This is part of a new “blog series,” though I don’t like to call it that, because this is so much more than just a blog series that I’ll do temporarily. This is something I want to make part of my daily routine, something that I actively improve throughout my entire life: being a better ally towards groups who I’ve claimed to be an ally since college, yet never did anything to actually make that true.
So, as I spoke about last week, I am following the Justice in June monthly guide to help make confronting my own white privilege and the racist system we’re built upon part of my day; to help build a foundation to start my lifelong journey as an actual ally. And I’m sharing this to make sure that a) readers of this platform know where I stand, b) that I use my voice to share what I’ve learned and share resources and c) encourage discussion and discourse and further learning with my readers.
Day Eight, Nine and Ten: The 1619 Project
The 1619 Project is a series of essays that set out to reframe the way we’ve been taught history and highlight how much racism and the foundation of slavery paved the paths that make out our society today.
This is a quote from the introduction:
“Out of slavery — and the anti-black racism it required — grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional: its economic might, its industrial power, its electoral system, its diet and popular music, the inequities of its public health and education, its astonishing penchant for violence, its income inequality, the example it sets for the world as a land of freedom and equality, its slang, its legal system and the endemic racial fears and hatreds that continue to plague it to this day. The seeds of all that were planted long before our official birth date, in 1776, when the men known as our founders formally declared independence from Britain.
The goal of The 1619 Project is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year. Doing so requires us to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.”
And this is a quote that summarizes just how important it is that we not only acknowledge that history has been warped to shine positive light on the white man when the reality is much darker, but we also much recognize what black people have gone through historically, so we can better understand what they are going through currently:
A word of warning: There is gruesome material in these stories, material that readers will find disturbing. That is, unfortunately, as it must be. American history cannot be told truthfully without a clear vision of how inhuman and immoral the treatment of black Americans has been. By acknowledging this shameful history, by trying hard to understand its powerful influence on the present, perhaps we can prepare ourselves for a more just future.
That is the hope of this project.
I only read two articles so far, but I plan to continue reading until I’ve read all of them. The following points stood out the most, which are quotes from each article, as I want you to read from the authors’ voices themselves.
America Wasn’t a Democracy, Until Black Americans Made it One by Nikole Hannah-Jones
- “They were among the 12.5 million Africans who would be kidnapped from their homes and brought in chains across the Atlantic Ocean in the largest forced migration in human history until the Second World War. Almost two million did not survive the grueling journey, known as the Middle Passage.”
- “The United States is a nation founded on both an ideal and a lie. Our Declaration of Independence, approved on July 4, 1776, proclaims that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” But the white men who drafted those words did not believe them to be true for the hundreds of thousands of black people in their midst. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” did not apply to fully one-fifth of the country. Yet despite being violently denied the freedom and justice promised to all, black Americans believed fervently in the American creed. Through centuries of black resistance and protest, we have helped the country live up to its founding ideals. And not only for ourselves — black rights struggles paved the way for every other rights struggle, including women’s and gay rights, immigrant and disability rights.”
- “Conveniently left out of our founding mythology is the fact that one of the primary reasons some of the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.”
- “Just a few months earlier, they had families, and farms, and lives and dreams. They were free. They had names, of course, but their enslavers did not bother to record them. They had been made black by those people who believed that they were white, and where they were heading, black equaled “slave,” and slavery in America required turning human beings into property by stripping them of every element that made them individuals. This process was called seasoning, in which people stolen from western and central Africa were forced, often through torture, to stop speaking their native tongues and practicing their native religions.”
- “Black people suffered under slavery for 250 years; we have been legally “free” for just 50. Yet in that briefest of spans, despite continuing to face rampant discrimination, and despite there never having been a genuine effort to redress the wrongs of slavery and the century of racial apartheid that followed, black Americans have made astounding progress, not only for ourselves but also for all Americans.”
- “What if America understood, finally, in this 400th year, that we have never been the problem but the solution?”
Why Doesn’t America Have Universal Health Care? It has everything to do with race by Jeneen Interlandi
- “That fight put the National Medical Association (the leading black medical society) into direct conflict with the A.M.A., which was opposed to any nationalized health plan. In the late 1930s and the 1940s, the group helped defeat two such proposals with a vitriolic campaign that informs present-day debates: They called the idea socialist and un-American and warned of government intervention in the doctor-patient relationship. The group used the same arguments in the mid-’60s, when proponents of national health insurance introduced Medicare. This time, the N.M.A. developed a countermessage: Health care was a basic human right.”
- “The 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawed segregation for any entity receiving federal funds, and the new health care programs soon placed every hospital in the country in that category. But they still excluded millions of Americans. Those who did not fit into specific age, employment or income groups had little to no access to health care.”
