Category: Black Voices
TRUE BUILD – A Short Story
© Copyright 2022 Jeh Allen CREATIVE. All rights reserved.
Principal Newman wasn’t happy. His pale face was ashen behind a set of rosy cheeks, and a clear sheen of sweat covered his balding head and brow. Winston sat directly in front of him, on the other side of the mahogany desk, his hands clasped together in his lap. Julia Ball, the district’s legal counsel, sat in a chair to the right of Winston, listening, leaning ever so close to him as not to miss his retorts to Principal Newman’s line of questioning.
“Why would you say such a thing?” Principal Newman asked from a seated position behind his desk. “To a classroom full of impressionable ninth graders? Are you even paying attention to the news reports, what their parents are saying about us?”
Winston leaned back in his chair, undeniably confounded by the forcefulness of Principal Newman’s assertion. Winston was fully aware of the heated exchanges that had been occurring between school board members and the parents of Loudoun County students. But he had also surmised that conservative Republican operatives had embedded themselves into these audiences and were largely responsible for turning the monthly school board meetings into circuses, bastions for the dissemination of half-truths, lies and disinformation.
Winston only had one year of teaching under his belt. And that first year went by without a hitch. But the more the Republican presidential incumbent used his public rallies to rail against teachers like him, the more he realized he had to stop being so loose with his words. In 2020, the incumbent Republican president was running for a second term, against the Democratic Party’s nominee, and the incumbent Republican president had shown that he would remain undeterred in openly berating public school administrators and their faculty for teaching K-12 students what he and so many other conservative Republicans considered wrong lessons about race.
“I am,” Winston replied. “But I stand by my statement. Black Americans are the true builders of opportunity and sustainable success.”
“But that’s not true, Winston, and you know it. Don’t get me wrong. You Blacks have had a lot to overcome. But for a highly intelligent Black man like you to tell a room full of White kids that. That’s a bit much, don’t you think?”
Winston immediately countered, at least in his mind, with, “That’s rich.” Better to think it than say it out loud.
“Winston,” Julia interjected, using her right hand to brush a few strands of her blonde hair off her face. “We’re not here to be overly critical of you, as a teacher. Your students love you. Your colleagues love you. But our parents are questioning what their children are being taught in your class about race. And while the claim that Critical Race Theory is being taught in K through twelve classrooms is ridiculous, the fact remains that there are elected officials – all conservative Republicans, mind you – on the local, state, and national levels who are legitimizing it in hopes of peeling away a few votes from the Dems during the upcoming elections.”
“And I get that,” Winston said, a hint of exasperation in his voice. “But the only critical thing I’m trying to teach my students is to think critically about American history. They don’t have to take what I say at face value. But my hope is they fully process what I am trying to communicate to them. I want them to leave class wanting to do their own research. I want them to have an appreciation for the complete historical record, paying attention to all its blemishes.”
“And we respect that,” said Principal Newman. He stood and walked around to the front of his desk. He was now a mere six feet from Winston, three from Julia. He sat on the edge of his desk to look down at Winston.
“It’s a Friday, Winston,” Principal Newman exclaimed, his right eye twitching once, maybe twice, as he spoke. “Having to talk with you about this bullshit is the last thing I wanted to do today.” He stood, stepped to his right. “But go home. Use the weekend to think about how uncomfortable your words made the White students in your class feel.”
Winston raked his hand across the full length of his face before leaning back once more, thumbing the sides of the wooden chair. He had not become an educator – more specifically a history teacher – to make his White students feel comfortable. He knew, like so many other educators, that if one is to teach true American history, the hearers of what is being taught must have the capacity to deal with its undertones.
However, the fact that his boss got up out of his chair to remove the barrier between them, let him know that he sincerely wanted Winston to remain on staff. But that would require that he toe any line Principal Newman set for him moving forward. Therefore, Winston stood, extended his hand. Principal Newman met and clamped down on it in midair, holding it steady in the space between them.
“I will,” Winston said as he shook his hand free. Then, backing away toward the exit door, he added, “See you on Monday?”
Principal Newman replied, “Yes. See you on Monday.”
That night, sometime between eight and nine, Winston found himself stretched out on his living room sofa, feet propped up on the coffee table, as he flipped through the pages of a book titled The 1619 Project. The last slice of a pizza grew cold in a box on the dining room table, basking under the glow of chandelier lights. The seven other slices had been good enough for Winston, at least for now. The sound of an explosion made him look over at the wall-mounted television across the room, increasing the anxiety he was feeling about the real possibility of losing his teaching job.
He already had a sense of who ratted him out. It could have only been one of two suspects – Johnny Richards or Pamela Towns. Johnny didn’t say much in class, but when he did, his classmates seemed to hang on his every word. Pamela, on the other hand, was very outspoken in class, and Winston could tell she was a “my way or no way” kind of girl. But he also knew Johnny’s parents’ politics ran counter to his own. Therefore, if he were a betting man, he would put all his chips on Suspect Number One.
And for good reason. When Johnny, a new student, stepped into his classroom during the middle of the 2021-22 school year, after the school’s Winter break, he proudly announced to everyone within earshot that in 2016 his parents had voted for the Republican presidential incumbent, who was then the Republican presidential nominee. It didn’t matter that the man bragged about how the women he knew loved it when he grabbed them by their pussies. And it didn’t matter that he told reporters that there are good people on “both sides” after one of those “good” White supremacists ended a White BLM protestor’s life by running her over with his car. All that seemed to matter to Johnny’s parents, and Johnny as their child, was the belief that the Republican presidential incumbent could do no wrong because all he wanted to do was “make America great again.”
