Reflections on Race: African American Challenges — Voices from the local Black community contemplate the primary challenges facing African Americans and how best to address them.
In order for America to heal, make peace and move forward with our past, I believe we must address our history around two fundamental principles.
When I was a young girl growing up in the South, I remember the last thing my mother would say to me before going out the door on a Saturday night with friends: “Remember where you come from!” And this simple but powerful reminder instilled in me a sense of self-awareness and purpose that is my guiding light to this day.
This is why I believe the first thing we must do is for us Black Americans to transform our minds and boldly proclaim to ourselves and to the world, I am somebody, I am Black and I am beautiful. I come from a moral and noble people rooted in dignity and honor, and I am not ashamed of my history. I am ashamed of the immorality of the men who created it!
Yes, we must now shake off the chains of mental enslavement that still remain and rise up with a sense of self-awareness and self-respect rooted in the truth that all men are created equal and endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Any effort to move forward that underestimates the importance of this declaration of independence is doomed to fail because as long as the mind is enslaved, the body will never be free. This is the root of the riots we witnessed this summer. Rioting is indeed the cry of the unheard.
In his book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Dr. Martin Luther King says, “The Black man must reach down to the inner depths of his soul and sign his own Emancipation Proclamation. Psychological freedom is the most powerful weapon against the long night of slavery and no Lincolnian Emancipation Proclamation or Johnsonian civil rights bill can bring this kind of enduring freedom.”
And once we affirm this truth, we must then organize our strength into economic and political power.
The second thing I believe America must do is to start teaching and telling the truth about our past no matter how painful or inhumane that past has been.
It’s true that you’re as sick as your secrets, and because America has committed to silence and ignorance about this history, this cancer continues to ravish the entire body to this day.
Like the Alcoholic Anonymous creed, only when we acknowledge and understand the truth will we be able to heal, make peace and move forward.
Bryan Stevenson, a civil rights attorney from Alabama, has this same vision.
“Because America has developed an advanced strategy of silence and created false narratives about slavery, slave owners, emancipation and the South, we can’t move forward,” he said when asked to speak about the confrontation America needs to have with its history. “We can’t jump to reconciliation, reparation and restoration until we are honest and tell the truth.”
About Reflections on Race
Black history is unfortunately not always recognized as American history — even today as it was in 1915 when Dr. Carter G. Woodson, hailed as the Father of Black History, and others brought his “brainchild” to life.
If you ever wondered how Black History Month originated, you need go no further than the founding group’s website asalh.org. It stands for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
In its own history, focusing on Dr. Carter, the association notes: “During the dawning decades of the twentieth century, it was commonly presumed that black people had little history besides the subjugation of slavery. Today, it is clear that blacks have significantly impacted the development of the social, political, and economic structures of the United States and the world.”
The association chose as this year’s Black History Month theme: The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.
Our guest columns for Reflections of Race will help to secure the foundation of the Black family by identifying challenges and issues facing the African American race. We asked our guest columnists to comment from a local or national viewpoint, and offer solutions along the way. And they did just that.
— Ruth Foote, collection editor
As founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of the book Just Mercy, Stevenson lives a life dedicated to this justice for all individuals, some of whom he rescued from death row.
He proposes, and I wholeheartedly agree, that “Slavery did not end with the Emancipation Proclamation; it evolved and the heavy smog created by this legacy is still in the air we breathe today.”
Indeed, this model of truth telling is desperately needed in America today because in a real sense, we have never dealt with the roots that made enslavement so horrific — the ideology of entitlement and white supremacy.
As a Black American, when I think about the horrific brutality, beatings, burnings, drownings, lynchings and murders — plus the far-reaching economic injustices we’ve suffered — and yet to this day are still willing to live in harmony within this same system, I feel a strong sense of pride and encouragement. It says something remarkable about the power of resilience, love and freedom.
This is what Dr. King meant when he said this:
“When the history books are written, somebody will have to say … there lived a race of people, a Black people, fleecy locks and black complexion, who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights and thereby they injected a new meaning into the veins of history and civilization.”
In the final analysis, I have the same dream. Yes, a dream deeply rooted in the American dream and the common thread of the good, decency and moral fortitude of the people of the United States of America — one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.