I’ve been teaching my adult students about The Civil War. They learned about the Lincoln Memorial and saw a play about Cathay Williams. Cathay, was the first African American female Buffalo Soldier. Cathay was a freed slave who first worked as a cook and laundress for just pennies for the Union Army. After some time, to earn more money, she disguised herself as a man in the all African American unit the Native Americans called Buffalo Soldiers. They marched for 2 years throughout the South doing mostly clean up and guard duty and other jobs the white soldiers wouldn’t do. They never saw a battle. Williams became ill many times with cholera and smallpox. She was hospitalized but she was never discovered to be a woman. She finally revealed herself and got an honorable discharge from the army. She died young and her family never received the pension she worked for. We all learned so much from the actress who played every part in the 45 minute show.
Now we are studying the causes of the Civil War. We are beginning our study of slavery. The students are reading about the Middle Passage and its aftermath. Since I love history, I’ve been able to supplement the book that we are using with my own knowledge of the subject. What I tried to explain to them is that although the war ended in 1865 and slavery was abolished, that it really hasn’t been that long since Black Americans have had all the same rights as White Americans.
Using myself as an example, I said that many of the civil rights we gained occurred only one year before I was born.
“The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, is considered one of the crowning legislative achievements of the civil rights movement.”
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 happened the year I was born. The students were really surprised to know that women couldn’t vote until 1920. More history lessons about that are forthcoming.
I brought current events into the discussion. I often do this so they can relate the past with the present.
They easily understood and agreed that all the recent happenings of the police being called by white people on black people, for no good reason were examples of white supremacy which began over 400 years ago.
In the last few weeks , we’ve seen black people, just living and also being seen as threatening .
We can’t go to The Waffle House for food without either being senselessly murdered by a racist or the cops are called for minor infringements (questioning or disagreeing with staff). Three officers assaulted a woman on the floor, exposing her breasts.
We can’t depart an AirBnB, packing luggage into our car to leave. The Mrs. Kravitz of the neighborhood waved and smiled at them through the window. The young women didn’t acknowledge her. So, of course, she called the police who detained them when they were on their way to do a show. That department is being sued by the young women.
One of my students asked me, Why do they treat us like this? I didn’t even speak for a few seconds because, I didn’t have a reasonable answer. I still don’t have a reasonable answer. However, I said white slave owners felt that we were less than human. We were property. We were not their equals. We were beneath them just because of our melanin. Today, some people still hold those mindsets.
We should not have to continue suffering the humiliation and pain that racism brings. Yet, somehow we still do. I feel there are people who would love to see us back in shackles without any rights.
We need to stay out of Waffle House. We need to frequent food and coffee establishments owned and operated by people of color. Let’s hit them in the wallet. Let them lose business and dollars. That’s what they understand. Black people boycotted buses in 1955. They walked and car pooled for over a year. The bus company went bankrupt. We have the ability for that to happen to all types of establishments. We have to be unified for this to happen. Our ancestors did it, why can’t we?
So, as my students and I drift deeper into the Civil War discussion I’m sure I won’t have all the answers. I’m hoping these current events will calm down. With #45 and his ilk in office and being supported by the Fox News loving fan base, it will be some time before we feel and experience the change.
Old behaviors are new again. But did they ever really leave?
Today’s topic- Write a letter to someone, anyone.
This one is hard. I couldn’t figure out who would be the receiver of this letter.
Dear Police Departments in America,
I have been watching over the past few years as more and more videos are revealing to everyone, what black people have known all along. We are disproportionately shot and killed by police, due to racial bias. We seem to fit the description, even if we are not guilty of doing anything. Our skin color appears to be a weapon to you. We cannot remove it. You are being called to take us away for doing minor things that are not breaking the law. Is there one law for white people and another for people of color?
We cannot sit in a car, own a licensed gun, make an error on the road, sell DVD’s or loose cigarettes. We can’t wear hoodies or run in the rain. We can’t run for a bus, ring a doorbell and ask for directions. We can’t hold a cell phone or a wallet. We can’t ride a train to a wine vineyard and laugh too loudly. We cannot question paying for plastic utensils or question you as to why we are being arrested without being violently knocked to the ground to be handcuffed.
We can’t sit in Starbucks doing exactly what everyone is doing. We can’t even go golfing without you being called because we are golfing too slowly in someone else’s eyes. We can’t live in our newly gentrified neighborhoods, doing what we’ve always done without you and your colleagues showing up in force.
Please tell me how you are training your people? White people can commit crimes, shoot people and known to be armed. These people are taken away without a scratch on them.
A black person is holding a cellphone and is riddled with 10 bullets in the back. A black person reaching for their wallet is killed with 41 shots. The officers who are murdering innocent black people are rarely convicted of any crime. They get to keep their lives, jobs and pensions. Sometimes, they get promoted. If they get fired, they find another position in different department. The families of people murdered by the state are never the same and seek justice they rarely receive.
There has to be a way to weed out biased and easily terrified people out of your ranks before they get a gun and badge. People who “fear for their lives” and always shoot to kill should not be on the job. Maybe you should have more police of color working in neighborhoods of color. Do you get psychological counseling before you are hired? Is there a question asking if you were bullied in school? Are you asked if you fear people of color? Why do you want to be a police officer? Your job is dangerous, but if you are afraid of danger, this is not the career for you.
