white nationalist groups. It is not too late to ban the Confederate flag. But until White America is willing to give up these minor things, this country will continue to looks like the 1940s instead of the greatest America yet the President says it is.

As I look around at the lives of my fellow Americans I have to ask myself “Are We Great Yet?”

k, good talk

-J

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