“They send me to eat in the kitchen when company comes…”

“The following blog post is dedicated to my paternal granddad. May he rest in peace.”

Ahh, the kitchen, a place filled with delicious smells, warm feelings and saucy conversation. The kitchen is riddled with memories. It carries the nostalgic, aromas of yesteryear. However, this place wasn’t always as inviting as it seems. This room was often used an area for shunning and marginalization.

The above-referenced line in Langston Hughes’ poem, I, Too, reiterated the historical treatment of African Americans as second-class citizens—a visible invisibility, if you will. In the early days, black men and women in domestic roles were to be seen and not heard. Your respect and obedience were required, but your presence was repulsive. You were there for one purpose and one purpose only—service. Once service was accomplished you were shunned to the kitchen to partake in whatever leftover vittles were left. If there wasn’t anything left, you were thought to simply be grateful that you had a job at all (no matter how laboring, demeaning or exploitive). Carry on; just smile and nod.

During the Jim Crow era, things weren’t much better visiting restaurants. No matter your vocation or your education, if you were a black person in America, there was rarely a “seat at the table” for you. Counter space was limited and tables were specifically reserved for “white” paying-customers only. Meanwhile, blacks were to hang out back near the kitchen, or outside if they wanted any sustenance. I’m reminded of a troubling story that my father once told me about my granddad.

One day, he and my father went to a restaurant. My granddad ordered a meal and waited for his meal to be cooked. Once his food was ready, he picked up his bag of food, and he and my dad went to have a seat. Suddenly the cashier hissed,” You can’t eat in here. You have to go eat outside.” Appalled, my granddad exclaimed, “You mean to tell me, I can’t eat here?!” My granddad became visibly upset.

Obviously, he was a customer like everyone else. There were various tables available, but he and his son were relegated to eating outside. (Actually, no one else was sitting in the restaurant at that time because many had taken their food to go during the busy, lunch hour. So there were PLENTY of seats available.) Infuriated by this demeaning practice and the cashier’s insulting words, my granddad slammed the food down on the counter. He said, “Take the food! I’m not buying.” And my then teenage dad voiced his stamp of approval, “You tell ‘em daddy.”

I admire my granddad for taking a stand. He saw the value in himself, even though others refused to see it. I’m sure he taught my dad a valuable lesson on self-worth. He also taught him,

“If you don’t respect my humanity, then surely you don’t deserve my dollars.”

Today, there needn’t be any visible signs expressing the “us vs. them” mentalities similar to those that were found in segregated facilities. No, now we have the microaggressions that insert themselves into our everyday conversations, keeping the “I-don’t-think-I’m-a-racist” people enslaved to their own implicit biases. We have insults veiled in jest. We have sarcasm hidden under the guise of “I don’t mean to be racist but . . .” Times have changed, but the self-centered and lack of awareness culture has remained.

We must free ourselves from the bounds of prejudice. We must think before we speak, and reflect before we act. We must die to selfishness, so that we can live a life filled with love. Maya Angelou once said, “If we lose love and self respect for each other, this is how we finally die.” Rise up and LIVE.

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“I am the Darker Brother.”

(An exhibit from the African American History Museum located in Washington D.C.)

These simple words extracted from the poem, “I, too,” carry an electrifying significance.

Decades upon decades of statistical data, poisonous rhetoric, and inequitable policies are clear indications that black Americans are still considered the “darker brother.” However, if vile separatists could have it their way, the brother would be dropped completely and we’d simply be left with being dark.

I believe Hughes made the “darker brother” distinction in order to point out American society’s implication: “Simply because of your melanin, you’re not good enough and you don’t belong here.” It plays upon the notion that but for our sun-kissed hues, black folks would truly know what it means to be American. We would finally be deemed patriotic. The fact remains that history has proven that lop-sided view of patriotism to be erroneous.

African Americans have continuously contributed to American society. Those efforts, often going without thanks and appreciation, have helped America to become the thriving empire that it is today. This country was built on the backs of slaves, catapulting America leaps and bounds ahead of other countries due to its capitalism supported by free labor. These circumstances alone are more than enough to qualify African Americans to require better of the country. However, when African Americans express frustrations with the injustices that continue to exist, it is often met with exasperating sighs and finger-wagging admonishments. But, we, too, are America.

Oddly enough, pseudo-patriots carry ideals steeped in hatred rather than the justice-for-all principles they proclaim. Yes, the “darker brother” reflects the not-so-subtle irony of the “separate but equal” theme applied throughout our history. Nevertheless, we, too, are red-blooded Americans and we have the right to require better of America when it appears to be drifting into the abyss of mediocrity. Though many of our ancestors came here as imports rather than as immigrants, we have a right to resist whenever America fails to live up to the land-of-the-free reputation it touts to other nations.