There must be a way for black people and the police to co-exist without deadly force. What are your suggestions? Surely you know that our lives are valuable. Surely you know, that we feel, live and breathe just like you. We do not deserve to be killed by those sworn to protect and serve us.
We don’t hate the police, but we are increasingly becoming afraid of you. We may want to run when we see you. That doesn’t mean we are guilty of anything. We are afraid to be another hashtag and statistic. We don’t want to be another life taken too soon. A visit to the dentist is more welcome than an encounter with the police. We have to have special discussions with our children on how to survive police encounters and make it home alive. This should not be our relationship.
We want to find a way to work together for the good of everyone. We want to live long, healthy and productive lives. We want to be with our families. How can we make effective change?
A Representative for Black America
My heart hurts. My soul hurts. My mind is racing. It could have been any of my male relatives. It could have been any of my male friends. The occurrence has become so common, it could have been me. How many more have to die? I’m emotional and angry and filled with questions about humanity.
Why are all black people a threat even when we don’t behave or do anything that suggests that? Our mere presence is not a threat. We live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. That doesn’t seem to ring through for my people, who possess melanin in their skin.
How many parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, sons, daughters and cousins have to hold a press conference, rally, protest, pray, cry in front of the television cameras, before my people are viewed as humans beings with full and meaningful lives?
If someone made mistakes in their past, and had run ins with the law; they deserve due process, if suspected of wrongdoing. They don’t deserve 4 shots to the chest with a cop on top of them. Use your handcuffs and arrest them and leave them to the judicial system.
Black Women, Black Men, Black Children, Black Teens- none of us feel safe anymore. Apparently we are all threatening, no matter what we do or how we are dressed or our educational level-even when we are not doing anything wrong. When we do what others do on a daily basis- selling things, looking at merchandise to purchase, playing in a park, listening to music with friends, driving, seeking help after a car accident or just walking home, we end up DEAD. Not just one shot to stop us, we get 41 shots when they mistake our wallet for a weapon. Why is that??? We know why. It needs to be acknowledged.
People will openly grieve for killed gorillas, lions and jaguars, but not for black people. I then hear he/she asked for it and a myriad of reasons why they deserved it. Enough already. What has happened to our moral compass and humanity?
There have been too many hashtags. Each one represents lives lost. The names drop like thunderstorm rains. Since the first video seen in 1991 showing the horrendous beating of Rodney King by the LAPD, we began to see up close, modern-day versions of lynchings. There were 3959 lynchings of black people that occurred in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia between 1877 and 1950. No one went to prison for beating Rodney King.
In 1955, Emmett Till’s mother showed the world, the face and body of her son. A group of white men in Mississippi, kidnapped him out of his bed, beat,shot, tortured and drowned her 14-year-old son. No one went to prison for this child’s murder.
12-year-old, Tamir Rice was playing, like a child should in the park, with a toy gun, Police drove up to him and in 22 seconds, he was shot and later died. They wouldn’t even allow his sister to comfort him in his last pain filled moments. A gun was drawn on her. No one went to prison for this child’s murder.
His life was worth $6 million dollars. That’s what his family received from the city of Cleveland as a settlement for their lawsuit against the city.
There have been so many more deaths since young Tamir. According to The Guardian 136 black people in 2016 have been killed by law enforcement This includes Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. In the past two days we watched one man being executed (2 different views from survelliance and cell phone cameras) and the aftermath of the execution of the other.
Mr. Castile’s girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter are forever traumatized, because they were sitting in the car, while he was shot. If not for video, no one would have known. I’m surprised his girlfriend was not shot. After the shooting, she was arrested and held for 5 hours. I am no fan of Facebook Live, but we wouldn’t have had the video without it.
Black and Brown people have the task of telling their children how to talk to the police. It’s a conversation that white parents don’t have. But what do white parents tell their children about black and brown people? These white children grow up to join police departments around this country.
Please tell them this about black and brown people- we love, we are spouses, we dance, we worship, we like to have fun, we go to movies, we love our children, we find work we love, we attend college, we read books (I’m a librarian), we make mistakes, but continue to grow as people. We enjoy the company of our friends and family, we have feelings. We are flesh and blood.
We are not pets (People try to touch and stroke our hair, invading our person without asking us.) We are not here on this earth for your amusement or your abuse. We are your equals and not beneath you. Do not be afraid of us and then take a job to serve and protect us.
Anyone who is not black, please start having different conversations with your children, with your friends and your co-workers. I know that many white people understand and are with us, they support us and protest with us. Thank you for being human. But, there are so many that are not with us.
Activist and actor Jesse Williams made a speech recently and he said “we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people everyday. So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.
The time is now. The last two days prove it. How do we start? There has to be a change in how police departments are run, how officers are trained, including learning cultural sensitivity. They need to be held accountable when they do wrong and kill unarmed people. The good cops need to be courageous and expose co workers who are not up to the task that their difficult jobs entail. If they are racists, they have no reason being on the job.
I looked to my spiritual and life mentor, Daisaku Ikeda for some guidance, this is what I found and I believe everyone should read it.
Let’s be human and respect one another. This pain,suffering and bloodshed has to stop. It’s just too much for the psyche and for the heart.