There was a time when it seemed politically correct to identify one’s self as being ‘colorblind’. Today, we understand the harm that that way of thinking and viewing others in the world can really be. As a proud black woman, I am insulted if you look at me and refuse to see me-the person inside of the skin, the person who is proud of the skin that I am in.
If you don’t see that part of me, then you don’t see me. That is disrespectful. Much of our, all of us, identities are deeply intertwined into our heritage.Everyone has unique histories and have families who have traveled many historical roads. When that is not recognized, that is not appreciated. Therefore, we are not fully appreciated, as individuals or a collective people.
Particularly as it pertains to African-Americans, this country has found it easier to erase our existence, our history, and even our contributions to this country’s growth. Science, math, technology, agriculture, arts, music, with an even more extensive, all-inclusive list of pure feats of genius—wiped away. As time goes by, these accomplishments become non-existent, easy to ignore and forget. That is unfortunate and insulting to who I and every other African-American are to ourselves and this country.
If little black children were taught about the indelible marks made by people who look like them in EVERY career field, they would find inspiration, motivation and determination to pursue a wide range of career fields. And, education would be their pathway. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be, from way, way back, decided to steal their history, alter it, and hide the genius of a people from the consciousness and conscience of the masses.
Black people were feared because of their strength, resilience and sheer genius. So a campaign was openly waged against them, in order to prevent their genius from being recognized, supported, expressed and limited their mobility-access to mainstream constitutional tights and freedoms.
I will wager a bet that it is unknown that during the centuries of enslavement of peoples of African descent, thousands of people attempted escape. First of all, in a country that was unknown territory, confined to this ‘plantation’, knowing this was wrong, they tried to be free once again. Many people successfully escaped into freedom, but many more weren’t so successful.
Be mindful that during the passage here to America, there were children and expectant mothers who were among the ‘cargo’. Sometimes, an entire family was transported here. Once reaching this land, babies were born, people found love and started families, even if somewhat secretively. One thing that white people disliked and tried to discourage was family units. In family, there is cohesiveness, bonding and strength and community.
People often ask why the slaves didn’t escape or have mutinies against white people. That answer id complex. When there were many more enslaved people than whites, there were factors that limited the number of mass attempts.
First, black people weren’t armed.
Second, historically, in other European nations, enslavement of others was very difficult. Why? Because upon escape, other Europeans were difficult to identify among all free people in society. Thus, they could hide in plain site. That is counter-intuitive to enslavement. African people, on the other hand, were distinctly different from the Europeans. That worked for them here in this country. Here, when black people were seen outside of the plantations, in towns, they were easily spotted.
So, when seen out of their ‘place’, anyone attempting escape, was subject to being stopped and questioned by ordinary citizens. Sound familiar? Stop and frisk[and ‘questioned’] is still being used by law enforcement across the nation, as evidenced by that phenomenon known as ‘driving while black’. White people had the right to engage blacks in this practice-anyone at anytime.
Second, going further,there were ‘search squads’.
The so called ‘owners’ of these black people, knew that each person represented wealth, value-their wealth, and black people were valuable to the economy and sustained wealth. During that time, around 1860 there were almost 4 million enslaved black people in this country. The cost for each person was around $800 dollars. Cumulatively, in today’s money, the monetary value of enslaved people in this country totals upwards of $3-4 billion dollars.
When a black peron ran towards freedom, plantation owners rallied groups of men, trackers, bounty hunters, to capture and return them to their owners. Whites were sent on ‘hunts’ for black people to keep them enslaved and exploit them for their labor. In around 1819, white people had begun to formalize and standardize the practice of ‘hunting’ blacks to return them to bondage.
In that year, a charter, official guidelines, by which these persons could operate without question, the police force, as we know it today, emerged. Surprisingly, or not surprisingly, every police department in this country is still being guided by that document, drafted during a time when blacks were locked away and confined on plantations. It eventually transferred into mass incarceration of blacks being locked away in our jails and prisons.
That was a sidebar. The answer to why black people stayed n those plantations, as slaves, was because of family. Most often it was the men who escaped into freedom. However, many or most had families, children, loved ones left behind. Vowing not to abandon their families, they were determined to return for them. Either they worked to earn enough money to ‘buy’ their family members from owners, or they would attempt to secretly rescue loved ones and steal them away.
