Sisters & Brothers,
Bearing witness to the public killing of George Floyd brought back memories of my own father being publicly beaten within an inch of his life, being set on fire and then tossed out the back of a restaurant, near the dumpsters by White patrons. I must admit, as a former US Marine, it is hard to love a country that, from the very moment that you're born into it, despises you, disparages you, dishonors your people and your history, and denies, denies, denies and then turns a deaf ear to your calls for justice. What’s even more injurious, is not the acts of the wicked alone, but the spinelessness of the silent who demonstrate a willful ignorance and spectacular indifference to our suffering.
Just like Emmet Till’s mother, the George Floyd family stood strong, carrying the weight of centuries of systemic racism, anguish, death and despair, and they called for justice and solidarity--instead of vengeance. The American Empire stole something from us in slavery, but NOT our spirit because badass abolitionists like David Walker, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass rose up, spoke up, organized and took action. The American Empire threw Convict Leasing, Sharecropping, Jim Crow, and White Terrorism at us next and spirited folks like Fannie Lou Hamer, Zora Neale Hurston, Ida B. Wells, Josephine Baker, Rosa Parks, Dorothy Counts, Ella Baker, Shirley Chisholm, Mahalia Jackson, Toni Morrison, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Maya Angelou rose up, spoke up, organized and took action. This America has always been about “keeping the nigger in his/(her) place,” as Baldwin reminds us, under the knee of white supremacy--in symbol and substance.
These folks, and countless unnamed others, taught us so much about the nature of love (soul power) in the face of brute force, blatant lies/deception, untold adversity, and insult weaponized by this country. It reminds me personally of the regal disposition of Dorothy Counts who was tasked with making the long walk to “integrate schools” in North Carolina. White folks blocked her parent’s car from pulling up too close to the school, so she was forced to walk and her dad said, “Hold your head up high,” and Dorothy met the reception with unwavering courage, nobility and grace--under fire.
I can’t help but wonder: “How does one like a young Dorothy Counts summon such deep spiritual maturity and grace? Where does that come from? How does she look upon this social tempest and not get shook?” Folks mocking her, spitting on her, calling her all sorts of foulness...
Dorothy Counts (1957), badass Black Woman, the walking embodiment of decency, integrity, and virtue as she walks the walk, integrating schools on Day 1 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
America tried to drown our dignity in the muddy waters of Jim Crow, but we gave birth to dope brothers like Langston Hughes, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Malcolm X, Martin King, Jr., James Baldwin, Medgar Evers, Louis Armstrong, Marvin Gaye, Muhammad Ali, Alex Haley, Jackie Robinson, Miles Davis, BB King, Thurgood Marshall, Sam Cooke, Booker T. Washington, and the most prodigious intellectual of our time WEB Du Bois. So, when the Floyd family, while standing in the depths of their despair--pleading for the public to engage in positive, proactive activity--we witness the heirs of an extraordinary aristocracy in this American context.
It is not lost on me, especially once chattel slavery ended (including Texas...eventually: about 2.5 years after the Emancipation Proclamation), that the whole of the American Empire waged a cold war against our people and they’re hell bent on killing us--which is NOT unlikely ask our red Native sisters and brothers. America was a BUSINESS before it ever became a DEMOCRACY, so those savvy wordsmiths skillfully wove their white supremacist, patriarchal values right into every institution, starting with the Constitution. Racial injustice is in America's groundwater and it seeps into every body of water that makes up our institutions. We are literally swimming in it.
BUT WE AIN'T GOING NOWHERE! We Gonna Be Alright!!--in the words of K.Lamar. We who are dark BUILT this country, my ancestors’ blood is in this soil and their hopes are in the air we breathe everyday, Fam. We shall not let them down. Douglass reminds us about the nobility of struggle, sacrifice, and resistance:
“This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others”
-Frederick Douglass, ‘57 (1857)
We are all children in this American house (some of us, clearly more despised than others), but each of us has a lifetime of work to do, Fam. This includes loving our enemy, as Dr. King suggests in the 1963 classic Strength to Love (Ch5), but the US Marine & gangsta in me has a...slightly different disposition. (Pray for me.) Exploitative capitalism, sexism and patriarchy, internalized racism is also part of my own self-work, but the hardest thing, yo, is watching the light dim in the eyes of my boys, Thomas (15) and Noah (12). They realize they’re the ones being hunted in this country, but I have to teach them the language and lenses of oppression and liberation. I don’t have a choice, THEY don’t have a choice--We have to talk about it: the deep inner work, relational and situational, the institutional and systemic nature of our racist, genocidal, anti-black, anti-brown, capitalistic avarice at any cost--past and present. I cannot raise illiterate children incapable of reading this world.
