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Juneteenth 2019: Reparation Talks, Questionable Opinions, and Raw Emotion

Happy Juneteenth, everyone.

I come to you today as humbly as I know how, fully frustrated, ashamed, and prepared to read for filth each and every Black individual who sat on today’s House Judiciary Committee Hearing on Reparations and made a claim for opposition of H.R. 40. Before I do so, let me applaud those on the testimony panel who actually made sense and acknowledged the invasive after-effects of slavery, white supremacy, and institutional racism: Sen. Corey Booker (D-New Jersey), author Ta-Nehisi Coates, actor/activist Danny Glover, Katrina Browne who is a descendant of the largest slave-trading family in the United States, economist Julianne Malveaux, and Professor Eric J. Miller of Loyola University. Thank you for your passionate and authentic testimonies which were based on historically accurate evidence. While I am doubtful that any legislation like this will succeed under the Trump Administration, I am grateful for the unprecedented efforts made to at least try to explore solutions in making things right.

I also extend appreciation to Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, who made a call to action for opposing sides to have these conversations, regardless of how uncomfortable they may be. I also appreciate his intention in reminding everyone of what the word reparations actually means and clarifying that H.R. 40 does not seek to automatically provide reparations in the form of monetary payment, but would actually seek to form a committee that would study the effects of slavery.

And now, a message to those who spoke foolishly.

To former NFL player, Burgess Owens:

Because I believe in respecting my elders, I will refrain from offering my thoughts in as relaxed a fashion as I would toward my peers. I wholeheartedly disagree with your stance, but I will keep it brief. Any person who quotes Booker T. “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps” Washington, and places the blame for Black Americans’ issues solely on themselves, can have several seats. That includes you. One can only pull him/herself up by the bootstraps if they are equipped with boots. This country, throughout its blood-stained history, has far-too-often made very conscious decisions about who does and does not get boots; it has continued to pass regulations and policies that simultaneously grant increased access to the booted, while ensuring that the poor, Black, underserved, and disenfranchised stay bootless. Based on the false premise that Black people are on an equal playing field when facing racially-influenced economic, educational, and social challenges, your position is null and void.

I wonder how easily those statements would pass your lips had you not been afforded opportunities to profit from your talents in the NFL. I wonder how conservative you would be if your education had stopped at high school, instead of progressing through college as a promising athlete. Additionally, I wonder what bootstraps would have held you up, had you not been equipped with the privileges that accompany athletic ability and achievement.

Lastly, while openly disagreeing with your views, I also take issue with your misinformed statements regarding the ideals associated with America’s major political parties. In case you were never notified, the Democratic and Republican platforms switched during the New Deal Era of the 1930s. What are now considered Democratic patterns of thought were largely Republican, and vice versa, back then. The Democratic Party of today, while certainly imperfect and covertly questionable in its own right, is still far more liberal (in a theoretical sense) than that which was followed by the bombers of Black Wall Street in 1920. You are entitled to your opinion, but opinions are like backsides: everyone has one, no matter how much it reeks. Leverage yours to have a seat.

A message for Coleman Hughes:

We seem much closer in age, so I’m going to give you the pure, unfiltered truth.

Your family and friends were right; you should have kept yourself and your misinformed testimony at home.

Instead, you chose to spend this beautiful Juneteenth morning defending your opposition to H.R. 40 with an argument that was rooted in minimized, revisionist history, overwhelmingly laced with tokenism; spewing problematic rhetoric while attempting to speak for all of Black America; and overall making a fool of yourself and those who raised you. I can appreciate your insistence that you take no interest in accepting government payments that you do not need, along with nods to your birth into a suburban family and education at an Ivy League institution. However, I caution you to exercise more care in your self-education and delivery.

Mr. Hughes, just because YOU have been one of a small number of African Americans to reach certain heights, and thus been granted access to mingle in certain circles, does not mean that your so-called successes indicate the eradication of slavery’s remaining legacy of institutional inequality and racism. To make such a flawed assertion is to subscribe to, and perpetuate, the deeply harmful and problematic principle of tokenism, the notion that because one or a few individuals from a marginalized group reach certain levels of perceived success, then the systemic issues holding that group back must no longer exist. That is false.