It was a dangerous mission, adopting either strategy taken towards freedom.They were already being hunted, and if caught, they would be returned. Considering the value they held, owners wanted them to be returned alive. It wasn’t always that way. These ‘hunters’ would often kill them, by some form of torture. How do you explain finding an escapee, and wanted alive, who is returned dead by you and your cohorts? What do people of color report that police do today? They lie and testify that they felt fear from this big, black nig… or the subject was resisting arrest or capture. Think about that for a moment or two.
If returned alive, there were always apparent injuries, but that was nothing….compared to what would happen to them once back on that plantation. The owner or a designee would often string this man to a pole, gather others to view what was happening to this person, using it as a warning to discourage others from committing same offense. With a whip, they would beat this man until he was bloody and the there was no more skin on his body. Sometimes, they would chop off a leg, foot, arm, etc, resigning themselves that this person thus decreased in value.
Now how do we begin to talk about race in America? We have to find the context by which guides our perceptions. In other words, we have to go back to the very beginning. It is the beginning which allows us to eliminate immaculate perceptions. It is truth in context that is the root of these stereotypes, narratives and perceptions. Talking about race, openly listening to others’ experiences,[everyone’s experiences are real although often processed differently], each have value. Finally and most importantly, each one of us are required to educate ourselves.
We must never forget that history is ALWAYS ‘his’-story. When we recall history, as we are taught and learn, teach ourselves to ask questions. Go beyond the obvious. Become critical thinkers. For every assignment that your child brings home, and within every book that your child or you read, fact-check. It’s okay if your child discovers unknown information, arrives at logical conclusions and may be the only person in the class who took the assignment to another level. That demonstrates your child’s level of intelligence.
Talking about race requires bravery, honesty, active listening and questioning. If you/we want to be better than we were yesterday, then beginning with us, must be mindful of all assumptions. In fact, assume that our presumptions are false and uniformly biased. When history is recalled in a society, never take one side’s word for valid. Usually it is those with power who dictate what is recorded and how. It is our job to ask why. If only two groups existed in any greater society, an accurate history MUST include both groups throughout. If not, don’t expect full honesty. As adults, we know this.
For generations, we have been taught to believe certain ‘documented’ facts and we have believed them without question. Because race has not been discussed, we know not how to talk about it today.As a result we prefer not entertain the reality that what we’ve been taught was not full truths. As we question our children who come home late from parts unknown, we must question what we’ve been taught and what we’ve heard.
There is an entire group of people who’ve been made victims of our society, not because of their race, but rather the strength and value to the country’s wealth. When true history is uncovered, it becomes impossible to have no empathy, questioning past beliefs and that which we teach and model for our children.
We were taught that indigenous peoples, upon our taking over their lands, were savages, head hunters. They were seen as sub-human and when heads were chopped off in their fight to keep their territories, it was not done by them as much as the settlers. Telling that narrative enabled the early settlers to create a legacy that eased any guilt. There was no agreement between early Americans and indigenous people that white people did abide. Thanksgiving was not characterized the way it has been taught either. It is ego, whitewashing that made white people always look like the ‘good guys’.
If we were to fact-check almost all of what we have been taught and are still teaching, there would be a large body of conflicting ‘evidence’ indicating inaccurate information. Talking about race in this country begins with an openness to purposefully seek out more evidence than given and a willingness to alter those immaculate perceptions about the diversity of race and ethnicity with an historical past in this country. We need not travel to the closest library for information. We have access to the internet.
Search any keyword, such as black people, slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow, American tribes, pilgrims, Jamestown, 1607 as opposed to 1620, blacks in science, math, literature etc…. When results appear, try to avoid the 1st few on that page. They may reflect primarily paid spaces, ads and will tell the same stories. Go deeper in your search. It is okay to question what you read. It will astound you. When the search references black people, because they have been summarily eliminated and had no power to correct texts, information will be enlightening at the very least.
With new information, views change. Questions arise. We can teach and tell and model different behaviors and attitudes. With new information, you’ll be ready to talk.