Winston chuckled to himself at the intended cockiness of this statement. He knew no one president, or political party for that matter, could truly make America great again. All he, or she, or even they, could hope to do is do what their predecessors had committed themselves to doing, which was to create a more perfect union. The last time Winston checked, creating a more perfect union was the corporate vision laid out in both the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Now, he wondered how this truth had become lost on the Republican presidential incumbent, Congressional Republican legislators, and the six Republican Supreme Court justices.
Winston had a more difficult time reading Pamela. She considered the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, sacred, and she was an outspoken critic of abortion rights. She believed that persons kill people, not the arms they bear. Consequently, she felt all the United States government, in collaboration with the Christian church, had to do was win the hearts and minds of gun purchasers, keep guns out of the hands of citizens with psychological problems. Pamela also believed that life begins at conception. But when it came to same-sex marriage, her views seemingly became more liberal and less conservative.
When her gay and lesbian classmates reminisced aloud during classroom discussions about the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, in which 49 people were killed, another 53 injured, Pamela defended them. These classmates talked about how they are now scared to openly display any type of affection toward their same-sex partners. Pamela now believed that people should be able to love whomever they wanted to love, whether male, female, or nonbinary. But Winston had heard from Issac, another Black man who just happened to be the school’s Physical Plant director, that Pamela had extra motivation for her defense. He divulged that a female member of his janitorial staff caught Pamela and another White girl, Leslie Cooper, French kissing and feeling each other up under the gymnasium bleachers about a month before Winston was called into Principal Newman’s office.
Winston peered over at the wall clock on the far side of the room. Nine fifteen. He opened The 1619 Project book once more, with every intention of reading Nikole Hannah-Jones’ piece on Justice. However, as his eyes soaked in the words on the chapter’s first page, he could feel them getting heavier. Not long after that, they were completely shut, his nostrils flaring from the forcefulness of his snores. When his eyes opened, he was…
…sitting in a barber’s chair, his upper body covered by a barber’s cape from the neck down.
“They know Dick didn’t do nothing wrong,” said Sammy, the establishment’s proprietor. Sammy, his round belly fighting to stay under his waist-length barber’s smock, took great care in using a pair of scissors to put the finishing touches on Winston’s cut. There were about five other Black men sitting in chairs in front of and around Winston. Others sat patiently in the two rows of chairs positioned in front of the plate-glass window with Sammy’s Barbershop painted on it on the outside. “But Hubert and his boys down at the courthouse now. Making sure those crackers don’t take Dick out back to hang his ass.”
A light-skinned brother getting his hair cut to Winston’s right shifted in his chair, causing his barber Damon to take a momentary pause.
“I told him not to go down there,” the light-skinned brother exclaimed. “At least not armed. Told him some of the White folks around here don’t take too kindly to what we have going on over here, in Greenwood. I been hearing rumblings around town, how they scheming to take all this away from us.”
Another man sitting in a chair on the front left row of the chairs interjected, asking, “How they going to do that O.W.?” He uncrossed his legs and spread them wide. “You and J.D. purchased Greenwood outright,” he continued, gesturing with his hands for emphasis. “All of us working together is what turned it into a thriving community. So, I’m sorry. We built this, not them.”
“We did, Clive,” O.W. replied. “But some of us are getting caught up, drawing too much attention to what we built. That White girl down at the Drexel Building done come out and said Dick stumbled and accidentally stepped on her foot. But them White boys still lying about the whole thing, saying he attacked her. Makes you wonder what they plan on doing to the rest of us.”
Just as O.W. mouthed these words, the plate glass window to his right imploded, causing shards of glass to rain down on the row of seated patrons. All eyes followed the trajectory of a large brick as it flew over their heads and bounced across the floor. Seconds later, they watched again as a Coke bottle with a flaming makeshift wick flew through the open space to splatter trails of kerosene and flame across the room.
Winston ripped the kerosene-soaked cape from around his neck and tossed it toward the billowing flames. It became ash before it could hit the floor. He then hastily followed Sammy, O.W. and the others to the back storeroom. Once there, they all exited through a door that led to the back alley. But once he was outside, Winston froze.
O.W. briefly stood with Winston before trotting away. Before getting too far, he peered back at Winston. He motioned to Winston. O.W. watched as Winston seemed to recognize the urgency of now. So, when Winston caught up to O.W., they wasted little time retreating down the shadowed alleyway.
Night had fallen on the Greenwood District, and all Greater Tulsa for that matter, but the full moon and the flames rifting from the burning buildings provided enough lighting for them to get around. But when O.W. and Winston reached one of the main streets, they found themselves walking past the dead bodies of Black, and a few White and Native American, Greenwood residents. A mix of splatters and pools of dark, red blood surrounded the bodies, many of them riddled with gunshot wounds. Overwhelmed by it all, Winston froze again, almost falling to his knees.
“Come on, young buck,” O.W. pleaded, as he prepared to take a left onto an adjoining street. “They still out there. Hunting.”
But before Winston could get back to his feet, a tall White man dressed in denim overalls, carrying a shotgun, rounded the corner of a brick building. When he spotted Winston, he raised his shotgun, finger on the trigger, taking aim. Fortunately for Winston, O.W. got him first. A single shot to the back of the White man’s head from O.W.’s revolver sent the White man reeling face first onto the dirt turf.
