Tag Archives: Black

Homosexuality doesn’t destroy families, homophobia does.

Homosexuality doesn’t destroy families, homophobia does.

People rest comfortably in the sentiment that they don’t ‘hate’ gay people. They simply feel that gay relationships are unnatural and that the people in them are confused. They don’t wish harm on gay people, just wish they’d stop being so burdensome on the psyche with their…presence.

“I don’t agree with your lifestyle, but that’s just my opinion,” they say, citing the usual suspects as reasons — religion, biology, zoology, and the always high-minded “eww” factor of gay sex. 

But you know what? I call bullshit.

Homophobia is a choice. And all the justifications for why you “disagree with that lifestyle” are rooted in an inability to imagine life outside of your own box. It would be different if homosexuality was linked to some degradation in society, much like violence and ignorance are. But it isn’t. It would be different if you had to be gay. But you don’t.

Gay people haven’t perverted marriage. Same-sex parents aren’t raising damaged children. On the contrary, people have been experts at ruining their own lives, and those around them, for centuries without help from the gays.

If you’re curious about what homophobia (and sexism) looks like, check this: Dr. Umar Johnson, “Educator, Psychologist, Political Scientist and Pan-Africanist,” according to his website, recently argued that overbearing Black single mothers are responsible for the existence of gay Black men. This is so dangerous.

And yet, so easily disproven. For example, I submit the [Magic] Johnson family. How does this happen, Dr. Johnson?

http://marcgordonshow.com/rich-kids-of-beverly-hills-star-ej-johnson-signs-with-wme-exclusive/

Fabulous son, E.J. Johnson, mama Cookie, daddy Magic. (Just so we’re clear: EJ flames, honey. He’s gay.)

Couldn’t be because people are, I don’t know…different? That even a father could be different from his son? The psychologist, scientist, and educator didn’t find this explanation in any of his life studies? Homophobia makes you blind to evidence that’s right before you.

Don’t let people with credentials consign your ignorance.

As National Coming Out Day approaches, I urge families to be better than their biases. Be better than your fears of the unknown. Be better than your disappointment about your expectations. I understand that you may never understand how a person could be into someone of the same gender. But consider this: It’s not about you.

I don’t understand how people can listen to Bob Dylan or consider Wiz Khalifa attractive, but that’s not my bag. I don’t have to understand it to respect it. To regard it. Homophobia is the opposite — because you don’t understand, you disrespect and disregard. There’s nothing noble about that, even if, in your rationalizing, you believe you’re doing the Lord’s work. One person’s salvation doesn’t depend on another’s, does it? I only went to Vacation Bible School for the snacks and the $20 my parents gave me, so I could be wrong.

Even if I am though, how do you know that my spiritual convictions aren’t just as strong as yours? Don’t assume faith has to look the same; don’t assume family has to look the same. Don’t assume life has to look the same. It does not.

Remember that few rational people would risk family shame, abandonment, and judgment by coming out if it wasn’t something they felt compelled to do.

If you find out this weekend that a loved one is gay, don’t let homophobia destroy your relationship. Be better than your fear of what you don’t know. Be better than your disappointment about your expectations.

Nobody’s going to talk to you about sex on the same day they come out. But if you find that that’s all you’re thinking about, then you’re dropping the ball. Snap out of it and get back to the person who just bore their soul to you. It’s about more than sex to them.


“Why does it always have to be about race?”

9267368072_11533350da_zI have been unsettled about the George Zimmerman verdict since it was rendered Saturday night. I’ve bounced back and forth between anger and disappointment. It’s not that a “Not Guilty” verdict was a surprise, it’s that the offense that led to Trayvon Martin’s death is, by nature, hard to prosecute. How do you put a person’s subconscious on trial? How do you prosecute an entire mythology that profiles Black boys as probably dangerous and probably up to no good?

Why does it always have to be about race? Because race is a factor. Race has value attached to it, and ignoring that reality is a privilege. I know some of you will say, what privilege? I’m white and I don’t get anything extra because of it. I disagree. What you get is to belong everywhere. You get to avoid the specter of suspicion brought on by your mere presence in a place. You get to just be.