This is part of our labor, and yet we do this work joyfully, in a spirit of imaginative, rebellious, LOVING appreciation for the no longer and the not yet, as Subcomandante Marcos puts it. We know the moral arc is bent toward love and justice, in our direction. Jimmy Baldwin, in The Fire Next Time (1962, p.95) wrote:
“...Love is so desperately sought and so cunningly avoided. Love takes off the mask that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word ‘love’ here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace--not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”
We do this work for our ancestors, folks we love across race, gender, class and time, and for our children’s children so we will continue to BUILD this America because we own this (MF) too! I am all about engaging in dialogue and discourse, because it matters, but I am less about hand-holding, explaining, justifying, seeking approval from White folks (and others) who are still trying to understand. (Please do your own work.) I am much more about BUILDING WITH FOLKS, BUILDING WITH COMMUNITIES--dope ass (i.e, anti-racist, liberatory, abolitionist--to borrow a term from my sister Bettina Love) schools, centering and elevating the voices of dark peoples and poor peoples. It is our duty.
We’ve had the whole world against us and we who are dark are still here. We will keep BUILDING because that’s what we do. We are creators, dreamers, singers, authors, stylists, provocateurs, truth tellers, philosophers, scientists, artists, community organizers, humanists, feminists. Nikki Giovanni reminds us:
“Style has a profound meaning to Black Americans. If we can’t drive, we will invent walks and the world will envy the dexterity of our feet. IF we can’t have ham, we will boil chitterlings; if we are given rotten peaches, we will make cobblers; if given scraps, we will make quilts; take away our drums, and we will clap our hands. We prove the human spirit will prevail. We will take what we have to make what we need. We need confidence in our knowledge of who we are”
IN THAT SPIRIT
With all deliberateness and no haste, we Black and Brown folks affirmatively shake off the internalized racist shackles of negative self-image, violence, denial, victim identity, fear, assimilation, and subordination and call in the strength of our ancestors to fortify us and guide us back into our indigenous dopeness. We will continue, on the eve of Juneteenth, to plot, plan, strategize, organize and mobilize to abolish racial injustice across our country, but especially in our nation’s schools--specifically in pedagogy, policy, procedure, and practice (not just personal feelings). We need a complete reorientation of our educational principles grounded in the cultivation of LOVE + JUSTICE. More on this later... But, going back to "normal" ain't it!
This country has NEVER done anything in good faith or out of moral compulsion for Black & Brown & Red peoples. In fact it's been just the opposite and more like: How much can we get over on them--without them noticing AND with just enough plausible deniability? Anything that doesn’t help folks of color should be ABOLISHED. We’re tired of asking, singing, pleading, cajoling and convincing, and burying our dead, burying our dreams and living in this nightmare. House guests ask permission, but we built this house and the time for asking is over. See “The Bigger Picture” by Lil Baby to hear and feel the pain, focus, determination of our young people. YOU CAN SEE IT IN THEiR EYES!! If we SEE them, HEAR them, and INVOLVE them (not tokenize, not patronize, not tell them what they think), we may be able to find our way. Mi hermano Carlos (Moreno) recently reminded us about an old African adage: "The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth" Our young people see old things in new ways and, humbly and in earnest, with their help we can create something better.
We are here despite America, despite the oppression, despite the jeers, despite overlooking our genius, despite the indifference, despite the silences, despite the denials and disdain. The Floyds, the Taylors, the Aubrys, the Tills remind us of something bigger than our own self interests that speaks to collective responsibility, self-determination, human dignity, speaking truth to power, higher purposes, creative rebellion, banging on the system, and calling people into reflection and just action with us. My father, once he woke from being battered and burned, realized that NO ONE was coming to help him, except his homeboys. That's it. We all got work to do, so now find your homies and bang on the system. We are the ones.
In the angry sentiment of Baldwin, “How much time do you need for your progress?”
In loving solidarity,