“Let’s go,” said O.W., slipping the revolver back into the shoulder holster hidden under the confines of his suit jacket. “They’re waiting.”
The further they walked away from Greenwood, the darker it became. A thin line of sunlight peeked over the horizon to the east. Moonlight allowed Winston to make out the trees, bushes and vines that stood between them and their destination. But those darn thorn bushes caused him to wince as they tore into the exposed skin around his hands and forearms. Winston kept telling himself that he was born for conditions like this. Frolicking around the woods as a child with his friends used to be an everyday occurrence during the summer months.
Of course, he knew the armed White mob was rumbling through Greenwood’s dusty streets, frothing from their mouths at the mere thought of destroying everyone and everything that had a connection to Greenwood. It was then that Winston realized he was indeed a man out of place, out of time.
“You’re O.W. Gurley, aren’t you?” asked Winston when they stopped briefly to catch their breaths.
O.W. replied, “I am. And you are?”
“Winston. Winston James.”
“Pleasure meeting you, Winston James.
Winston flopped to his bottom and allowed his back to rest against a large oak tree. “Seems like we been running for hours, sir. Where we going?”
O.W. joined Winston under the tree but opted to remain standing. He pulled a handkerchief from his inside pocket, using it to dab at his brow. “Somewhere safe, Winston. A gathering place.”
Winston peered at O.W., admiring how O.W.’s pale face was shrouded in light and darkness. As a student of Black American history, Winston knew a little about the role gathering places played in helping his enslaved ancestors develop a sense of identity and purpose. And while these gathering places were used mostly to practice their version of Christianity beyond the oversight of White overseers, the frustrated and anxious Black men of that bygone era used them to plan, coordinate and execute a somewhat radical form of activism that would one day win them their freedom.
Moments later, Winston, once again, found himself falling in lockstep with O.W. for what Winston hoped was the final leg of their journey. However, the sound of barking dogs and the sight of lit torches caused them to take refuge behind a row of bushes. When the dogs’ barks became growls mixed with the slopping sounds of flesh being ripped from bone, Winston knew one of this White crews had caught up to some Greenwood residents. And by the sound of things, the dogs wasted very little time making mincemeat of their captives, buoyed by the urgings of their White owners. Then, five thunderous claps from a shotgun rang out.
With the White crew and their dogs moving further down the road, Winston and O.W. emerged from their hiding place. They were headed in the same direction as the crime scene, so there was no avoiding the carnage wrought by the rabid dogs and their White owners. As they drew closer, O.W. turned slightly away from the piles of ripped flesh and exposed bone, looking instead toward the heavens, seeking comfort wherever any could be found. Winston could tell O.W. recognized the four lifeless bodies – A Black man and woman, their two elementary school-aged children. Tragically reduced to nothing more than empty vessels.
“Dem bastards,” muttered O.W. Then, from a squatting position, inches from what appeared to be the Black father, he extended his right hand, and with his thumb and index finger, he forced the Black father’s eyes shut. If only he could have done the same for the others. But how could he? Deep, bloody holes and indentions now occupied the spaces where the mother and children’s faces had been.
Winston surmised that two members of the White crew had probably forced the Black father to his knees as they shot his wife and children in their faces with their shotguns. Images of them standing the Black father up and then riddling his battered but not broken body with bullets played in Winston’s mind. All to show the Black father that they were the one’s wielding absolute power absolutely, he thought.
O.W. rose from his stooping position to stand tall with his head tilted toward the full moon. Down but not beaten. Then, without saying a word, he took a single glance at Winston, seemingly to see if he was still engaged.
Winston found himself following O.W. as he crawled into what appeared to be a large hole on the side of a rolling hill. The hole was covered with foliage with a thick row of bushes to its left, so one had to know what he was looking for to find it. O.W. was definitely in the know. Winston entered behind O.W. Once inside, he stood upright, his eyes widening at the spectacle before him. They were now in a spacious cavern, the only lighting coming from fiery flames atop torches that had been secured high in the crevices of the cavern’s stony walls.
Winston spotted O.W. greeting, tightly embracing and then releasing a dark-skinned brother to his right. Several feet to his left, the eyes of what appeared to be some of Greenwood’s displaced residents looked back at him. The displaced sat three or four rows deep in multiple huddles throughout the cavern. Winston surmised that their numbers included more Black bodies than others. But as he surveyed their downcast faces, Winston was pleased to see Greenwood residents of Native American, Asian and Caucasian descent sitting among the displaced. This was the Greenwood that the history books didn’t tell you about, Winston thought. A coalition as colorful as the rainbow, built by Black entrepreneurs to uplift the Black race while simultaneously being open to conducting business with anyone willing to sufficiently compensate hardworking Greenwood residents for their labor.
O.W. motioned to Winston as he and the dark-skinned brother solemnly walked toward a stony enclave situated in the right-hand corner of the cavern. Winston spotted Sammy and two other Black men that he had seen earlier at the barbershop sitting inside, around a blazing fire.
O.W. and Winston sat with the others around the fire. The dark-skinned brother did the same. “This here J.D. J.D. Stradford.”
Winston nodded at J.D. as he settled in around the fire.
“He the one that helped me do all this,” O.W. continued. J.D.’s gaze shifted from Winston to the logs burning in the fire. “Amazing what we were able to accomplish.”
Winston sat patiently, waiting for J.D. to say something, anything, to him. But J.D. remained silent as the tears mounted in his eyelids to roll down the sides of his ebony cheeks.