- “One hundred and fifty years after the freed people of the South first petitioned the government for basic medical care, the United States remains the only high-income country in the world where such care is not guaranteed to every citizen. In the United States, racial health disparities have proved as foundational as democracy itself. “There has never been any period in American history where the health of blacks was equal to that of whites,” Evelynn Hammonds, a historian of science at Harvard University, says. “Disparity is built into the system.” Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act have helped shrink those disparities. But no federal health policy yet has eradicated them.”
What I learned: I was reminded that our own history lessons are tailored and pandered by white privilege. I didn’t know that 12.5 million Africans were kidnapped and enslaved, with 400,000 sold to America. I learned who Robert Hemings was–someone who’s name never made it to my history books I was taught from, yet Thomas Jefferson’s certainly did. I learned about how slavery impacted the reasons why the colonists wanted to be independent from Britain–a nation that was beginning to question the slave trade in 1776, while America was discovering ways we could profit from it.
I learned about President Lincoln’s plan to ship off those who were previously enslaved, since they had “no place in a country of white men”. I learned about the Equal Rights League. It wasn’t until the ratification of the 14th amendment, in 1868, that the claim “all men are created equal” actually had a chance to ring true. I learned about the beating of Isaac Woodard. I read about the false ideology of black people belonging to an inferior, subhuman race that was used as a way of thinking to forgive white guilt and used as permission to promote and forgive grotesque white violence against black people in both the present and the past.
I learned about Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the nation’s first black female doctor. It wasn’t until 1964 that the Civil Rights Act finally ended hospital segregation–only 60 years ago.
I learned so much that I should have already known, but it wasn’t taught in our schools. It’s something I want to start pushing back on and something I definitely will be ensuring isn’t something my children go through, even if that means self-teaching them, if the curriculum isn’t updated by then.
Day Eleven: When Civility is Used as a Cudgel Against People of Color from NPR’s All Things Considered
That belief would indicate that some people are innately civil, while others need to have civility taught to — or imposed upon — them. Johnson says this is part of the underlying rationale for the enslavement of Africans imported into America and the genocide of Native peoples.
“People of color don’t get to orchestrate the terms of civility,” she explains. “Instead, we’re always responding to what civility is supposed to be.”
What I Learned: How civility is a term that we love to throw around in politics, yet it’s something where we expect black people need to be taught how to be civil, yet when they are protesting for their right to sit and eat amongst white people at the same table in the 1960s or their right to not be killed by kneeling on a football field, it is these calm demonstrations of fighting for their rights that are met with physical violence and verbal abuse by their white peers, begging the question: who’s civility should we be questioning, here? And, reminding us to acknowledge that civil unrest is necessary and required when so many are unequal, harmed and killed in our country because of the color of their skin.
I also added Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper to my reading list.
Day Twelve: Register to vote!
What I Learned: I was already registered to vote, but I double checked again using the website linked above. Please make sure you are also registered, make sure your friends are and do your research before you vote this November!
Day Thirteen and Fourteen: Let’s get to the root of racial injustice by Megan Ming Francis on TedTalks
“It shouldn’t take a university website profile to be viewed as non-threatening.
We must pay closer attention to the treatment of black people.”
What I Learned: She focused on instead of fixating on how to fix the problem of police brutality, we must focus instead on the root causes on why policy brutality against blacks–because “fixes that don’t address the root causes aren’t fixes at all.” For yes, we can fire a police officer who kills an unarmed black man takes away that one police officer who should never have been in that position before, but it doesn’t solve the issue that police officers are set up in a system that allows for intense brutality and death against blackness–something our system equates to criminality.
She also shares how her brother was cuffed and shoved against the ground and the walls when searched for drugs he didn’t have and only was released when he could prove when he was in college. Or how she has detained at an airport for bringing a weapon–a ring that covered two fingers instead of one, which the TSA agent saw as threatening brass knuckles–and only her college professorship got her out “so quickly,” as apparently this TSA agent did this all of the time.
Black people SHOULD NOT only be viewed as people through their credentials. Black people shouldn’t be automatically viewed as a threat. As she states, we must acknowledge this problem isn’t just with police, but how every white person is complicit and helps support, even through unconscious microaggression to silence, a system that supports us treating black people differently–often as lesser or dangerous–due to the color of their skin. And we must treat that system, before we can truly understand and tackle police brutality against black people.
Please also look at the 8toAbolition campaign about the steps we can take against police bruality, but also, please do the personal work of understanding what we can do to break down the system that created this possibility in the first place.
Thank you for reading through such a lengthy post! I hope it helped teach you something new, found a new resource for you to share so you can continue to speak up about the rampant racism in our country and helped you reflect on your failings and ways you can improve, to be an ally in a movement which, at it’s crux, is just asking the world to see black people as people, and treat them as such.