A month or so ago, a wonderful woman reached out to me on Facebook to invite me to a screening of the new documentary Slavery by Another Name. It so happened that I saw the chance to preview it tonight as I was thinking about what to offer in this column.
It documents powerfully, painfully, magnificently the history of the Negro/African American, and it tells the truth about this country’s planned, systematic economic segregation of Black people. This week, to my dismay and surprise, I heard a show on our radio station talking about how our young people don’t want to know our history.
What are the consequences, real-life consequences, for that lie? Our future doesn’t see that their segregation is like the invisible fence for animals. It’s there — you just can’t see it. But if you run into it, you know not to go that way again.
In the days where the majority of “Black news” isn’t written by Black people, where Essence and Ebony think “dressing on a dime” starts with a hundred-dollar bill for the masses of Black women, and in a place where our history is again under threat of revision, our future doesn’t need to know about our past?
Marcus Garvey left with this: “A people without knowledge of their history or culture is like a tree without roots.” We must see that the path to resistance is laid in our past.
Our ancestors left the recipe, the plan for escape, the map to liberation in their songs of resistance, analysis of politics, and proof of the realities of the “nothingness” of rhetoric. They left it for us in our history, telling of the courage of Harriet Tubman, the beatings of Fannie Lou Hamer, the sacrifice of Crispus Attucks and the contributions of James Baldwin to name a few.
Let Black History Month compel you to want to know about yourself and your culture the other 11 months of the year. Dr King told us to write our own emancipation proclamation; Malcolm told us, “If they gave it to us, they can take it away”; and A. Philip Randolph cautioned us that “Freedom is never given, it is won.”
We need to learn and take heed. We need to teach our children and our children’s children, as this is the best weapon we can equip them with against the lies of supremacy. We must give them a shield of informed goodness about Black people and our contributions, a shield that takes them deeper than “We come from kings and queens” to a place where they can name them.
I know we can’t all risk it all like Harriet Tubman; some of us can’t even risk the thought of freedom. No matter what we can risk in the open, we can teach what we know about the wonders of being Black every place we go. We can affirm one another with a nod, a handshake, a look of understanding…something that affirms the way we belong together, our private resistance.
To look away from one another, to believe that our bank account or address will keep us from the ugliness of racism, is only to live in the matrix that keeps you idle, blinded by your circumstances, believing you’ve “arrived.” Like O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson, in the words of Motel Six, “We’ll leave the light on for you,” because when the rubber meets the proverbial road, you’ll need the village to be delivered.
We need to invest as much in learning our history as we do in reading the latest business bible, Facebook post and tweet, and we need to spread what we know, the facts, not conjecture, to every Black person we know. This is what we can do to keep our collective back straight. Resist the desire to adjust, to blend in, to be tolerated, and instead embrace learning about your uniqueness, your beauty, our contributions — and then go tell it on the mountain!
No Bull Connor. No hoses. No marches. Low risk. Commit to 365 days of Black History and teach, teach, teach. “Racism is a much more clandestine and much more hidden kind of phenomenon, but at the same time it’s perhaps far more terrible than it’s ever been,” says Angela Davis.
Can you dig it?
Hear Lissa Jones’ radio show “Urban Agenda” on 89.9 KMOJ-FM Thursday nights at 6 pm, stream her live at www.kmojfm.com, or read web posts from Lissa at www.kmojfm.com. She welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.