“All we ever wanted to do was create a better life for ourselves,” he said, “for our people. We didn’t ask them for nothing; just wanted to be left alone. But they couldn’t even allow us to have that. What we built with our own blood, our own sweat, our own tears.” He locked eyes with O.W. “They done took it from us, O.W. What we going to do now?”
O.W.’s gaze retreated from J.D. to the faces of the other Black men seated around the fire. Then, while gazing into the fire, he replied, “We rebuild. And we keep rebuilding until they stop coming at us, after us. Sooner or later, they’re going to get the message – that we’re not going anywhere, that we’re here to stay.”
Winston closed his eyes to whisper a silent prayer. When they opened, he found himself…
…back in his living room, reclining on the sofa, The 1619 Project book lying open with the pages pressing into his chest.
Winston tilted The 1619 Project book up so he could pick up where he left off. His eyes immediately fell on the bolded words “Freed people” in the middle of the page. His interest piqued, he continued, reading, “…tried to compel the government to provide restitution for slavery, to provide at the very least a pension for those who, along with generations of their ancestors, had spent their entire lives toiling for no pay. They filed lawsuits. They organized to lobby politicians. And every effort failed.”
Winston shifted his gaze from the page to the talking heads on the television across the room. Even though he was looking at them, he really was looking past them, at the faces of O.W. Gurley and J.D. Stradford staring back at him.
It saddened him that these two Black, self-made, American men had their dream of a self-sufficient Black American community scuttled by a White American populace that didn’t have an appetite for Black people pursuing and achieving life, liberty and happiness, excellence even. His own analysis of what had transpired in Greenwood revealed that its Black American residents weren’t filing lawsuits or lobbying politicians to get what they wanted, what they were entitled too. Hell, they could have cared less about receiving handouts from the Federal government. Again, they had legally purchased Midwestern land. Now, or least then, they wanted to be left alone so they could lead lives that were free of turmoil and strife.
Winston watched quietly as his students packed up their belongings and made a hasty exit through the door at the back of the classroom. After most of them had cleared out, he used the remote to power off the smart board. But when he looked up, he spotted Johnny approaching.
“Hey, Mr. Winston,” Johnny began, nervously tugging on the bookbag dangling from his shoulder. “Can we talk?”
“Sure,” said Winston, dropping to the rolling ergonomic chair between his desk and the smart board.
“I owe you an apology, sir.”
“An apology?” Winston said, feigning surprise. “For what?”
“For telling my parents about what you said in class last week.”
“No worries, Johnny. No harm, no foul. I just hope your parents understand that I wasn’t trying to be mean-spirited by saying what I said.”
Johnny allowed his bookbag to slide off his back and drop to the floor. “That’s the problem,” he said, slipping into the desk chair directly in front of Winston’s. “They act like they don’t, but they do. They plan to make an issue out of it anyway. The school board has agreed to allow my mother to speak out against you at Wednesday’s meeting.” Winston swallowed hard. “I just want you to know, I do. I understand exactly what you were saying.”
Johnny shifted his body and legs to lean sideways in the desk chair, his left elbow on his thigh, his right on the desktop. “I did my own research, sir. Like you always encourage us to do. Came up with my own conclusions. Black people have always been about the business of showing the rest of us what it truly means to be, well, American. Because of the way people that look like me used to treat Black people, America has never been great; it has always been a country in search of greatness. These MAGA people – my parents included – are trying to confuse the issue by referring to history that focuses on Black enslavement, oppression, and disenfranchisement as Critical Race Theory. They want to make White people think we have done enough to right our ancestors’ wrongs. But we haven’t. If anything, we have only been making things worse for everyone by ignoring the wrong things that we have done and keep doing to Black people.” Johnny sat upright. “I just think too many of us are tone deaf, sir.”
Winston allowed his backside to come into alignment with the contours of his ergonomic chair, his elbows on the right and left armrests, his hands coming together to form a bridge, inches from his face.
Johnny glanced up at Winston and then quickly looked away.
Winston stood, walked to the front of his desk. Once there, he offered his right hand to Johnny. When Johnny reached up and accepted it with his own, Winston pulled him up from the chair. The two stood there, for two or three ticks, eyeing each other in silence.
“You see,” Winston began, “this here is what I’m talking about. Connection. You now see what I see, what I and my people experience or have experienced. And that, young buck, is the first step to building community, together.”
Johnny nodded, smirking, as Winston patted him on the back.
Johnny felt fortunate to be in this number.
© Copyright 2022 Jeh Allen CREATIVE. All rights reserved.
Why Authentic Relationships Matter
Black Americans have been trying to tell White Americans that Black lives matter since 1619, when the first Black Africans were forcibly removed from their native land to work America’s cotton and tobacco fields with no promise of compensation. Back in 1619, and the decades that followed, the enslavement of Black bodies was a common practice, and had the full support of the British Empire at first and the United States government beginning in 1776. My Black American ancestors did not secure freedom for themselves, and generations to come, until January 1, 1863, when Republican President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. But the date that most Black Americans celebrate as their emancipation date is June 19, 1865, for this was when enslaved Blacks in Texas learned that they had been freed.
We know our bold “Black Lives Matter” proclamation is not falling on deaf ears. More than ever before, we see progressive-minded White Americans marching in the streets alongside us, chanting, “Black lives matter!” as well as singing old time favorites like We Shall Overcome. Seeing these images, experiencing these events, gives people like me hope for a brighter future. But, truth be told, I still can’t shake this sinking feeling that White American conservatives are trying to sink these efforts “by any means necessary.”
