About Christie

Blogger - www.witnessingstories.com Instagram - @sojo1913

Wacky Wednesday: 2014 New Year’s Resolution

Image courtesy of Simon Snowden/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Simon Snowden/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Da Hype 1

Each year, I sit down and write a list of things that I resolve to do better than I did the year before. For some reason, I expect to awaken on January 1–the day after partaking in alcoholic beverages and celebrating the outgoing year–and some how be a brand new “me.” I used to believe that simply because I wrote a list of well-meaning life changes on some scrap sheet of paper (that will probably be lost by January 3) , that miraculously on January 1, I’ll have the will-power to do what I did not have the will-power to do all of the year before.

This year, after considering how much of an #EpicFail every other New Year’s list of resolutions have been, I decided that New Year’s resolutions are for suckers! Instead, I decided to look for more ways to do the things that I like to do, and do them more often. As a writer, I will then write about those experiences, hoping that my writing will evoke more good feelings, which will be the impetus to do them more often.

For example, I like to scrapbook. Scrapbooking is creative work, and whenever I’m being creative it always makes me feel good. It also encourages me to do other creative things, like write. Rather than “resolve” to scrapbook once a week (I refuse to use language like “resolve” anymore), I will just pick a day at random and scrapbook. The reason why I plan to follow-up by writing about the experience is because I want to make an effort to slow down and consider how the experience makes me feel. I’m betting that really acknowledging the experience (and all of the good feelings it evokes) will inspire me to do it more often.

That’s all I have for resolutions; I’m over them!

Da Realist 1

Well, this is a switch. I am usually the more pessimistic one, but Hype seems like she has that covered. I guess it does seem arbitrary that on January 1 we can just press the reset button and start over, but I’m all for it. I want to put all the bad things behind me, and embrace the wonderful possibilities of the coming year. So, bring on the black-eyed-peas and collard greens. I’m hoping that 2014 will be a lucky year.

This year I want to continue to try new things. This is something I started in 2013. Not a big deal, you say? Well, maybe not for some people, but this requires a stretch for me. I don’t like change that much. The introvert in me would often rather stay at home and read a book than try some new activity. One of my favorite quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt is: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I can’t commit to every day, but I think monthly is an attainable goal.

So, what about our 2 Dope followers out there? Have you given up resolutions? Are they for suckers? Or, do you have a resolution for the new year?

Advertisements

Foto Friday: Oh, Christmas Tree

Each Friday, 2 Dope Sistahs posts a picture and today, we decided to share our Christmas Tree with you. I still have much to do, but I promised my 6 year old that I would not do it without her. So, here is my half done Christmas Tree. Come back to this page this weekend, and I’ll post an update.

Christmas Tree

The Help, 12 Years a Slave, and Racial Politics in Hollywood

Notes on The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Anyone who really knows me knows that I absolutely hated-yes, hated-The Help. Let me be clear: I am talking about the novel and not the movie. And, that is because after having painfully read the novel, I refused to see the movie. There, I said it, and even wrote it for all of the world to see!

While I have many gripes with the novel, what bothered me most was the way in which the author, Kathryn Stockett, trivialized the Civil Rights Movement by centering it entirely around black people’s desires to share the same toilets with white folks. That troubled me. There came a moment in my my reading where I stopped and said, “So . . . this book is about sh!t?” I then proceeded to call Da Realist 1 and yell at her about this book and how I thought it was full of sh!t.

Let’s examine this notion further. There is the woman agonizing about her 17 year old son who was in jail for using a white-only bathroom. Either he was illiterate and incapable of reading the “White-only” sign or he suddenly forgot Jim Crow laws that prevented him from behaving properly in the segregated Mississippi. You choose. Either way, I found it odd because black folks did not forget segregation–that was their way of life, and  forgetting it could be a death sentence. The murder of Emmett Till served as a reminder to all, of what happened when black people did not acquiesce to the rules of the segregated South.

Then, there were the domestic workers, who were bothered by not being able to share the bathroom of the families for whom they worked, and were forced to use out houses. To the credit of one white family, they built a separate bathroom inside their home for their maid’s use because “Everybody knows [black people] carry different kinds of diseases than [white people] do” (8).