Why is it always about race?  Because since the beginning, race has informed the structure of our institutions and our policies. But we pretend to be color-blind. This way, we don’t have to wrestle with the disparities that exist between Blacks and whites at almost every level of existence, nor the subliminal messages we receive from media about criminal pathologies to which Black Americans are genetically predisposed, I guess.

Why does it always have to be about race? Because this color-blind society of ours affords some of us a presumption of innocence and paints others with the presumption of guilt. The 1947 doll test and subsequent studies showed that, subconsciously, brown skin is akin to menace. That’s the offense. You could never get the Zimmerman jury to believe that the menace in this situation was George Zimmerman.  He was the creepy one.   Did they ever consider that George Zimmerman was suspicious to Trayvon Martin?  Why was that such a stretch of the imagination that the Prosecution would need to lead them there?  Zimmerman had the arrest record for domestic violence and the loaded gun.  Yet, he gets to be suspicious and the unarmed Black kid gets to be the suspect.  He is wrong, but the law protects his bad inference.  It was lose-lose for Trayvon Martin the moment George Zimmerman encountered him.  There is no justice in that, in life or in death.

So what now?  I’m not here for marches or rallies or riots because, well, I’m over that. I’m also uninterested in wilfully obtuse conversations about reverse racism or the indignity of ‘cracker’ vs. the indignity of ‘nigger’. I am interested in honest discussions about race. Ask me questions, challenge my assumptions, and allow me to do the same. I’m willing to confront race and acknowledge the differences because my Blackness is not incidental for me.  I am not color-blind and I admit that being Black informs my worldview. Similarly, you have to admit that not being Black has informed yours. After watching Juror B37’s interview last night, it is clear that some people have no experience with Black people, save the stereotypes from media or the music they listen to.  We have to change that.  Start by engaging the conversation.  Listen more than you speak.  Understand that you are not representative of the whole.  Understand, too, that you may not be racist, or you just may not know it.

Lastly, two things: First, O.J. Simpson’s acquittal was an anomaly. I’m not sure if Black people thought he was innocent, or if we were just tickled to see the system work in a Black person’s favor, petty as that seems. In contrast, George Zimmerman’s acquittal was a page right out of a Black history book. No Black people on the jury and no acknowledgement of the role of race as an aggravating factor. Only in the absence of context are these two cases similar. Second, miss me with the ‘don’t be mad about Trayvon if you aren’t mad about Black on Black violence’ meme. Jamelle Bouie’s piece, “The Trayvon Martin Killing and the Myth of Black-on-Black Crime,” notes that the large majority of crimes are committed by people who know each other or live near to one another. This means that if Black on Black crime is a thing, then so is white on white crime, as 86% of white victims are killed by white offenders. Still, even if the proliferation of Black on Black crime wasn’t a myth, don’t police my emotions. Black people can decry street violence and the targeting of our young men at the same time. And even then, again, only in the absence of context are these two incidences the same.

I said all of this to say: If you find yourself asking why certain conflicts “always have to be about race,” recognize that privilege is not having to know the answer to that question.


Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? Me, Kinda.

I’m teaching a Black Politics course this summer, and I’m using Toure’s Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? What it Means to Be Black Now as the primary textbook. Initially, I planned to take the traditional route – lecturing from works by the usual suspects: Manning Marable, Michael Dawson, Cornel West. But I decided in the end that I wanted to discuss race in a contemporary way, and Toure’s work allows me that freedom.

My class starts like Toure’s book does, with questions about the nature of identity. What exactly is Blackness in 2012? 50 years ago, varying shades of brown skin were sufficient determinations. If you couldn’t pass a brown paper bag test, then you were Black enough to experience the struggle, and on some level, you probably knew it personally. It was that – the struggle, the trauma narrative – of the Black American experience that was the rallying cry of Black Americans.

In 2012, however, with a biracial President of the United States who has chosen to identify culturally as Black, what now is the rallying cry? What now is the reason to rally for the race? Toure’s book argues that Blackness is multifaceted. Struggle, trauma, oppression, and racism are no longer qualifying characteristics of living while Black in America. Scholar and Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates explains it this way: if there are 40 million Black Americans, then there are 40 million ways to be Black. Thus, poor, oppressed, and powerless is but one reality of Blackness. There are 40 million other ways to “do” it.