White American conservatives are seemingly trying to reverse Black American progress by using our own weapons against us. Exhibit A is their Million MAGA (Make America Great Again) March, which was held on November 14, 2020. Their use of the words “million” and “march” harkens back to Black Americans’ October 16, 1995 Million Man March.
What these White American conservatives fail to realize is the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan and other prominent, Black American Civil Rights icons called Black men to Washington, DC for the purpose of motivating Black men to stand in the gap for their women and children, become leaders in their neighborhoods, communities. The Million MAGA March was more symbolic, lacking any real substance. Donald Trump loyalists, which included White supremacists and far-right extremists, seemingly wanted to send a message to the former president that they support him, his missteps, his misdeeds.
Black lives do matter, and more people accept this fact when we cultivate more authentic trans-racial relationships. Progressive White Americans, when they march alongside us Black, Indigenous and Persons of Color, show us that they are tired of judging others by the colors of our skins, preferring instead to congregate with us in our spaces so they can get to know what the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the contents of our characters. As a result, they are rewarded for boldly taking these steps, for they are now seen as compatriots, or what I like to call White siblings in the struggle. And the more they endeavor to love on us, the more we endeavor to return the gesture.
Today’s conservatism has nothing to do with conservative ideology. Conservative ideology used to be about smaller government, less government regulation, and fewer handouts to the poor and downtrodden. But this platform only came into focus for Republican conservatives after former Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater articulated it after his presidential nomination at the 1964 Republican National Convention. When Goldwater decried Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson’s newly signed Civil Rights Act of 1964, and unashamedly said he didn’t want to “give handouts to Blacks,” he was appealing to a White American resentment that falsely claimed Black Americans were taking things from them.
If you’re White and you resent us Black Americans because you think we’re taking things from you, you don’t know what it means to be in relationship with others. You also lack the emotional intelligence to display empathy for racial/ethnic groups that have been terrorized, marginalized, murdered and disenfranchised, all to preserve and expand White Rule. Granted, you may think your relationships with the White Americans who share the same flawed, conservative ideology are authentic, but they’re not. Shoot, you may even have a few Black American conservatives telling you that you’re not racist for standing before the school board to rail against the teaching of Critical Race Theory in public K-12 schools. Buyer beware. These Black American conservatives are nothing more than opportunists trying to gain a semblance of relevancy in your world. These aren’t authentic, trans-racial relationships; these are inauthentic, transactional ones.
These inauthentic, transactional relationships run counter to authentic, trans-racial ones because they are temporary, and their sole purpose is to deter Black Americans from developing a more definitive identity through the learning of their history. These insincere efforts also prevent White Americans from learning more about their ancestors’ mistreatment of Black Americans. In their minds, if White Americans learn the truth about this history, they will undoubtedly want to make amends in the here and now to their Black American siblings. They will begin to understand that Black Americans have never attempted to goad White American’s into feeling guilty and uncomfortable. That’s a piece of coal handed down through the ages by their White American ancestors. Their White American ancestors established protocols that allowed them to commit crimes against other human beings and then avoid the penalties associated with their commission.
The May 17, 1954 U. S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas is what allows non-White American students to learn alongside White American students in public school classrooms. Yes, there was resistance then and there continues to be resistance now, as an increasing number of White American parents are enrolling their children in all-White private schools. But our primary and secondary school children, adolescents and young adults are now allowed to truly see each other, and then make their own determinations on whether they will be racist or anti-racist.
White American conservatives believe giving White Americans’ license to be racist toward non-White Americans is a winning strategy. Making false claims about President Barack Obama not being an American citizen paved the way for Donald Trump being elected U. S. president in 2016. And falsely claiming public school teachers are using Critical Race Theory to make White American students feel uncomfortable is pitting White American parents against Black American ones. The latter example shows that White American conservatives continue to systematically condition the White American populace to show a lack of empathy toward our grievances. But in reality, they are forcing all of us to focus on racial differences rather than human similarities.
It has been said a kingdom divided cannot stand. White American conservatives are exploiting our racial differences because they want to keep us divided. They increase the stakes when they assert that White Americans are predestined to rule over the subjects in this kingdom, and that they shouldn’t be ashamed of what their White ancestors had to do to become America’s ruling caste. But we live in a different era now, one governed by our collective need for fairness, equity and justice for all. And the most definitive dividing line is the one that separates those enlightened about the issues of race and those unenlightened about the issues of race. Once more of us become enlightened about the issue of race, we can continue to address our common problems together.
And let’s face it. All we Black Americans have ever wanted to do is claim a seat at the table and engage in honest dialogue with you, our White American siblings, consuming the meal that we all had a hand in preparing.
We want to be close to you.
We want to laugh with you.
More than anything, we want to wrap our arms around you, tell you how much you’re loved.
You just have to summon the will to love us back by being fully present in the moment and then working with us to continue the movement for fairness, equity and justice for all.
Why ABC’s “Women of the Movement” Gives Credence to the Need for Racial Reckoning
Like many of my Black American brothers and sisters, I watched ABC’s Women of the Movement with a profound mix of sadness, joy and pride. I knew the Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Will Smith-produced drama series about the 1955 murder of Emmitt Till would spark collective action and solidarity within the Black American community, especially at a time when unenlightened members of the Conservative Movement are pressing forward with their nefarious campaign to suppress these kind of stories in the lead up to the 2022 midterm elections. For these unenlightened, White conservatives, Women of the Movement seemingly is nothing more than another attempt by Black Americans to make White people feel “uncomfortable.” But then I got to thinking. Not about the White American fragility that is on full display for all to see. But about how this new series gives credence to a more immediate need for a racial reckoning.
