Black Liberation And The Lessons From Our Ancestors
How the lessons of the Civil Rights Movement can guide us in the struggle ahead.
The beauty of black joy and progress sometimes causes us to forget the realities of America. Denzel Washington and Halle Berry won Oscars on the same night once. Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Prince, Whitney Houston, Lauryn Hill, and Beyoncé held the top spot in American music back to back. Naomi Campbell became the most famous supermodel in the world. Diddy & Jay-Z went from hip-hop royalty to corporate moguls. Chance the Rapper redefined the music industry. Shonda Rimes took over television. Oprah Winfrey, the first black female billionaire, became the most powerful woman in the world. Barack Hussein Obama II was elected the 44th President of the United States of America. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it happened, but somewhere, amidst all that melanin Magic, we forgot that America that was not accustomed to all that Black glow. Some were even violently opposed to it. Now, as the political backlash to the black glo-up frightens us to our core, we must remember that, like our ancestors before us, we will survive the current evening and the night to come.
For every two steps ahead, our country seems to take one step back. When slavery was finally abolished, the country was plunged into Civil War because some considered human captivity a “necessary evil." Even after slavery was made illegal, the hate was reborn through involuntary servitude, peonage, sharecropping and convict leasing. When that was shut down, the Jim Crow era ushered in the idea of “separate, but equal," insuring that non-whites would be quarantined in ghettos and receive the worst of services, provisions and access. The Civil Rights and Black Power movements destroyed de jure racial segregation, and ushered in the era we currently live in.
Yet, the generation that insisted upon separate water fountains and neighborhoods didn’t magically cease to exist. They passed their intolerance down a new generation who silently watched as black musicians changed the sound and heartbeat of America. They watched as queer & transgender artists changed the country’s aesthetic. They watched as Muslim writers changed the country’s narrative. They watched the dsenfranchised change the face and course of America; and they planned a response.
The silent discontent at the new inclusive America was spread through internet message boards, propaganda websites, and suburban KKK flyers. They heard their rallying cry during the Trump campaign and once again have control of the country. We watch in horror as we seemingly sit on the precipice of disaster. Our country seems to be mirroring the events that led to Nazi Germany’s “Final Solution”: the intentional expulsion and mass genocide of millions of Jews. As children, we wondered how something like the Holocaust could have happened. Now, as we watch the evening news, we understand.
We look at the new political administration in America and are filled with nauseating dread. Yet, this is not the first time that white supremacy, nepotism, patriarchy, and xenophobia have elected a dangerous commander-in-chief to battle the increased browning of America’s skin.
It’s also not the first time we’ve had to survive being violently targeted. We have but to learn from our ancestors.
It takes persistence
Even when violence and tragedy came to our ancestors, they kept marching literally, and figuratively. The days ahead will be dark, yet we must remain persistent. Protest, march, sit-in, shut-down, speak, teach, write, sing, perform, share knowledge, contact your senator and representative, enable local activists and hold local and state government officials accountable. Do not waiver. Do not forget that a majority is on the side of liberty, if the last election’s popular vote is any indication.
It will require unity.
The Civil Rights movement of our grandparents’ generation saw black Christians, black Muslims, white allies and people of all cultural and religious belief systems stand for justice. We must do the same. Everyone who isn’t white, Christian, straight, cisgender and male is being targeted: people of color, queer and trans people, non-Christians, and women. We must fight as one, especially in communities of color. We can work out of philosophical and theological differences later. Now is the time for a united struggle.
It will demand self-care.
Just as those before us had time for the funky chicken, the twist, the electric slide and the cabbage patch, we must take time to dab and milly rock ourselves into joy. The digital zeitgeist is tempting and endlessly available in our smartphone driven world. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the daily barrage of stories covering the latest abuse of power. Yet, take some time to disconnect. Pace yourself. Our bodies require mental rest in addition to physical. Eat well, fellowship with your friends, and binge-watch your favorite show to your heart’s content. Light some incense, go for a walk, enjoy the love of your family. Fight, but rest. Then fight again.
Above all, don’t lose hope. Sam Cooke said “a change is gonna come." Bob Marley said “we forward in this generation, triumphantly." Kendrick Lamar said, “we gon’ be alright."
For every step we take backward, we have ALWAYS taken two forward. Someday, we’ll arrive at the destination.