It’s Black History Month – our turn to finally learn all about us, right? Wrong!
Consider Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for example. The legacy Blacks in America are left of Dr. King is not one that embodies the actuality of his existence. It is a commercialized, universally safe, and transformed Martin preaching justice for all; someone whom white folks can be proud. Gone is the scary Negro who got all the good “niggras” riled up.
Dr. King stood up to the nation when he said that, “America was the greatest purveyor of evil in all the world.” It was a pretty bold thing for a Black man to say so publically, and he suffered drastic consequences as a result. Ironically, the white power structure that controls the media today profits as Black folk rap the exact same criticisms and nobody cares. Dr. King never sought to profit from speaking truth to power, but his message and image have been appropriated by White Supremacy instead of being used to build the Black community.
As the media maintains the illusion of inclusion by showcasing Black glamour and success, harder questions must be asked. How many of us are trying to make a difference or change anything? And, how many are just trying to get our individual slice of the so-called American pie?
Instead of a nation of strong Black people, we’ve evolved neatly into a fragmented collective of individuals who don’t realize our assimilation within the power structure of oppression was carefully crafted to eliminate us. As injustices continue around the globe, Blacks and other POC attempt to conform into White Supremacy instead of ending it. Meanwhile, more Trayvon Martins and Renisha McBrides are wasted and whited out, as if their very existence were a mistake that needed correction. Black children are not being prepared to face the reality that there IS a battle today, just as I was not prepared yesterday. I was told that I was free, so I wouldn’t have to know the pains of the fight, so I wouldn’t know that White Supremacy was at war with me. Dr. King died knowing.
His solution for peace in America and the world was to end the triple evils of racism, capitalism, and militarism. He declared this axis to be the catalyst for all inhumanity towards other human and non-human beings. As we celebrate the success of the civil rights movement this Black History Month, it is imperative that we reflect on these sentiments.
Many argue that Barack Obama’s presidency is the manifestation of Dr. King’s dream. However, unemployment for Blacks in this country stubbornly hovers around thirty percent, and the average white family owns 11 times more wealth than the average Black family, according to Dr. Clause Anderson of Harvest Institute. Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, writes that there are just as many people of African descent in prison and jail today as there were slaves in 1850.
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What do we hope to change now that Barack Obama won twice? Why should we vote any more now that voting rights protections have been struck down? We celebrate Black History Month, as we should, and we commemorate the vision of the Civil Rights Movement, as we should: but where is the movement today? We must, again, begin the conversation en masse.
Dr. King died before I was born, but I could still sense the electricity of The Dream through my mother’s reality. Her dreams were inherited and passed down from her mother’s mother, and hers, and hers, and hers on to me. I inherited their pain, their fear, and internalized their strength and will to survive. Yet, I am still afraid.
There are truths I dare not to speak. I go to work, I communicate peacefully, I do what I am supposed to do, and I go home. However, when I am alone, I yearn for something more, something ancestral. Deep inside is the desire to be free, unafraid, remarkably Black, and unapologetically beautiful. I want justice for Black folk and I want to help rebuild our movement.
But, first, I must ask myself: am I afraid to die for justice?
As I reflect on those who have gone before, I’m awed at how they answered these questions. They gave speeches, held rallies, and believed in one another. They sang as they marched down highways and dirt roads. They comforted one another as they suffered the blows. They lifted up their bodies and voices and hurled themselves into mobs of white faces, always keeping their eyes on the prize. They protested with their dignity in the grasp of abuse, understanding that to be Great, they would have to allow themselves to be misunderstood.
Today, we have been conditioned to believe that by proving ourselves worthy and working harder, inequity and injustice will change. White Supremacy taught us to see our individual success as our collective success: “no need to build a strong black community, we’re Americans.” We’re taught to believe that if we love white folks enough, then they’ll stop hurting us or even love us back. Not understanding that racism is a construct designed as a continuum that whites purposely imposed to keep us enslaved, we are like Stockholm syndrome victims who seek love where there is none. We love our oppressors out of fear of being without love and our oppressor only loves those who love to be controlled; that’s not love at all. Dr. Cornel West says, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”
The Dream was for freedom and equality, but true equality means “to have equal parts of a whole,” not the crumbs brushed off the table. Most Black people are blinded to our own oppression, so we never seek genuine liberation. That’s sad. So many would rather ride at the front of the white man’s bus than to own our own freedom train. That’s a shame.
After the passing of the Civil Rights Act and integration replaced segregation, Blacks, poor whites, and women felt a little better and waited for the change to come. Sadly, change came when a gunman’s bullet tore through our hope. Dr. King called for Blacks to demand reparations for the years of slavery, rape, and murder. White Supremacy responded with a resounding answer – death. Racist whites hold power in this system and, with a stroke of a pen or the sweaty pull of a trigger, could change our world again.
The remains of the struggle for freedom lingers on quietly, like blood splattered on our collective consciousness with microscopic bits of a death on our brains, rendering us stuck; courage from long ago – lost, erased – nearly gone. Is the movement now a memory, washed away? Are the sit-ins all folded up, and the secret strategies of our oppression kept in a file somewhere like so many little pieces of a mystery, waiting for someone to put it together, breathe life again. Somewhere, still on the concrete pavement of the Lorraine Motel balcony, our struggle still remains.
As we reflect on the Dream, the Movement, and Dr. King this February, we must articulate how they should be defined and realize whose dream we are living? Should our story be told, retold, and then sold back to us by whites, or do Blacks in America dare to define our own story for ourselves? I know this work is already occurring and ongoing by many very conscientious and dedicated Black people and, by that, I’m encouraged. As for the rest of us who are just finally awakening, do we dare to honor the legacy of the real Dr. King by fighting for Civil Rights or do we continue our month long celebration of lies? Can we come together once more like an African nation, or will we remain separated from ourselves by White Supremacy, our souls wandering as we wonder who we are.
When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid. ― Audre Lorde
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I’m Juana Washington and I’m a non-traditional, part time student at the University of Arkansas. I live with my partner and our two dogs. I enjoy working as an activist, and I am an administrator of the Racism and Accountability Project (RAAP) page on Facebook.