Last week, I asked my class to write a short paper about the way(s) they express Blackness. I wondered if it was fair for me to have the same expectation of my non-Black students. But I figured, fuck it. Writing the paper required all of them to soul search. They’d have figure out for themselves what it means to be Black and how they, as individuals, fit into that narrative. It’s an opportunity to process through a different prism.

In the beginning of Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness, Touré lists his interview questions. There are some good ones designed to move the windmills of your mind and to jump-start dialogue. Touré asks: What does being Black mean to you? Does being Black mean something different today than it did 40 years ago? Would you feel comfortable eating fried chicken or watermelon around white people? My students and I talk about these questions, and we try to answer them too. I’ve noticed that the younger ones always respond in post-Black, individualistic ways. And the older students often answer from a collective perspective.

It always starts this way though. No one likes to admit that they still subscribe to a trauma narrative about the Black American experience. That they still wear “the struggle,” and are still caught up in it. Post-Blackness gives folks license to slough off that trauma, and move on. In a way, it’s like a second Emancipation Proclamation. This time though, Blacks are liberated from an imposed responsibility for advancing the race. You get to just “do you,” without worrying about whether it helps or hurts Us-at-large. “Us” is not your priority; you are. Post-Blackness allows Blackness to be embraced in a continuum, where Clarence Thomas-types can be at one end and Angela Davis-types can be at the other. And it’s all the same. Angela Davis hasn’t kept it real, and Clarence Thomas hasn’t sold out. Each of them performs Blackness in their own way, and each expression of Blackness is as legitimate, and as authentic as the other.

Post-Blackness represents the freedom to be an individual. To that end, it’s possible no one embodies the Post-Black pathology ideology quite like Dave Chappelle. “Chappelle Show” was absolutely fearless in the way it handled the social and cultural constructions of race in America. The third chapter of Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness is titled “The Rise and Fall of a Post-Black King”. In it, Touré presents several of Chappelle’s most hilarious, most provocative, and most brilliant comedy sketches cum social commentaries on race. But they’re so much better in video. See for yourself.

The Niggar Family

Frontline – Clayton Bigsby, Black White Supremacist

These sketches worked because they made it seem like we could actually be evolved and mature in discussing race – so conscious, as it were, that we could even be irreverent about it.

Roots Outtakes

But alas, as I mentioned, Chapter 3 of ‘Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness’ is titled “The Rise and Fall of a Post-Black King.” Remember, Dave Chappelle walked away from “Chappelle’s Show” and away from his $50 million contract with Comedy Central because he felt like folks no longer laughed with him. Whereas initially, the point was to be funny and if somewhere along the way, a sentient message about race relations emerged, that was even better. But in the end, Chappelle felt more responsibility than that. In other words, the irreverence for Blackness that Post-Blackness encourages and excuses is cool until it’s not – that is, honestly, until white folks laugh a little too hard at depictions of slavery, or get too comfortable misunderstanding nigga/nigger. “You start to realize that these sketches, in the wrong hands, are dangerous.”

The history of race relations in America makes discussions of race slippery and uncomfortable. Being able to laugh about it certainly lightens things up, but the sore still festers if we really aren’t yet evolved and mature enough to also recognize the blues of it all.

The blues of the Black American experience are still palpable for a good number of folks because, although some of us have managed to exorcise ourselves from the charge of race consciousness by standing proudly as Post-Black, the world in which we live, unfortunately, isn’t so evolved.

Clever. Renege is spelled differently, but I’m sure they already knew that.

Post-Blackness, in the wrong hands, is also dangerous. And in the Trayvon Martin case, I think Touré saw that too.

Black History Month

After I came across this pathetic Brigham Young University (BYU) video, I felt compelled to offer, as a Black History Month gift to y’all, a little perspective.

Black history month? Why? What for? There’s no white history month?

I trust that you’re not the one saying this right now. But if this happens to be your first line of reasoning about Black history, then the answer to “why” is “because of people like you.”