Lawn of toiletsThen, the antagonist in the novel, Hilly Holbrook, is working to introduce into Mississippi legislature, a law which she titled, The Home Help Sanitation Initiative. This initiative would promote separate help quarters in every white person’s home, as a way of preventing the spread of “Negro germs.” Skeeter, the protagonist, is so kindhearted to the “Negro maids,” that she decides to play a trick on Hilly and posts in the newspaper she works for that unwanted toilets can be dropped off at the Holbrook home. Hilly awakens to a lawn full of toilets. Enough bathroom talk yet?

Wait! I can’t forget the pie Minny made with her own excrement. (For those who have not read the novel, I’ll end it here. Enough is enough, damn it!)

This novel, situated within the historical context of the Civil Rights Movement, only offered readers a cursory glance at high profile leaders like James Meredith and Martin Luther King, Jr. and it failed to recognize the larger issues of segregation and racial violence that blacks experienced. For example, The Little Rock Nine so desperately wanted equal access to education, that they braved violent mobs who spat upon them, hit them, and threw various types of food and drink on them. I could go on and on about this book and what it failed to accomplish, but I already feel the need to take my blood pressure.

But here is the thing: for some strange reason, I thought the author was black throughout most of the novel, though I later found out otherwise. I only include this to dispel any argument that one might have that I am responding to this novel negatively because I resent the fact that the author is white. On the contrary. I believe that anyone can write about any subject matter they choose. In order for the characters to be believable, however, you need to actually know and understand the culture about which you are writing. For me, Stockett did not know and understand the culture of black women maids who served in the homes of white families.

As the movie was released, I learned that I was not alone in my disdain for this novel. Da Realist 1 won’t even call it by name (she calls it The Terrible, Awful book) and The Association of Black Women Historians released a statement, arguing that “The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers” (Read the ABWH Statement on The Help here).

The truth is, when the novel came out and the movie was later released, every white woman I came across wanted to know if I had read The Help. (They thought they wanted to discuss it with me, but believe me, they did not.) I was at my daughter’s dance class and all of the mothers, who happened to be white, kept asking me if I read the book and wanted to hear about how much I loved it.

Stop. Rewind. Now, read that last sentence again and replace dance class with gymnastics class, and you will understand how everywhere I had gone, white women were talking about how wonderful this novel is. I was so sick of hearing about that damn book! Da Realist 1 was even approached by a white employee at a book store who wanted to discuss the book. When she told him that she did not care for it, he became hostile. This is when black people should be skeptical: whenever soooooo many white people like a work that addresses race, it should be cause for concern.

The Help, the book and The Help, the movie both fit the formula for books and movies that address racial issues in a way that white people can be amused and entertained. The Help has a white woman protagonist, who makes white people feel comfortable, and provides them with someone with whom they can identify. After all, everyone would like to believe that they are Skeeter and not Hilly.

Hollywood Rule: There must be a kindhearted white woman or man in the story who comes to the aid of black folks and supports them. Otherwise, white people feel convicted and uncomfortable with the story, even if the story is non-fiction. And, for the record: I’m not saying that these kindhearted white folks did not exist; they just may not have existed in every story and in every black person’s life. This bit of news may come as a shock to some white people.

12 Years a Slave

Image from movie, 12 Years a Slave

Image from movie, 12 Years a Slave

So, why am I discussing The Help now, 2 years after the release of the movie? While looking for a place that was still showing 12 Years a Slave, I came across these comments about the movie, posted on moviefone.com:

“Horrible waste of time and money. It was realistic but how many times do we need to sensationalize the same tired story of the unfair whites and the poor blacks. It is a fact of life that happened a long time ago. Each time this story is told, it brings about additional racial tension in the USA.”

“Interesting take on a past that some ppl will try and hold emotions for. Not enough emphasis on the many white ppl who sacrificed a lot, including their life, to help the black cause. IN a time when racial division is on the rise movies like this do not help.”

“I forgot to star this movie. One star. Again, too intense and too much violence against people. Doesn’t matter black or white. I don’t like seeing people getting beat up so much, not entertaining.”

“It was definitely gritty. Just a horrible, depressing film and story. Not uplifting, but alarming. Particularly considering what is happening in the US politically as the white republicans try to rewrite history and turn back the clock.”