The watered-down patriotism symbolized by baseball caps and apple pies is revived by the images of counter sit-ins and kneeling protests. Loving America doesn’t simply mean splashing around the shallow ends of tradition; rather, it is also diving deep into progress. Pointing out injustice should not infuriate you; however, actual injustice should provoke the anger of all Americans. Unity in America means that we stand firmly, linked arm in arm as brothers and sisters, in the fight against oppression. Whether you’re the darker brother or the not-so-dark sister—we, too, are America, and we are in this fight together.

“Sing America”

Cue the O’Jays melodic hit, “I Love Music.” I’m sure you’ve gathered from previous posts of mine that I am a lover of music. You will catch me dancing to a playlist with songs ranging from Prince to New Edition. I’ve always been drawn to great music, no matter the genre. From the electrifying beats to captivating lyrics, the combination of those two elements will send me careening down the path of nostalgia and into musical captivity. Music is powerful. While it can act as an escape on one hand, it can also help create an awareness that you’d otherwise remain blinded to in your day-to-day.

For years, black Americans have used music as a tool to give a voice to the cries of the oppressed—sometimes with in-you-face, heart-wrenching lyrics, and at other times more subtly disguised within thumping basslines and rocking guitar strums. This Black History Month, I encourage you to take a voyage through the land of black music.

I’ve compiled a list of songs from black artists, which range from issues of social injustice to the calls for unity. Allow yourself to become really engulfed in the music. Listen to the hearts of the artists. Discover their messages. Join along in their passion. Familiarize yourself with their pain.

Some of these songs are quite heavy, but the history of Black Americans is quite heavy. When we begin to learn this history and understand the journey of our neighbor, then we will be able to join together in harmony. Go ahead. Sing America.

 

  • A Change Is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke
  • Ball of Confusion by the Temptations
  • Brotha by Angie Stone
  • Can You Feel It by the Jacksons
  • Facts by Lecrae
  • Forward by K. Michelle
  • Four Women by Nina Simone
  • Free Your Mind by En Vogue
  • Glory by John Legend ft. Common
  • Hood Villains by Dee-1
  • I Can by Nas
  • I’m Black and I’m Proud by James Brown
  • Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler) by marvin Gaye
  • It’s Time by the Winans
  • Lift Every Voice and Sing by J. Rosamond Johnson and James Weldon Johnson
  • Living for the City by Stevie Wonder
  • Love Train by the O’Jays
  • Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson
  • On My Own by Lecrae
  • Rhythm Nation by Janet Jackson
  • Scream by Michael Jackson & Janet Jackson
  • Stand by Trey Songz
  • Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday
  • The Knowledge by Janet Jackson
  • They Don’t Really Care About Us by Michael Jackson
  • Think by Aretha Franklin
  • To Be Young, Gifted, and Black by Nina Simone
  • U Will Know– Black Men United
  • Wake Up Everybody by Harold Melvin & the Blue
  • We Are the World by U.S.A. for Africa (Michael Jackson)
  • What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye

(This list is not all inclusive. Go discover the world of music!)

I, Too

The poem I, Too was written by Langston Hughes over 90 years ago. It reads:

 

I, too, sing America.

 I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.

Tomorrow,

I’ll be at that the table

When company comes.

Nobodyl’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”

Then.

 Besides,

They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—

 I, too, am America.

 

According to an article on Smithsonian.com, the poem “capture[s] a series of intertwined themes about the relationship of African-Americans to the majority culture and society, themes that show Hughes’ recognition of the painful complexity of that relationship . . .” Yes, a painful complexity indeed. This poem is beautifully written and really resonates with me. For that reason, I will be using it as inspiration for my next few posts during Black History Month. With that being said, let’s proceed with my first poem-inspired writing.

The 18 lines by Hughes are powerful. Following the recent unveilings of government officials wearing blackface, the words of Hughes continue reverberate throughout the souls of black folk years later. People often claim to not see color; however, failing to see the experience and discrimination that comes with a person’s shade and ethnicity leaves society in a regressive state.

I don’t have the energy to break down all of the reasons why blackface is wrong. (There are plenty of people who have done a wonderful job laying it out. Please see here, here, and here, for starters.) The history of blackface has plagued America as an immature act, and a tasteless form of entertainment. Be it celebrity or commoner, some have found it amusing to adorn themselves in sludge-like substances and exaggerate their features, making a mockery out of black skin and attributes. For years, black people have voiced the pain this erects whenever their skin is diminished to a parody. Nevertheless, there are some people who insist on running headfirst into insensitivity, either to be enlightened by Twitter backlash or remain enslaved by their egos. (Face palm) This is exhausting. Why is it that in the age of information people insist on being uninformed or playing dumb whenever they’re faced with repercussions?