***

Why is history ever important? Because we can always do and be better. We acknowledge our shortcomings and learn from our mistakes. If we know history, we can recognize the patterns and adjust the course of action. If we know history, we can create a future that’s better than our past.

Why Black history? In a word, slavery. I don’t think folks really grasp the depth of that damage. It would ensnare generations of Black Americans over hundreds of years in struggle: for identity and dignity, acceptance and inclusion. As a result, the question remains how and where do we fit into American history? And also, how do we cement the idea that Black history is American history?

You ever seen the scramble that precedes Black people singing happy birthday to Black people? The first step usually is to decide which version we gon’ do, Stevie Wonder’s or the old tried and true. This decision, although harmless, represents what W.E.B. Du Bois called ‘double consciousness.’ Specifically, DuBois said:

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,–an American, a Negro; two warring souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

I mean, if we choose to go the traditional route, nobody’s being “torn asunder” or nothing. It’s just that something so simple also embodies the inherent “two-ness” that is almost impossible to escape.

I consider myself pretty fair-minded when it comes to issues of race in that I don’t run screaming that every juxtaposition of Black and white is innately racist. Rather, I can accept that we’re still figuring each other out. And in that quest, there’s gotta be some room to ask questions without fear of judgment or scorn.

Nonetheless, I’m sensitive about our disconnectedness from Blackness (by using this term, i don’t mean to imply that there exists a universal and comprehensive approach to Black culture. However, for many of us, we can call it when we see or feel it, even if we can’t settle on intellectual definition or description of it.). It simply isn’t enough to pay homage to Black history by using some baritone-voiced brotha to narrate McDonald’s commercials. Or by using PSA-type interludes between shows to proudly announce that NBC or whoever “celebrates Black History Month.” Celebrate how? By saying the words? The major networks don’t even play Roots anymore.

I hate that the cats – Black folks included – at BYU “turn to BET” or watch the commercials to honor Black History Month in January, March, or April “or something like that”. I hate that Martin Luther King, Jr. is oftentimes the only luminary of Black history that ever comes to mind for folks. Malcolm X gets a little play, but he was “like, um, bad.” And that’s about the extent of it. A couple of years ago, I was discussing one of my Black Politics courses with an American immigration attorney who seemed well-versed in matters of European and Latin American history and culture. Met with Black Politics though, she said: “Black Politics? What is that, like, Martin Luther King?”

-___-

I’m offended by the lack of reverence for Black culture – from my own folks, and from others. Even as a Black man (he’s biracial, yes. But judging by his Al Green skills, culturally, he Black) presides over the United States of America, and the free world, folks know little to nothing about Black history and culture. For example, the dude doing the interviewing in the BYU video is doing it in Black face makeup. But more importantly, of all the students he interviewed, only 3 recognized that something wasn’t right about homie’s face. It’s not ok to be this oblivious, but it is possible because the students don’t have to know any better. Not that they don’t know any better; they don’t even have to.

In the last two years, I’ve taught several courses at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and my students’ insistence on running as far away from Blackness or Black history never ceases to amaze me. They want desperately to assert their individuality (which is cool), but do so by ignoring and even trivializing their ancestral history. While enrolled Howard University, a premier predominantly Black college, these lil cats wanna convince themselves that living while Black plays little to no significant role in their lives. Ok.

To be sure, one can transcend race. But for how long? And how much of your soul and consciousness must you sign over in order to be post-racial? How much of your history are you willing to forget or let slide? How much shit are you willing to swallow? Let’s go back to this BYU video for a second. The interviewer asks, “would you rather date a Black guy who acts like a white guy? Or a white guy who acts like a Black guy” The question itself is ridiculous, but that’s neither here nor there because the folks answered it. And answered confidently. One girl responds, “white guys that act like Black guys are kinda tools…” But a Black guy that acts a like a white guy? “…is good. Classy.”