“Boring Fell asleep The same thing we’ve seen before.”

“Too long, gratuitous violence,how many times did we have to watch beatings and whippings…..did not like this movie.”

“Boring..very predictable…save your money and rent it”

While I cannot identify the race of those who made these comments, similar comments can be found around the internet, articulating white people’s discomfort with movies that address slavery as the subject matter. The same outrage does not occur as the the result of so many movies representing the horrible experience of Jews in Nazi Germany, and that is probably because Americans have always been willing to acknowledge the atrocities that occurred outside of our borders, while avoiding those that occurred within.

12 Years A Slave, on the other hand, is a hard pill for some white people to swallow because of the obvious injustice and violence experienced by Solomon Northrup and his fellow slaves. His story was not a safe one to tell, like that in The Help.

First, 12 Years a Slave is non-fiction, and it forces readers to deal with the harsh cruelties of slavery from the perspective of a true story. One cannot hide behind the the label of fiction when reading the narrative or watching film, which is why the above comments are comical at best. The white people that Northrup came across were vicious, violent, and conniving thieves. Why should he have depicted them in any way other than he experienced them?

Second, as one of the comments indicate, this story is not uplifting in the way that many white viewers need it to be. Brutal beatings are not uplifting, but then again, I did not go to a movie on slavery and expect it to be.

But, I beg us to rethink the narrative of a happy ending, especially when it comes to narratives on racial violence in slavery and Jim Crow. For example, I am not certain how a narrative–a true narrative–of a man who was kidnapped and robbed of 12 years of his “freedom”, ownership of his body and how it gets used, his time/experiences with family because of excessive greed and white privilege, was brutally beaten, forced into chattel slavery, and then released, can not be a story of triumph.

Brad Pitt in 12 Years a Slave

Brad Pitt in 12 Years a Slave

Furthermore, if only those who had fallen asleep had stayed awake long enough, they would have found out that even during slavery, Brad Pitt would come and save the day for black people.

Wacky Wednesday: Top 5 Christmas Songs

Da Hype 1

Jackson 5 Christmas albumIt is not Christmas until I play my favorite songs. As a kid, we would all decorate the Christmas Tree to the Jackson 5 Christmas album. We would pretend to be all of the Jacksons and even say the lines to the skits at the beginning of each song. For me Christmas has to have a soundtrack and my soundtrack is as follows:

5. Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You”

4. James Brown “Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto”

3. The Jackson 5’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

2. The Temptions’ “Silent Night”

1. Donnie Hathaway’s “This Christmas”

Da Realist 1

The first part of my soundtrack sounds like church on Christmas morning. I’m sitting in whitexmasthe front row next to my great-grandmother and the choir is performing wonderful renditions of all the standards–“Silent Night,” “Joy to the World,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” etc. The second part of my soundtrack consists of the songs I hear on the radio during December. So, I’ve narrowed my list to five. I think readers might find it. . . eclectic.

5. “Santa Baby,” Eartha Kitt

4. “O Come All Ye Faithful,” Luther Vandross

3. “Let It Snow,” Boyz II Men

2. “Do You Hear What I Hear,” Whitney Houston

1. “White Christmas,” Bing Crosby (Also my favorite Christmas movie)

Now you know what we like. What’s your favorite Christmas song?

Still talking about Slavery in 2013: Why 12 Years a Slave Now?

Why We Write/Talk about Slavery

Harriet Jacobs, author of The Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Harriet Jacobs, author of The Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

I have been teaching African American literature for more than a decade now. During this time, I have taught a number of narratives that address the subject matter of slavery. In fact, during Fall semesters, I teach a course called The Slave Experience. When teaching these courses, my students and I often discuss, “Why it is important to continue to write/talk about slavery?” This question has arisen in the mainstream media and in social media lately, with the movie release of Solomon Northrup’s narrative, 12 Years a Slave.

I teach about the subject matter of America’s institution of slavery for a number of reasons, but the one that seems to be the most pronounced for me and for my students is the fact that we (others who study slavery and other human atrocities) want to be connected to, give voice to, and honor the humanity of those who have been robbed of the status of “human.” My classes are filled with students who elect to take a course on slavery that is not required because they genuinely believe that by better understanding the experience of American slavery, they will be better citizens and better humans. For me, this is what education in the humanities is all about.