And please spare me these “past behavior” rants. True, the photos that have resurfaced weren’t taken just yesterday. Still, this isn’t as harmless as a frat boy dousing himself in blue body paint to match his school colors for a football game. This isn’t as innocent as a woman getting a facial with a clay mask of a different pigment than hers. This wasn’t an impulsive, rambunctious teenager’s slip of the tongue. Unlike the previous examples mentioned, there is a plethora of information available to remind us of the devastation blackface has caused given its historical context.

This.  Was.  A.  Photo. This is how I’d imagine the thought process would be: “Let me darken my skin, taking black or brown goo, smudge it over my face and proceed wear blackness as a costume. Not only that, but I’m going to forever etch this moment in time with a still photo. Afterwards, I’ll go home, exfoliate, return to my original hue and bask in the privilege of knowing that I can go about my day without having to experience the actual plight that comes with being black in America.” That is truly ignorant.

The photographed individuals were adults who would later go on to become public figures. Now before you get all “throwing-stones-while-living-in-glass-houses” on me, please let me explain. We’ve all made dumb decisions. Yet, the fact of the matter is not all of us are running for a public office. Holding a public office requires (or should require rather) a higher standard of character given the responsibility, judgment, and leadership involved. Being a public representative, you tend to represent a group of people from various backgrounds. You have to be more mindful of how the things you do affects others. That doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to make mistakes as a public figure. It simply means that who you are will be dissected, and your actions could yield extremely consequential results. Currently, the political base of these reps is outraged and insists that the public figures step down.

It doesn’t matter if it was the 1880s or the 1980s. It doesn’t matter if Adam Levine just performed at the Superbowl, or Michael Jackson’s video just broke the color barriers on MTV. Blackface is inappropriate and offensive. “Blackface reinforces the idea that black people are appropriate targets of ridicule and mockery and reminds us of stereotypes about black criminality, and danger. This . . .can serve to support implicit bias and discriminatory treatment and in areas from law enforcement to employment,” says David Leonard. The Washington State University department chair of critical culture, gender, and race studies expounds more in this Vox interview here.  Mr. Leonard further explains why not feeling racist or not intending to cause harm is beside the point when wearing blackface:

“In many ways, one’s intent is irrelevant…. The harm, whether it’s harm in terms of eliciting anger, or sadness, or triggering various emotions or causing [black people to feel] both hyper-visible and invisible at the same time, is there. When someone says, ‘I didn’t mean it that way,’ well, their real question should be not ‘Did I mean it?’ but, ‘Am I causing harm?'”

Blackface minimizes my experience with being black. It makes the black experience something to be considered only in jest. It makes the lopsided numbers of mass incarceration, stop and frisk, housing discrimination and the like, mere fragments of our imagination rather than indicators of America’s true character. It negates the reality that simply “being black” has resulted in lynchings, bombings, shootings, and other tragedies.

If you still are unable to understand why blackface is offensive, then I ask that you too approach this subject from an empathetic standpoint. Dr. Perry, Psychologist and founder of the MakeItUltra Blog, wrote a beautiful piece on what it means to be empathetic, which can be found here.

Blackface is not only reprehensible but it reopens wounds of injustice and inequality. If those wounds are not your own, empathize with the pain of others. Decide to swap apathy for compassion, switch disdain with respect, change hatred into love—only then will you begin to see that I, too, am human, just like you.

Awesome Ways to Celebrate Black History Month

You might not officially have a month off work in order to commemorate this special time of year, but there’s plenty to do in celebration of Black History Month.

  • Search for the hidden gems in your community by paying a visit to a local black-owned business.
  • If you’re a music lover, diversify your playlist with the jewels of black artistry. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
    • Listen to the bluesy songs of Ettta James and Ray Charles.
    • Uplift your spirit with the angelic vocals of CeCe Winans.
    • Hum along to the country tunes of Darius Rucker.
    • Relax to the smooth sounds of Leslie Odom Jr. and Miles Davis.
    • Kick back to the soulful harmonies of Jill Scott, Jazmine Sullivan, and H.E.R.
    • Dance to the up-tempo masterpieces of Michael and Janet Jackson.
    • Fall into nostalgia or experience something new vibing to the hip-hop tracks of artists spanning from Eric B. & Rakim to Lecrae.

(As you can tell, I’m definitely a music lover.)