We haven’t seen anything like Women of the Movement since the January 23, 1977 broadcast of Alex Haley’s Roots. I was only eight years old when this series aired, but my single-parent mother made sure my younger brother, sister and I paid attention to what was being portrayed on our small television set. Because it was a mini-series, we had to pay attention for eight consecutive nights as Kunta Kinte, a Gambian warrior belonging to the Mandinka ethnic group, and his descendants navigated enslavement, war and emancipation to give us a man named Alex Haley, one of the most prolific, Black American authors of my grandparents’ generation.
I am not going to lie; it was tough seeing Kunta Kinte getting his toes chopped off for running off the plantation and refusing to say his new name – Toby – after being commanded to do so by his White enslavers. But according to History.com, Roots was one of the most-watched television events in American history and a major moment in mainstream American culture’s reckoning with the legacy of slavery.
But on the same day that the final episode of Women of the Movement aired, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) uttered the gaffe heard around the world. During a January 20, 2022 press conference, when responding to a reporter’s question about voting access protections for American voters, McConnell said, “Well, the concern is misplaced, because if you look at the statistics, African-American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans.”
If you’re having a hard time fully processing that last paragraph, let me make it plain for you, based on what McConnell said. Mitch McConnell unashamedly made a distinction between Black Americans and Americans, who, in his world, are undoubtedly White Americans. But we all know that making this distinction is unnecessary, resulting from the fact that Section 1 of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” (National Constitution Center)
The inconvenient truth here is Black Americans have been the most durable Americans since the first Africans were brought to these shores, against their collective will, in 1619. And Mitch McConnell and other members of the Conservative Movement know this. Truth be told, their Republican Party used to champion causes that supported Black Americans’ citizenship and voting rights. Sadly, their present-day shenanigans are a sign that this support has been rescinded.
THE SHIFT IN BLACK LOYALTY
The Republican Party of today is not the Republican Party of yesteryear. They have shown that their number one objective is to game and rig the system so they can continue to expand a Southern Strategy that allows White citizens to hold onto wealth that was largely attained through the subjugation and terrorizing of Black Americans. This is not governing; this is blatant disdain for a significant portion of their constituency. And they are attempting to do this by conditioning members of the White electorate to respond negatively to Black Americans’ push for more privileges and immunities, life, liberty and property, and equal protection of the laws.
As I watched each episode of Women of the Movement, I conceded that individuals once loyal to the Democratic Party are responsible for the most heinous crimes against Black Americans. The institution of slavery. The rise of the Confederacy. The institution of Jim Crow legislation. The withholding of justice in the Emmitt Till Trial. The denial of Black Americans’ voting rights. All Democratic Party efforts to keep Black people in their place. Consequently, it is no surprise to most why our Black ancestors pledged their allegiance to the Republican Party.
But this loyalty started to shift following the Great Depression, when the New Deal “made the Democrats a beacon for Black Americans deeply affected by the crushing poverty that was plaguing the country” (npr.org). This shift was slow, evidenced by the fact that about two-thirds of the Black American electorate remained loyal to the Republican Party. However, Karen Grigsby Bates offers the following in her npr.org article, “Why Did Black Voters Flee The Republican Party In The 1960s?”. She writes:
“(Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater) wanted the federal government out of the states’ business. He believed the Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional — although he said that once it had been enacted into law, it would be obeyed. But states, he said, should implement the law in their own time. Many white southerners, especially segregationists, felt reassured by Goldwater’s words. Black Americans felt anything but” (npr.org).
According to Bates, Black Americans made an abrupt exit from the Republican Party because Goldwater and the Goldwater wing of the Republican Party opposed not only the Civil Rights Act, but the civil rights movement (npr.org). This opposition became apparent during the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco, California. Peniel Joseph, the Tufts University historian quoted extensively in Bates’ article, said when Goldwater became the Republican Party’s 1964 presidential nominee, he was speaking of a very specific notion of liberty when he told the ecstatic convention “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Joseph also told Bates that Goldwater advocated for a smaller federal government, one “that doesn’t give handouts to black people. A government that doesn’t have laws that interfere with states’ rights. A government that is not conducting a war on poverty” (npr.org).
These comments, Bates writes, represented a signal that both sides heard loud and clear. “Goldwater attracted the white Southern votes his advisors thought were essential, paving the way for the ‘Southern Strategy’ that Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan would use successfully in later years” (npr.org). However, the employment of this Southern Strategy by Nixon and Reagan is also what ultimately caused the remaining third of black Republican voters to exit the party” (npr.org).
As I consider this shift in light of the Emmitt Till story, I realize that White racism has nothing to do with party affiliation. All Mamie Till-Mobley wanted for her murdered son was justice, but she didn’t receive it because, in the mid- to late 1950s, White rule made it impossible for Black people to receive the same level of justice as Whites. As the drama series depicted, even though Black Americans were granted voting rights in 1870, with the passage of the 15th constitutional amendment, and were eligible to sit on trial juries, no Black Americans had been seated for the Emmitt Till Trial. Consequently, the men who murdered Emmitt Till were tried by an all-white jury.