Tell 2DS some of the other reasons you read about slavery.

Writing/Righting the Accounts of Slavery

Below, you will find a list of some accounts of slavery. I decided to list both fictional and non-fictional accounts because there is so much to learn from them both.

Traditional/Conventional Slave Narratives

Frederick Douglass, author of A Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass, author of A Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglass

This list consists of narratives written by or dictated by slaves themselves, once they escaped bondage. Those who were incapable of writing themselves, often received help from others to chronicle their experiences. These narratives were primarily written as a way of validating (or give witness to) the horrors of slavery, in hopes that the escaped slave’s story could support the abolitionists in emancipating all of those still enslaved.

The conventions of the writing reveals that those who escaped were gracious enough to not only tell their personal stories, but they also wanted to give voice to all who were still silenced and victimized by slavery. They had to tell the stories of how they escaped carefully, without revealing too many details of those who aided them to “freedom”. Assisting a slave in escaping slavery was a federal crime and it could result in prison time or worse for all of those caught participating.

This is only a small list of slave narratives:

  1. Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789)**
  2. Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince (1831)**
  3. Frederick Douglass, A Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845)
  4. Henry Bibb, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave, Written by Himself (1849)
  5. Henry Box Brown, Narrative of Henry Box Brown, Who Escaped from Slavery Enclosed in a Box 3 Feet Long and 2 Wide (1849)
  6. Josiah Henson, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself (1849)
  7. Solomon Northrup,12 Years a Slave (1853)
  8. Harriet Wilson, Our Nig (1859)
  9. William Craft, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; or, The Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery (1860)
  10. Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)

**denotes slave narratives that did not take place in the United States

Neo-slave Narratives

Gayl Jones's Corregidora

Gayl Jones’s Corregidora

Not to be confused with conventional or traditional slave narratives, the genre of literature often called the “neo-slave” narrative, consists of works of fiction that address the institution of slavery. Generally speaking, there are two types of neo-slave narratives: a.) works that have the institution of slavery as its setting, and b.) works that revisit slavery within a contemporary context.

Oftentimes, the narratives were based on actual documented accounts of slavery, as in the case of Beloved, which is loosely based on the experiences of Margaret Garner. These contemporary writers took the opportunity to address, without the rules and conventions of the 19th century, the realities of slavery that perhaps the traditional slave narratives could not. For example, 19th century works of fiction could not explicitly address the sexual violence black women experienced in slavery because the writers did not want to jeopardize the Abolitionist Movement by offending supporters of the movement with their stories of being raped by white slave masters. After all, no one wanted to address the rape culture that existed in American Slavery.

Octavia Butler's Kindred

Octavia Butler’s Kindred

Below, you will find a sample list of some neo-slave narratives. This list is, by no way, exhaustive:

  1. William Wells Brown, Clotel (1853)
  2. Margaret Walker, Jubilee (1960)
  3. Gayl Jones, Corregidora (1975)
  4. Alex Haley, Roots (1976)
  5. Ishmael Reed, Flight to Canada (1976)
  6. Octavia Butler, Kindred (1979)
  7. Sherley Anne Williams, Dessa Rose (1986)
  8. Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)
  9. J. California Cooper, Family (1991)
  10. Toni Morrison, A Mercy (2008)

There were so many that I left off the list for various reasons. Please share with us your experiences reading these narratives.

Nelson Mandela: July 18, 1918-December 5, 2013

“Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.” Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela2 Dope Sistahs honor
the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela.

May his soul rest in power.

These are my Confessions: Making Friends with your Kid’s Friend’s Parents

birthday partyOne downfall of parenting is the many conversations I have with people I otherwise would never even talk to. Countless times, I have found myself at a birthday party of some kid in Nina’s class, where I was forced to have some of the most mundane, most pedestrian conversations with people I am not remotely interested in getting to know. But, I endure these painstaking chats, in hopes of not making my child a social pariah.

The more I think about it, though, mundane conversations are probably the safest way to go because any conversation on religion and/or politics is certain to create a situation where my child is alienated on the playground.  In the end, though, I always chastise myself for forgetting to take a shot of Jack and for forgetting to sing Public Enemy loudly in my home in preparation for what is certain to take place. (Don’t judge me, I know that I am not alone.)

