Black History Month 2019: Let Us March on ‘til Victory is Won
Thanks to a marathon on the Sundance Channel, I spent last night taking in another viewing of “Roots” in observance of the quickly approaching end of Black History Month. “Roots” and I have a very unconventional relationship; while some people can barely stand to watch it once, I find myself glued to the 1977 miniseries every time that I catch it on TV (despite the fact that I own the entire anthology and it’s sequel miniseries “Roots: The Next Generations”). While “Roots” certainly has its share of painful, heart-wrenching scenes, I am still overcome by a sense of immense pride while watching and reflecting on the resilience of our people, quantified by how far Black Americans have come since the first slaves landed on these shores in 1619.
There is a scene in one of the last installments of “Roots,” set after the south loses the Civil War, in which a freed slave asserts agency over a local white shop owner by demanding that he be served in the order that he arrived. The shop owner, a former Confederate Captain, later voices his frustration at the newfound sense of empowerment among the community’s former slaves. The elite, white Senator to whom the shop-owner speaks then recounts the story of “Old Br’er Rabbit” (a racially charged Uncle Remus “folk tale,” I might add) stating, “If he can’t get what he wants one way, then he’ll change and get it another. By and by…” In other words, the senator implied that slavery may have officially ended, but other means could and would be employed to socially maintain the systems of racial inequity affording privilege to whites by oppressing Black people.
And here we sit in 2019, I thought. 154 years after emancipation from slavery. 65 years after Brown v. Board of Education put a legal end to segregated schools. 55 years after the Civil Rights Act legally ended segregation. 54 years after the Voting Rights Act legally restored African Americans’ right to vote.
On paper, it would seem that we have achieved the dream of the slave and his immediate descendants. On paper, we’ve been granted physical access to spaces in which our presence was never intended.
We have gained clearance to achieve feats and dream dreams that our enslaved ancestors could have never fathomed, including the experience of living under the leadership of a Black president. And yet, in so many ways we still have yet to become equal.
Some gaze at our present position and make the mistake of thinking that we have gained all that we’ve ever asked for, but we have not. We may have access to certain spaces, but we are still met with many faces who make it clear that we are not wanted. Some question our qualifications. Some police our bodies. Others police our hair. Some hide behind the pens of redlining, redistricting, gerrymandering, and gentrification. Some sit on boards of education allocating resources, time, and effort away from, and to the detriment of, our children. Some rest in the directors chairs that capitalize on stereotyped images of Black life and suffering. Then, there are those who rest on the boards and committees that commodify access to healthcare and public assistance for those in need. All the while, far too many leaders and law makers on all levels of governance continue to fill their pockets with the fiscal gains of prison population/labor and lack of action. Oh, and voting rights continue to be threatened in many states every single day.
As we close out Black History Month, I charge all to remember that while we have indeed come far from where our roots in this hemisphere first began, we still have much further to go.
We stand in the face of proposed legislation, elected leaders, and many local counterparts fighting to set us backward, praying for the day that “The South will rise again,” and for the revival of every system that ever held us back.
Now is not the time to become comfortable or complicit; now is the time to fight harder than ever.
Understand the shoulders on which we stand. Understand the sacrifices that were made just so we could be. Understand and appreciate every life lost and drop of blood that was shed so that we could display the smallest elements of our humanity. With every cell in my body, I implore is all to not allow their unimaginable pain and triumphs to be in vain.
Unify. Educate. Resist. Stay Kultured.
“I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise.” -Maya Angelou