You may have been born into the suburbs, but many children are still born into the redlined, underfunded, and over-policed ghettos of major cities across the country. You may have made it into the Ivy League, but your achievement does not negate the fact that many Black youth still struggle to gain admission and retention in local and state colleges because either the education system has failed to equip them with the tools and resources they need, they lack the means to fund their education, or because they have a culturally significant name. You may have had your writing published in major publications across the country, but the fact remains that the legacy of compromised Black literacy still persists, and bares relation to historical efforts made to keep Black Americans from reading and writing.

Congratulations to you, sir, for your personal wins, but they should not be used as a reference to minimize or erase the systemic plight still being faced by the majority of American slaves’ descendants. Claiming that one’s privileges are a valid defense in opposing efforts to address the various horrors inflicted upon Black Americans – inequalities born as a result of the racially skewed policies enacted during slavery, Reconstruction, and lasting long after – is a bold and inaccurate statement to make.

Lastly, it was truly amusing to witness the method that you used counter Danny Glover’s implication that people today don’t know the true history of slavery.

Yes, American slavery may be the most studied form of slavery, but the fact remains that the findings from those studies are not accurately taught in our schools, nor openly discussed amongst the masses. Why? Because that would require America to own its unattractive truth, which is one of this country’s favorite things to avoid.

It is this specific lack of knowledgeable discourse that allows us to end up at a reparations hearing, with two Black men opposing legislation that they haven’t even read, using arguments founded on misinformation.

I will conclude this critique with one last word of caution. Remember, as one of your fellow panelists said in rebuttal to your statements, that despite your place in society, “Black wealth still doesn’t equal white wealth.” Humble and educate yourself, Mr. Hughes, because at the end of the day, regardless of birthplace, address, or accomplishments, we all become the same when stopped by the wrong officer or seen in a nice neighborhood by the wrong neighbor. Even you, in all of your Ivy League glory, are at risk of facing injustices rooted in the same racism that oppressed the slave. THAT is why we absolutely should continue discussing the best way to repair all that was broken because of this country’s racially skewed systems, past and present.

Closing Thoughts

Between Juneteenth, the H.R. 40 hearing this morning, and seeing the “Emanuel” documentary tonight, based on the 2015 Emanuel AME shooting in Charleston, S.C., today has been very emotional for me. I’ve been reflecting a lot, and many emotions have flooded over me, mostly sadness, frustration, and even some defeat.

I’m tired of having conversations about why we should all be allowed to live safe, successful lives. I’m tired of watching people like me be struck down and demonized by those sworn to protect and serve, while people who actually commit vicious crimes (like Dylan Roof) are arrested with no force and taken for fast food trips on their way to be questioned.

I’m tired of having to explain why seeing monuments and university murals erected and preserved in the name of those who fought and died to protect torturous, dehumanizing systems of oppression, are problematic, hurtful, and nothing more than a reminder of the imprint of internalized racism on the American psyche.

I’m tired of us having to defend our right to be human.

Or to walk down a street without being accused of being up to no good.

To laugh.

To play.

To be children.

To be autonomous adults.

To be emotional.

To have bible study.

To drive.

Shop for groceries.

Attend pool parties.

Eat at Waffle House after a prom or on a whim.

To help our children open lemonade and water stands in the summertime.

Shop at high end stores.

To shop in low-end stores.

To stand outside.

To be in our yards.

To be on our own porches.

I’m tired of having to defend our right to BE.

Most of all, I am sick and tired of America’s chronic amnesia. I am exhausted with her audacity to deny us the agency to be normal, and then tell us that WE are in the wrong for being upset at the systems and attitudes spanning her entire history of existence; those which continuously prohibit us to live regular, equal, safe, human lives.

So, on this Juneteenth night – the day on which we commemorate slaves of Texas finally being informed of their Emancipation, two years after it was granted; and in the year that marks the 400th anniversary of the first Africans arriving on our shores in chains – I go to bed tired. I lay my head down annoyed at those who sat in front of today’s judicial committee, and spat on the history of enduring and resilience that we have lived daily, against all odds, since first arriving in Jamestown in 1619. I close my eyes praying that one day we won’t need reparations because we will finally achieve physical freedom in life that matches our freedom on paper. And then, I sleep…ready to wake up and continue the fight for another day.

Be kind to each other. Be accountable and responsible with your words. Stay Kultured.


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