Editor’s note: On Fridays in February, we’ll be featuring articles selected by our guest curator, Andre Henry. Andre writes: Black History Month is a good time for us to take stock of the racial history of the United States. I’ve asked some emerging black voices in the national conversation to share what is on their heart this Black History Month because I believe that the beginning of racial progress in this country begins with listening.
On the dawn of Black History Month in 2019, Americans exist in a divided nation with an entirely different view of how the history of Black Americans ought to be remembered…if at all. Sigh.
Just days ago, a black man was nearly lynched. Jussie Smollet, a popular actor, was brutally attacked—doused in a chemical substance and found with a noose around his neck. His alleged assailants yelled racist and homophobic remarks as well as “This is MAGA country,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” This is one of 10 attacks in the last 365 days involving nooses and intimidation of Black Americans, a tactic (not so) formerly used to maim and murder black people by hooded cowards, KKK members and police officers. Even though being black in America remains to be a constant often daily fear, studies show many whites believe blacks are overly paranoid. Divided indeed.
We are not a divided nation because of a red hat with words that in and of themselves are gaslighting in nature to anyone other than white men to whom America has been great for all along. It’s not the hat that’s produced this divided nation nor is it the millions of people hashtagging #MAGA across their timeline or even the embarrassment of Fox news and the un-spellchecked, bullying Twitter feed of our President.
The better question to ask ourselves is this: When has the nation not been divided?
The better question to ask ourselves is this: When has the nation not been divided? To answer that, we’d have to look back over 400 years ago and ask our indigenous brothers and sisters for the history of this land long before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Ever since white colonialism arrived on this land, its peoples have been carefully, systemically, systematically and lawfully divided. Under God. This country was birthed in division. Period.
Division exists as a cancer within the very cells that keep its metaphorical heart pumping. The knowledge of the complexity and pain to which division and racism exists is in large part ignored by the majority of the country to which the most power is given. The division has been here all along, and once again, powers exist that can and are writing that division into law. A looming great giant wall is but a symbol of how othering can be funded and built to further prove America sees humanity as male, white and wealthy. Though I didn’t need a wall to tell me that.
Within this division, there’s a misalignment of facts. This should not need to be clarified over and over again, but here we are: the way black Americans have been treated for even the last 100 years isn’t an opinion, it’s verifiable. In this Google age, we also have this handy service called ebooks. If a trip to the library to obtain free knowledge is too much, one can learn from the comfort of one’s own home. We also have a number of informative documentaries for the non-reader. There is no excuse for anyone to not understand the basic perspectives and trauma of the Black American experience…unless one does not want to understand nor care to. And therein lies the problem.
There is no excuse for anyone to not understand the basic perspectives and trauma of the Black American experience…unless one does not want to understand nor care to.
As a biracial woman, when I interact with my white family members, a particular pain point isn’t always that we don’t see eye to eye on matters of race—it’s simply their lack of basic knowledge of even the last century, let alone the long-term impact of violent chattel slavery. This is a pain point in our nation’s division that should not be overlooked. Evangelical whites lack basic empathy because they lack basic knowledge. They do not listen.
The very reason many evangelicals parade around in a verbally abusive red hat is because they haven’t heard from or learned from those with the most at stake. It heaps insult to injury when not only do constant inconsistencies exist in well-verified facts of the nature of injustices towards black Americans, but also a lazy misinterpretation of how that history continues to impact black, brown and indigenous peoples of color alive today.
There’s not many more ways Black Americans can say, “We are in pain.” We’ve said it in a million different ways. Even though it’s filtered and rewritten 100 times through the erasure of the white gaze I pray we’ll find the strength to keep showing up and fighting for our humanity.
May Black History Month remind us all how very important it is to keep learning from those whose experience we have not lived, particularly across racial and gender lines. Until we do that, we will remain a sad, abusive and divided nation.
Grace Sandra is a mama & writer helping black women survive from abuse & oppression through creativity, trauma recovery, self-development, entrepreneurialism & everyday wellness.