Black in America

It’s a great time to be African American. Just check your television listings. It’s like this:

I mean really. We have a well-rounded array of representation:

Black-ish

Luke Cage

Scandal

How to Get Away with Murder

The Get Down

Queen Sugar

Empire

Atlanta

A friend of mine called it a “renaissance of black culture.” I agreed. It sounds nice. Poetic. Artsy.  A “renaissance of black culture” makes me feel good, until the next unarmed black man is gunned down by police. I can laugh at the upper-middle class woes of the Johnsons, until the next #BlackLivesMatter call to action. I’m considering buying a bullet-hole hoodie like the Luke Cage characters. The satire hasn’t escaped me. I watch Annalise, her students and her clients get away with murder, just like the police in my country. I admire how Duvernay wove BMike’s art and his message about police brutality in the last Queen Sugar episode. And even though I loathe Empire, I’m glad there are actors who look like us on television to serve as entertainment, until someone chokes, shoots or hangs another person who looks like me in real life.

Yep. It’s a great time to be African American, as long as you’re on television.

 

Encouraging Activism: A Conversation with Rodney L. Hurst Sr.

Rodney L. Hurst Sr. has worked as a civil right activist for sixty-one years. His initial involvement with NAACP’s youth council led him to organize sit-ins at several downtown Jacksonville, Florida lunch counters during the 60s and 70s. The fight for equality and the subsequent and infamous Ax Handle Saturday are detailed in his memoir, It Was Never about a Hot Dog and a Coke®!

On May 26th Mr. Hurst and I discussed civil rights and advocacy. Unfortunately, his words are still timely.

KG:     Your book describes racial oppression and police brutality from decades ago. Has anything changed?

RH:     No.

KG:     Nothing at all?

RH:     I mean based on what we’re seeing today, we had instances of police brutality years ago, back in the 50s and 60s. We did not have pictures and videos. So, it was your word against ours. And they were agents of the courts, and after all they were white. So, all of those complaints were dismissed. It didn’t make a difference what you said. This did not happen. As you see what’s happening in the news today, very little has changed from years ago. All of that is the same. But now, because of video cameras, pictures and telephones, people are beginning to capture some of those images.

KG:     What do you think people can do today other than take pictures and videos?

RH:     First of all, the civil rights movement does not change. It is a marathon in the ongoing journey. You have to do whatever you can, organized or not.

KG:     Do you think people believed the civil rights movement was over?

RH:     Sure. Because when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed and the Civil Rights Act of ’68 passed. Aha! You know? We can sit back and rest. And then here comes Nixon and the Southern Strategy after Goldwater.

KG:     So what do we do?

RH:     That’s always a question. What do we do to fight?

KG:     Right. Especially, when it seems nothing’s going to happen.

RH:     If you feel like nothing is going to happen, and to get real philosophical, it’s just like living life…

KG:     Then you’re already defeated?

RH:     Yeah. If everything’s so ordinary, nothing’s going to happen to me, then why live? The struggle and the fight are so simple. Basically, you’re saying I want the same thing you promised in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Why is it that I have to deal with all of these things based on the hue of my skin?

liberty-bell-1442648_1280

One of the first things I’m in favor of doing is called telling the history right and the inclusion of black people in history. When you pick up a history textbook and you cannot read about any of the contributions any of your ancestors made, the playing field is not even. Yet, I can pick up a history book and read about the contributions of white Americans and Europeans.

KG:     That’s a good point, but today, teachers have set textbooks and they’re dealing with almost zero autonomy. They have to be careful about what they teach, what they say, and how they say it. What would you say to them?

RH:     The question then is, if you don’t teach American history and include the contributions I made, then why should I be interested in American history?

KG:     Do you think it’s a matter of being more courageous?

RH:     It was then. Today, it’s just a matter of teaching the truth.

KG:     Do you think educators have to be courageous to teach the truth?

RH:     Maybe, if teaching the truth requires courage. If you feel inhibited and afraid to teach the truth, then yeah it takes courage. But when you don’t teach the truth, then how can you teach an honest American history? So if teaching dishonest American history is okay, and you can teach it with no pushback, then what happens to your integrity as a teacher when you know what you’re teaching is dishonest and incomplete?

KG:     What about non-teachers? What can they do?

black_powerRH:     Sometimes you have to find out what works for you. A lot of my friends joined the youth council because everyone knew membership lists were not public. Many of them wanted to sit in, but their parents wouldn’t allow it. They did other things. They did not shop downtown.

KG:     Okay. So they still protested in a way?

RH:     Yes. Another example is a good friend of mine who’s a Quaker. To this day she does not eat table grapes because of Cesar Chavez and does not drink Coke products because Coke used to support the apartheid regime of South Africa. And that’s what she did, small things.

KG:     Even to this day, she does those things?

RH:     To this day…

KG:     I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

RH:     You know I hear a lot of people say, “Where are the Martin Luther Kings?” You are the Martin Luther King. You know? Don’t wait for someone to pick up and lead you.