One time in particular, I remember a woman going on incessantly about how much she misses her husband when he is out of town, because it forces her traipse their children around town all alone to do the necessary shopping. “People must think I’m some poor single woman!” she blurts out before a chuckle. Everyone else lightly chuckles and nods as if they agreed that being a “poor single woman” would be an unfortunate label for the story teller. Meanwhile, the real single mother in the crowd backs away, feeling alienated and wondering what exactly did she mean by “poor.”

Very recently, I took Nina to another birthday party and was hemmed up in another unfortunate conversation. The basketball court in our neighborhood was caught on fire and it melted (don’t ask me what it was made of, I was just as shocked as you). This became the topic of conversation among a few parents. One of the parents said, “Well, you know, there has been a lot of issues on that court. Since they opened, there has been nothing, but . . .” She looked at me and continued, “let’s just say, thugs.”

Did I mention that I am almost always the only black parent at these parties? So, it was clear that she minced her words in my presence. There was talk in the neighborhood of all of the black boys that play on the court since it opened this summer, and that they were not from the neighborhood. This is problematic for a number of reasons: 1.) They could not imagine that these boys were from our neighborhood, when in fact, many were. 2.) They immediately considered the boys seen on the basketball court as thugs. 3.) The picture shown on the news of the suspect who was videoed committing the crime, was indeed a white boy.

The conversation reminded me of my earlier post, “From Don Imus to Zimmerman: Tracing Conversations on Race & Victimization,” that addressed the court’s inability to consider Trayvon Martin as a victim. So, I was boiling hot at the assumptions made by the parent. Luckily for me, the party ended shortly afterward.

So, when your parents tell you all they sacrificed for you: 18 hours of labor, all of the money they contributed to your wardrobe, your violin lessons, dance classes, gymnastic classes, cheer leading uniforms, etc., be certain to add all of the countless times they were forced to engage in some of the most pedestrian, oftentimes obnoxious and offensive conversations with people they would otherwise never talk to.

Still talking about Slavery in 2013: Why 12 Years a Slave Now?

Why We Write/Talk about Slavery

Harriet Jacobs, author of The Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Harriet Jacobs, author of The Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

I have been teaching African American literature for more than a decade now. During this time, I have taught a number of narratives that address the subject matter of slavery. In fact, during Fall semesters, I teach a course called The Slave Experience. When teaching these courses, my students and I often discuss, “Why it is important to continue to write/talk about slavery?” This question has arisen in the mainstream media and in social media lately, with the movie release of Solomon Northrup’s narrative, 12 Years a Slave.

I teach about the subject matter of America’s institution of slavery for a number of reasons, but the one that seems to be the most pronounced for me and for my students is the fact that we (others who study slavery and other human atrocities) want to be connected to, give voice to, and honor the humanity of those who have been robbed of the status of “human.” My classes are filled with students who elect to take a course on slavery that is not required because they genuinely believe that by better understanding the experience of American slavery, they will be better citizens and better humans. For me, this is what education in the humanities is all about.

Tell 2DS some of the other reasons you read about slavery.

Writing/Righting the Accounts of Slavery

Below, you will find a list of some accounts of slavery. I decided to list both fictional and non-fictional accounts because there is so much to learn from them both.

Traditional/Conventional Slave Narratives

Frederick Douglass, author of A Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass, author of A Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglass

This list consists of narratives written by or dictated by slaves themselves, once they escaped bondage. Those who were incapable of writing themselves, often received help from others to chronicle their experiences. These narratives were primarily written as a way of validating (or give witness to) the horrors of slavery, in hopes that the escaped slave’s story could support the abolitionists in emancipating all of those still enslaved.

The conventions of the writing reveals that those who escaped were gracious enough to not only tell their personal stories, but they also wanted to give voice to all who were still silenced and victimized by slavery. They had to tell the stories of how they escaped carefully, without revealing too many details of those who aided them to “freedom”. Assisting a slave in escaping slavery was a federal crime and it could result in prison time or worse for all of those caught participating.