The only play that today’s Republican Party has is its appeal to White Americans fears and resentments about Black Americans. They realize Black Americans’ distrust of their party is baked in, so they continue to falsely claim that we gravitate to the Democratic Party because the Democratic Party is giving us handouts. But this is nothing but a dog whistle that elicits conditioned responses from White Americans who feel it is important to protect the gains White Americans have made by subverting Black Americans’ interests and disenfranchising them from the ballot box.
Mamie Till-Mobley’s pursuit of justice for her son, Emmitt Till, was subverted because the vast majority of the White people in Money, Mississippi thought the freedom of two White murderers was worth more than the life of a 14-year-old teenager from Chicago, Illinois.
AN ALL-TOO-FAMILIAR PLAYBOOK
My hope is more White Americans will awaken to the fact that their whiteness is now being used by conservative Republicans to elicit disrespect and disdain for us, their Black American neighbors. These unenlightened White Americans falsely blame Black Americans for making White children, adolescents and adults feel uncomfortable when they call attention to White racism, prejudice and discrimination. But not once do they test the accuracy of these claims, instead choosing to cover their ears and say, “Nah! Nah! Nah!” to prevent themselves from hearing them.
But we shouldn’t be surprised by this type of behavior. They did the same to Mamie Till-Mobley. Everyone in Money, Mississippi knew Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam brutally attacked 14-year-old Emmitt before shooting him in the head and sinking his body in the Tallahatchie River. But, again, their White neighbors protected them because they lacked the empathy that most caring adults display toward individuals who have just lost loved ones.
I get that Mamie Till-Mobley wasn’t a Money resident.
I get that Mamie Till-Mobley not being a Money resident denied her opportunities to befriend White Money residents.
But none of that should have mattered.
Bryant and Milam should have received the death penalty for what they did to Emmitt Till. More importantly, Mamie Till-Mobley should have received the closure she deserved.
These days, conservative Republicans are trying to convince the American electorate that providing a fuller account of American History is a bad thing. It’s not. But the fact that so many White Americans are falling in line with this effort to recast White children, adolescents and adults as victims is telling. These unenlightened, conservative Republican politicians only want to enflame their emotions so they can remain in power. But when they are sent home after we reject them at the ballot box, the White American citizens that voted for them will have to explain to Black Americans why it was so easy for them to believe the big lies about Critical Race Theory and 2020 Presidential Election results, and not their Black American neighbors’ and colleagues’ heart-wrenching testimonies about their experiences fighting against White racism, prejudice and discrimination.
None of us can escape the racial reckoning that is sure to come. That’s why it is so important for us to turn to each other, not away, and have the kind of discussions that heal old wounds.
How Black Conservatives Are Failing America
In my research for this post, I re-read an article written by Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker. The article, titled “Liberals just cannot handle a Black conservative” (April 30, 2021), positions Black Republican Senator Tim Scott (South Carolina) as the face of Black conservatism. Parker praised Scott for leveling “strong and smart criticisms of (Joe) Biden’s agenda for the next four years.” However, she also asserted that Scott being referred to as “Uncle Tim” on Twitter, a “tool of white supremacists,” and a “blind servant of the far right” is what racism looks like in America today.
Parker’s brand of “racism” is purportedly being leveled against Scott by other Black people. However, there is nothing racist about their references, resulting from the fact that these other Black people’s blackness similarly situates them with Scott. Moreover, these other Black people are only calling Scott out for being insensitive and unresponsive to the real needs of his Black constituents.
Parker also misses the mark when she writes that liberals cannot handle Black conservatives. Truth is we liberals don’t feel obligated to “handle” Black conservatives. However, unenlightened, White conservatives seemingly welcome this opportunity. If this wasn’t the case, Scott and other Black conservatives would not have allowed Donald Trump and other unenlightened members of the Republican Party to make disparaging comments and institute divisive practices and policies that strained relations between Black and White Americans during the four years Donald Trump occupied the Office of the Presidency.
Everyone knows Scott is currently the only Black conservative Republican in the United States Senate. We know that he is a staunch defender of conservative values who challenges what Parker calls the “current orthodoxy of systemic racism that pegs Whites as oppressors.” While Senator Scott should be commended for overcoming adversity in his life, the fact still remains that he and other Black conservatives are failing America on a number of fronts because they willingly allow themselves to be handled by unenlightened, White conservatives.
GIVE WHITES LICENSE TO BELIEVE CRITICAL RACE THEORY IS BEING TAUGHT IN PUBLIC K-12 SCHOOLS
Most rationally minded people know Critical Race Theory is not being taught in public primary and secondary schools. It is being taught on college campuses, in law schools to be exact. But what you may not know is the letters C-R-T were first used as a racist dog whistle in Southlake, Texas in 2019, when White conservative activists flooded local school board meetings to condition and elicit parental outrage about the implementation of a developed diversity, equity and inclusion plan within the Carroll Public School District. After this conditioned and elicited outrage about CRT proved to be successful, these White conservative activists proceeded to leverage support for and seat at least two of their conservative allies on the school board.
A few days later, Black conservative Allen West suggested to a packed audience that this model could be used in suburban communities all across America to win local, state and national elections. West’s prediction proved to be correct. In November 2021, the big lie about CRT being taught in public K-12 schools was partially responsible for Republican Glenn Youngkin winning the Virginia gubernatorial election. You can rest assured that the CRT Dog Whistle will be blown again in voting districts all across America during the 2022 midterm elections.