Just so we’re clear, guys “acting like Black guys” = bad. Guys “acting like white guys” = “good.” There’s a song by Big Bill Broonzy that goes:

If you is white, you’s alright,
if you’s brown, stick around,
but if you’s black, hmm, hmm, brother,
get back, get back, get back

yeah…

But it’s not just “them” who perpetuate narratives of inferiority as they relate to Black Americans. It’s “us” too; we still celebrate the fortuitousness of being born with lighter skin and “gooder” hair. Appreciating natural hair and dark skin required effort, an almost-movement. And I mean, preference is preference, but Black folks’ complexion obsession (the contemporary manifestation of field- and house-slave tensions) still has the power to divide and devalue. And still does. See the Dark Girls documentary if you think this race stuff remains much ado about nothing.

So what next? What do we do?

Stop revising history. Stop whitewashing it. Stop dismissing it as something old, and therefore irrelevant.

Stop pretending like slavery didn’t institutionalize and inculcate (to a certain extent) racism. Stop pretending that Black Americans with their ancestry firmly rooted in America don’t have some legitimate beefs and a legitimate ax to grind with America. It is a complicated relationship imbued with egregious and protracted acts of disregard and denials of human dignity which were codified by policy.

Policy — what we stand for; what we value; who we value.

It was hard to escape Blackness this weekend, as Whitney Houston’s home going celebration seemed to be broadcast everywhere. As resistant as I am to religion, I can’t escape the enormous gravitational pull of the Black church. That music, that spirit, that connection between the ancestors and the living, and the spirit of God. It penetrates the soul, and soothes it. It is fortifying. It is uniquely ours – Black Americans’, and the world got a glimpse into what is, perhaps, as a culture, our greatest source of strength.

So what now? What next? We must celebrate Black history – and all folks’ histories – by being honest about them, and embracing the entire spectrum; the good, the bad, the ugly, the shameful. Don’t change the narrative to make it more palatable, or to make historical aggressors seem less fucked up. Tell it like it was and let us create the tools to work our way through it.

We have to acknowledge our differences and embrace the role they play, have played, or will play in our lives.

Moreover, the solution lies first in Black folks loving being Black, and all that it implies and encompasses. We have to love the triumphs and trials – Barack Obama and Flavor Flav. And our non-Black brethren gotta know that our group has room for both, and yet, is not solely defined
by either. Just as the best and worst among your group, doesn’t comprehensively tell your story.

In other words, see us like we see you. Acknowledge and respect our culture like we must also do for you.

I LOVE being Black. The history and cultural traditions are so rich, and so empowering. I wouldn’t trade it for all the good credit and enunciated r’s in the world. While I celebrate Blackness at every opportunity, you, technically, only have to do it for a month – and for the shortest month at that. Try this: take Black History Month as an opportunity to get to know us, collectively. If you do and someone ever asks how you celebrated Black History Month, you’ll have more to say than “I have a Black friend; I watched BET; I listened to 50 Cent.”

Ignorance is a disease, friends. Let us arm ourselves accordingly.


MLK Day

I chose this photo because I love the intensity in MLK's eyes. He'd seen the promised land; he was born for this work.

As we know, the good old 1950s and 60s weren’t so good for Black folks.  Somebody needed to do something, and it had to be done in a way that would rally national support for kicking Jim Crow in the nuts.

By the way, ever wondered who this cat, Crow, was? I thought so.

His name was Thomas Dartmouth Rice, a.k.a “Daddy,” a.k.a. “T.D,” an actor and comedian living in New York. One day, Rice came across a crippled, slavish-looking Black dude who was singing and dancing to this song:

“Come listen all you galls and boys,
I’m going to sing a little song,
My name is Jim Crow.
Weel about and turn about and do jis so,
Eb’ry time I weel about I jump Jim Crow.”

Later, in 1828, Rice appeared on stage in blackface makeup as “Jim Crow,” an exaggerated version of the guy he saw on the street. The act became so successful that within a few years, the “Jim Crow” character was a staple in minstrel shows across the country.

So that’s how it started.

The “Jim Crow” south, however, was a different motherfucker altogether. It’s synonymous with the second most degrading part of Black American history — where folks were “free,” but were they though? I mean, really. Pools got drained if little brown toes were dipped in them. Pools … drained. Cats were superstars, and weren’t allowed to enter the front doors of their venues. Not that they needed some obscure entrance because of their stardom; they weren’t allowed in the front door. Did Dorothy Dandridge really have to pee in a Dixie cup? Was that just a rumor…cause she was so fly…that woulda been terrible… or maybe it’s most degrading. One could certainly make the argument.

