Everything Old is New Again

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 move into a new apartment in a predominantly white area without neighbors calling the police.

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.

A young man was viciously grabbed by the throat and thrown to the ground by an officer twice his size while wearing his prom attire.

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.

We can’t even nap in a common room at Yale, where that’s allowed ,without another student calling the police.

We can’t barbecue in a designated area without someone calling the police.

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?

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Day 23- 30 Day Writing Challenge

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?

Signed,

A Representative for Black America