Challenging White Racism and Controlling Our Own Narratives
A friend and confidant recently shared a photo of the following excerpt which is from a school book currently being used in Texas (see below).
I initially shared through one of my social media outlets with a comment that read, "It's all about who controls the narrative. If Whites and/or non-blacks (and I would now also add Blacks who have not challenged their own white indoctrination) tell the story, this is what we end up with."
One of my friends (also grieved by the passage) replied, "We must work to change the narrative."
My initial response to my friend went something like this:
"In order to decide to change a narrative, one must presume it to be true and/or embrace it. I offer that our quest is not to change anything; yet reject the very utterances of it! This is not our narrative and it has never been our truth. Our problem is we have enabled and empowered Whites (and all others socialized through whiteness) to continue to control our minds and what we think about ourselves as African Americans, by perpetuating the same aversive propaganda. We buy into such ignorance and then teach it to our children. Whites have always controlled mainstream narratives about every group in this country. We must understand that in order to stand firmly against it.
We have nothing to change to be seen differently in anyone's eyes. We are a royal people, descendants of kings and queens. This is the story we need to tell ourselves and our children ( the only story); and we also need to tell our own truths derived from empowerment, perseverance, resilience and survival. That truth should start with (in all cases) the struggle of blackness to merely exist in an oppressive world of Whiteness: how Whites initially brought our ancestors to this country, raped our great grandparents, beat, ravaged and murdered them for more than three centuries. We need to tell the story about how there was never any justice because for more than 300 years all police, judiciary officials and juries were all White. Blacks could not testify against Whites, nor bear arms to protect themselves. We must speak about the Casual Killing Act of 1669 and discuss the ways in which Whites propped-up a law that both legalized and normalized the killing and murders of Black people at the hands of Whites. What do we think this state of being did to our African, African-European and Black ancestors emotionally, psychologically and physically? Where did the trauma, pain, anger, frustration and humiliation go? What was the psychological and emotional trauma inflicted upon our White ancestors? Where did their lack of concern, apathy and ambivalence go? I submit to you that White people (and now blacks and other POC's based upon the embrace of and unchallenged traditional ideology evolved from White indoctrination) do a very good job of perpetuating falsehoods and non-contextualized narratives. In order to understand why and how some realities exist as they do, we must understand what was done to create, control and maintain those realities; as well as the stories (narratives) that were created to tell about such perceived realities. Our mission must be to continue to educate ourselves and others and reject this nonsense."
In addition some of the facts stated above, I will also add that for another 100 years after slavery (1865-1965 - Separate But Equal/Jim Crow doctrine), legalized rapes of black women (such as Betty Jean Owens and Recy Taylor) and lynchings of black women and men (tens of thousands, including: Edward White, Vance McClure, Scott Sherman, John Frye, William Smith, A.L.Smart, Mary Turner, Laura Nelson, Frank James, George King, Blake Wagner, Robert Williams, Patrick Morris, Mr. and Mrs. Morris, Louis Senegal...….....and so many more) continued to be perpetrated onto Blacks by Whites, with justice absent from our reality. Add to this equation all of the Black communities destroyed by Whites in the late 1800's and early-to-mid 1900's (i.e. Tulsa Oklahoma Riots, East St. Louis, Rosewood, Wilmington, Chicago, etc), along with the confinement of blacks into urban ghettoized and neighborhoods across the country (a direct result of city, county and state racial zoning ordinances); as well as $120-Billion dollars of Whites-Only housing which prevailed from 1934-1968 (all created and enforced by Whites) to further the economic advancement of all Whites, which also continued and enabled the ability of Whites to thrive emotionally, mentally and physically; contrarily leading to the economic, physical, mental and emotional health hardships of individuals in most Black and brown neighborhoods for decades to come (individuals my family, as well as the family members of so many others that I know personally).
Add into this equation the educational, employment and economic opportunities limited for blacks by Whites who controlled (and still do control) the heads of the majority of institutions in this country, as well as managerial and supervisory positions - who make decisions about who gets opportunities and who does not. Then add the emergence of Nixon's War on Drugs (which he and his Chief Counsel John Ehrlichman later openly went on record stating that they were targeting blacks) which was the precursor to Reagan's War on Drugs that target black and brown communities and sent millions of individuals away to prison for lengthy terms, rather than providing holistic support mechanisms (similarly to what is happening with Opioids). Add to this the continued perpetuation of criminalization of Black people (which was and continues to be the bedrock of this country), coupled with continued mandatory sentencing of blacks to prison; and now legalized killings of blacks (i.e. Trayvon Martin, Dontre Hamilton, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Ezell Ford, Tanisha Anderson, Tamir Rice, Stephon Clark, Jerame Reid, Philip White, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Charleena Lyles, Sandra Bland, Philando Castille, Kalief Browder...……..and so many more) which has derailed the promise and purpose of so many gifted black lives.
And now, the story (narrative) being taught in our schools, and told to the masses of society is what we see pictured in the fragment above?
I would offer and challenge all of us to engage the following questions in critical thought over the next week or so (considering the mere glimpse of facts I listed here):
If any group was subjected to the oppression black people have been and are continuously subjected to, what would the psychological, emotional, physical, educational and civil sum total be?
When did the government and our legal system ever take a holistic approach to remedy the destructive terror that it levied against Black people in this country?
How has criminality (as slavery's replacement) and negative stigmatization of Black people continued to disadvantage of blacks in this country?
Context is everything.
This passage from the school book a prime example of aversive White racism which has and continues to influence and control the learning and thinking of all participants in U.S. American culture, and as well as various cultures around the world. As defined by Dr. Asa Hilliard lll, "Racism is a system that encompasses economic, political, social, and cultural structures, actions, and beliefs that institutionalize and perpetuate an unequal distribution of privileges, resources and power between White people and people of Color. This system is historic, normalized, taken for granted, deeply embedded, and works to the benefit of whites and to the disadvantage of people of color."
In each and every situation, we need to ask ourselves the following questions: Who is telling the story? Who has been responsible for telling the story? What is their connection and/or relationship to the narrative vs. ours? Are they telling the story from the perspective of the oppressed, or oppressor? What is their motivation? What are the short and long-term impacts? Is the story in or out of context?
Only when we begin to challenge the ways in which systemic and institutional racism prevail in our daily lives, can we begin to truly understand ourselves better and hopefully experience solitude, peace and healing.