At any rate, Jim Crow laws were the manifestation of separate but absolutely unequal with respect to racial integration. Blacks on one side, whites on the other … and never the twain shall meet. We know equality doesn’t work that way. The culture and psychology of white supremacy that made slavery an institution had been inculcated; it was part of us.  There would be no possibility for separate and equal when nearly every aspect of American life reinforced the idea that Blacks were, in every way that mattered socially, inferior to whites. The psychology of equality, and thus, any real concept of equality, was absent like shit as black codes spread like wildfire across the country.

For this reason, it won’t matter at all that Rosa Parks wasn’t the first woman to be arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus. What matters is that she did. And she did that day. In fact, I’m not even sure Ms. Parks was about that protest life like that. But I imagine it was the kind of emotion like that embodied in the following photo that swelled pride in Ms. Parks’ chest, and lit her lil flame:


Not that she’s a man, of course. But that she was mankind, human being — one who gets tired, who needs to sit, and who’s value is as much as anyone else’s.

What’s beautiful about Dr. King rising to this occasion, and to the kind of timeless influence and acclaim that earned him a spot on the National Mall, is his unwavering faith in the righteousness of Civil Rights. He believed that the freedom to live out one’s boundless human potential is a gift that isn’t man-made. And neither is it a gift that man, in his arbitrary determinations of human worth, gets to take away. Dr. King was able to wrest control of national attention.  He provided a mirror big enough for the world to see us, and for America to see itself — to see clearly that the Americans who frequented high society functions in New York were the same Americans bussin’ brothas upside the head in Birmingham.  There wasn’t a rug anywhere big enough to hide that much dirt.  We had a race problem, and let’s be honest, the world had a race problem.  The difference was that the U.S. defended dignity everywhere except under its own nose.  We had a race problem, and needed to be shamed into dealing with it.  But if the ends justify the means, well then…

That notwithstanding, for as much as the militant side of me is militant as fuck

….I can acknowledge that freedom, equality and all of that are universal values. They are God-given and people can find common ground there. I also can accept that you have to give folks a chance. Offer ’em a Billy Martin* and hope they see the light get it right. Perhaps the upside to such an act of benevolence is that, remember, the myths aren’t true. So one can be sure that when he or she does need to pull the race card, shit’s warranted it. Think “teachable moments.”

Sometimes there are excellent exceptions, and folks see the light get it right without much persuasion. The MLK monument on the Mall is one of those times. No matter his nuances, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great American. His life changed the course of this country, and probably the course of history.  The Civil Rights Movement was a force of good for the world.  That’s not to say, of course, someone else might have done it if Dr. King hadn’t, or that he didn’t have an enormous supporting cast helping along the way. What can be said, however, is that Dr. King stepped into the spotlight and wore the responsibility like no one else. He knew the risks, saw the storm, and walked toward it.  I salute that. Moreover, Dr. King’s effigy on the National Mall, among such American luminaries as Lincoln and FDR, makes the statement that we, as a country, salute that kind of courage.

I’m happy to have this day to reflect on how a single life can make such a profound impact on the world.  To be sure, the monument to Dr. King is symbolic of progress, which is, lest we forget, a quality of American history we can all be proud of.


Conflicted

So I went to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History yesterday. I was genuinely excited when I visited the East Wing of the 1st floor and saw a timeline of American transportation: an old Chicago El; the Honda Civic that emerged as Japan’s answer to the oil and gas crisis, etc. I saw the lineage of invention in Edison’s light bulb (and found that I wasn’t so interested in that — spent about two minutes in there… I don’t do filaments and various light bulb jargon). Admittedly, I was completely surprised by the unfamiliar feeling of patriotism I felt when upon walking through the Star Spangled Banner section. Something about seeing that big ass flag that was raised at the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812, inspiring Francis Scott Key to pen the lyrics to the song that gives me chills to this day when I hear Whitney Houston belting it out just before the start of Super Bowl XXV.

I got misty-eyed;  I did. I thought about the courage and foresight it took for those men to imagine and embark upon an idea as remarkable as the United States of America — undoubtedly guilty of its sins, but still, an unprecedented idea and unlikely reality.