This is only a small list of slave narratives:

  1. Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789)**
  2. Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince (1831)**
  3. Frederick Douglass, A Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845)
  4. Henry Bibb, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave, Written by Himself (1849)
  5. Henry Box Brown, Narrative of Henry Box Brown, Who Escaped from Slavery Enclosed in a Box 3 Feet Long and 2 Wide (1849)
  6. Josiah Henson, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself (1849)
  7. Solomon Northrup,12 Years a Slave (1853)
  8. Harriet Wilson, Our Nig (1859)
  9. William Craft, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; or, The Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery (1860)
  10. Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)

**denotes slave narratives that did not take place in the United States

Neo-slave Narratives

Gayl Jones's Corregidora

Gayl Jones’s Corregidora

Not to be confused with conventional or traditional slave narratives, the genre of literature often called the “neo-slave” narrative, consists of works of fiction that address the institution of slavery. Generally speaking, there are two types of neo-slave narratives: a.) works that have the institution of slavery as its setting, and b.) works that revisit slavery within a contemporary context.

Oftentimes, the narratives were based on actual documented accounts of slavery, as in the case of Beloved, which is loosely based on the experiences of Margaret Garner. These contemporary writers took the opportunity to address, without the rules and conventions of the 19th century, the realities of slavery that perhaps the traditional slave narratives could not. For example, 19th century works of fiction could not explicitly address the sexual violence black women experienced in slavery because the writers did not want to jeopardize the Abolitionist Movement by offending supporters of the movement with their stories of being raped by white slave masters. After all, no one wanted to address the rape culture that existed in American Slavery.

Octavia Butler's Kindred

Octavia Butler’s Kindred

Below, you will find a sample list of some neo-slave narratives. This list is, by no way, exhaustive:

  1. William Wells Brown, Clotel (1853)
  2. Margaret Walker, Jubilee (1960)
  3. Gayl Jones, Corregidora (1975)
  4. Alex Haley, Roots (1976)
  5. Ishmael Reed, Flight to Canada (1976)
  6. Octavia Butler, Kindred (1979)
  7. Sherley Anne Williams, Dessa Rose (1986)
  8. Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)
  9. J. California Cooper, Family (1991)
  10. Toni Morrison, A Mercy (2008)

There were so many that I left off the list for various reasons. Please share with us your experiences reading these narratives.

Veterans in my Family

My cousin's name on the Vietnam War Memorial

My cousin, Charles V. Redding’s name on the Vietnam War Memorial

On the day Charles V Redding III’s body was shipped back to the United States, my uncle was working. He was a part of the United States Air Force, and from my understanding, his role was to tend the bodies of soldiers who were shipped back home. And, although he was an uncle through marriage, our families were very close and he had no idea that it would be Charles’s body he’d see. I am not certain if he knew Charles, but he certainly knew his father and the rest of the family.

This is the narrative that my father tells of the loss of his nephew. My father, a Veteran of the Korean War himself, is still moved by the story and sometimes I think that it is the imagery that he constructs in his head that moves him most–the imagery of what it must have been like to be a witness to a familiar body coming in. I cannot imagine that experience either, or the experience of many other soldiers who witness, not just the lifeless bodies, but the actual incident in which their fellow soldier had fallen.

My father hardly ever discusses war or his years in service, but on occasion, he mentions a story or two. One story that he has begun to tell in more recent years is a story that addresses why he won’t fly from Maryland to Tennessee to see me. The story goes . . .

Korean War Memorial

Korean War Memorial

It was 1952, while awaiting a flight to Hawaii, a buddy came up to my father to give him some money he owed him. As the soldier fumbled looking for the money,  my father told him not to worry about it and that he could give him the money after they landed. His friend and soldier said okay and they waited to get on their planes. His friend boarded a plane and my father, at the last minute, was told to board another plane. His friend’s plane crashed and he never saw him again. That narrative is also deeply ingrained in his memory. Those are the types of stories that soldiers remember.

This Veterans Day, I thought deeply about the my father and his experiences in the military and I considered the fact that there is still so much more I would like to ask him about the time he served.

Black Children: The Faces of the Civil Rights Movement

The Little Rock Nine

The Little Rock Nine

Emmett Till; 16th Street Baptist Church Victims: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson; Little Rock Nine: Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas,Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Kalmark, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo Beals; Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis . . .

2013 marks the 50th year since the historic March on Washington, and as I reflect on the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, I cannot help but be disillusioned by current events in this nation surrounding the rights of black people.