  • Watch a film about a black, historical figure or Binge watch a new series with a majority black cast. There’s even cool shows for the kiddos to watch, like the Netflix Series “Motown Magic.”
  • Cozy up with hot tea and a warm blanket while reading an inspiring book from a black author. Upgrade your Must-Read list with favorites like Becoming by Michelle Obama, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and Make Room: Finding Where Faith Fits by Jonathan McReynolds.

For even more ideas, click here!

Happy Black History Month!

5 Myths Associated With Black History Month

(1) It’s only for black American people.

Black history Month is a derivative of Carter G. Woodson’s Negro History Week, which was created in order to reflect on the many contributions of African Americans to society. Black history is very important to core of America. Note the following: “[B]ecause our history is American history, erasing the contributions of black Americans makes it impossible to accurately tell the story of this country.”  -This is a quote by Taryn Finley, editor of HuffPost Black Voices, in this Huffington Post article.

Not only is black history American history, but it is also world history. People of African descent have made contributions across the globe, and countries all over the world are beginning to fall in line by providing recognition.

Black history is the ebony thread woven throughout the tapestry of humanity’s past. It is beautiful, yet distinctive. It reveals the essence of who we are as a society and what we’ve accomplished. We all should want to embrace the fullness of history.

(2) Black History started with slavery.

So much black history pre-exists slavery. If you think slavery is the beginning, then you’re doing yourself (and others) a disservice.

(3) Recognizing “Black” History Month is divisive and racist.

Short answer: No, it’s not. For years, textbooks have glossed over the brutal truth about the treatment of blacks in America. Furthermore, recognition for contributions by African Americans was usually “decades late and a reparation short.” In 2019, we can recognize the plight of African Americans  and we can appreciate the beauty of diversity. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive.

For a more in-depth answer, read a full article on why Black History Month Isn’t Racist.

(4) I’m black so . . . I already know enough about black history.

No matter who you are, there’s always more to learn! Go forth and explore the untold stories.  Read about the unsung heroes.  There’s so much history that is waiting to be discovered, and there’s also the history that is being made right now. The study of black history is never ending!

(5) There’s no actual way to celebrate Black History Month.

Are you kidding? There are a ton of ways to celebrate. Check out these links for fresh ideas:

Happy Black History Month!

The Blueprint: Applying the Principles of Dr. King’s Legacy

Today, many “enlightened” minds reflect on tranquil images of Dr. King’s mission. However, we cannot neglect the reality that Dr. King’s fight against racial injustice was often met with resistance, criticism, condescension, and vicious cruelties. (For example, he was jailed 29 times because of “acts of civil disobedience and trumped-up charges”!) Plenty of people wear their rose-colored glasses when recalling the methods of Dr. King. His tactics, though met with praise annually during his commemoration, are often repudiated daily by some members of society.

Nowadays, when the claims of racial injustice start to surface, individuals are told to look at the approach of Dr. King for guidance. Ironically, when those nonviolent strategies are executed, people who implement King’s blueprint are often met with similar opposition. They are told to conduct themselves in another manner. They are often scolded and advised to “wait for a better time” to seek justice. (See VIDEO by the Daily Show on “When is the Right Time for Black People to Protest?”  Warning: Contains language that may offend.) They are reprimanded for not finding the “appropriate” forum to discuss fairness. They are often admonished because their protests, while silent, civil, and nonviolent, are still considered “offensive.”

I am compelled to refer to an infamous line in Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. In it he states, ”Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Racial injustice has been a stain on our moral fabric. No matter its form, be it blatant acts or acts of microaggression—racial injustice has belittled minds, brutalized bodies, and ended lives. We do Dr. King a disservice by simply praising his legacy all while ignoring the application of his principles.

You may “support” the ideals of Dr. King in his heyday, but what are you doing in the fight against racial injustice now? Are you quick to get defensive at the mere mention of race, or do you actually research and inquire further from those who were discriminated against? Do you assume that your experience is the only possible experience? Or, do you take the time to listen and value the stories and experiences of others? You might not use racial slurs, but do you call out your family members and friends that do? When viewing footage of a black person being mistreated or beaten by authority figures, do you assume that he/she must have done something to deserve it?

The fight against racial injustice, although moral and upright, has never been pretty. Yet, Dr. King took on that battle with such grace, class, and fervor. I implore you to press on in this fight with a similar upstanding character. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of love and civil disobedience should strengthen our minds, uplift our hearts, and embolden our souls. There are practical ways to fight racial injustice within our day-to-day routines, but ultimately the key is to treat others with kindness, respect, and compassion. That, my friends, is how we continue to keep the legacy of Dr. King alive.