Still…

In that relatively dark tunnel, illuminated only by the modest light granting due and proper reverence to that flag, I experienced the moment of demarcation that happens, I think, to many folks who look like me. There’s a moment when you buy into it all…you’re no different, all of this America stuff rightfully applies to you too.  Profound nationalism filled my chest and threatened to spill out as tears of pure American pride.

And then I began to really read the various placards which provided the back story. Mary Pickersgill, with the help of her ‘African American indentured servant’, her daughter, niece, and a friend sewed the Star-Spangled Banner. Four words changed the entire experience for me:  African American Indentured Servant. In these halls, in all of this splendor, with all of this talk of freedom and revolution and rights and independence, my people were, in the best case, African American Indentured Servants. Now, just because, I feel it necessary to mention that I don’t mean ‘my people’ in that, ‘say, my bruthaaah, the man had had me and my people incarcerated’ kind of way.  Instead, quite possibly and quite literally, I mean my ancestors — my great great grandparents. I’m from Alabama, man.

What I’m getting at here, I realized in that moment: Black people do not exist in the annals American history apart from their relationship to slavery. But more than that, ‘African Americans’ did not even exist at the time.  To be sure, many Blacks were born on American soil, but this was 1814. Citizenship wouldn’t come for another 54 years; another half a century. Plus four. That’s a long time to be plowing fields and cultivating the Southern economy, waiting for your ‘papers’ to come through. Really, I don’t mean to harp on this stuff. I really don’t, but there should be some acknowledgement of how far my people have come — some acknowledgement that is not in February or Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, or retroactively celebrated on Barack Obama’s election and inauguration days. In all the National Museum of American History’s nostalgic celebrations of American pride, Blacks, inextricably bound to the very beginnings, exist merely as slaves. I say merely purposefully because, to see this the way I do, slavery is Black America’s only contribution to America until Barack Obama addressed the DNC in 2004.

Ok.  So, what did slaves contribute to the United States? What did Booker T. Washington contribute? Miles Davis, Madame C.J. Walker, Colonels Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. and Jr., Mary McLeod Bethune, George Washington Carver, Jackie Robinson, Henrietta Lacks, John Hope Franklin, Dorothy Dandridge, W. E. B. Du Bois? Surely, something about any one of the men and women previously mentioned, and the hundreds that I failed to mention, deserves some acknowledgement at the National Museum of American History.  No?

What troubled me further was that, at this point, I believe we take this matter for granted. Blacks were slaves, Lincoln graciously freed them, MLK got them to right to vote, they’re still mad because they were slaves…blah, blah, blah. But think about this. I mean really think about it: I saw a narrative from a slave woman that read something like, “they be married in the mornin. Wife be sold by night.” I could try tugging at your heartstrings by recounting this history you’ve likely heard a hundred times, though I’m not sure how much that would matter because I believe we are so far removed mentally. As I stood in a corridor enshrining the Civil War, I stared at Lincoln’s stern, emotionless face, and at Frederick Douglass’s, and at some hapless slave’s, I absorbed the brevity of this period in American history. The South willingly tore this nation a part to preserve its way of life, its economy. And by economy,  I mean Black people.

As I absorbed all of this, and the nascent beginnings of this blog congealed into cogent thoughts and rising levels of anger and sadness, two women gathered behind me. Me. A Black woman in the Civil War section of the National American History museum. They began loudly discussing purchasing dog tags — where to buy them; how many should they buy; who has what kind already. The conclusion to my swimming thoughts was manifest in the women behind me: The struggle is well-documented, but it is an afterthought. We are an afterthought.

For the record, these musings are not meant to America-bash. Instead, I am recounting to you what I felt yesterday, what I feel everyday when I really allow my mind to play this thing out. Each time, I come away knowing that Black Americans were dealt a very, very, very short hand. Yet, I do not diminish the remarkable progress we have made over the years. It is a testament to the promise of America, to the notion that when America lives out its ideals, we all benefit.

Still…

Black American history is American history too. Slavery was neither the beginning nor the end of our story, and its time we rightfully acknowledge that.