In August, I was dismayed by the Supreme Court’s decisions surrounding Affirmative Action and Voting Rights. Their response to both cases reflect a nation postured to reverse the slow gains that the Civil Rights Movement had already achieved. As disillusioned as I was about those cases, nothing seemed more demonstrative of the reversal of this country’s progress toward treating black people as human, than the violence that black children have experienced in recent years.

Black children are no strangers to being victims of racial violence. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs (Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl), for example, were but children when they were brutally beaten by slave masters, raped by them, and/or witnessed some heinous act of violence committed toward someone they loved. They represent the many children enslaved who were victims of violence and/or painfully watched someone they loved become victims of violence.

Once emancipated, black children continued to be witnesses to and victims of violence throughout much of the twentieth century. Malcolm X, for example, often recounted the death of his father. Earl Little was brutally beaten and placed on railroad tracks to be run over by a trolley car when Malcolm X was only six years old. Earl Little, an ardent supporter of Marcus Garvey, was vocal about racial oppression and was targeted by white supremacists and attacked by them for audaciously speaking out against racial violence. Prior to his assassination, he and his family barely escaped their burning home set afire by white supremacists. Earl Little’s murder, coupled with the fact that the insurance company refused to pay his family the life insurance that he purchased for himself, created a situation in which Malcolm X’s family spiraled into poverty. These are the circumstances–a violent racist America–that gave birth to a child who became El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Also known as Malcolm Little, Detroit Red, and Malcolm X).

Emmett Till was brutally beaten and tortured for allegedly flirting with a white woman

Emmett Till was brutally beaten and tortured for allegedly flirting with a white woman

Malcolm X, though not around to see what happened to his father, was affected by the violence nonetheless. This violence made a significant impact on a young boy’s life, especially after his father’s death created such a degree of anxiety for his mother that she was eventually committed to a mental hospital. Whether they were victimized directly or whether they witnessed racial violence, this is the violent America that was a reality for black children.

My mother often tells a story in which she was a young girl in the 1940s, riding in the car with her parents and her mother’s cousin. They were travelling on Rt. 301 in Upper Marlboro, MD and they noticed two black sailors being brutally beaten on the side of the road by a couple of white men. My grandfather got out of the car and began to fight the white men off of the black sailors. My grandmother and her cousin helped by pelting the white men with rocks. All the while, my mother sat in the back seat of the car in fear of what would happen should other white people–particularly police officers–arrive on the scene. Had other whites arrived, what followed could have been catastrophic, and my mother was well aware of the consequences.

From L-R: Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley

From L-R: Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley

Black children were not only victims of white violence against black people as witnesses, but they also directly received the wrath of white supremacy by being the target of their violence. From Emmett Till, who was killed for allegedly flirting with a white woman to the four little girls who died as a result of the 16th Street Baptist Church, black children were the casualties of a war against black people. They were brave and they were s/heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, who deserve to stand equally as prominent for their valor as other players of black liberation movements.

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin

What became quite evident very recently, as we watched the court case on the tragic death of Trayvon Martin unfold in the media, is that despite a history that makes clear that blacks have been victims of white violence, the American judicial system refuses to see us as such. (See post on Trayvon Martin, “From Don Imus to Zimmerman: Tracing Conversations on Race and Victimization”). What disturbs me most is that we cannot even identify children as being victims of violence, and they are generally the group that is afforded the protection of any civilized society. America wept, and rightfully so, for Newtown, but could not weep for Trayvon Martin because the state of Florida successfully vilified him. Many accepted the notion of Martin as a perpetrator of a crime and not a victim.

Jordan Davis

Jordan Davis was murdered in FL for playing his music too loud. The shooter claimed he saw a gun (which did not exist) and he stood his ground by shooting.

As we commemorate milestones in black history and struggle through our present day injustices, we must consider the children who have died and continue to die for Civil and Human Rights. In fact, we must honor their memory.

May we continue to honor the memory of Trayvon Martin. May we continue to honor the memory of Jordan Davis. May we continue to honor the memory of countless others who die each day because America refuses to imagine them as victims of crime. They are the most recent children who are victims of white supremacist ideologies that refuse to acknowledge us as human.