But why are White parents so susceptible to believing the CRT lie? Probably because they received license to do so by Black conservatives. On the topic of systemic racism in America, Black conservative opinion matters. And many Black conservatives are seemingly telling Whites that they should not view themselves as unredeemable oppressors. That’s a noble thing to say; however, it drastically improves White conservative politicians’ ability to enflame White fears and resentments about Black and other non-White Americans. The main thing that these White conservative politicians are telling the White electorate is Black and other non-White Americans are taking things from them. In reality, though, nothing is being taken from Whites; the country is just going through the arduous process of righting past wrongs.
Most Black Americans know that our schools do a piss poor job when it comes to teaching Black history. Yes, history teachers will talk about the Transatlantic Slave Trade and slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation, Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s, but students rarely hear about the enslaved Blacks who fought to be free. The Black Freedom Fight seems to always be presented in a way that has enslaved and emancipated Blacks working in tandem with benevolent Whites. Additionally, students never hear about the Black kings and queens that inhabited our Black ancestors’ African homeland prior to 1619. I believe this White disdain for Black history is intentional because a critical review and analysis of this history will show that the descendants of enslaved Blacks, more than any other racial/ethnic group in America, are entitled to full reparations for their ancestors’ uncompensated labor.
Black conservatives fail America when they ignore these facts, and allow racially sensitive content (i.e., books written by Toni Morrison or Ta-Nehishi Coates) to be censored or removed from our schools because it makes White public school children and adolescents feel uncomfortable.
SAY NOTHING WHEN THE REPUBLICAN PARTY OPENLY ALLOWS WHITE SUPREMACISTS INTO THEIR RANKS.
While all of the citizens that assembled in front at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021 were not insurrectionists, the fact still remains that they were present with one objective in mind: Stop the Steal. We had just completed a routine presidential election, during a global pandemic mind you, and the states had submitted their vote tallies for federal certification. Donald Trump, the former president, told his supporters that the election had been rife with fraud. But when asked to provide supporting evidence, Donald Trump’s lawyers were unable to do so.
With all legal recourse exhausted, Donald Trump and his allies seemingly used outlets like Fox News, Breitbart, Twitter and Facebook to make coded appeals to White supremacists and militia groups. When this occurred, I thought I would hear more of a public outcry from Black conservatives. Heck, I thought we would see more Black conservative defections too. However, these outcries and defections never came, seemingly resulting from Black conservatives being lulled into complacency and complicity by unenlightened White members of the Republican Party.
Any individual or group that welcomes White supremacists into their ranks is not a student of U. S. history. And if you’re a Black conservative who sits idly by as these White supremacists invade the Republican Party, reshaping its identity, it is clear you forgot that the Republican Party used to be the standard bearer for equal rights and protections for all.
When I think about the Republican Party from bygone eras, I think about the Republican abolitionists that worked collaboratively with enslaved Black Americans for their freedom. When I think about the Republican Party from bygone eras, I think of Republican Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation, which granted freedom to enslaved Black Americans. But this contemporary version of the Republican Party cares very little about equal rights and protections for all. These days, its primary focus is to make rich White people richer, by any means necessary.
Black conservatives fail America when they have no problem with Republican leaders embracing support from White supremacists identifying as conservative Republicans. But this selling of their souls seemingly doesn’t come free. I believe many of them are being compensated monetarily by conservative-controlled dark money organizations to participate in activities that undermine gains made during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that these conservative-controlled dark money organizations were paying Black people to vote Republican in local, state and national elections. By failing to speak out against the Republican Party’s full embrace of White supremacists, Black conservatives allow themselves to be used for short-term gains that only pay dividends for themselves and not for members of the Black American Diaspora.
SHUN THEIR OBLIGATION TO AMPLIFY BLACK VOICES AND BLACK CAUSES
The struggle for Black uplift did not end with the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954 or the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We Blacks still find ourselves watching helplessly when our unarmed Black brothers and sisters are being gunned down in the streets by rogue police officers, or explaining to our White neighbors why Black lives matter. We also find ourselves battling the Republican Party’s legislative efforts to suppress our votes in mostly Republican-controlled states. In the midst of all this corruption, Black conservatives are seemingly sleeping at the wheel, not countering Republican big lies with inconvenient truths.
Our Black conservative brothers and sisters have forgotten what the struggle for Black uplift is all about. The struggle is all about creating a more perfect union, one in which everyone has an equal chance at achieving the American Dream. Black conservatives believe this day has already arrived. But when the Federal Reserve reports that in 2019 white households owned 85.5% of wealth, while Black households owned 4.2%, you begin to understand how White racism and discrimination has given White people a unique set of advantages, privileges even.
Achieving the American Dream is more possible now than ever before. But when Black people choose to adopt conservative ideology, they seemingly forget to view this conservative ideology through the prism of the Black struggle for equal rights and protections. This struggle only became less of a struggle because so many of our Black ancestors collaboratively used their time, talent, treasure and testimony to demand change within our communities, schools and corporations. Because of their efforts, our communities, schools and corporations are becoming more diversified.
But the same cannot be said about the Republican Party, or the conservative movement as a whole. Black people account for less than 10 percent of their voters, and Black people are rarely seen or heard from in conservative-controlled rooms where consequential decisions are being made. It’s almost as if White conservatives are trying to keep Black people out of these rooms so they can dilute Black influence at the polls without receiving any push back from enlightened, Black conservatives. But when you have unenlightened, Black conservatives like Allen West endorsing and participating in this dilution, you realize some Black conservatives are willing to say and do what unenlightened, White conservatives want them to say and do if these same unenlightened, White conservatives are willing to compensate them nicely for their efforts.