#Justice for Tamir Rice

IMG_3486Whenever I wear this shirt, you should see the looks that I get. People gaze in amazement as if my name is George Zimmerman and I stood my ground against Trayvon Martin. They stare, eyes fixated on the word.

Justice.

My dad saw me in this shirt and he just laughed. He understood.

“They probably look at you and say Justice, What?” He was right. That’s exactly what my father-in-law asked.

“Justice?” He questioned with his hands outstretched and face bewildered.

It’s justice for anyone. Justice for everyone. But no one else has asked. Instead, people glance and do double-takes, as if my name is Michael Dunn and I just murdered Jordan Davis, an unarmed Black boy who wouldn’t turn his music down.

Justice.

People peer at the shirt as if the letters will change before their eyes. Maybe it reads Just ice, I imagine they’re thinking. But they never ask. Mostly, they gawk, like I was the cop who gunned down 12 year-old Tamir Rice on that cold Cleveland day. They whisper to their significant others as if I was the officer who shot Laquan McDonald 16 times in the middle of a Chicago street. Their glances speak volumes, as if it was me who kneeled on Eric Garner’s back and choked him to death on a New York city sidewalk. They glare at me as if I know what happened to Freddie Gray or Sandra Bland, two citizens found dead in police custody in Baltimore and Texas, respectively.

Justice.

Accusatory eyes wonder if I assassinated John Crawford in the middle of WalMart as he shopped. Maybe they believe I know why Michael Brown was not only executed, but also left to rot in the sweltering Ferguson heat.

And I want to say, don’t look at me. I’m just wearing a T-shirt that shows what we all want. A T-shirt that reminds everyone what every American citizen is supposed to have.

Justice for Jamar Clark.

Justice.

 

 

 

 

 

To Whom it May Concern

Maybe we should care before the riots. It seems that riots are what cause upheaval and intense emotion. Like this latest one in Baltimore. People seemed concerned because a CVS was set afire. And others were worried about the senior citizen building that was ablaze. Did you see it? How could “they” do such a thing? Those poor buildings burned and it’s clear why this would provoke anger; those apartments were in the making since 2006. Clearly it will take a long time to re-build another structure. But how long will it take Fredericka, Freddie Gray’s twin sister, to re-build a life without her brother?

Maybe we should care before the police brutality. Perhaps before the inexplicable happened to Freddie Gray in the back of a squad car. Or before Mike Brown was executed and left for dead in the hot summer street. Prior to Eric Garner’s video-recorded, police chokehold. Before John Crawford was murdered for allegedly waving a toy gun around in a right-to-carry state. And well before the cop that shot Tamir Rice in front of his sister. After all, he was just a man-child, pre-pubescent. Yes. Maybe we should care before another police officer feels his life is threatened by an unarmed Black man.

Maybe we should care before the poverty. But I’m not quite sure how to accomplish that one. You see 23% of the total population lives below the Baltimore poverty line. That’s an urban city though. It’s typical. Did you know that Ferguson is considered a suburb? And that Missouri community has about 26% living below the poverty line? I know what you’re thinking. Why don’t they just get jobs? Why don’t they just pull themselves up like my dad, mom, grandma, grandpa? Like me? Why don’t they?

I’m sure if they could find employment, then they would. And their minimum wage jobs would prevent them from being killed like the useless parts of society that they seem to represent. But the fact here is, we’ll never know. We’ll never know if Freddie Gray could’ve worked his way out of poverty. Mike Brown’s mother will never realize her son’s community college dreams, which may have lifted him higher. Tamir Rice’s mother and sister won’t even get to see him graduate middle school, high school or college, much less understand how a job would shift his life’s purpose.

So maybe we should care before the riots, before the police brutality and before the poverty. Maybe we should be active, instead of reactive.

To Whom it May Concern

Dear Humanity,

When will you return? It seems that you’ve decided to detour away from us in small increments. I’m not sure in what order though. Did you leave when cell phones were invented? I can understand how you might have thought that was a good time to exit. I mean who can blame you? I can barely go to dinner without looking at my phone, especially if the conversation begins to drag and my date excuses herself to the bathroom. It’s seems the most appropriate time to take a selfie or check Facebook.

Did you decide to check out when police officers started getting away with murdering people, instead of serving and protecting citizens? I would have left at that point too. Seemingly, police are now “above the law,” and parts of society feel hopeless. Some even think officers are warranted because they are just protecting themselves. I guess. They’ve asked me what would you do if some frightening, African American male were threatening you with his hands? I can never provide a good enough answer because I’m not licensed to carry a gun and use it for protection.

I’ve thought way too long about this. Perhaps you left when humans began waging war against one another for reasons ranging from religion to territory. But I’ve quickly dismissed this idea. It just couldn’t be. Societies have been going to war for centuries, and that would mean that you’d left us long ago before any of us knew you existed. The logic is slightly flawed.

The answer escapes me. And I suppose it doesn’t matter when you left anyway. All I can do now is beg. Beg for you to return. Please, humanity, come back to our society and replace pockets of inhumane behavior. Please, before it’s too late.

Sincerely,

kg, a concerned citizen